Summary: A long over due conversation opens a brother’s eyes.
Word Count: 5693
The snow started just before dawn on Christmas Day, and continued to fall for the eleven days. At times, the yard was enveloped in a blizzard of whirling snowflakes, which made even the short journey to the barn a cold and mesmerizing expedition. Work on the ranch was restricted to necessary chores only and for most of the time, the Cartwrights stayed indoors, close to the fire. After so many days in close confinement, nerves were getting a little frayed and tempers were correspondingly short. The tension was palpable and when Adam strummed a soft chord on his guitar, Joe could restrain himself no longer.
“If I hear ‘Early One Morning’ just one more time, I’ll scream!” he said, in a tone of voice that made it quite clear that he was only half joking.
Adam put down his guitar and glared at his youngest brother, who was pacing up and down the room, like a caged animal. “Missing your trips into town, are you? I hear you had quite a thing going with that redheaded saloon girl before Christmas. I wonder who she is batting her eyelashes at right now?”
Joe whirled around, every line of his body tense. He looked over to where Adam sprawled in a fireside chair, a mocking smile easing itself across his features. Biting back the temptation to make a flippant remark, Joe regarded him gravely. “I just need to get out of here and be by myself for a bit.”
Ben leant forward in surprise. Out of all his sons, Joe was the most sociable, the one who reveled in being in the company of others. He sensed that there must be something deeply troubling the young man, something that he could not yet share with the family. “Why not go out for a ride? The sky is clear and it doesn’t look as if it will snow until evening.”
Joe seized the opportunity and flung his father a grateful smile. “I’ll do that. Don’t worry – I won’t go far.”
“Wrap up warmly!” Ben called to Joe’s rapidly departing back. “It’s freezing out there.” Joe grinned and made an elaborate show of putting on a scarf, his thick winter jacket and grabbing a pair of gloves before dashing across to the barn, his boot heels ringing on the iron-hard ground.
“Don’t bait him no more,” Hoss said, looking up from the bridle he was repairing. “Joe’s got summat on his mind and it’s troublin’ him. He don’t need you to make things worse.”
“Peace on earth, goodwill to all men,” Ben added, those these qualities had been in rather short supply over the previous days. Four men, used to an active life, did not take kindly to a long period of enforced inaction.
Hoss’ words startled Adam out of his mischievous mood. For the past few days he had been wrestling with a dilemma, too wrapped up in his own thoughts to even notice that Joe was equally perturbed. There were some very real differences between the brothers and at times Joe could drive Adam to distraction, but there was also a deep and abiding love. His innate fairness resurfacing, Adam stood up.
“I think we need to clear the air between us. I’ll just see if Joe fancies some company,” he announced, not noticing the satisfied looks his father and brother exchanged.
He found Joe in the barn, saddling Cochise. From behind, Adam could see that his brother’s shoulders were slightly hunched and when he turned around, he noticed the dark circles underneath Joe’s eyes.
“You looking for something?” Joe asked in a guarded voice. The last thing he needed right now was to have another pointless argument with his brother. The last few days had been purgatorial, with Adam sitting brooding by the fireside, either staring into the flames or strumming his guitar incessantly and monotonously. His dark mood was contagious and Joe had reached the end of his tether. Right now he was having enough problems of his own, without having any more heaped onto him.
“Thought I could do with a change of scenery. We’ve all been cooped up for too long. You don’t mind if I come along with you?”
For a moment, Joe thought he could sense a yearning tone to Adam’s words, but he dismissed this notion. Adam was the most independent person he had ever met, a man totally comfortable in his own skin and at ease with solitude, asking for nothing more than an engaging or thought-provoking book.
“Sure. If you want to.” Joe let the words trail off. It wasn’t often that Adam actively sought out his company, generally preferring to socialize with Hoss, or to spend time with their father, discussing plans for the ranch. Sometimes he felt rather excluded. It would be good to be together, just the two of them. Perhaps it would even build some bridges between them? Joe sensed that this was something that needed to be to done before his relationship with his brother deteriorated further.
