Summary: Adam and Hoss teach Little Joe what friendship truly is.
Word Count: 2828
The confrontation was like so many others, but this time there was a young lady involved. Adam might have said more, but there were things you never said in front of a lady although he already had some doubts as to whether that truly applied to this young woman. However she deserved the benefit of the doubt, and Little Joe should be giving her that respect too no matter what had happened.
“Her parents already suspect the worst has happened. You can be grateful that I found you instead of Pa.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m real grateful about that. I bet you couldn’t wait to find me.”
“That’s right. I couldn’t. I volunteered to be the one to find you. I’ll give you a chance to get out of this with your hide intact. I don’t think anyone else would.”
“I’m a man. I can take care of myself. Besides, a gentleman knows how to take care of a woman the right way. I wouldn’t let anything happen to Marcella.”
Snorting, Adam had a response to that. “You’re a man simply by age, but a gentleman by choice. Choices like this don’t make you a gentleman.” Then Adam stared at Little Joe until the younger man had to ask why.
“Her parents told Pa they’re expecting a wedding. How do you think you’re going to get out of that?”
“We’re not ready to get married.”
“No, and from what I can tell, you’re no gentleman either so you might have to do get married whether you want to or not.”
“Little Joe, I don’t want to marry you. I don’t want to be stuck on a ranch my whole life.”
“Well, I don’t want to marry you either.”
“We were only having fun.”
“How can we get out of this? My parents can be awfully stubborn.”
“My Pa is tough too.”
“You two ready to listen now?”
“This is the story. You were so interested in each other and having fun, you forgot to ground tie your horses. You were walking to the lake when the horses spooked. Joe, you ran off after the horses, and Marcella, you waited at the lake with Joe’s pistol. I’ll give Marcella a ride home. I’ll let the horses go in the southwest pasture. Joe, you can find them there.”
“Why don’t I ride there with you?”
“You have to look exhausted, remember? Pa won’t be fooled unless you’re footsore and in a foul mood.”
“I will be too if I have to walk that far.”
“Good. Marcella, straighten up your clothing and make sure everything is buttoned up properly. I don’t want your parents accusing me of anything.”
“Hey, wait a minute, Adam, don’t I get any say in this?”
“No. Now, I’m leaving, and you’re walking.”
By the time Ben and Hoss found Joe walking. Although he had seen the two horses across the pasture, he hadn’t gotten to them yet, and he was in a foul mood. He guessed that Adam had taken Marcella home and then rode home to tell their father the story he had concocted. Of course, Adam would tell it in a way that wasn’t a lie. He had a way of only saying the parts that were true. It was a skill that Joe envied. Naturally their father and Hoss had gone out looking for him. Ben Cartwright did look a little suspicious until he saw how exhausted Joe was.
“Pa, the horses got away from me. Marcella is at the lake.”
“No, Adam found her and gave her a ride home. So he knew about the horses being loose, and that’s why we came looking for you.”
“If you could please round them up, I’d like a ride home.”
“Well, we’ll give you a ride to the horses, but, first, young man, you need to take Marcella’s horse home and apologize to her parents for worrying them so much.”
Little Joe was going to object but realized he was getting off pretty easy much as his oldest brother had planned. With a deep sigh and an eye roll because he was still Little Joe, he agreed.
When Little Joe got home, it was late, and dinner was barely warm and mostly rather dried out. He threw a nasty look at Adam. Ben noticed.
“Why are you mad at your brother?”
Little Joe needed a cover story fast. Adam supplied it.
“My guess is that he’s mad because when I found Marcella, I didn’t immediately go looking for help for him.”
That was close enough to the truth so that Little Joe could continue to glare at Adam earning an admonishment from his father.
“Joseph, her parents were sick with worry. Adam’s priority was to get her home.”
Adam snorted. “Not to mention that marriage had been mentioned.”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind one of my sons getting married, but I certainly don’t think my seventeen-year old son should be the first one.” Ben gave Adam a pointed look so he turned back to his book saying nothing more. Satisfied with that and Little Joe’s silence, he assumed it was all settled and relaxed to read the rest of the newspaper and finish smoking his pipe.
