Summary: Left home alone despite Adam’s misgivings. Little Joe is brutally attacked. SJS,JAM,ESA
Note: This is my first story. I am keeping my fingers crossed I posted it correctly and you enjoy it. I would like to thank my beta reader, freyakendra.
Rated: T WC 17,000
NIGHTMARE FROM NEW ORLEANS
Note: This is my first story. I am keeping my fingers crossed I posted it correctly and you enjoy it. I would like to thank my beta reader, freyakendra.
Seventeen-year-old Little Joe watched the summer sun peak over the tops of the pines as he stood by the pile of logs ready to be chopped. A few stray rays of light filtered through the branches and began to warm the ground where Joe stood. He was facing a long day of chores alone. First of all, poor Hop Sing had a family emergency while Pa and Hoss had gone to Carson City on business. Adam too was absent, having headed to Virginia City before the sun was up, as Pa needed him to take care of the payroll, pickup a few supplies and the mail. While there, Adam would also be filling out paperwork at the lawyer’s office for an upcoming contract.
Joe wished he could trade placed with his older brother right now. He wanted to get away from the ranch, even if it was just for a few hours, especially after the confrontation he and Adam had had yesterday. Come to think of it, Adam’s attitude toward him had changed quite a bit in the past month, and this confused Joe. He had been extremely busy getting his chores finished on time, which left less time to spend with Adam. So, for these reasons Joe just wanted to the Bucket of Blood and have a drink and catch up with some friends. Besides, he hadn’t seen Seth in awhile and was hoping to find out if he was going to the dance next Friday night.
The night before, Adam had been pacing the floor not at all comfortable with this set up. “He is only seventeen, Pa.. He has never been left by himself for so long, and Hop Sing isn’t even here.” Adam’s voice could be heard upstairs where Joe was.
Attempting to concentrate at his desk reviewing some last minute paper work, Ben glanced up at Adam. “Look son, I understand your concern, however, we have no other choice.”
Frustrated, Adam hustled across the room. Firmly pressing his hands on the desk, he leaned over, facing his father. “Pa, do you really think he is that responsible?”
Ben sternly glanced up at him, “Listen son, didn’t Little Joe bring a thousand head of cattle down from the north pasture? It seems to me he was responsible enough to get up early on his own to get the job done. Now please, let’s try to have some more faith in him.” Ben lowered his eyes, returning his attention to his paperwork.
“Yes, I’m trying,” Adam sighed, straightened up and started once again pacing. “But look how he carried on here with that crazy epee today. It just makes me wonder just how ready is he to be left alone to take care of the ranch.” He stopped and glanced back at his father.
As he lay on his bed listening Joe had cringed at Adam’s last comment, feeling both hurt and angry.
Ben finished collecting the papers, began to neatly place them into his saddlebags and slowly rose from his chair. “Son, I understand your concern, however, I have made my decision.” He leisurely walked around the desk. “Besides, this is actually a good opportunity for your younger brother to prove himself as you should not be gone long.” Walking towards the steps he finished with, “I think we both need to get to bed as we have an early start. Good night son.” He paused walking up the steps. “Oh, and Hoss and I will be back in a few days.”
“Night Pa.” Shaking his head, Adam reluctantly followed.
Replaying yesterdays events in his mind, Little Joe clutched the ax tightly in his hands and slammed it into the wood. With every swing of the ax, he could hear his older brother’s hurtful words.
“You got nothing better to do but to play with that?”
“What chance are you gonna have to use an epee out here in the west?”
“Stand still when I’m talking to ya!”
“You’re a Cartwright! Do you know what that means?”
“It means you’re a man, fit to do a mans work. That means you’ve got part of the responsibility of running this ranch, same as Pa and Hoss and me.”
Joe stopped swinging for a moment as he searched his thoughts for reasons. “ Why doesn’t he trust me? What have I done to make him so angry?” Mixed emotions began racing through his mind, rage foremost among them. He placed another log and swung even harder than before.
“And how do you expect to do it with that New Orleans monkey pick…”
“…handed down to you by your French quarter mother?”
“Well anytime you’re ready Little Joe…”
“ …You can forget about us being kin.”
Joe stopped again, standing breathless and distraught and staring at his careless pile of split logs. It was a mess. A careless mess. He hastily gathered up the wood and filled the bin near the front door.
