Word Count: 1650
Adam scratched his chin and then rubbed his hand over the stubble that was quickly becoming a beard. Three days without a razor had left him with a full if short set of whiskers. The only time he had gone longer without shaving was when he had decided to grow a beard at the age of seventeen. The last thing he had ever done simply to make peace with his stepmother was to shave off that first beard.
Hoss watched his older brother and automatically ran his hand over his own chin. His stubble could not yet be called a beard, but it was becoming a dark and irritating shadow that noticeably altered his genial appearance.
“Sure wish one of us had carried a razor in our saddle bags,” Hoss mused.
“I seldom pack a razor when I intend to be home for dinner,” Adam observed with an edge of sarcasm. Hoss’ unusual ability to forecast winter storms had failed to warn them of the blizzard that currently had them imprisoned in a line shack barely ten miles from their home, and Adam had to fight the urge to blame his brother for their captivity.
The clatter of tin against iron drew the attention of both brothers as Little Joe set the coffee pot on the pot-bellied stove with more force than necessary.
“I guess the only one ever done that was baby brother,” Hoss commented with a chuckle. “You ‘member, don’t ya, Adam , how he carried that razor we gave him for his sixteenth birthday pert near everywhere he went just waiting for a chance to use it?”
Adam watched a flush creep into his little brother’s cheeks and added his chuckle to Hoss’. He leaned his chair back on two legs and added, “That I do. He was shaving about every other month, though, by the time he turned eighteen.”
Their nineteen year-old brother snorted and turned his back to them staring at the door with longing. His left hand slipped to his own chin and was then slapped back to his side. After three days snowed in at the line shack without a razor, he still had only the barest trace of stubble.
Adam and Hoss exchanged glances behind Joe’s back. Three boring days in one room had strained brotherly relations, but neither of them liked the idea that they had truly hurt their baby brother’s feelings.
“Now, Short Shanks, don’t go getting your nose outa joint. Adam and I don’t mean nothing by what we said.”
“You think I care that I’m not a hairy beast like the two of you?” Joe spat the words from his mouth without turning to look at his brothers.
“Actually, Joe, I think you do,” Adam answered softly.
Surprise at the comment caused Little Joe to spin on his heel and face his brother. “I don’t! I don’t give a d….” His expletive was lost in the sound of a momentous crack as the weight of ice and snow broke a large limb from a nearby pine.
All eyes in the room became fixed on the window even though nothing could be seen through its shuttered surface.
“How much longer do you think it will last?” Joe was the first to speak.
“Can’t go on too much longer,” Hoss offered.
“I just wish there was some way to let Pa know we’re all together and safe.” Adam voiced the thought that they all shared.
“Yeah,” Joe stated softly and went to sit on the bunk next to the far wall. Hoss and Adam exchanged another glance. As hard as it was for all of them to be confined by the storm away from their home, they knew that it was most difficult for the youngest Cartwright.
“Guess it’s about time to rustle up some supper. It’s my turn, but if one of ya want…”
Joe’s no was less forceful than Adam’s , but since it was clear that he would be preparing supper, Hoss rose to his feet and walked over to the food cupboard. Adam tugged his ear and went to sit next to Little Joe on the bunk.
His voice just above a whisper, Adam asked, “Why does it matter so much to you, Joe? Lots of men have light beards. Would you really want to need a shave twice a day?”
“Not exactly,” Joe muttered not lifting his chin from his chest. “It’s just, well, it’s just like it’s one more way I’ll always be the baby Cartwright.”
“You’re the youngest, Joe. There’s not much we can do about that unless Pa decides to give us a stepmother and have another baby.”
“Well, that is the only way you’re going to stop being the baby of the family.”
Little Joe gave his brother a rueful grin. “You could give me a nephew, and then I wouldn’t be the youngest Cartwright.”
Adam harrumphed and let the remark pass unanswered.
When Adam did not rise to the bait, Little Joe sighed and said softly, “Some folks, well, some folks think that a hairy man is, um, well, they think that a fellow with a lot of body hair is more, umm…” Joe shifted nervously.