Not wanting to get into a conversation with his father about the day’s events, Adam excused himself to go to bed when his younger brothers did. Although Ben was at first surprised, he understood when Adam said he was a bit tired after all the commotion and the extra riding on the day that was supposed to be his day to rest up from a hard week.
“Yes, tomorrow you have to head out for a couple of days work with the men. I know you want to spend as much time in your comfortable bed as you can before that.”
“Don’t remind me.”
With a few chuckles, Adam walked up the stairs and Ben turned back to the last article in the paper. Everyone slept well that night except Little Joe who kept replaying the events of Sunday afternoon and how he thought things could have been handled better.
Little Joe wasn’t in a good mood at all when he went out to work with Hoss the next day although he had managed to put on a more neutral face at breakfast.
“Now what’d I do to make you so goldarned ornery?”
“It’s not you.”
“Well, I’m the only one here.” Then Hoss paused and stared at his little brother. “You still stewing on what happened yesterday. Don’t you worry. It’s all been smoothed over.”
“Oh, sure. Take his side.”
“I lost my girl, I had to walk for hours, and I had to go humiliate myself in front of her parents and it was all because of Adam.”
“Boy, you got that all backwards. It was all because of you. Adam was the best friend you coulda hoped for yesterday.”
“Some friend. Why didn’t you come looking for me instead of letting Pa send Adam?”
“I wanted Adam to be the one.”
“Of course I did. Listen, you was out there with a gal and more than likely, there was gonna be some kind of trouble. They’d already been to the ranch and were talking that there was gonna be a marriage because of what they thought you were doing with their daughter. I figured Adam was your only chance. I ain’t so good at being sneaky and figuring out how to get around things. When Pa said one of us ought to go find you, I let him go.”
“I didn’t do nothing with her that wasn’t mostly her idea, and she was all for it all the way.”
“Oh, I know it. Half the younger men talk about her that way.”
“You ain’t heard because they knew you was a little sweet on her, but she’ll do most anything for a nice present.”
Little Joe actually blushed a little at that embarrassed to find out that all the money he’d spent on her could likely have been a lot less. “Did Adam know about her too?”
“Sure. He’s had his share of that kind not usually so close to home though. He’s more on the careful side than you. Took me aside years ago and told me the way of things.”
“He never told me.”
“Not in so many words, but he tried. Would you have listened if he told you direct?”
“No, probably not. I don’t like him being bossy.”
“Well, you can call it that, but I call it our older brother trying to be a friend. You’d be further ahead if you give him the chance sometime.”
Work went quite a bit better after that except for a few times when Little Joe was distracted by his own thinking processes. Hoss learned to make sure he was paying attention before he swung a hammer after a few misses that hit flesh instead of the intended nail head. At lunchtime, Little Joe was in a much better mood.
“Adam said something that was funny at the time now that I think about it.”
“What’d he say?”
“Something about being a man only by your birthdays but being a gentleman by choice. It was when I said I was a gentleman and knew how to take care of a lady.”
“I bet you wasn’t looking like no gentleman at the time.”
“Yeah, that’s what makes it funny, and she definitely wasn’t looking like a lady. He told her to button up her clothes proper like so her parents wouldn’t accuse him of doing anything.”
“See, even there, he was looking out for you. They wouldn’t have accused him. They woulda known why her clothes weren’t like they should have been.”
“You know, I never thought about that.”
“That’s our older brother though: always thinking.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
During the afternoon work, Little Joe was unusually quiet again. Hoss followed the same precautions he had learned to follow in the morning. With good cheer, Little Joe greeted his father each day and then Adam on Thursday when he returned home with good cheer. The positive nature of the greeting surprised both, and they looked to Hoss for an explanation.
“You know how it is with him. He needs time to think on it until he gets it right in his head. I’m thinking he’s gotten to that place now.”
When Adam nodded, Ben accepted that what Hoss had said must have made perfect sense under the circumstances. He wasn’t sure what they were, but Adam would not have agreed if there was a problem with it. Ben assumed all was well. The next day when Adam was scheduled to go into town for supplies, Hoss suggested Little Joe ought to go with him.
“Hoss, I was hoping to stop in for a beer or two.”
“Adam, you still could.” Hoss turned to look at their father wondering if he would give his permission this time.
