Summary: Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? It all depends on one’s perspective.
Rating: K+ (4,440 words)
In the Pines
“Anything the matter, son?”
“Ah, no Pa.” Adam replied vacantly. “I’m fine.”
“You certainly have been quiet these last few weeks.”
Adam only responded to his father’s observation with a brief grin.
“Are you feeling alright? Are you ill?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.”
“Adam.” Ben’s voice was low and forceful.
“I know you better than anyone on God’s green earth. You can’t hide from me. I know when something is on your mind.” Ben looked at his eldest boy from beneath his dark and rather substantial brow. “And… there is something on your mind.”
“It’s nothing,” Adam reassured. “I’m fine, really.”
Adam rose from the chair that stood at the base of the broad-beamed staircase in the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house. He’d been sitting there all evening. He read no book. He had no financial statements in front of him to study, not even a drafting of his latest building to perfect. After Joe and Hoss had gone to bed, Adam simply sat there, stone-faced. He stared off into the fire that always flickered beyond the hearth. Ben couldn’t help but notice his son’s obvious distance.
As Ben watched Adam methodically ascend the stairs, he felt a sudden surge of concern. In the past, Adam had always confided in him when he was troubled. Adam’s recent silence worried him. Adam was blatantly burdened with unrest, leaving Ben feeling helpless. But, Ben pondered, his eldest was a grown man and capable of solving most quandaries on his own.
With a nasally sigh, Adam entered his darkened bedroom. It reflected his mood. He crossed the hardwood quietly and lit the lamp beside his bed. Then, wearily, he sat on the edge of it and placed his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He massaged his eyes for a few moments before laying back flat. He kept one foot firmly planted on the ground. The back of his right wrist rested gently on his forehead while his left hand draped casually over his abdomen. He stared blankly at the ceiling. A soft knock at his door interrupted his trance.
“Adam?” Ben said through the heavy oak door. “Adam? I’d like to talk to you, son. May I come in?”
Adam sat up. His head sank between his shoulders and bobbed with melancholy. He closed his eyes as tightly as they would go. He was going to have to break. It was just as well. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. He braced himself. “Ah, sure Pa. Come on in,” he replied as he clenched the edge of the mattress.
Ben cracked the door open and peeked in before entering the room. Tentatively, he walked over to the chair that sat in front of Adam’s drafting table. The two men did not make eye contact and both held their positions until Ben finally broke the silence.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Help?” Adam replied, still trying to shield himself.
“I don’t want to pry,” Ben assured. “But, I want you to know that I will always be here for you, no matter what. You do know that, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Adam had yet to look at his father. “I know.”
“Have you and Joseph had words again? Are you two still arguing about north and south?”
“No sir,” Adam answered shortly.
It was obvious to Ben that this conversation was going nowhere. It was true. He did know his boy like the back of his own hand. So he knew that Adam was only going to open up to him when Adam was good and ready. With an affable shrug, Ben stood to leave. “Well, good night then,” he said resignedly. “Try and get some rest.”
“I’m… I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“I just feel…lost.” Adam finally divulged.
Ben’s complexion changed from mild vexation to despondency. His heart sank. He shoved both hands into his pants pockets and sat back down. “I’m terribly sorry to hear you say that Adam. I thought you were happy here.”
“I thought I was too, Pa.”
“So what has brought on this unfortunate revelation?”
Adam help up a well-read letter. The paper was crumpled and worn, and had obviously spent time in a back pocket. He handed it to his father. “It’s from Daniel Briggs,” Adam announced.
“Daniel Briggs, Daniel Briggs,” Ben repeated as if saying the name over and over would jog his memory.
“My college roommate.”
“Ah yes, Daniel Briggs,” Ben said with a wide smile. “And, this letter from Dan has upset you?”
“No…well, yes. I guess it has.”
“Oh? How so?” Ben looked at the letter bewildered.
“He has his own architectural firm in New York. He’s working with some of the top men in his field. He’s married, with two children. He’s got it all, Pa. He’s got everything I ever wanted.”
“I’m sorry, son; I don’t know what to say.”
“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a cattleman, Pa,” Adam stated boldly. He shook his head woefully. “I’ve come to the realization that I’m just not happy.”
Adam’s declaration hit Ben in the gut like a sledgehammer. It rendered him speechless. He could do nothing but stare at the floor to try and regain his composure.