They rode in silence for some time, with only the noise of the horses’ hooves crunching on the hard-packed snow for company. As they reached the crest of the hill that led down to Lake Tahoe, Joe reined back and surveyed the winter-white landscape that stretched out before him with deep satisfaction. A sigh of contentment escaped his lips at the pristine, pure and unsullied scene, stretching serenely before him. If only he could do the same with his memories: wipe them clean, obliterate all the hurt and pain and start afresh. That was a vain hope, he knew that from long experience. But there was one thing he could do, however much pain it caused. He could make Adam talk about the emotions he was trying to repress.
“Christmas must have tough on you. Without Laura and Peggy, I mean.” The words came out in one long breath and Joe felt a sense of relief at finally having voiced his thoughts. His brother’s misery had been palpable and overwhelming and the festive season had never seemed less joyous.
Adam knew the words were meant kindly, but they pierced his soul, ripping through the protective layers he had so carefully assembled, threatening to dissolve his precious self-control in one deadly accurate blow. After Laura had left, he had managed to carry on with life, but for the most part, he felt like a parody of himself, a mere automaton going the mechanics of living without ever engaging at a more personal level. His father and brothers had closed ranks protectively around him, giving him the space and freedom he needed, doing the jobs he forgot about and never complaining. No one had even mentioned Laura’s name. Until now.
Sorrow and hurt vanished in a trice, to be replaced by a hot, fierce anger that flooded through Adam. “How dare you!” The words hissed out from between his clenched teeth, accentuated by little frozen puffs of breath. Laura’s face swam dizzyingly before him and Peggy’s laughter rang in his ears. Adam struggled to keep a check on his emotions. “I don’t want to talk about it. Not ever.” He clenched the reins so tightly that his knuckles showed white and Sport danced nervously.
“I’m sorry, Adam.” Joe sounded miserable. “I just wanted you to know that I understand.”
“Understand?” Adam’s eyebrows shot up so far that they almost disappeared under the brim of his hat and his hollow, humorless laugh echoed mockingly between them. “How could you even begin to understand what I’m feeling?”
Shrugging unhappily, Joe dropped his head down and let his fingers toy absently with Cochise’s mane. “Sometimes it helps to talk, you know? And maybe I do understand.”
Adam stared into the distance. “You and I are very different people, little brother. You show all your emotions to the world, whereas I prefer to keep mine private. That’s the only way I can deal with them.”
“I know,” Joe said softly. “I do that too.”
Adam kicked Sport forward. “Joe, I’ve known you since the day you were born. If I want to know how you’re feeling, all I have to do is look at you, and I can tell immediately. You simply can’t keep your emotions hidden from anyone. Me, I’m the opposite. I keep things hidden and sometimes that is destructive.”
“I know. There are things I don’t talk about either. Things I can’t talk about,” Joe confessed sadly.
Shocked, Adam turned to look at Joe: the younger man’s face was pale and his jaw set at a stubborn angle, yet there was something ineffably sad and vulnerable about him. All his paternal instincts coming to the fore, Adam remembered Hoss’ words from earlier and determined to find out what was troubling his brother. It might just to take his mind off Laura and help him to forget just how much he missed her, how much he wished she was here beside him, her soft hand tucked into his… With a great effort, Adam forced himself back to the present.
“What things, Joe? You can tell me. I might be able to help.”
“I wish that were true,” Joe said, in a low voice. “You think you know me, don’t you, Adam? Well, there are things that might just surprise you, things you’ve never even guessed about me.”
Adam did not say anything; he just sat there and looked at his brother with warmth and understanding.
“It’s Epiphany tomorrow,” Joe began. “Twelfth Night. The day the Magi finally arrived at the stable in Bethlehem. And it’s Julia’s birthday.”