Leaning up against the stove, Adam was quiet and waited to hear what his father would say. He definitely wanted that time for a beer and a bit of time relaxing in town. As Hoss and Adam waited, Little Joe was nervous and had to fight the urge to argue. Adam caught Hoss’ attention and the two shared a nearly invisible smile seeing their little brother’s nervousness.
“Well, the boy is working full-time and hasn’t been in any trouble lately. If it’s all right with Adam, Little Joe can go in the saloon and have a beer too. Now that’s one beer, and Joseph, you will agree to do what Adam says to do no matter if you think you have a better idea. Is that clear?”
Hoss walked out with Little Joe as he went to saddle his horse. “Thanks, Hoss, for helping me out in there.”
“Wasn’t much. Adam pushing Pa to do this for a long time now had a lot more to do with it.”
“It was Adam’s idea?”
“Course it was. He’s kinda the foreman here and looks out for the men. He told Pa that you work like a man and get paid like a hand so you ought to be able to be treated like one including going into the saloon for a beer.” Hoss took a moment. “Now, there’s one more thing. You’re gonna get a chance to talk like a man to our older brother too. Think about what kinds of things you might want to say.”
“That’s easy, isn’t it: women and drinking.”
“Maybe so.” But Hoss was more serious than laughing.
In the saloon, Adam ordered two beers. The bartender raised an eyebrow, but Adam raised two fingers and pointed at himself and Little Joe.
“They’re on the house, Adam. Congratulations, Little Joe.”
When they sat at the table, Adam advised Joe to sip it.
Little Joe snapped back. “I’ve had beer before!” Usually of course, it had been rushed and a few quick gulps before he got caught drinking. He never had a full mug before this one. “Sorry.”
“We’ve got time to relax, and if you drink it too fast after riding in like we did, you can get a quick buzz but also possibly a little queasy in the stomach. Sip the first part slowly and let yourself get ready for it. You can take bigger swallows as you get used to it.”
“I won’t drain the whole thing like Hoss.”
With a crooked grin, Adam admitted he had done that on occasion too but sometimes regretted it.
“Does Hoss ever regret it?”
“I don’t think he ever regrets anything he eats or drinks.”
“I think you’re right on that.”
They talked about a number of topics, but most of them light or even silly until Little Joe had a more serious topic.
“Hoss says you’re the best friend he and I have.”
“You’re not sure if that’s true?”
“I wasn’t, but I’ve been thinking about friendship. I even made a list of the things a real friend would do for you or with you. When I did it, I guess I found out Hoss was right. What you did with me to take care of Marcella was what a friend would have done. You did what was right even though I didn’t know it at the time. You see, I realized a friend does for you what you need and what you want even if you don’t know that’s what it is. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I do. Hoss and I have been like that for years now.”
“I’d like to be that way too. I’d like to be your friend as well as your brother.”
“Little Joe, you already are. We accept that we’re different in a lot of ways, we respect those differences, we rely on each other, we trust each other to be there when we need someone.”
“You mean like we’re proud of each other, and we keep our word to each other?”
“Yeah, that kind of thing. We’re not only family. That comes from being born with the same parents, or in this case, the same father. No, we’ve got more than that.”
“You know, this has been great. We should do this more. In fact, we could do this more if we could have a second beer.” Little Joe looked up with those puppy dog eyes that worked so well with his father, and truthfully, with a number of young ladies too.
“Won’t work with me, Little Joe. Pa trusted me when he said one beer for you. Respect goes both ways, and if I want it, I have to keep my word and be reliable. No, I agree that this has been enjoyable, but now it’s time to go home.”
“You are a little bossy, you know.”
“And you’re a little, no, I’m not going there. Let’s just go home.”
Joe giggled as they left the saloon. “Even if that one saloon girl who was eyeing you up the whole time is looking so sad now?”
“Give me a minute.”
After that minute, Adam was back.
“That was one hell of a kiss.”
She’s one hell of a kisser. But never tell Pa I said that.”
The two brothers got to share a conspiratorial laugh before the ride home. More than anything, that made Little Joe feel accepted as if he had passed several milestones that afternoon. Truly, Little Joe Cartwright felt like he had become an adult that week. He didn’t yet realize all the learning there was yet to do, but in his heart and in his mind, he was an adult, and his confidence and his attitude showed it. Ben asked Adam what had been in that one beer. Adam and Hoss only smiled.