Summary: A look at the invitation list for the guest of honor. Or is it guests of honor?
Word Count: 1700
Looking across at the Giggly Sisters, Joe frowned. “We should have a party,” he suggested. “Give you a chance to wear your new clothes.” Shopping was an experience Joe had only begun to enjoy when the sisters showed him the delights.
“Now that’s a right good idea!” Hoss exclaimed. “We ain’t had a party in a coon’s age. What d’you think, Pa?”
“A party sounds fine,” Ben said, looking up from the papers on his desk. “Who will we invite?”
“Why, all our friends and relatives, of course,” Adam inserted. “Who else?” He raised one eyebrow.
“All right,” said the redhead. “So, tell us a few names.”
“Yeah,” agreed the blonde. “Let’s see if we can put faces to those names.”
“We’d better ask Roy Coffee,” Ben said. “He’s…”
“The Oldest Sheriff In Town,” the sisters sang, and they burst out laughing.
Ben sighed. He found the sisters’ irreverence a trial most of the time. “… an old friend,” Ben continued as though the sisters hadn’t spoken. “And cousin Clarissa.”
“Clarissa?” the boys chorused. “Oh no!”
“Hang on,” said the blonde. “We only saw her in one episode, and then she vanished. Whose cousin was she? Ben’s? Adam’s? Hoss’? Joe’s? And who were all these other relations she was talking about? Do you know any of them?”
This burst of questioning had the men all nonplussed. Joe shrugged, making a helpless face. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “Isn’t she your cousin, Pa?”
“I guess she is,” Ben said. “So all those other relations must be on her side of the family, and not related to me at all.”
“Don’t you just love sorting out who’s related to whom?” asked the redhead mischievously.
“Who’s Cousin Clarissa?” Adam asked.
“That’s after your time, Adam,” Joe said, waving him away. Adam looked offended.
“What about your life-long friend, Mitch Devlin, Joe?” Ben asked, coming round to join the family in front of the fire.
“Some life-long friend he is!” Joe retorted. “He appears in one episode, doesn’t understand when I have a major mood, and then never comes back again! I don’t call that a life-long friend!”
“Joe beat him in an arm-wrestling contest and Mitch went off in a strop” the blonde confided to Hoss, who nodded in a knowing way, although he was rather confused.
“Will we have the Chinese lanterns, Pa?” Hoss asked hopefully. This was safe territory. The lanterns were brought out at each and every celebration on the Ponderosa and were as ubiquitous as cheese, pineapple and pickled onions on cocktail sticks. Adam groaned loudly and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Something wrong, son?” Ben inquired lackadaisically. His eldest son was such a ham. Any minute now and he’d be clutching his back and …
Adam assumed a pained expression and let the copy of “Paradise Lost” he’d been leafing through fall to the floor. Truth be told, the text was turgid, there were no pictures and the type was far too small. “Whatever did happen to Cousin Clarissa?” he asked innocently. “From what you said, one minute she was transforming the house with floral arrangements and making you all wear slippers …”
The blonde looked longingly at Joe’s delicious bare feet, which were lying cradled in her lap and wished that, just for once, they were alone.
“… and then she was gone, never to be heard of again!”
Ben assumed an innocent expression and studied the account books with great interest.
Joe decided to enter into the debate. “Then there was the Countess. She certainly had a soft spot you, Pa! Why, she even said that I could have been her son!”
Joe’s emerald (or were they hazel?) eyes gleamed with mischief and the redhead had to bite her lips very hard to stop herself from laughing.
“Joseph!” thundered the unmistakable tones of the Voice of Canada and the shade of an oil lamp shattered. The sisters instinctively ducked for cover, but noticed that the Cartwright siblings were unaffected.
“Don’t worry,” Adam said reassuringly. “We never injure one another,”
Joe pouted attractively. “Except for that time when you shot me,” he said plaintively.
Adam tried to be patient. “I’ve told you once and I’ll tell you again – I thought you were a wolf!”
The blonde gave him a steely glare. “I don’t think Joe looks like a wolf. And then you left that strange girl to look after him while he was delirious didn’t you?”
“She was very nice,” Adam said apologetically. “But now you come to mention it, I had no idea who she was and then she drove off into the distance, never to be heard of again.”
“You left me unconscious in the care of a complete stranger?” Joe could hardly believe his ears.