He allowed his mind to wander and paused there momentarily. ‘French quarter mother.’ ‘Forget about us being kin? Why?… Why would he say that about my mother? What have I done to upset him so? Nature’s own silence encircled Joe and he allowed his mind to drift into dark places.
Heck they had both apologized right? Right? They had even smiled and laughed, so why then did he feel so rejected? So alone? Why was he allowing himself to look possibly at making a mountain out of a mole hill?
Little Joe snapped himself out of his man-made fog and dragged his feet slowly back over to the chopping block. With a lowered head he moved back into position and began swinging the ax again. As tiny beads of sweat began trickling down the side of his cheek, he realized he didn’t know whether it was really sweat. It might even have been tears he was wiping. He was so confused. Was his anger taking over his ability to think straight? Was he really mad at Adam? Was Adam really mad at him, or was there just more going on with Adam that he wasn’t talking about?
“What am I doing?” He shook his head, straightened himself up and slowly ran his fingers through his hair. “Come on Joe this is nonsense and you have a lot of work to do.”
“Ham sandwiches again, and of course Hoss isn’t here to do leftover duty.” Joe mumbled as he placed the last slice on the bread. “When Hop Sing returns, I will never complain about his cooking again.” Joe took a big bite and began strolling out of the kitchen toward the table, but before he could sit down there was a hard persistent knock at the door.
‘Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock!’
“Coming!” He shouted, alerting the guest. “Yes, company.” Whispering, he perked up walking to the door. “ Maybe Seth decided to come and see me.”
With half a sandwich in one hand, Joe casually opened the door with the other.
“Can I help you?” Strangers, they were not at the top of his list right now. The radiant noontime sun flew in as the door opened wider.
A tall unshaven large man stood in the doorway. “I am looking for a Ben Cartwright.” The deep raspy voice demanded.
Joe swallowed and answered, “Well, I’m sorry but he’s not here right now.”
The man took a half a turn to the right, “My boy and I have some business with him. When will he be back?”
As Joe peeked out the door, his jaw dropped and his eyes just about popped out of their sockets. The stranger’s so-called boy looked more like an ape sitting atop what seemed to be a draft horse. The guy was huge, bigger than Hoss and as rugged looking as they come. There was no denying they were father and son. Nope, not today as nature couldn’t have painted a more picture-perfect day. No clouds in the sky that might cast any funny shadows. Just a slight wind beginning to rustle some of the upper branches of the pines. They not only looked like twins they dressed alike also. Grungy ole ripped jeans paired with a solid red button-down shirt covered with dirt.
Collecting himself Joe turned back to face the stranger. “Um, well I’m his son. Maybe I can help.”
‘Wow, these guys both really need a bath!’ Joe thought. ‘Wonder if they’ve been doing a little drinking while wrestling some pigs. A slight smirk ran across his face as he allowed his eyes to wander downward, spotting the man’s holey boots. ‘Well that is one way to air out your feet.’
Caught by surprise, the man glanced at his son than quickly back at Joe, “His son?”
“Yes sir, he has three, I’m the youngest. My name is Joe,” he said proudly. Ben had always taught his boys to be polite. “Everyone just calls me Little Joe…” The words came out of his mouth quicker than he could shut it as he immediately began to notice an anger building up in the rugged visitor. The man’s massive body began to tense up, blood began to flow and Joe could detect the redness forming around his scruff of a beard. This was Joe’s first clue to try to high tail it back into the house, close the door and grab his gun, however, before he knew it, he was violently yanked backward and quickly swung around, facing his attacker once again. With both hands, the brute of a man nearly lifted him clearly off the ground, where his sandwich now lay.
Staring fiercely into Joe’s widened green eyes the man shouted, “Just how old are you boy?”
“I..I..I’m seventeen.” Joe was struggling to keep his toes touching the ground. “Who are you? What do you want?” Grasping the man’s thick arms, Joe tried to break free, but found it difficult without having leverage on the ground. “Let me go”.
“Who is your mother?” The stranger demanded while shaking Joe. “Answer me boy! Who is she? What is her name?”
“Marie, my mother’s name was Marie.” Joe frowned as he was still struggling. “Let me go! Who are you? What do you want with…?” He was cut off.
“Was …Was? Dax, get in here now!” He threw Joe back into the house with such force, that Joe stumbled and fell flat on his back.
Joe was trying as quickly as he could to recover, however, he found himself back in the monstrous, vice-like grip again.
