Summary: A collection of four vignettes written to various prompts.
Word Count: 2960
Adam leaned against the window frame, staring at the barn door. The longer he waited, the more nervous he became. Exactly what had his father been told and how would his pa react to the news? He watched as Ben Cartwright exited the barn and walked deliberately across the yard. The dim twilight made it difficult for the boy to judge his father’s mood. He would have to wait until his Pa entered and spoke. If his pa bellowed at him to stand up, it meant that Pa had heard the worst of it, and his temper was seething; if Pa told him to sit down, it meant that his father was looking for an explanation and not yet in a rage. Trying to appear nonchalant, Adam remained leaning against the wall as he heard the door open.
“Adam!” Ben Cartwright located his fifteen-year-old son. “Stand up!” Adam snapped to attention and silently started to pray.
“Yes, Pa?” Adam kept his voice soft and respectful. “Don’t smart off. Don’t smart off. Don’t smart off.” He mentally chanted the phrase in the hope that just this once he would not let his mouth make matters worse.
Ben walked over and stood beside the fireplace. He pointed to the floor in front of him, and Adam quickly placed himself there. The boy forced himself to look at his father. Ben Cartwright’s eyes were black, not brown, his eyebrows were joined in a single line, and his jaw was clenched. Adam did not drop his eyes to the floor, but slid them to a point just slightly past his father’s left ear. He gave the appearance of rapt attention as his father spoke.
“I won’t ask you to explain because there is NO EXPLANATION FOR SUCH BEHAVIOR!” Ben’s voice had begun the sentence at a normal volume, but that volume had increased with each word. There were times when Adam truly believed that one day his father would knock him to the floor solely with the force of his yell.
Actually, he had a very reasonable explanation, Adam thought to himself, but obviously his father was in no mood to hear it. “I won’t trouble you with one then, sir.” Despite his best effort to be submissive, Adam’s tone added a sarcastic edge to his words. Adam watched his father go from extremely angry to something beyond rage. As he watched his father fight for control, the boy’s stomach began to roll, and he choked down the bile that rose in his throat.
“Go wait for me in the barn.” Ben Cartwright made the statement through clenched teeth, and his son fled.
Ben heard the sound of footsteps and spun to see his wife entering the room.
“What is wrong, mon amour?” she inquired softly at the sight of his face.
Marie Cartwright bit her lower lip. She had observed her stepson’s nervousness since his father had left for Virginia City earlier and had expected that her husband might return from town in less than a pleasant mood. “What has he done, Benjamin? Surely it cannot be so very dreadful.”
“It can’t? Well, my dear, our son skipped school, entered a saloon, lied about his name and age, played poker, started a brawl, and escaped being arrested only because a saloon girl whisked him upstairs before the Sheriff arrived. Is that dreadful enough?”
Marie gasped. “Ben will kill him!” The thought reverberated in her mind. Ben watched his wife pale and quickly placed his arm around her. Drawing her to the settee, he ordered gently, “Sit down. Are you okay, my love?”
Marie knew their eldest child covered fear with defiance and often exacerbated his father’s anger. She did what she knew Adam never would and let her eyes fill with tears. “Oh, Ben, why? Why would he do such a thing? Surely there must be a reason!”
Ben’s focus on his wife’s tears allowed his anger at his son to recede. He let her words set him thinking. Adam was a good boy. He was neither impulsive enough nor foolish enough to do something so calculated without a good reason. At least a reason that the boy thought was a good one. Perhaps he should allow his son to explain. Not that any explanation could account for all that Adam had done, but surely he should hear the boy out calmly before he administered punishment.
Marie saw her husband soften as his anger cooled. She dabbed at her eyes with a lace-trimmed handkerchief.
“Yes, there must be.” Ben sighed heavily, “I should go and find out just what that reason is.” Ben rose to his feet. Marie grabbed his hand and brought it to her lips. Ben squeezed her hand and bent to return his wife’s kiss. He then walked slowly to the barn. Pausing before he opened the door, he glanced down. There in the dust was the evidence of his son’s fear. Ben opened the door and saw Adam standing rigidly in the center of the large building. He stepped inside, closing the door behind him. Walking to within an arm’s length of the boy, he spoke calmly, “Lost your lunch, did you?”
It was the last thing that Adam had expected his father to say. His voice quivered as he whispered, “Yes, sir.”
Ben pointed to a convenient bale of hay and said simply, “Sit down, son. Tell me what happened.”
Adam sat down and raised his eyes to his father’s. Pa would forgive him. Oh, he would be punished, but his father would listen and forgive him. In the end, that was all that really mattered.
“Don’t?” A wide grin spread across his face.
“Don’t you dare!” The command had become shriller.
“Dare, did you say dare? I’ve always loved a dare.” The grin had grown wider.
“I mean it! If you do, I’ll, I’ll…”
“You’ll what, little one?” His eyes gleamed wickedly.
