Summary: Little Joe finds something from Adam’s past.
Word Count: 1100
Little Joe Cartwright knew that his eldest brother Adam still had every book he had ever owned. Adam thought books were the most important things in the world, and losing one would be unthinkable. Not that Adam would have looked at his fifth grade McGuffy Reader in a dozen years, but even so, Joe knew it would still be there on one of the many bookshelves in Adam’s room. Joe would just slip in and borrow it. Joe knew he should ask his brother for the loan of the book, but having to explain to Adam that he had lost his own copy which itself was a replacement for his first copy which he had also lost would be as bad as explaining that fact to his pa. He would borrow the book and return it at the end of the school year. The chances that Adam would ever notice its absence were so slim that Joe dismissed them easily.
Waiting for his brother to settle for the evening with his nose in his most recent literary acquisition, Joe slipped upstairs and into his brother’s room. The room itself was supposedly off-limits to the ten-year-old, and Joe knew his pa had given Adam the right to enforce the “no-entrance without permission” rule, so a tingle of dread passed through the boy. He went quickly to the bookshelves that lined the far wall. Scanning the spines, he spotted the familiar McGuffy covers on the bottom shelf. Kneeling down, Joe saw that the readers were neatly lined up in proper order. He pulled the desired book from the shelf and opened the front cover. In his brother’s neat, bold hand was written, “This book is the property of Adam Cartwright aged 9.” Ruffling the pages, Joe was glad to find no obvious changes between this copy and the ones he had lost. As the last page flipped over, Joe found that something had been placed safely within the inside cover. He pulled it out and studied it.
It was a handmade valentine. A large red heart held a smaller white heart. The edge of the red heart had been intricately cut into lace scallops. The white heart had a border of entwined A’s and contained a small drawing of a girl’s face. Below it was printed a short verse.
Your presence changed my winter into an endless spring
Your laughter is the music that caused my heart to sing
Your smile is the sunshine that let my spirit grow
And I will always love you more than you can ever know
It was signed Adam. Joe ran his finger lightly over the signature. The paper was yellow with age, and the edges slightly curled. Joe felt a wave of sadness pass through him.
Joe jumped and turned to see his brother standing in the doorway. The reader dropped from his hands to the floor, and the valentine fluttered after it.
“What are you doing in my room, boy?” Adam’s hands were on his hips, and a scowl darkened his features.
“I just… I only wanted… I was just borrowing a book, Adam. That’s all.” Joe gave his brother a sorrowful smile. “I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“You’d have known for sure if I minded, Joseph, if you had asked my permission first,” Adam admonished.
“I’m sorry. May I?”
“What book is it you want to borrow?”
Joe picked up the reader and handed it to his brother. “Just this.”
Recognizing the book, Adam raised his eyebrow and inquired, “Don’t you have your own copy, Joe?”
“Well, I did, but I lost it.” Joe hung his head and studied the floor.
“Why not just ask Pa to replace it?”
“Cause it’s the second one I lost this year.” Joe tried to look as pitiful as possible.
Adam opened his mouth to launch into a lecture on responsibility when he noticed the valentine lying at Joe’s feet. He bent down and retrieved it.
Joe watched the anger fade from his brother’s face as he looked at the aged valentine. A soft faraway look replaced the previous stern scowl. Adam held the reader out to Joe and said softly, “Take it, and don’t lose it.”
Joe took the book and asked hesitantly, “Are you gonna tell Pa?”
“Not this time. Now go on,” Adam replied pointing to the door.
Joe tensed as he walked past his brother expecting at least one stinging reminder that he had broken several rules, but his backside remained unscathed. Joe sent a silent thanks to the Anna of the valentine.
Lying in bed still awake, Joe heard Adam go to his room. Joe told himself that curiosity killed the cat and that it was best to let sleeping dogs lie and that Adam did not like to be questioned about his love life, but sometimes in the dark of night even elder brother became approachable.
Joe knocked gently and then slipped into Adam’s room. Only the moonlight from the open window lit the room, and Adam was an indistinct form on the bed.
“Is something wrong, Joe?” Adam sprang up recognizing his little brother even in the dark.
“No,” Joe answered as he quickly crossed the room. “Can I talk to ya, Adam?”
Joe settled himself at the foot of Adam’s bed. “Um, I’m sorry I came in your room without your permission,“ he began.
Adam sighed, “You’re forgiven.” Then in a sterner tone, “Don’t do it again!”
“I won’t. I promise. Um, Adam, who was Anna?”
“You read it then?”
“I didn’t mean to pry. Really I didn’t,” Joe offered sincerely.
“I should blister your behind, Joe.” The words were harsh, but there was no fire behind them.
“Who was she, Adam?”
Adam settled back against the headboard remembering. “She was a girl on the last wagon train we traveled with.”
“You were in love with her?”
“We were children, “Adam stated, “far too young to be in love.”
“But you loved her?”
“Yes, I loved her.” Adam admitted. Joe, after all, was his brother.
“Then why didn’t you give her the valentine?” It was the question that had brought Joe to his brother’s room.
“I was going to give it to her on Valentine’s Day, but at the noon break when I went to look for her family’s wagon, it wasn’t there. I found out her family had left the train early that morning. End of story.”
Joe sighed. Then he gave into the impulse to hug his very unhuggable elder brother.