“Just what do you mean ‘was’ ?” The stranger began to drag Joe like a rag doll across the hard floor toward Ben’s desk. Then gigantic hands latched onto Joe’s tan shirt. He was lifted up with ease and tossed against Ben’s desk with such force Joe was surprised he didn’t hear ribs cracking, and he couldn’t help but let out a painful cry as he fell to the floor.
Leaning over Little Joe the hostile intruder yelled, “She either was or wasn’t your mother, boy, now which is it, answer me!” Turning toward the door he called out, “Dax where are you son? I need you to get over here so I can get some answers out of this piece of trash.” The man stared back at Joe with the look of Satan in his eyes. “It seems this kid is a bit confused and we have to help him.”
Joe glanced down at the shattered, broken pieces of glass that now surround him. Letting his eyes wander further he found a picture of his mother. Anger inside him was mixed with fear, fear that he would never reveal. He was hurt but there was no blood so he was good to go. Little Joe knew he had to do something….anything, but what? And just how, with these two giants in his home? ‘Think Joe…Think. God if only Adam was here, he would know what to do. Please Adam, Please come home, I need you!’
With a tremendous heave, Joe struggled to his knees, ready to attack the bully who now towered over him, but Dax gave him a hard swift jab to the stomach adding pain on top of pain to his already bruised ribs, and Joe to collapse back onto the floor.
As he lay there, his vision blurred, he tried to focus on a retreating figure as another was coming into play. Joe was confused as to what the hell was going on. This suddenly gave way to a sense of horror and anger as he was viciously pulled into a sitting position with his back resting against the desk and heated eyes staring at him.
Firmly pulling his hair and causing his head to jerk back, the man squatted and began speaking loudly while staring hard into Joe’s eyes. “Listen, you little brat, my name is David Dubois and this here is my son, Dax. My patience is running thin, so I suggest you tell me whether or not Marie DeMarigny is your mother, and where she is! I need to know ’cause I have been looking for her for seventeen years now.” In no way did Little Joe want a private conversation with this enormous bully. Just inches from his face, it was definitely evident how angry, and drunk the man was. Joe shrank away from the horrific smell of the man’s breath . “I was to marry her after my wife died, so Dax here would have a mother.” He banged the back of Joe’s head against the desk and demanded, “Did you hear me? Now where is she?”
As pain now ripped through his head, Joe tried, hard as he could, to grab hold of the man’s arms in an attempt to get him off, however, the stranger – David Dubois -was too strong for him and Dax was now holding Joe’s legs to prevent him from kicking, so he was really fighting a losing battle. A battle he did not want to lose in his own home and alone. He knew Adam was his only hope, for Pa and Hoss would be away for a few days. ‘Adam please hurry home.’
“Maybe you didn’t hear me.” The man’s enormous hand just about surrounded Joe’s throat while the pressure choked him, “Where is my Marie?” It was becoming very evident just how annoyed and determined this man was.
‘His Marie? What is this idiot talking about?’ In between gasps Joe blurted out, “She’s dead. S-he died when I was five years old.” With flared nostrils he answered, fighting back tears at the memory. ‘Adam help me.’ He knew his odds were not in his favor. David’s putrid whiskey-laden breath was beginning to burn his eyes. Joe suddenly realized that things were going from bad to worse. Everyone knows that you don’t mess with an angry drunk let alone one twice your size or more.
“Died? Noooo!- How?” David suddenly went into an uncontrollable fit of rage tossing Joe sideways to the ground, where he landed amidst the broken glass from his mother’s picture. “You did this, you and that filthy father of yours!” David screamed, whipping out a knife and jamming it into the back of Joe’s left shoulder.
“AHHHHHH!” Joe wailed as fire immediately erupted at the site of his injury.
“I should kill you now, boy.” David Dubois yanked out the bloody knife causing Joe to cry out once more, and then proceeded to clean the blade on his already grubby jeans. Crimson blood immediately began to flow from the wound, quickly seeping into Joe’s shirt.
David staggered as he stood. He grabbed the decanter on the table beside him and guzzled some of Ben’s fine brandy before walking slowly over to the burning fireplace where he began pacing. “Dax, our plans have changed.” Still holding the brandy he pursed his lips and ran his fingers through his thick, greasy, gray hair as beads of sweat dripped down his brow. “Now son you know I promised I would bring Marie back for you.” He looked over at Dax who was still pinning Joe legs, though there was no point to it anymore. “Dax come here.” After motioning to his son, he ran his dirty sleeve across his moist forehead. “That varmint isn’t going anywhere.”