“Is the word you’re searching for virile?” Adam interjected gently.
“Well, some folks do think it.”
“A lot of what some folks think is hogwash, Joseph,” Adam admonished. “You don’t believe that, do you?”
“Nooo, but some gals do.”
Adam managed not to roll his eyes. “I’d tell you that only a silly, featherbrained little thing would, but you seen to like even silly, featherbrained little gals if the packaging is pleasing,” he teased.
“You like a nice package too, Adam! But your gals do have to be a bit of a bluestocking.”
Adam shrugged. “I find intelligence attractive.”
Joe did roll his eyes. Then he chewed his lip. “Folks, well, gals, they always describe you and Hoss and Pa even as manly. Don’t think anyone ever said that about me.”
“You’re nineteen, Joe, not ninety.”
“It’s just that I don’t think they ever will.” Joe’s sigh was filled with dejection.
Hoss’ voice carried across the room, “Ain’t nobody ever commented on my boyish charm.”
“Or mine,” Adam added. Little Joe bit his lip.
“Sally Quinn told Jessica Langston that she likes her men, um, how did she put it, smoother. She said stubble scratches and she doesn’t like fur,” Adam supplied after a moment.
“How would you know what Sally told Jessica?” Joe inquired.
“I happened to overhear the two of them talking.”
“Pa taught us not to eavesdrop.”
Hoss again entered the conversation. “Pa tried mighty hard, but he never did break either of you of that bad habit.”
Adam and Joe exchanged a look, a grin, and then both of them started to laugh.
“Did she really say that?” Joe asked when the laughter ended.
A certain sparkle came into Little Joe’s eyes as he decided just who he would invite to the first spring dance.
Adam stirred, Hoss stopped snoring, and they both realized they were surrounded by silence.
“Storm’s over,” Hoss announced before he opened his eyes.
Adam sat up as he answered, “It would appear so.” He took a deep breath and pushed the blankets off his body. The cooler air was really not much of a shock; the pot-bellied stove and three men’s body heat kept the small cabin fairly warm.
“We’ll rustle us up some breakfast and then dig out. Bet them horses will be as glad as we are to get out of here and back home.” Hoss dragged himself to a standing position. “You see to breakfast, and I’ll see to them.”
“Whose gonna see to Joe?” Adam said as he stepped over his brother’s body which was still sprawled in slumber on the floor.
“Aw, let him sleep in a little. He has spent the last three nights on the floor.”
“Floors are easier on young bones. We’ve earned those bunks, brother,” Adam declared as he stretched his back.
Hoss grunted agreement and pulled on his pants. He noticed that Adam was once again rubbing the whiskers on his chin. “You could just let ‘em grow you know. You’d have a fine beard by the end of the week.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Adam replied with a shake of his head.
“You sure? It would save ya time in the morning.”
“It’s Joe that needs more time in the morning, not me.”
“You’re right about that. Guess God knew what he was doing when he was passing out the whiskers.” Hoss chuckled. “Hey, Adam, what did Ma say to get you to shave off that first beard of yours?”
Adam paused in the buttoning of his shirt. “She didn’t say anything. Absolutely nothing at all.”
“She just gave me that look. You know the one. Every morning when I came down to breakfast. It was that look, Hoss. Even Pa couldn’t stand against that look for long.”
Hoss nodded in agreement. He remembered that look well. “Wonder why she was so against that beard.”
Adam cleared his throat instead of answering. Hoss sent him a demanding look, and Adam focused on the sleeping form of Marie’s son.
“Don’t think it was the beard really, but the reason she thought I’d grown it,” Adam explained after a few moments.
“Knew you’d heard them same folks Joe was talking about last night, did she?”
Adam’s whiskers hide the blush that filled his cheeks. “That hogwash has been around a long time, Hoss.”
“Guess it has at that.”
“Hoss, why didn’t you ever try growing one? Most young bucks do.”
Hoss’ grin spread and filled his face. “Never felt the need to do no advertizing,” he replied softly. It was his brothers’ laughter that woke Little Joe that morning.