Hoss clapped his younger brother affectionately round the shoulders. “Don’t fret none, Joe! She was a broad minded woman and didn’t mind seeing you …”
Any further words were muffled by Adam’s hand clamping firmly over Hoss’s mouth. “I had some important philosophical concepts to wrestle with,” he explained, realizing that this sounded rather feeble.
Joe buried his head in his hands, rumpling up his curls, so that one fell forward over his forehead.
Hoss decided to get back to the party planning. “How about Connie McKee? YOU liked her, Joe.”
“She went back east.”
“Julia Bulette – she were a real nice lady and generous too!”
“She died,” Joe said shortly. He didn’t often bemoan his lack of stature, but things were getting on top of him.
“I’m sure you’ve got some chums you’d like to invite, Adam,” Ben said jovially, trying to change the subject. “Some old acquaintances from college, perhaps?”
“I don’t really keep up with them, Pa,” Adam said, reluctant, as always to discuss his schooling back east. Was there something strange about the college he attended, since he never wanted to talk about it?
“You had a friend called Ross,” Ben persisted.
“He was mad,” Adam said, flatly, and this time the redhead was unable to hold in her merriment. She snorted loudly, which in turn set Joe and the blonde off. “What about Miss Netta, who owns the horse farm?”
“Ah,” said Ben, and returned to his books.
“Ah?” repeated Adam. “What does that mean?”
“Well, she and the farm both disappeared,” Joe piped up. He wriggled his toes, and the blonde almost passed out. “Funny, our neighbors never seem to stay long.”
“And have you noticed how many neighbors you have, given that the Ponderosa stretches for 1000 square miles?” the blonde added, gathering her straying wits. “I’m sure half of them are trespassing, you know,” she said, earnestly to Ben.
“Look at Josh Tatum,” the redhead agreed. “He disappeared, and turned up a few years later on a ranch in Arizona, with a different name, and a different family.”
“Margie Owens,” Hoss said, out of the blue.
“She died,” Joe commented, softly.
“Yeah, but didn’t you notice that Laura Dayton has the same head as Margie?” asked the redhead. “Didn’t you find that a bit creepy? And I suppose it’s out of the question for she and Will Cartwright to come?” she held her hands up as Adam began to advance on her. “Sorry!”
“Hey, leave her alone!” Joe said, standing up to old sulky. “It was a valid question.”
But Adam continued to advance forward, until he was eye to eye with Ben. “Pa,” he said softly, but with a certain steely tone in his voice. “Just what is happening around here? Why do all of our friends and relatives appear once or twice and then disappear? Even Joe’s half-brother, Clay, never writes or anything.” Adam had a strange feeling of deja vue, almost as if one day he would leave the Ponderosa and would never be mentioned again. Disappearing into the ether so to speak.
Ben cleared his throat and looked at his three sons, so different and so dearly loved. “Well boys, I suppose it all started with your mothers. First of all, there was the tragic death of Elizabeth …”
“My Love,” his sons chorused. They had heard this story before and knew what was expected of them. The sisters looked rather startled.
“… shortly after giving birth to you, Adam.” He stopped and wiped a manly tear from one eye. “Then, off course, dear Inger …”
“My Love!” The girls had got the hang of things now and joined in.
“… another untimely and unfortunate death. And of course,” Ben stopped and shot a look that clearly said, “don’t chance your luck”. After a moment, during which everyone squirmed uncomfortably, he continued. “Finally there was Joe’s dear Mama, Marie.”
There was a poignant silence for a moment and then the blonde spoke up.
“Kind of set a precedent then? No one outstaying their welcome? Short but sweet?”
The redhead snorted in disbelief. “Inger was a big girl, as far as I remember.”
There was a snigger from Joe and Adam, but Hoss didn’t appear to notice. He was gazing towards the fire, obviously thinking of the mother he couldn’t remember. He gave a gigantic sniff, at which everyone looked revolted.
“Blow your nose, and don’t sniff,” Ben said, jolted out of the melancholy mood he’d been working himself into. He turned to the girls. “So I expect that’s why people don’t stay round here too long.”
There was a pause, while everyone thought this through. It wasn’t going to be much of a party without guests. What were they going to do? Adam pinched the bridge of his nose, the signal that he was deep in thought. Hoss frowned, and Joe grinned at everyone.
“I know!” he exclaimed. “I know how to get guests!”
“Well, spit it out, boy!” Ben demanded. “We want to know. Who are we going to invite?”
Beaming broadly, Joe said “We’ll invite the extras, like we always do!”