The younger man was clumsy as he strolled across the floor. David slung his arm around his son’s broad shoulder. “When your mother died, I told you all about Marie and her stories, Remember?” With a gentle hand David forced Dax to look at him, “Remember how I told you she was going to be the one to read you the bedtime stories to make your nightmares go away? Remember, Dax?” As David now peered into the twenty-five-year old’s childish eyes, he smiled. “I promised you and I will keep my promise, however, we may have to rent a buckboard now.”
Injured and disoriented , Joe wasn’t sure if what he was listening to was correct. He was now experiencing excruciating pain in his left shoulder, and could only guess the severity of his injury. He was not only dealing with an overgrown ape who had most likely bruised his legs, but now he had an angry, drunken mammoth. ‘Adam please help! Please come home! Adam!’
Joe was determined to stay as alert, for this was his mother they were talking about…’Why? why rent a buckboard? Mama’s dead.’ Suddenly the realization of what these two crazy men were possibly scheming to do not only frightened him, but infuriated him. ‘They wouldn’t, would they? No sensible person would dig up someone’s grave …Right?’ Using his right arm, Joe managed to prop himself up and leaned back against the desk. Overwhelmed with dizziness, nausea was now choking at his throat. He felt the wet blood as his throbbing shoulder met the desk. Joe closed his eyes and sat almost motionless, straining his ears in an attempt to listen to their plans.
”We are going to bring her home, son. Do you understand? She will be with us, so don’t you worry,” The older man explained as he took another swig and continued to reassure the his son. “We are going to bring your mother home, no matter what.”
‘His mother?’ What the hell are they talking about? She is my mother!’ That was the last straw. No one was taking Joe’s mother. Dead or alive, she was his mother! ‘Noo…nooo’… He only paused for a fraction of a second, then, scraping every ounce of energy he had left, Joe screamed , “Noooo!” as he slowly rose and awkwardly ran toward them ready to fight. It was a failed attempt. David, already armed and prepared, met him midway as the sharp knife ripped into and across Little Joe’s right side sending him crashing to the floor in agony on top of his father’s now broken decanter.
“Ahhhh! ”Little Joe cried out.
“You fool kid! Look what you made me do! Do you think I’m blind and deaf? Do you know when the last time I had brandy was?” Dubois shook his head and clenched his fists as anger spread across his face. He staggered as he bent over Joe, who now lay in agony and bleeding from his side as well as his shoulder. Dubois firmly gripped Joe’s blood-soaked shirt with both hands, dragged him to his knees and demanded, “I’m running outta patience with you, boy! You are going to tell me just where Marie is buried!”
“Noooo…Never!” Little Joe was delayed in answering as excruciating pain now radiated throughout his whole body. The man’s claws tightened their grip. Long, ragged nails scrapped Joe’s chest while tiny shards of glass dug into from his back. “She… was… my.. mother. I ….won’t …..let….. you …..take…. her….. Never!” He bit his lower lip and squeezed his eyes shut. ‘Adam help me please! I need you Adam! Please hurry! They can’t take mama. Adam… Hurts. Help.’
“Look at me when I am talking to you. Now where is she buried?” David’s stern voice and devilish eyes suddenly sent chills down Joe’s spine. He was hurt, helpless, angry and now more afraid for his life than ever.
“Never!” Joe was not going to give him the satisfaction and show him just how frightened he was . “ My… mother…. Not…. his!” His breaths came short fast. Breathing itself was painful.
That was not the answer the older man wanted. His thick fisted knuckles brutally made contact with the side of Little Joe’s face with such force that it sent him crashing into the grandfather clock, rendering him unconscious.
Dax seemed oblivious. He was seated on the floor over by the desk, “ Son? S-on, what are you doing? Dax?” As he walked over he saw his son holding a picture. “What do ya got there son?”
“M-M-Ma” A tiny tear rolled down the young man’s face as his sad eyes met his father’s.
“Dax you spoke…you spoke Dax.” David slowly knelt down beside his son and hugged him. “ You…Your speaking again.” Tears welled up in his eyes.
“M-Ma” Dax pointed to the picture. David noticed it was a picture of Marie.
