Word Count: 1100
He looked around the room one more time. Everything that made it his alone was gone, packed or packed away. How could someplace so familiar look so strange? He sat down on the bed. Was he doing the right thing? A breeze blew in the window bringing the scent of pine. There had been a breeze the day he had decided.
“Adam, it’s time you decided, you know?” Cassie sat on a large boulder overlooking the lake with her knees tucked under her chin and her bare feet peaking out from under the hem of her skirts.
Adam raised his right eyebrow. “Just what is it that I need to decide, pray tell?”
“If you’re going.”
“Away from the Ponderosa.” She looked at him intently.
He opened his mouth to push away the discussion with an off-handed remark, but somehow she had always been the one to whom he could speak the deep truths. A childhood habit he had not been able to break.
“I keep telling myself I will. I keep telling myself I can’t. Then I just tell myself to wait.” Adam Cartwright turned to stare out over Lake Tahoe.
“Are you still waiting for Little Joe to grow up? Adam, he’s twenty-three!” Cassie’s voice was chiding.
“And the epitome of maturity and responsibility. Why, just last week, I nearly tanned his twenty-three-year old hide. Only reason I didn’t was that it probably wouldn’t have done anymore good than it did when he was thirteen.”
She decided not to veer into a discussion of the youngest Cartwright’s attributes good or bad. “There is Hoss.”
“Hoss is the best person I know. He’s a top notch judge of livestock, any rancher in the territory would make a deal with him on just a handshake, and every decent man on the ranch would work his heart out if he asked, but that brother of mine could never write an airtight lumber contract or fire a lazy hand. Truth be told, he would never want to do any of a hundred things he’d have to do. You don’t realize…”
“That it’s an empire, not a ranch, that you and your father run? That Hoss is the least suited person to be an emperor that God ever made? That you tell yourself you can’t leave unless you’re sure the little prince can fill your shoes as chancellor until he takes the crown himself?” The look he gave her was his only answer. “You can’t wait until Joe grows up, Adam.”
“So you don’t think he ever will?” Adam’s voice was heavy with an emotion close to fear.
“I don’t think he’ll ever grow up in the sense you mean until after you’ve left. Until then, Adam, he just doesn’t need to.” She bit her lip and took her eyes from Adam to stare over the lake. “You and Mr. Ben reared that boy. Joe’s a Cartwright. Has he ever not stepped up when it really counted?” Her last question was asked ever so gently.
Adam shook his head. “He always has.” He turned to look at the woman sitting there looking hardly older then the first time they had talked beside this lake. Then her braids had hung down her back instead of coiling around her head, and her figure had been without curves, but the serious eyes had filled her face with the same expression.
“You think I should go.” More than anyone, she knew the dreams that called him away. Why had he told her so much through the years? A wry smile crossed his lips. He could trust her not to tell his secrets; he had never told hers.
“I think you should go or stay for the right reasons. You should not stay to please your pa, take care of Little Joe, or tend a dream that does not nurse your soul.” Cassie’s voice was vehement. “I think you’ve held your life in waiting for too long. Go and find your own dream or stay and build one, but decide. Adam, until you do, you will never find the love or contentment that you deserve.” She sprang down from her perch and turned her back to him, so he could not see her eyes.
“I don’t know if I can leave them.” There was a trace of despair in his tone.
She did not turn but spoke to him while staring at the gray, rough surface of the rock. “Little Joe couldn’t. He’s bound to this place. Your father’s dream is not a dream for him; it’s his reality. Any woman he loves will have to become part of this. Hoss, well, Hoss fits here, but if Ben and Joe and you went somewhere else… well, for Hoss, home is where the people he loves are happy.”
“Do you think I love this place…love them any less?” Adam hissed the words.
“No!” She knew that he feared that deep within himself. “Adam, you’re different from them. You love just as fiercely, just as deep, but you have the ability to carry your family in your heart. Maybe it’s something you learned when you were very young; maybe it’s just the way you were made, but you can love them and still leave them, so decide if you will.” She could not keep her voice from breaking.
“You don’t want me to leave, do you?” There was one thing of which they had never spoken.
“I want you to be happy. Your father and brothers want you to be happy. Stay because it is right for you; go because it’s right for you. Don’t use your little brother as an excuse not to decide. It makes you resent him, you know.”
He knew sometimes it was true. As much as he loved his baby brother, his overgrown little brother, and his father, he knew sometimes it was true.
She said no more. He watched her ride away, and suddenly he knew he had decided.
He stood and walked to the window. Looking out he said his goodbyes. He turned again and looked about him. How many times had he left other places on the way to this home? How desperately he had wanted never to leave another place then, and here he was choosing to go. Well, one thing he had learned through all those leavings: every ending is a beginning. He walked to the door and stepped through. It was time for his new beginning. Adam Cartwright shut the door and walked toward his future.