“It’s not you. Or Hoss or Little Joe. It’s me. I just don’t feel fulfilled. I, well, I guess I just need more than chasing steers, fixing fences and honing trees.”
“Why didn’t you say anything before, Adam?”
“I didn’t want to let you down. I didn’t want you to be disappointed in me.”
“Disappointed?” Ben’s tone reeked of absurdity. “Your unhappiness disappoints me, son. All I want for you is to be content with whatever you choose to be. You have to find yourself and what completes you as a man, Adam. If you don’t, then that is when I will be let down. My son’s happiness is paramount. Don’t you know that, Adam? Don’t you know that whatever makes you happy will make me happy too?”
“I guess so.” Adam didn’t sound convinced.
“Adam. If you want to go -– leave the Ponderosa — if you need to find a new life for yourself in New York or wherever, I want you to. You have my blessing. Don’t let my dreams become yours by default. Please, son. I only want what is best for you.”
“I don’t know, Pa., Adam replied with desperation. Ben could tell he was torn. “I don’t know what I should do.”
“Do whatever your heart is telling you to do.” Ben’s plea was avid. “Do you want to go to New York and work with Daniel?”
“Yes…no…I don’t know. I only know one thing for certain.”
“My ambivalence.” He chuckled dryly.
“There is another thing you can be certain of Adam,” Ben offered.
“That your brothers and I love you and support you in whatever you choose to do.”
Adam finally looked up at his father. He had to smile. His father was right. His family did care about him. He was sure of that.
“Well, might I suggest something?” Ben continued.
“I’m all ears, Pa.”
“Get away. Take a trip. Think it through with a clear head without me or your brothers around to distract you. If you are not happy here, then you shouldn’t be here. Maybe you’ll find what you are looking for…elsewhere.”
“I’m sorry, Pa.”
“Don’t be sorry, Adam.” Ben’s voice was strong and powerful. “Be glad that you’ve discovered something important about yourself.”
“Oh. What’s that?”
“That you have no limits, Adam. You have the luxury of being whatever you want. It is a rare thing. I don’t want you to feel that you are wasting your life. You of all people can be absolutely anything. Maybe even President someday, eh?” Ben beamed with pride.
“Thanks, Pa. I hadn’t thought about it that way before.”
“Now, tomorrow morning, I suggest you get on your horse and go and find your happiness. Go and find out who Adam Cartwright really is. You’ll see. The answer will come. It may take time, but it will come. I hope, in the end, your search brings you back home. But, if it doesn’t, I will understand. You are my son, Adam, and you always will be.”
“Hey! Where’s Adam going?” Joe asked as he stood at the front door’s threshold. He had heard a horse and went to investigate, hoping it might be his new girlfriend. He munched on a piece of toast as he watched his brother ride away.
“He’s got his guitar strapped to his back and everything. He looks like he’s running away from home,” Joe chortled.
“Come and sit, Joseph. I need to talk to both of you.”
Ben and Hoss sat at the breakfast table. Hoss had barely noticed that his family was missing one. He was more focused on Hop Sing’s biscuits and strawberry jam. Ben had no appetite.
Joe obliged his father’s request and returned to the table. He was somewhat disturbed by his tone and his brother’s sudden retreat. “What is it, Pa? Where is Adam going?” Joe asked with apprehension.
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t know?” Hoss finally joined in. “What do you mean you don’t know?”
“It seems your brother has a problem.”
“What’s the matter with him?” Hoss said with all his attention.
“Well, in recent weeks, he’s discovered he isn’t satisfied with his life out here.”
“Satisfied?” Joe sounded perplexed. “It’s just plain, hard work, Pa. What is unsatisfying about that?”
“Nothing for you and me. But Adam isn’t like you and me.”
Both Joe and Hoss gazed at their father begging the question.
“Adam needs… stimulation in order to be happy. He needs to be challenged.”
“Are you sayin’ that Adam ain’t happy here on the Ponderosa, Pa?” Hoss seemed shocked. It was paradise to him.
“Well, yes. That is what I’m saying.”
“Then where is he going?” Joe asked.
“Well, is he coming back?”
“I don’t know, son. I truly don’t know.”
“I’m going after him,” Joe announced as he threw his napkin on his plate. He stood to leave.
“No, no, Joseph.” Ben grabbed his youngest by the forearm. “I’m afraid there is nothing we can do about it. This is something Adam is going to have to deal with on his own.”