Seeing both the excitement and sadness in his son, David Debois was more determined now than ever to bring Marie home. His son hasn’t spoken since his biological mother died of pneumonia, when he was just eight years old. David and his wife encountered many challenges with Dax from the day he was born, but the most demanding one they faced was that he wouldn’t be able to go to school with other kids his age for his mentality level was far below theirs. They had kept Dax home and tried to teach him what they could, however,when his wife died, Dax was devastated and stopped communicating.
David had been at a loss, and became a regular at the Rue Royal. Marie had been unaware of his existence, as he would sit in the far corner drinking alone while listening to Marie De Marigny tell her stories. He’d been in awe of her attractive, soft complexion, beautiful dresses and her sweet voice as she told stories with such feeling and ease.
He would return home retelling these storing to Dax, however, he never seemed to get it right and the boy would just get frustrated with him. So vowing to help his son, he’d promised him he would get up enough courage to ask Marie to marry him and then Dax would have a mother who would tell him bedtime stories again, something that had always seemed to suppress his nightmares.
By the time David had finally worked up enough courage to ask Marie for her hand in marriage, he heard she’d already married and she and her new husband had left town. David began to drink heavily. He’d started discretely asking around to find out where she’d gone. Word about his interest had eventually reached Marie’s mother-in-law and she’d arranged a meeting with David, freely supplying him every detail he needed to find her. She’d even paid for David’s journey west, determined to go to any lengths to destroy Marie.
Wrapped up in his memories, David’s focus was on Dax. He didn’t notice Joe stirring.
Joe’s head hurt. It hurt bad, his stomach began to churn. This should have been a red flag for him to just to lay still. He was cold, wet and clammy with sweat beading across his brow as his breathing was becoming labored. ‘Why am I wet?’ he thought feeling a bit disoriented. Joe was barely able to slide his injured left arm across his body so he could examine his right side, where he now lay. ‘Blood! ‘Oh God, how bad?’ Realization sank in hearing an ugly, familiar voice and recalling now where he was and what had just occurred. Cringing and holding on to his injured side, Joe tried to position himself to get a clear view of where his assailants were. Quickly he took notice that they were both preoccupied with something that Dax was holding, almost cradling.. ‘Run Joe. Come on you can do it. Run.’ He froze when he heard Dax cry out, “Ma .” ‘No,No Noooo,’ “Noooo! That’s mine!” Joe’s thoughts reeled as he realized Dax was clinging to his his mother’s picture. He mildly shook his head attempting to clear the fogginess as he raised himself to his elbows. He didn’t stop there, though he probably should have. The moment he pushed himself to his feet the room began to spin while pain radiated through his body. Like a staggering drunk, Joe found it difficult to find his footing. The thundering vibration he heard and felt confirmed his nightmare as a large blurry figure sprinted toward him. With a hard kick to his abdomen, Joe’s tortured body was back on the floor.
“Ahhhh!” Joe cried out as his now beaten body had all but given up. ‘I can’t let them take mama, I can’t! No! Oh, but it hurts so much. Adam, it hurts so much. Please, I need you!’ He squeezed his eyes closed as he begged for his older brother’s return. ‘Adam, please come home.
Mr. Debois now stood directly over Joe, who had curled in a fetal position and was moaning in agony. “Listen, boy, with or without your help we will find Marie and bring her back with us to New Orleans where she belongs. Do you hear me, boy?” The angered man kicked Joe hard in the back of the legs rolling him onto his stomach. “Your father didn’t deserve her, and had no right taking her from us. You didn’t deserve to have her as a mother. Just look what happened. You and that no good father of yours killed her!”
“Nooo…!” No one talks about his family like that and gets away with it. Angry, hurt and scared, Joe struggled to get the words out as a tears began welling up in his eyes. “She…. Sh-e f-fell.” That was not something he could ever forget. Little Joe had watched it happen. Even now, all these years later, the scene was so vivid every time he played it back in his mind. At the tender age of five, he’d watched her fall as she came galloping in on her horse. It had been a beautiful summer day. He’d been playing checkers with his Pa on the front porch, when Marie’s horse had reared up, throwing her to the hard ground, rendering her unconscious. Blood oozed from her head, staining the dirt beneath her as she silently lay on the ground. No, an image like that will forever be branded in Joe’s mind. Little Joe clutched his side, as his contracting muscles began pulling on his abdomen and chest, making it harder to breath. The wound on his side was no doubt getting worse, and he most likely had some broken ribs due to his intruder’s beatings. It felt like bees were continually stinging his back where the pieces of glass from the decanter had dug into his flesh. His shoulder still hurt like hell. ‘Mama you belong here. Here with us. Here with your family.’ He bit his lower lip as the tears slipped out. ‘Adam, I’m sorry. Adam, please help me.’ Short rapid breathes were becoming more frequent and more painful. ‘Slow your breathing, Joe.’ He could hear Adam’s voice.