Adam gave a small, involuntary start. He’d almost forgotten about Julia Bulette, the legendary owner of Julia’s Palace, the older, more experienced woman who had nearly torn the Cartwright family apart when Joe fell in love with her.
“I didn’t know that,” he admitted and Joe gave him a cold look.
“Most people didn’t bother to find out much about Julia. They judged her, assumed they knew all about her and they condescended to her. But that was their loss. Because they didn’t know her at all.”
Joe closed his eyes and once again he saw the blind of Julia’s bedroom window being pulled slowly down, and then the light dimming down to nothingness. Something in him had died that night, right along with Julia and some of his inner lightness of being was turned out forever. He relived out the scene so many times, and it never changed. Each time he remembered, a feeling of complete and utter devastation overwhelmed him. Joe remembered Julia with sorrow and sadness, memories of her would not leave him in peace, yet his mind kept running back to her.
“I loved her, Adam. I really loved her.” Joe could hear his voice shaking and there was an uncomfortable tightness in his chest. He forced himself to continue. “But I don’t know if she loved me. And perhaps that shouldn’t matter, but it bothers me and I can’t quite ever dismiss it. So maybe I do understand, in some small way, about what it is like to lose the woman you love and to mourn her and what never was. And to doubt yourself.”
“I think you just might,” Adam admitted. He had been wary of Julia’s motives in taking up with his brother and remembered tackling her about the affair that had made the couple the talk of Virginia City.
“He’s just a boy! A reckless, irresponsible boy and you are ruining his life!”
Julia flung him a cool, appraising look, which made Adam feel uncomfortably like a naughty schoolboy. “Joe is a man, whether you chose to admit it or not. And he must make his own choices in life, just as you have. To deny him that opportunity would be is unconscionably cruel. The qualities that you denigrate in your brother have two sides, Mr. Cartwright. To me, Joe’s quicksilver nature and his irrepressible love for life are positive elements. Perhaps you should consider why you find these so disturbing? Is it because you envy his ability to live in the present and enjoy every moment to the utmost? We all choose how to live our lives, whether our presence enhances others or merely stifles them. Think about your choices carefully, Mr. Cartwright, for they do not just affect you, but those around you as well.”
Julia smiled and patted Adam gently on the arm. “Don’t expect Joe to grow up into your image or to walk in your shadow. That would not be fair to either of you.” Then with a swish of her heavy, satin skirts, she was gone, leaving a faint trace of perfume lingering in the air like a mute accusation.
“Anything else you’ve been bottling up?” Adam asked, trying hard to keep his voice steady. The memory of Julia’s words had shaken him greatly. He wondered if he tended to look at life in a mirror, seeing only the reflection, rather than the reality; preferring to be an observer, not a participant.
Joe leant forward and studied his left boot with great interest. “I saw her die, you know.”
“No, you were outside,” Adam protested. “She was alone with the doctor.”
“Not Julia: Mama. I was standing out of my bedroom window when she came riding in. I saw the horse stumble, she fell and Pa came running out. And then she died in Pa’s arms as I watched.” Joe’s voice was flat and monotonous as he related the events in bald, stark language.
“You never said!” Adam said incredulously. “Why did you never say?”
Shrugging, Joe kept his head down, refusing to meet his brother’s eyes. “There was a lot going on. Everyone was upset and it just didn’t seem important.” He sat up straight and urged Cochise forward. “I’d like to be alone now, if you don’t mind.” He smiled apologetically and Adam could only watch as he rode down to the lakeside.
“Why would think the kid keep that to himself all these years?” Adam wondered, but he could find no answer or explanation. He encouraged Sport to jog slowly along in Joe’s wake, pondering frantically on the revelations that were coming forth.
The lake was a dull, steely shade of grey and the wind stirring the branches of trees whipped up the water into waves. The entire scene seemed composed of monochrome shades. Joe stood by the shore, hands in pockets, looking across to the far shore with unseeing eyes. His hat lay on the ground beside him and his hair was tousled by the breeze.