“But he didn’t even say good-bye,” Joe murmured sorrowfully.
“He asked me to say good-bye for him. I’m afraid your older brother is not one for sentiment.” Ben rested his elbows on the table and laced his fingers tightly together. He placed his lips on his knuckles and shook his head. Anxiety was etched on his face.
Joe retook his seat. “It’s alright Pa.” Joe comforted. “Adam will be back. You know him. He just needs a little time away is all.”
“I hope so, Joe. I really hope so.”
Adam decided to let Sport take the lead. Whatever direction his horse took, Adam would oblige.
He felt bad about leaving without explaining his situation to Hoss and Joe. He at least owed them that. But he couldn’t do it. He planned to have breakfast with them and tell them his vague plans. At the last moment, he chickened out and asked Ben to break the news.
Adam fully expected to see Joe chasing after him, but he never did. Strangely, that disappointed him. Even though he’d only been separated from his family for less than two hours, he missed them already.
But he surged forward -– straight ahead. What was in store for him, he hadn’t a clue. His future was now a blank slate. That both terrified and invigorated him. Where his journey would end was a mystery. Would he ever return to his Nevada home? Unknown.
Adam was virtually unrecognizable in his brand new suit. He arrived in New York City several days ago and felt out of place without his usual western wear. His familiar black ensemble was now hanging neatly in his hotel room. It took Adam a few days to get used to donning such a businesslike exterior. He was so used to being dirty with the honest soil and sweat of a proud cattleman. But those days were now far behind him.
Once Adam had reached Sault Lake City, he’d made up his mind to board the train to New York. If he didn’t, he thought, how would he know where he really belonged? He’d wired his family to tell them of his plans and to expect shipment of his horse Sport back to the ranch.
As he found himself walking the cobbled streets of the big city, the crowds of people swarmed around him. They all seemed to be in such a hurry. Adam wasn’t sure what could cause such urgency. At one point, a man bumped right into him, almost knocking Adam off his feet. The man only scoffed at Adam, telling him to get out of the way. After such a long journey, Adam was now having second thoughts. The people here were not the sort of folks he was used to.
Now, with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, he made his way down the avenue toward Daniel Briggs’ office. The modern buildings, some with over ten stories, towered over him, making Adam feel quite insignificant. He reached the address and entered into a magnificent foyer with marble floors and ornate fixtures. An elevator awaited him directly ahead. Adam had only been in an elevator once before in San Francisco, but not one as fancy as this. He pushed the button and rode up to the 8th floor where a young receptionist sat behind a massive, oak desk. It dwarfed her.
“Adam Cartwright to see Daniel Briggs, please, Miss.”
“One moment,” she replied curtly.
The woman then stood and quietly escorted Adam to a large boardroom. The center table had to be 30 feet long and made of an exotic wood. It was most impressive, and all of a sudden Adam felt intimidated. His uneasiness with all of this pomp filled every pore of his being.
“Mr. Briggs will be right in, Mr. Cartwright.”
Adam made a sour face when she left the room. He found her attitude terse.
“I wonder who stole her puppy?” he muttered sarcastically under his breath.
He perused the expensive artwork collection that covered the mahogany walls and helped himself to a glass of water. Apparently, only the finest crystal was acceptable. This was a bit much, he thought. His apprehension was abruptly interrupted when his old pal burst through the boardroom doors.
The two men embraced and slapped each other on the back with great enthusiasm.
“I was so glad to get your letter.” Daniel said. “What took you so long? We could use a good man like you!”
“Well, the family business and all. You know.”
“I don’t know how you live in that God-forsaken place.”
“The West isn’t all THAT bad, Dan. You need to get out there and see for yourself.”
“No thanks,” Daniel scoffed. “I’m glad you finally saw the light. Let me show you to your new office. Then I’ll introduce you to everyone. Tonight I’ll take you home with me, and we’ll have dinner and catch up. Julia and the children can’t wait to meet you,” Daniel gushed. “They’ve heard so many stories about our escapades in college.”
“They were good times.”
“The good times are just about to begin my friend. Welcome.”