“Kid, you see my son over there?” David’s voice softened a bit as his eyes met Dax, and then sharpened once again as he turned back toward Joe, pushing him over on his back with his foot.
“Ahhhh!” Joe let out a weak cry as the weight of his body pushed the sharp shards further into his back.
“He was to be her son, not you! Not you and that scrawny body of yours. She would be proud of my Dax, for he is a good boy, and a healthy eater with muscles. Yes, he would have made her proud. Not you! Just look at you boy, you can’t even defend yourself, you’re so frail, and pathetic. I bet you’re really not able to do a man’s job around here. No, not you boy. It’s still playtime with that body.” He laughed. “Not my Dax. He is a hard worker, a strong worker, and has made me proud and would have made any mother proud.” With widened eyes and a sinister gaze, he grit his yellowing teeth as he lowered his massive body next to Joe’s head. “But you and your pa stole all that from us, and you will pay!” Rage was etched into the man’s face. “You never appreciated her. You and your no good father killed her. You were one of Marie’s two big mistakes! You don’t even deserve to look like her!” With that he once again whipped out his knife from its sheath, grabbed a handful of Joe’s hair and yanked his head backward and to the side. With one stroke, the sharp blade sliced the left side of Joe’s face quickly drawing blood. Joe tried to pull away, however, between his crippled body and the clump of hair within David’s grip, it was a battle he could not win. Dubois wiped the bloodstained blade onto Joe’s already soiled shirt and placed it back in its sheath. For a moment, it seemed as if he enjoyed watching the blood seep from the fresh wound.
“Nooooo!” Joe weakly screamed as he had no fight left in him for the attack on his body almost paralyzed him. Crimson blood began streaming down the side of his face. ‘Adam, help me please! Adam, where are you? I need you. Please come home. Hurts … Adam!’ Tears began to slide down his cheek. It was a chore for Joe just to try to catch his breath. ‘I’m trying to hold on, Adam…. Please hurry.’ I’m cold, Adam …so cold.’ There wasn’t a place on his body that didn’t hurt. He was tired, so tired. He tried to pull his knees toward his chest, but found that even that was painful. “Mama,” he whispered. “M-y mot-her, not his. Mama… ma-ma mama….ma-ma…mama.” The words barely escaped his slightly ajar mouth as he began to call for his mother, almost expecting her to come. “Ma-ma, ma-ma, mama. I love you.” Tears now began to flow freely down both sides of his face as his closed eyes.
“Come on, Dax. Let’s go get your mother.” And then they were gone.
“W-H-O-A!” Long time ranch hand Charlie yelled, trying to collect his horse as two oversized riders recklessly galloped passed him and the two other ranch hands with him. “Hey!” he hollered back at them. The riders ignored him.
“What do you think that was all about” asked Hank as he, too attempted to calm his horse.
Panic suddenly filled Charlie’s veins looking toward the open door at the Cartwright house. “I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good.” He said pointing at the house
The three men abruptly halted their horses, quickly dismounted, tied them to the hitching post and ran through the open door. Their answer, lying just about in front of them on the floor, paralyzed them momentarily. The trio wasted no time and sprang into action as Charlie took control. “Jimmy get Doc. Martin, tell the Sheriff what has happened. If Adam is still in town, you better tell him to get here quick…Oh, and telegraph Mr. Cartwright.” With shock and grief, he gazed down at Joe’s blooded, battered body. “Ride fast now. You hear me?”
“Yes sir.” With that Jimmy was gone.
“Hank, go find some towels we have to stop the bleeding.” Charlie was nervous and couldn’t believe what he what seeing. There was so much blood and Joe was barely breathing. He really didn’t know where to start. He’d known Joe since he’d been a baby, and had taken the boy under his wing whenever any of the Cartwrights weren’t around. He had been the one lately who Joe had been out with, working fences and finding strays. Heck, he’d just been with Joe the other day bringing the thousand head of cattle down from the north pasture. ‘This just can’t be real’ “Joe, Joe…. Come on kid wake up.” He gently stroked the young man’s dark curls. “Joe it’s Charlie. Come on son.”