“Epiphany.” Joe’s voice rang out clearly above the wind. “It should be a time of birth, a celebration of the new. But did you ever think what it really meant to the Magi? If you take a new course, you have to leave the old, familiar things behind. They knew that this wasn’t just a birth, but a death. Everything was going to change and change irrevocably.”
His words caused a resonance deep within Adam, helping to crystallize all the feelings that churned within him and to put them into a logical, symmetrical order that he could deal with. He was conscious of the irony that it should be Joe who acted as the catalyst for him.
“Sometimes change is the only way we can reconcile ourselves to what we actually are and what we can be,” Adam offered tentatively.
Joe turned around slowly. “You’ve decided then?” he asked softly.
It seemed that this was a day for confessions. “I think I knew the moment she left,” Adam admitted and was startled to see his brother nod in agreement. He continued on, the long-hidden thoughts tumbling out.
“I look around me – at all this beauty, wide open-spaces and infinite possibilities – and none of it gives me any pleasure.” Adam took a couple of tentative steps away, kicking restlessly at the icy ground. “There is too much of myself here, all I can see is constant reminders of what I’ve lost and what could have been.”
“You’ve made up your mind?” Sympathy and understanding shone from Joe’s face and it was almost more than Adam could bear. He turned away from his brother and began walking slowly along the shoreline.
“Staying here is making me bitter. Life is taking me nowhere and I know I’m just drifting aimlessly. Pa would say I’m like a ship without a rudder. I need to start afresh, to go someplace where nobody knows me and I can chart my own course and be whoever I choose to be.” Adam was amazed at the effect that finally voicing his feelings created within him. It was an incredible relief and some of the tension seemed to leave his body.
Walking behind his brother, Joe nodded in satisfaction. “I know, brother, I know. If that’s the right decision for you, then we’ll all support you in it.”
Looking back over his shoulder, Adam gave him a wry look. “Even Pa?”
“He wants you to be happy, Adam. That’s all he’s ever wanted for any of us. He’ll support you.” Joe had to force himself to sound positive. The very thought of his brother leaving was devastating. Nothing would ever be quite the same around the Ponderosa again; there would always be emptiness at its centre. But if Adam needed to leave in order to live freely, then he would give his brother every possible support and encouragement.
“I nearly left,” Joe offered tentatively. The effect of his words was stunning: Adam’s rapid stride suddenly halted, his boot heels skidding on the icy ground, so that he had to flail his arms wildly in order to keep his balance.
“You nearly left?” Adam’s voice was incredulous.
“Several times. I’ve always had a hankering to travel.” Joe rubbed his hands together, for it was growing cold and he’d left his hat and gloves lying on the shore. “But I always knew you would leave again, one day. From the moment you came back from college, it was like we only had you on borrowed time. And it wouldn’t be fair on Pa to have both of us gone. So I decided to stay.” He hugged his arms around his waist, trying to block out the insistent fingers of icy air that buffeted their way through his coat. “Besides, what else could I do? Not much call for a bronc buster in the big cities, is there?”
Adam strode forward and grabbed his brother by the arm. “Don’t you ever sell yourself short, Joe. Not even in jest,” he said roughly. He looked into his brother’s eyes and, seeing the emotion within them, gave Joe a brief hug. “Maybe I’ve not always noticed how much you have to offer, or what a fine man you’ve become, but I’m proud to call you my brother.” Adam would have liked to be able to do more, or to say more but the look of love shining radiantly from Joe’s face told him his brother knew.
Adam took a closer look and saw Joe was shivering slightly and that the tips of his ears and nose were growing pink with the cold. “I suppose you left your scarf back in the barn?” Adam enquired, with a teasing note in his voice. “You might have a remarkable insight into others, Joe, but you’re totally lacking in basic self-preservation!”
