Summary: Some questions are easier to answer than others. And it doesn’t help that Adam is entirely on his own when his son asks this particular one.
Word Count: 1550
“Papa, can you tell me about the birds and the bees? Ned tried to tell me what his pa explained, but I didn’t understand it.”
Adam felt the colour drain from his face. Ever since he’d become a father he’d been dreading that question. He heard a soft “Good luck” and the ruffling of a skirt from behind, and, predictably, when he turned around he saw the back of his wife, who was hastily retreating into the kitchen.
He was alone. Doomed.
He cleared his throat thoroughly and threw a last desperate glance to the kitchen, where, as sure as hell and taxes, Juliet was eavesdropping and preparing to having the time of her life. He sighed, gave his son a weak smile, and started to speak in a faint voice.
“Well, Henry, the birds…um…well, yes, they lay eggs, and then they sit on them; and after so many days the eggs crack open and the hatchlings, err, hatch out.” Now, that hadn’t been so hard, had it? With a renewed confidence he continued, “You already knew this from our chickens, don’t you?”
“Yes. But it’s only when we don’t eat them eggs afore, Papa.”
“What? Yes, if we don’t eat them before. So that’s how birds and chickens are born.”
Adam realised he hadn’t explained much, at least not from the actual question, the one that went straight into the heart of things—and he started to feel weak again. “And, um, it’s the same with people. Somehow. The women…” He trailed off, wondering where this would lead to. How had his father explained it? From the kitchen he heard a soft chuckle. That woman! He would—
“The women lay eggs?” Henry was only five, but he wasn’t an idiot. He knew when he was being kidded, or at least he thought so. And surely Papa didn’t think he’d believe that.
“Of course they don’t. They….” Adam fingered at his shirt collar. Why was it so hot today in the living room? “Well, they…ah….”
“They…?” Henry prompted and looked expectantly at his father, who was literally squirming in his seat. Henry wondered if Papa had back cramps again. But the back cramps usually came with chills, and Papa looked quite hot. Hot and uncomfortable, just like last week, when Mama had asked if Papa had any idea what possibly could have happened to the lemon biscuits she’d stored away for “special occasions.” Yeah, just like then—only without the crumbs on his chin.
Adam gazed back at his son, and suddenly it struck him. There was an easy way out, such an easy way. Why hadn’t he thought of it earlier? “Henry, you’ve seen Coral foaling just last week. She had the foal in her tummy, and then she…well, foaled. With humans it’s the same.” He all but rubbed his hands. There. It had been much easier than anticipated. He was only happy they were living on a ranch and not somewhere in the big cities. He felt sorry for all the fathers who had no good examples to refer to, and congratulated himself for his decision to stay at the Ponderosa instead of touring Europe.
“The women foal? Mama foaled in the barn?” Henry stared, wide-eyed.
“It’s called giving birth—and you will not talk to anybody about this, you hear me? And women do it in their beds. But technically—”
He was interrupted by a harrumph from the kitchen and wisely fell silent.
“Woah!” Henry seemed deeply impressed, and Adam knew the boy would view his mother with new eyes from now on.
“Well, if that’s all, shall we have tea now?” Adam was immensely satisfied with himself. “And maybe there’s even a piece of apple pie left.”
Henry leaned back in his seat opposite from his Papa’s blue chair and crossed his arms. He contemplated his father for a moment, pursing his lips in a way that made Adam think he was seeing himself in a mirror. Apparently Henry’s curiosity wasn’t satisfied yet. Adam smiled. Of course, with his parents, Henry was sure to be a child with a great hunger for knowledge. And Adam loved to satisfy this hunger.
Well, most of the times.
“And how do the foals and children get into them mama’s tummies?”
Adam stared. His skin started itching, and his throat felt dry. It was not only hot in this room, but also stifling. From the kitchen he heard a choking sound. That reminded him….
“Henry, I think your mother would like to tell you that.” Well, he wasn’t the only educated person in the house, was he? And hadn’t Juliet always been adamant that Henry should be schooled by both his parents?
“No, Adam, you go ahead. You’re doing great.” Her voice rang from the kitchen in a curious mixture of amusement and anguish. Adam had never considered her a coward, but obviously not only Henry was learning something new today.
He looked at his son, fervently hoping for a miracle. Something that would distract Henry. Five-year-olds were easily to distract, and maybe a ladybug would just fly in and—no, not in January. Adam leaned his forehead on his hand and thought. Thought hard. Thought hard about how he could possibly stall this question. Preferably until—well, until never.
“How do they get in?”
Adam groaned. No stalling. He pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Son, you know mamas and papas sleep in one bed. That’s how.” He tried to keep an impassive face. This should do, shouldn’t it? Dear God in heaven, that was more than he had known until he had seen a stallion in action for the first time—and he had been ten by then.
“But you and Mama sleep in one bed nearly every night, and you have only one foa—, er, child.” Henry obviously still wasn’t satisfied.
That boy was too smart for his own good. And too smart for Adam’s nerves. Especially now when his nerves were aggravated by his wife’s sniggering in the kitchen anyway.
Adam clenched the armrests of his chair. Inwardly he counted to ten. Slowly, deliberately. Oh, the joys of fatherhood. Suddenly he felt a pang of sympathy for his own father. He couldn’t remember, though, asking him questions like this. He never would have dared. Neither would have his brothers. But, of course, he had to raise his own son differently. Ask anything you like, he remembered having said that time and again. Well, what did he know when he had blurted that out? He really should consider his words more wisely.
“I should have a dozen brothers.” Henry sounded disappointed. “Papa. Papa? Papa!”
Adam, pulled out of his musings, looked up into Henry’s face. Inquiring gaze, raised eyebrow, imperious tone—the boy was unquestionably his mother’s son.
“Well, it’s not so much the sleeping in one bed, but…” It was hot in this darn room. Adam opened his shirt collar. He hadn’t sweated like that since the branding in June.
“Are you all right, Papa?” Henry had the brass to ask.
“I’m fine. Just dandy.” If only that woman would stop snickering.
“So it ain’t the sleeping, but…?”
Darn, that kid was insistent. Another trait he’d clearly inherited from his mother.
“It isn’t, Henry.”
“I understood that it ain’t. But what is it?” Now Henry was becoming impatient. God, Adam had never known his child was so much like his mother.
Was that royalty? One could never be sure with this—
“Answer him already, Adam.” Now, that was royalty.
Heaving a deep, deep sigh, Adam resigned himself to his fate. “Son, when mamas and papas sleep in one bed, and they are really, really tender with each other, then sometimes it happens that they conceive a child.” And if they are unlucky, the Lord takes it to Heaven even before it’s born, he nearly added bitterly—but that was something Henry had witnessed already.
He watched his son, anxiously waiting for the verdict.
“So that’s how.” Henry finally sounded satisfied; and Adam released the breath he had been holding.
Henry stood, crossed the short distance to his father’s chair, and whispered in Adam’s ear, “Can’t you and Mama be really, really tender just once more, so I’m gonna have a brother like Ned?”
Adam smiled and whispered back, “I think we can, buddy.”
Henry went back to his abandoned chair, sat down, gave his father a conspiratorial grin and nodded eagerly. “And now tell me about the birds and the bees,” he demanded cheerfully. “Why do them birds eat flies but not bees?”
Adam gaped at his son, dumbfounded, until his head sunk down and, groaning, he buried his face his hands, while in the kitchen someone exploded with laughter.
You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance. ~Franklin P. Jones
With many thanks to Sklamb, for another wonderful beta.