Adam sipped his coffee as he watched Dan’s wife Julia enter the dining room with a delicious-looking cake. It looked very white and prime. It was almost too pretty to cut into, but she did in the most businesslike way. Adam sat across from Dan’s two children, David and Katherine, who seemed quite stern. They had little to say, even if they were only 9 and 6 years of age. Adam wondered why they were so unchildlike, almost sad. He was used to happy, boisterous children –- he liked them that way.
“So, tell me about school, David.” Adam asked the young boy. “What are you studying?”
“Nothing? You must be learning something?”
David did not respond, making Adam feel, yet again, uncomfortable. He sensed discord in this family, but couldn’t quite put his finger on what exactly was wrong. He’d never experienced a family dynamic quite like this before.
“Ah, what about you, Katherine?” Adam turned his attention to the little girl, trying to engage her in some sort of conversation. “Are you enjoying school?”
“No,” she replied sharply. “I HATE school.”
“Hate school? Well, I’ve never heard of such a thing. What is it about school that you dislike?”
“Never mind, Katie.” Daniel interrupted. “You both get to your rooms and get ready for bed now. It’s getting late.”
Without a murmur of protest, the two children stood and moved slowing toward the staircase and up to their respective rooms.
Adam took a bite of his cake, not knowing how to avoid the awkwardness of the situation. Julia seemed oblivious to any tension. Judging from her demeanor, it looked like this was normal behavior. She was barely cordial and had little personality or contentment.
“Let’s retire to the den, Adam.” Daniel suggested. “I have some wonderful brandy, and a cigar if you smoke.”
“Sounds great,” Adam said with relief. “Thank you so much for the dinner, Julia. It was delicious. Hop Sing couldn’t have done better.”
“What’s a Hop Sing?” She asked with subtle disgust.
“Oh. Sorry. He’s our cook back home. Wonderful man when he’s not complaining.” Adam laughed.
“If you say so.”
“Well… shall we?” Dan said as he stood and gestured toward the den.
Adam was taken aback by Julia’s condescending tone. Had he done something to make her so dismissive? He pondered as he followed Dan into the next room.
“You’ll have to forgive my family Adam.”
“Oh?” he said as if he hadn’t noticed the obvious distress.
“Truth is, old buddy, we’re in trouble. Julia is not very happy with me these days.”
Daniel and Adam sat in opposite leather chairs that faced each other. Between them stood a stone fireplace, and above it, a mantel that held a myriad of expensive trinkets. Daniel poured two glasses of only the best brandy money could buy and handed one to Adam. “Cigar?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
The men light their stogies and then waited for someone to start up the conversation again.
“So, ah… how are you liking it out here Adam?”
“Oh, you know… New York is not Virginia City. More people… more of everything. It’s a bit overwhelming.”
“I can image.”
Again, the small talk dried up and again each man awaited the next round. But Adam had little patience for small talk. As a matter of fact, he disliked it a great deal. “Look Dan.” Adam began. “What’s going on here?”
“You have a very nice home, a beautiful wife and children. Why is everyone so unhappy?”
“Oh. You noticed.”
“It’s hard not to.”
“It’s complicated, Adam. And, I must say a little embarrassing.”
“Dan. We’ve known each other for almost twenty years. You can talk to me about anything. You know that.”
“Well, to be frank… the business is failing and I’m about to lose this house.”
“What?” Adam said as he sat up straight in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees. He cradled his brandy sniffer in both hands.
“Julia’s father loaned me the money to start the firm and for a down payment on this house. He thinks I’m a failure and refuses to help. If I can’t find a substantial amount of money, all of this will be gone. Julia and I have been arguing and it’s affected the children, I’m afraid. ”
“I see,” Adam said thoughtfully.
Daniel stared at his friend waiting for Adam to chime in and rescue him.
“And, you want me to give you said amount of money?” Adam asked with trepidation.
“No no. I want you to become my partner and invest in the firm.”
“Why would I invest in a company that is all but bankrupt?”
“Because I know we can make it work. With you, we can continue.”
“You mean with MY money, YOU can continue.”
“It’s not like that, Adam.”
“And just how much money are we talking here, Dan?”
“One hundred thousand dollars.” Daniel replied bluntly.
“ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!! I don’t have that kind of money.”
“But, you have the ranch. All that land. You could get it.”
“The ranch belongs to my father. I can’t ask him to mortgage land to fund your endeavors. The Ponderosa is my family’s future. We’ve worked hard to build something great. Besides, my father would never agree to it and I wouldn’t want him to.”