The teasing note in his voice galvanized Joe into action, and he instantly switched moods with characteristic speed. “Race you back to the horses, older brother!”
With that he was off, dashing gleefully back up the hill. Adam gave a small sigh and then a boyish grin appeared, changing the solemn cast of his face almost beyond recognition. He ran after his impetuous brother with almost equal abandonment, scrambling up the slope in Joe’s wake, marveling at his brother’s speed and agility.
“Kid’s like a jack rabbit!” he thought, finding it increasingly difficult to keep pace. “You’re getting old, Adam!” he chided himself, “But you’re still cunning!” He knew Joe, after all, and all he had to do was to bide his time.
Halfway up the slope, Joe stopped and looked to see how far Adam was behind him. This gave Adam the chance he needed and with an extra burst of speed, he was able to reach forward and grab Joe around the ankle.
“Got you!” he exclaimed in triumph and then all Adam’s exuberance disappeared when a look of panic shot across Joe’s face. His feet scrambled frantically for purchase on the frozen, tussocky ground and his hands scrabbled desperately for anything that might stop a crashing fall. The material of his pants ripped effortlessly through Adam’s gloved fingers and he watched in horror as Joe tumbled head over heels and went careening down the hillside. Adam could only watch in horror as his brother’s body seemed to hit every rock and boulder on the frozen slope, before finally thumping into the trunk of a fallen tree at the bottom.
“Joe!” Adam’s shout echoed mockingly in his ears. “Joe? Answer me!” There was no response. Far below, Joe’s body lay still and motionless, and a red stain was already disfiguring the snow around his head.
There was no sense in them both ending up injured, Adam reasoned, making his way cautiously down the hill. He lost his footing several times before sitting down and cautiously skidding down the rest of the way on his butt. It should have been painful, but all he could think of was reaching his brother. By the time he reached the bottom, Joe was beginning to stir.
“Lie still!” Adam cautioned, rushing over. Naturally, Joe ignored him and tried to sit up. Adam put a firm hand on his chest and pushed him back down.
“Lie still and let me check you over!”
“I’m alright, honest!” Joe protested, conveniently ignoring the searing pain in his head and arm, not to mention the fact that every inch of his body felt bruised and battered.
“I’ll be the judge of that!” Adam informed him brusquely, running his hands over Joe’s head. A large, jagged cut at the back of his skull was bleeding profusely, so he automatically pulled off his own scarf and pressed down firmly on the wound. It was swelling rapidly and felt puffy to the touch.
“Ouch!” Joe yelped.
“Lucky you’ve got such a mass of hair,” his brother informed him, attempting to keep his voice steady. “Not to mention a thick skull!”
Joe tried to think of something smart to say in response, but his head was thumping loudly and the pain in his arm was growing steadily worse. All he could manage was a slight “Mmmph,” of displeasure.
“Where else does it hurt?” Adam strove to keep his emotions under control as he watched Joe’s face pale to a sickly greyish-green and saw him compress his lips into a tight line as he fought against the pain.
“Sprung my arm,” Joe admitted and tried to crane his head up to get a look at the damage. He immediately regretted this action as a wave of nausea hit him. He pulled in a deep, shuddering breath and then winced as another barrage of pain bombarded his senses.
A quick look told Adam that Joe’s right forearm was badly broken. “That’s not too bad,” he said, in casual, reassuring tones. A faint, ironic smile flickered across Joe’s face. Adam made a makeshift sling out of his scarf and carefully tucked the injured arm into Joe’s coat. He sat back on his heels and looked up at the sky, as a few, fat flakes of snow floated downwards. They had been out for longer than planned and it looked as if another snowstorm was on its way.
“Joe, we have to get home before the storm hits. It’ll be dark soon and we can’t risk getting caught out here. I’ll bring Cochise down to you, alright?”