“I’ll tell your pa!” She offered the ultimate threat.
“Then I’ll tell your pa why I did it.” His lips curled, and his dimples deepened.
She bit her lip. “You wouldn’t really, would you?”
“Now, Adam. Please, please, don’t.” Her voice had become soft and pleading.
Adam Cartwright cocked his eyebrow and smiled wickedly. The sixteen-year-old felt confidence flow through him. Today was the day. “Perhaps, we can make a deal.”
She nodded her head.
“First, no one tells anyone’s pa anything, agreed?”
“Agreed.” Her tone was eager.
“Second, you apologize.”
She batted her lashes and said sweetly, “I’m sorry, Adam, forgive me, please.”
“Third, you pay the penalty.”
“What penalty?” she queried softly.
He leaned down until her lips were inches from his and whispered, “One kiss.”
She blushed and titled her head. He leaned down and claimed her forfeit. Her arms moved around his neck, and his encircled her waist.
She said softly, “Are you sure that the penalty was only one kiss?”
“Come to think of it, you were extra naughty.” He moved to press his lips to hers yet again.
“Don’t!” Ben Cartwright’s voice resounded in the couple’s ears.
Adam jerked upright, and Lily Ann scrambled backwards.
“Adam! What is the meaning if this?” Ben Cartwright demanded of his eldest son.
“If you don’t know what’s going on, I’m sure not going to tell you,” Adam thought to himself, but all he managed to utter was a soft, “Well, sir, um…”
“Don’t even think of lying, boy.” It was Ben’s soft-but-deadly tone.
“Don’t, Pa, please don’t say it.” It was a silent prayer to be spared at least that humiliation.
“Young lady, I think it best you return to your parents.” Ben gestured toward the picnic site.
“But, Mr. Cartwright, we weren’t, I mean, we didn’t, we only…” Lily Anne stuttered.
“Don’t make it worse. Just shut up and go.” Adam tried desperately to send the girl a mental message.
“That was not a suggestion, Lily Ann.” Ben’s eyes flashed. Lily Ann made her escape with only one pitying look back at Adam.
“Don’t beg,” Adam thought to himself, but he could not keep from pleading, “Pa, please, please wait ’til we get home.”
The glare in Ben’s eyes did not waver, but he had been young once, though he was sure his sons would not believe that. “Get to the wagon then. I’ll get your brothers.”
“Yes, sir.” Adam made it onto the wagon seat in record time. He looked out and saw Lily Ann with her parents. The sun kissed her golden curls, and the feel of her in his arms filled his mind.
“Cartwright,” he admonished himself, “next time use some sense. Don’t get caught.”
Where Have You Been?
“Where have you been?”
Now that was exactly the question he had hoped to avoid. It wasn’t that he couldn’t just tell the truth. He was twenty-six, after all, not sixteen, and his comings and goings were his private affair. Well, that was a poor choice of words, but they were his business. After all, he was a responsible adult. It was just that his father could make him feel not only sixteen but six by just saying “Adam Stoddard Cartwright” in that certain tone of voice while he drew his formidable brows into a single v. Not that he had to worry about being punished like he had at six or even sixteen. Well, not in the same sense of the word as when he was a child, but Ben Cartwright had his ways, and this son knew them and tried to avoid them if at all possible. Of course he wouldn’t actually lie to his father, but careful answers might yet save the day.
“I have been several places today, Pa. Sport is worn out with carrying me here and there.” Keep the tone nonchalant and keep on the move.
“Did you have supper at one of those several places, Adam? You missed the fine meal Hop Sing prepared.”
“I’ll have to apologize to Hop Sing.” He knows I’m avoiding the answer. That reproachful tone he uses is creeping in already. Maybe I can escape to the kitchen.
“Hop Sing has retired for the evening; so have your brothers.”
Yes, Pa, I know I have to get up early in the morning. It’s not like you ever have to roust me out of bed. “I’ll apologize first thing in the morning then. Well, I think I’ll follow everyone else’s lead and head upstairs.”
“Adam, I asked you where you had been.”
That you did, Pa, and if I’m lucky, you’ll never find out. “I was in town earlier.” Just a few more steps and I can slip up the stairs.
“Adam, could you do me the courtesy of stopping and looking at me as we talk?”
Okay, escape is out, so just stroll over to the settee and have a seat. “Of course, Pa. I just thought you’d be wanting to retire to a warm bed yourself.”
“What I would like is a straight answer to my question, Adam.”
How can he stretch a two-syllable name into four syllables, and why does it send my stomach to my feet when he does? “Your question, Pa? I thought I had answered all your questions?” Sound and look innocent. I never could do that sweet-angel look as well as Joe or even Hoss.
“I’ll be more exact then, son. Where have you been that wouldn’t meet my approval?”