“But Adam…you’re my last hope.”
“Is this why you asked me out here, Dan? You were never interested in my talent as an architect, were you? You just wanted to make me your partner so you could get at my money. Shame on you.” Adam fought desperately to suppress his temper. He stood to leave but Daniel held him back.
“No. No Adam. I know you’re a talented architect and you’re a great businessman too. You were the only person I could think of that could help me and my family. I have two children to support Adam. Please. Please help me!”
“I won’t be emotionally bribed, Dan. I thought you were my friend. The fact that you have invited me here under false pretenses makes me furious. Do you know what I left behind? Do you?”
Daniel unhanded Adam and sat back down in defeat.
“I left my home for you. I left my family and friends. When I got your letter, you made me feel like I was wasting my life. That you had a successful firm out here and that you wanted me for my friendship and what I could offer professionally. Well, I’ve been had and I don’t mind saying that I’ll never forgive you for this outrageous charade — expensive brandy and mahogany boardrooms. Your greed and pretentiousness disgusts me. I’m sorry that you have gotten yourself into this situation, Dan, but you have made your bed and now you must lie in it.”
With his final word, Adam left Daniel’s home and returned to his hotel room.
Adam removed his coat, balled it up and threw it onto the side chair. He was livid that Daniel had betrayed him and lured him so far from home. He was angry that he had allowed himself to be led. It was out of character.
Once his rage was under control, he sank into his bed and struggled with what to do next. The city outside his window still surged and the noise from the street was loud and grating. Adam sprang to his feet, lunged at the window and slammed it closed. “DAMN!” he hissed.
The truth was slowly coming to light. The truth was…he missed home. His father was right. Only being away from it has proven its true worth. He missed the smell of his father’s pipe. He missed Hoss’ silly escapades and Joe’s impish charm. He missed Hop Sing’s peach cobbler. He began to long for shade cast by a massive pine tree and the crystal waters of the Lake Tahoe. Adam missed his horse.
The next day he would book passage back to Nevada.
“Have you heard anything from Adam lately, Pa?” Hoss asked as he, his father and brother stood from the dinner table and took their usual places in the living room.
“No. I haven’t,” Ben answered. “I was just thinking that that brother of yours has been lax with his correspondence.”
“He’s probably just busy, Pa. New city, new job,” Hoss said casually.
The trio’s chat was disrupted by a quiet knock at the front door.
“I wonder who that could be?” Ben glanced at the clock. “It’s a little late for visiting isn’t it?”
“I’ll get it, Pa,” Joe offered as he stood and sank his teeth into an apple at the same time. He approached the door nonchalantly and opened it.
“Are my ears burning?” Adam quarried as he poked his head around the corner.
“ADAM!” Joe said boisterously. “PA! IT’S ADAM!”
Both Ben and Hoss jumped to their feet and rushed to welcome Adam home.
“So?” Ben inquired. “Tell me more about your adventure. It’s been seven months. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever set eyes on you again, son.”
Joe and Hoss had retired for the night when father and son sat to catch up properly. Adam took his place on the coffee table and poked at the logs in the fireplace. His was his favorite spot.
“I was a fool, Pa. And, I don’t mind admitting it,” Adam divulged. “What an ass I have been.”
“What are you talking about? You just had a touch of wanderlust. Most men feel that at some point in their lives. There must have been something positive come out of your trip across the country.”
“The only thing positive about my trip is returning home.”
“So New York proved to be unfulfilling then?”
Adam raised his feet and swiveled his way to face his father. “The only reason Daniel sent that letter was to try and get money out of me. His business is all but bankrupt. His family life is in shambles. And I thought he had it all.”
“The fact is, it’s you that has everything, eh?”
“I have learned that through all this. Yes, I do have it all. And, I can look forward to meeting my wife and having a family. It is something I really want.”
“It will happen, son.” Ben assured. “What about your architectural dreams? What about all the buildings you want to plan?”
“What better place than the West to do that? I was thinking of starting my own firm out here. I mean, why not?”
“Why not indeed.”
“I’m so glad to be home, Pa. Thank you for being so patient with me. I promise to be happier from now on.”
“The important thing is that your happiness is real, Adam.”
“Right. I’ve had enough of facades. These last months have shown me one thing for sure, though.”
“Oh? What’s that?” Ben probed.
“This is where I’m meant to be.”