“Whatever you say.” Joe was struggling to stay awake now and did not have the energy to say any more. Casting an anxious look at him, Adam carefully picked his way back up the slope to the horses, untethered Cochise and then skidded his way back down the hillside. At least the new fall of snow gave a little more purchase that the hard-packed, slippery falls of the previous few days. A light covering of snow dusted Joe’s prostrate body, but Adam was relieved to see the head wound had stopped bleeding.
It was a real effort to rouse Joe and haul him to his feet. “Come on, Joe – give me some help here!” Adam pleaded. Slim as his brother was, he was still a dead weight and Adam was frightened of making his injuries any worse. Dragging his eyes open, Joe forced himself to grip onto Adam with his good arm and stagger over to where Cochise stood waiting patiently. With a boost from Adam, Joe managed to pull himself up into the saddle and then grabbed onto the saddle horn as the world swam dizzyingly all around him. His arm was pure agony now, sending poker-hot, unceasing stabs of pain. Adam grabbed the reins and led the horse slowly back up the hill. It was growing quite dark now and he was anxious to get home before any more disasters overtook them, but he forced himself to move slowly and carefully. There was no sense in tempting fate any further.
At long last, they reached the top of the hill and Sport gave a whicker of recognition and pawed the ground nervously. “Don’t start acting up on me now!” Adam warned the horse as he mounted. All he wanted to do was get Joe home safely.
“Stay awake now, buddy!” he urged and Joe mumbled something incoherently. Adam reached over and tapped him lightly on the thigh. “I mean it Joe! You have to stay awake.”
“Always bossing me around,” Joe muttered grumpily. He wanted to close his eyes and find some relief from the pain, but Adam wouldn’t let him. “So tired.”
“I know,” Adam soothed. “But you have to stay with me.” How many times had Doc Martin warned of the dangers of letting someone with a head injury go to sleep? Adam knew he had to keep Joe awake until they could get medical attention.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to talk today,” he said, and was gratified to see Joe give a little start. “Really glad. I’ve learned a lot about you and you’ve helped to see what I have to do.”
“S’okay.” Joe sounded very weary and his body was uncharacteristically limp in the saddle.
Adam knew that he had to keep his brother awake, and if the only way he could do that was to open up the deep recesses of his soul, then that was what he would do. This was his brother, after all. His baby brother, who he’d held as a squalling infant, encouraged on his first unaided steps and then stupidly caused to plunge down an icy hillside through a moment’s stupidity and carelessness.
“We were talking as equals today, Joe. I know it’s sometimes difficult for me to forget that you are my younger brother and to treat you as the man you’ve become. I’m so proud of you and I’m moved that you shared your memories and your hopes and fears with me.”
“You too.” Joe forced himself to concentrate. He knew conversations of this nature, dealing with feelings rather than with facts, were not his brother’s natural forte and he sensed that Adam still had some unresolved issues he needed to deal with. Thinking about this helped Joe too, as it made him focus on something beyond the pain.
Adam urged Sport through the thickening snow and Cochise plodded obediently beside him. “If an outsider were to look at us, I bet they wouldn’t think I would be the one to strike out and leave the Ponderosa. They’d see you Joe – full of life, seeking new excitements and then me, sensible, pragmatic and cautious. Yet I’m the one going.”
“Because you have to. Not because you want to.” The whirling snowflakes were making Joe dizzy and he longed to close his eyes and let the warm darkness enfold him. “We nearly home yet?” There was an edge to his voice that warned Adam that Joe was rapidly using up all his reserves of strength.
“Yes, we’re nearly home. Just this stand of trees to go through and then over the ridge.” It was a familiar path, a deeply ingrained direction that was second nature, but Adam knew now that this was be the last time he would travel along it for many years, if not forever. Yet he had to take this next journey alone, if he were ever to achieve contentment.