Well, that’s exact enough. Time to answer a question with a question. “What makes you think you wouldn’t approve of where I’ve been?”
“Twenty-six years of being your father, boy.”
I’ve gone from son to boy. “Now, Pa, surely you don’t want a minute by minute description of my day.”
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
No, actually I’m not. “Pa, there’s really no reason for you to be concerned.”
“Concern is not the emotion I am currently feeling, Adam.”
I know you’re angry Pa. I know I’m going to pay for this one, but if I don’t tell you, at least I won’t have to hear the lecture. “Pa, we’re both tired, and morning comes early. There’s a lot of work to be done tomorrow.”
“You’re right about that, son. A lot of dirty work needs to be done tomorrow.”
And the dirtiest work of all will be mine. Don’t roll your eyes; he hates that. “Well, then I’ll say good night, Pa.”
“Good night, Adam.”
That’s over anyway. He’s mad, but it’s hard to stay mad when you aren’t sure exactly what you have to be mad about. Whatever are Joe and Hoss doing standing in the hall?
“Where have you been, older brother?”
“Well, Pa, Joe and I best get to building that new section of fence along the south pasture.” Hoss Cartwright swallowed the last of his morning coffee and started to rise.
Little Joe, being less eager to go out and start that particular job, mumbled that he wanted some more eggs and reached for the platter in the middle of the table.
“Adam and I will be handling that task. You and Joe can join the men moving the cattle,” Ben Cartwright declared authoritatively. Glances flew around the table. “That won’t be a problem, will it, son?”
Adam swallowed and answered simply, “Of course not, Pa.”
Ben rose. “I’ll let Hop Sing know we’ll be needing a lunch.” Ben exited, and a stunned silence settled on the dinning table.
“What did ya do?” Joe blurted out in a loud whisper.
“Do? What do you mean, Joe? I didn’t do anything,” Adam replied coolly, but he was wondering much the same thing.
“You’re building fence, elder brother, not doing none of them other things ya thought ya needed to do, so ya must of done something,” Hoss observed.
“Pa is going to be building fence also. Do you two think he did something?” Adam’s voice was icy.
“If I was you, I’d be thinking about what he’s gonna be doing when ya get out to the south pasture.”
Adam stood up and glared down at the sixteen-year-old. “If I was you, I might be worried, but since I’m not, little boy, I have better things with which to occupy my mind.” Adam turned on his heel and walked over to the credenza.
Little Joe’s temper flared, and he jumped up to follow his brother. Hoss reached out and caught Joe by his belt. “If’n you’re done, little brother, we’ll just head on out ourselves.”
Adam finished buckling his gun belt and jammed his hat on his head. He left without giving his brothers another glance.
Adam stopped to take a swig of water and wiped the perspiration from his brow. He looked over at his father. There had been little discussion as they worked, and what there was had been routine. They had managed to dig most of the postholes that would be needed and would start setting the posts after lunch. Adam frowned. He still had no idea why his father had brought him out here, and he did not like feeling like a naughty child awaiting punishment, especially when he had not done anything wrong.
With the postholes dug, Ben called a halt for lunch, and Adam started a small fire to make coffee. Ben spread the contents of Hop Sing’s lunch basket on the cloth that had covered it. Adam sat down across from his father.
Adam reached for a sandwich and then suddenly said, “When are you going to get to it, Pa?”
“Get to what, Adam?”
“Whatever it is that you brought me here for.” Adam let petulance creep into his tone.
Ben cocked his eyebrow. “I brought you out here to build a fence, and we’ve been getting to that since we arrived.”
“Why am I the one building fence?” Adam’s tone showed his irritation, and Ben’s brows drew into a single line.
“You’re very good at building fences, Adam, fences and walls.”
“Despite four years of engineering and architecture, I really don’t think I’m any better at fence building than, say, Hoss.”
Ben put down the sandwich in his hand. He gave his eldest a look designed to remind the man that he was a father that allowed no disrespect from a son, no matter what his age, and then spoke softly, “That depends on the kind of fence.”
Adam fought to control his tone. “Maybe you better speak plain, Pa.”
“Some fences are built to keep things in,” Ben’s hand moved to indicate the fence they were building, “Others are built to keep things out.” Ben sighed. “You are far too good at building those, son.”
Adam jerked upward and rose to his feet. “So that was it.” Adam turned his back to his father. Ben waited silently.
Finally, Adam spoke. “Sometimes things need to be kept out.”
Ben rose, stood behind Adam, and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Not those who love you. You need to talk about it. If not to me, then Hoss or whoever.”
“I was a fool, Pa; you don’t know how much of a fool she made of me.” Adam’s voice was soft and sounded very young.
“Then tell me, Adam.” Ben squeezed his son’s shoulder. “Then I’ll tell you about what fools women can make of any man.”
The posts did not get set that day. Instead a few fences came down.