Summary: Celebrating Adam’s birthday was always a somewhat strained affair. But the new addition to the family didn’t know that, and so something new happens that has everyone holding their breaths.
Word Count: 870
In loving memory of Heike, fan, forum host, friend.
Actually, Adam’s birthday had never been grandly celebrated. First, there was the pain of Elizabeth’s passing shortly after she’d given birth to her only child, always at the forefront of Ben’s thinking, and Adam was so young still, a mere babe, and anyway, Ben was alone with his son—who would have benefitted from a birthday party? Later, there was no time to celebrate or no money, most commonly both of those. One day melted into the other, sometimes they were so similar that Ben couldn’t have said if it was tomorrow already or still the day before yesterday. Those times were marked by labour and deprivation, by exhaustion and hunger. A birthday might have been a ray of hope—but in focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel Ben had lost the ability to notice those small, friendly sparkles by the wayside long ago.
Then came Inger, and with her candles and birthday cakes and colourful pennants on the wagon seat. Cake and pennants remained, even after Inger had been torn away from them, but cake and pennants were for children—and Adam didn’t seem to feel like a child anymore.
Marie didn’t even try and put flowers around Adam’s plate on his birthday or serenade him like she did for her other children. She insisted on a birthday kiss, though, and on a merry “Bon anniversaire, mon fils,“ but no one would overtax Adam with more than that. Presents—yes, indeed, by then they could even afford presents—Adam accepted with faint amazement and almost humble gratitude. And then he would bury himself in work.
After Marie died, Adam went to college, and Ben suspected that his eldest opened the parcels they sent him for his birthday only secretly, just so that no one would become aware of anything.
Later, when Adam was back on the ranch, he coincidentally would be in Placerville or San Francisco on his birthday, or somewhere else, the farther away the better it seemed, until he eventually was a very long way off, in Europe. Ben would write him letters there, extra-long ones for his birthday—even though it felt like doing something forbidden.
That Adam would come home to the Ponderosa just on his birthday of all times, could safely be considered as an expression of some peculiar cosmic humour, which then was thoroughly discussed at the breakfast table. The only one who did not understand the joke was Jamie—but how should he, having joined the family only after Adam had gone to Europe and never having witnessed how Adam would bravely endure birthday well-wishes.
That Jamie didn’t come along to the stage coach station to collect the homecoming older brother, seemed understandable to all. Adam should be welcomed there by the family he already knew, and meet the new brother not until back home at the ranch—without half of the town as audience for their first encounter.
But no one could have anticipated that, in the time it took the Cartwrights to ride to town, wait for the stage coach and then pick up and bring the lost son back to the Ponderosa, Jamie would be able to not only decorate the whole great room with pennants, candles and flowers and, with help from Hop Sing, set up a formidable cake buffet, but also to adorn the veranda with lampions and multi-coloured ribbons and a giant banner saying “Happy Birthday, Adam!”—or that he would come up with the idea of doing so to begin with.
Ben was accordingly consternated as they reached the ranch. Of course, the boy meant only well, and Jamie really couldn’t have known…
“Adam,” Ben said. “Son, I’m sorry…” And then he actually was at a loss, he, Ben Cartwright, the man who always found the right words.
He tried a smile, but that turned out rather strained; and in the background Joe giggled, and Hoss said, “Oh, Lordy,” and then Jamie came onto the veranda and grinned broadly and spread his arms wide and cried in a cracking voice, “Welcome home, older brother! And happy birthday!”
And Adam, thunderstruck, stood there in the front yard, staring at the banner and the lampions and the red-haired boy, and back at his family, and then again at the banner. And then he started to laugh. Laughed and laughed and laughed, shook with laughter, bent forward and leaned onto his thighs, laughed and laughed; and then there were tears, and Ben knew they were no tears of laughter, and he laid his arms around his son’s shoulders and squeezed him, gently.
Adam beckoned Jamie over, the boy who by now wasn’t grinning anymore but looked alarmed from one to the other and left the veranda only gingerly to approach the still laughing and crying as if out of his senses stranger.
Adam pulled him close, enfolded him in his arms, and said, “Well, that certainly is a surprise.” And then the grasp tightened, and Jamie heard a hoarse whisper in his ear, “Thank you…little brother.”
A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer. ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca
A/N: This story was first written in German, as a bow to Heike. On occasion of her first birthday after her passing in 2016, I post this translation today, April 30.
This is not beta-read, so if you spot a mistake, please, do not hesitate to tell me.