In other circumstances, the ride home it would have been spectacular, for a full moon shone overhead and the snow made everything shimmer and sparkle. “Bittersweet,” Adam mused. He was now closer to Joe than he had been for a number of years. Was it the imminent parting that threw things into sharp relief, the knowledge that he may never see his brother again? Or was he finally seeing Joe clearly and appreciating him for who he was?
A light shone faintly in the distance and Adam felt a familiar thrill. The house was just ahead, he could almost sense the warmth and love that radiated from it. No matter how far he traveled, or wherever he was in the world, he knew that his mind would keep running back to this moment, when he and his brother came home together for the last time.
“See that Joe? Just ahead? We’re almost there!”
Joe grunted in acknowledgement. He could hold on for a few minutes longer, if he just thought about something else. “What you gonna do?” His voice was slurred and indistinct.
“Do you know, little brother – I have absolutely no idea!” Adam almost laughed. He loved to plan things carefully and exactly, to live in an ordered environment and yet he didn’t even know what he would actually do with his life. “Not architecture, that’s for sure. I’ve been away for too many years and I’m out of touch with all the new developments. No way I could get a job in any reputable firm now. But I don’t need to decide right now. There’s plenty of time for that.”
“You sure you’re my brother?” Joe asked. “You don’t sound like the Adam I know.” He forced a grin onto his face, but it was a wan imitation of his normal insouciant smile.
“I’m not really sure of anything right now,” Adam admitted. “But I will be.”
As they rode slowly into the yard, they saw a familiar buggy being led into the stable by Hoss.
“Looks like Doc Martin was visiting and got trapped by the storm,” Adam said and then burst out laughing as Joe pulled a face. “I don’t think even you can escape his tender ministrations this time!”
“It’s not just the Doc,” Joe moaned softly. “It’s Pa! You know how he hovers when one of us is sick”. Right now, all he wanted was to be left alone to sleep.
As he spoke, Ben came out of the door and gave a faint gasp of horror when he saw the bedraggled figure of his youngest son.
“Joseph!” After twenty-three eventful years, Ben knew that he should be used his son’s many and varied accidents, but each time Joe was injured his heart leapt into his throat and he had to fight down the feelings of panic.
“I’m fine!” Joe reassured him, in an unconvincing tone of voice, and then submitted meekly as his father tenderly helped him down from the horse and led him towards the house.
Ben took only a few steps before turning around and looking directly at Adam. “Everything alright with you, son?”
Adam smiled. “Everything is fine.”
Ben nodded in satisfaction and looped his arm around Joe’s waist, calling “Paul! Paul! Joe’s hurt!” in a loud voice that made Joe wince in pain as the pounding in his head increased.
“How are you feeling?” Adam asked as Joe cautiously made his way downstairs the next morning.
Joe sat down and hugged the plaster cast on his right arm ruefully. “Sore, I guess. I’m covered in bruises and I even think I’ve got bruises on top of bruises. My head’s stopped spinning, but I’ve got a bit of a headache.”
“Pa know you’re out of bed?” Adam raised an eyebrow quizzically and was gratified to see Joe flush.
“Not exactly,” Joe admitted. “But I never had much use for lying in bed, except when it’s time to get up and do chores!” He flashed a cheeky grin at Adam and then his face grew somber again. “You told him yet?”
“We talked last night. He took it well and was understanding, just like you said he would be. I’m leaving tomorrow, on the noon stage.” Now that everything was decided, and knowing that he had the wholehearted love and support of his family, Adam wondered if he could actually make the break. Joe’s next words were all the confirmation he needed.
“Take as long as you need, Adam. Go where you need to go, but go placidly among the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in solitude. We’ll all be right here for you, whenever you need us. Go forth in peace and in love.”
They had finally reached a mutual understanding and respect for one another, just as they were about to part. Joe’s words about birth and death would be at the forefront of Adam’s mind in the years to come, whenever he sat back and recalled the epiphany his brother had helped him to achieve.
“Peace and love,” Adam echoed and felt his heart arise and sing.