Word Count: 1080
Adam stood in the open doorway of the barn and scanned the yard. Seeing no one about, he took a step forward, stopped, and chewed on his bottom lip. He studied the door to the house as if he might be able to predict its opening if he scrutinized it with enough intensity. He lifted his eyes to the upper window and rubbed his hands up and down his pants’ legs. Then he suddenly strode forward into the shade of the house itself and came to a standstill next to the flowers planted along the foundation. With fluid movements, he slipped his knife from his pocket and sliced quickly through the stems of five blooms. Putting the knife away, he took a strip of damp cloth he had held in his left hand and wrapped it around the stems of the flowers.
His teeth sunk into his lower lip. His stepmother had planted these flowers, and she took great pride in their early blooming beauty. Everyone on the Ponderosa referred to them as Marie’s flowers. Then again, they were on the Ponderosa, and the Ponderosa was as much his as hers. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and shifted uneasily, and then straightened his back. After all, he had taken only five blossoms; surely the remaining flowers were sufficient. He examined the flower bed, decided there were no obvious gaps in the profusion, and then froze as he heard his named called. Turning quickly, he made sure to keep the small bouquet concealed behind his back.
Facing his stepmother, he swallowed the lump that rose in his throat. “Yes, ma’am. Is there something you wanted?”
Marie opened her mouth to speak but hesitated as she studied the face and then the stance of her eldest. “What is it you’re holding, mon fils?”
“Holding? Why, my breath; you startled me.” Adam kept his arm still with the bouquet held against his back and gave Marie a forced smile.
She had been his mother long enough to notice the evasion. “Adam, what are you holding behind your back?” Marie’s tone was clearly chiding.
His eyes, which had not yet met hers, dropped to the ground. “Nothing.” He could feel the sweat coat his palms and pressed his free hand against the cloth of his pants.
She had heard the same tone in his voice when he faced his father expecting Ben’s anger. Marie shook her head slowly and placed her fingers beneath his chin. Raising his eyes to hers, she said softly, “Nothing?” I would see this nothing, Adam.” Several seconds passed. “Now.”
Adam capitulated and brought his hand from behind his back. Marie’s eyes widened when she beheld the nosegay.
“My flowers? You cut them?” The flaring of her temper sharpened her voice.
“I…I should have asked; I’m sorry.” He shifted under her stare, and his arms slipped across his middle.
“And why did you not ask the permission?” Her voice had softened but still held an edge.
Adam’s chin dropped, and he shrugged. “I…I should have.” His voice sounded young enough to be Joseph’s.
Marie drew in a slow breath; then her brow furrowed. “They are for someone? A young lady perhaps?”
Adam felt the heat of embarrassment rise in his cheeks and snapped, “Well, I’d hardly be giving them to a man, now would I?” The words were barely out of his mouth before he bit his tongue and wished them back.
His stepmother’s own temper flashed in her eyes. “Observez votre langue!”
Adam had learned that bit of French years ago. He swallowed and replied softly, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Now, you will answer me civilly and with truth, n’est pas cette droite. You cut the flowers to take to a young lady, is that not so?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The color on his cheekbones deepened, and he kept his head angled so that his dark lashes concealed the emotion in his eyes.
“Did you think I would not give the permission?” The thought that he might see her as so selfish cut her.
“No. I knew you would. I just…I didn’t want anybody…”
She could barely hear the words he managed to force past his lips.
Marie’s finger rose to her chin and tapped it repeatedly. “Is this girl someone of whom your papa would not approve?”
“No!” Adam’s chin lifted with a jerk, and his eyes widened in surprise. “No, no, Pa’s got nothing against the Mcleans; he thinks they’re fine folk.”
Marie’s finger tapped her chin again. “It is to Alice McLean then that you would give these?” All traces of irritation had left her voice.
“Yes, ma’am.” Adam’s reply was nearly lost in a deep sigh.
Marie’s features softened, and a smile danced on her lips. “She is a lucky girl. To have a handsome boy bring the first flowers of spring, this makes a young girl’s heart sing with joy.”
Adam stared into her face but saw no trace of mockery.
“Now, I have just the thing inside, a pretty pink ribbon. We shall tie them together with a bow, shall we not, mon garcon.”
“But…” Adam hesitated.
Reaching out and placing her hand against his cheek, Marie spoke tenderly, “You will soon be fifteen, Adam, so there are many springs coming when you will bring flowers to pretty girls.” She patted the cheek beneath her hand. “Next time, you will not worry to ask the permission?”
“No, no, I won’t, but, well, it’s just…” His chin dipped again.
“I shall not keep unnecessary secrets from your papa, Adam, but do not worry; I think my Benjamin brought the spring flowers to pretty girls even when he was young.”
Smiling sheepishly, Adam agreed. “I suppose, but Hoss…”
“Will someday understand; until then, I shall see there is no teasing even if I must use the hairbrush.” Marie nodded her head decisively.
“I don’t want Hoss in trouble,” Adam interjected quickly.
“I do not think he will be. Our Hoss is not one to tease when he knows it would hurt the heart.” Marie’s smile was her most charming. “You need not sneak about to enjoy the spring, Adam. No, no, spring is for openness and sunshine and making pretty girls happy.” She laughed warmly and was rewarded with a dimpled smile. She would have mowed down her whole garden for that smile.