Hank handed him some towels and between the two of them, they began tending to Little Joes wounds as they needed to get the bleeding under control. “Hank I need you to go and get some water boiling. The doc will need it when he gets here,” Charlie ordered, his eyes, still focused on his patient. “Little Joe, come on. Ya gotta wake up, kid.” he continued to try to rouse him.
“Uh Charlie,” Hank froze just as he’d begun getting to his feet, pulling his hand away from Joe’s back to find it bloodied with a fresh cut. “He has broken pieces of glass in his back.”
“Oh God! Who the hell were those guys?”
“Let’s get his this shirt off.”
“Ma-ma” Half-conscious, Joe spoke letting out a soft moan as he trembled and squirmed. “Ahhh!”
A slight smile ran across Charlie’s face. “That’s my boy. Come on, I need you to stay awake.” He was doing the best he could with what he had. Within seconds of hearing pounding hooves and the rumbling buckboard, Charlie glanced up to see Adam charge through the front door.
“What the heck happened?” Sudden fear came over Adam as he sucked in his breath at the first glimpse of Joe’s mauled, balled up, bloody body. Adam froze as the gruesome discovery made it very difficult for him to collect himself ,however, he swiftly knelt down beside his baby brother’s head. ‘It was to be only one day. It wasn’t even a full day. How can one kid get into so much trouble in so little time? See, I told Pa not to leave him alone. He’s just a kid….my kid brother. Why didn’t he listen to me? Why?… Oh Joe. You better not die on me. I’m here Joe!’ “ Come on buddy.” He took a deep breath and grabbed a towel. “Joe, come on look at me.”
Charlie, his shirt and hands now bloodied, was clearly engrossed in doctoring Joe that it took a moment for him to realize that Adam was beside him.“Adam, we couldn’t get a good look at the guys. They flew right past us, but I can tell you this, they were some pretty hefty guys,” he said as he tossed away a soiled, bloody towel while Hank painstakingly pulled the visible small pieces of glass from Joe’s back, simultaneously holding a towel to his wounded shoulder. Joe’s position was making it challenging for the men to treat him. “It wasn’t a fair fight by a long shot. One of them was larger than Hoss.” he finished as his concerned eyes met Adam’s. “He’s real bad Adam, and if we don’t stop this bleeding…” His voice cracked and cut off as he immediately turned his focus back toward Joe.
Adam gently ran his hand over the young man’s blooded mangled curls. “Little Joe, come on wake up. Come on buddy, look at me.” Hearing a slight moan Adam continued to encourage his little brother. “ I’m here Joe. Your gonna be alright. Come on. Stay with me. Open your eyes.”
“Ad-am?” Joe whispered as he slightly turned his head toward his older brother. “Ad-am hurts?”
“Yes, I’m here, little brother” Adam took a damp towel and gently wiped some of the blood from his brother’s damaged face.
“ Ma-ma…Ad-am!” Joe’s breathing automatically began to quicken as he spoke. “My ma-ma…,Ad-am.” It was a chore just to raise his eyelids half-way.
“Shhhhh. It’s okay, Joe. Everything’s gonna be okay.” Adam frowned and was confused as to what Joe was talking about. Joe’s mother had been dead for about twelve years now. “Doc. Martin will be here shortly. I saw Jimmy on the road, riding like the devil himself was on his tail.” He continued to wipe the wound on his brother’s face, though it wasn’t nearly as bad as the others.
Joe suddenly grabbed Adam, “Nooo…Pl-ea-se….” With what little strength he had, Little Joe attempted to tell Adam what had happened. “ Th-ey…..gon-na…take…my ma-ma… buck-board.” His breathing was becoming more labored, and just by looking at his clammy face, it was very clear just how much pain he was in, both physically and now emotionally. “Owww!” he cried out. Tears mixed with the blood on his tortured face.
“Easy buddy.” Adam was perplexed. “Joe, mama’s dead. She died years ago.” With a gloomy look, he stared at Joe as he tried to explain to him the reality of his mother’s whereabouts. “Shhh, take it easy…”
Joe was very fragile, but very determined. “Noooo….!” he struggled to yell. Swallowing hard Joe tried to catch his breath as anxiety and the abuse his body sustained were finally taking their toll. ‘Adam listen.’ Striving to lift himself up on his good elbow Joe found it difficult to focus. His voice was very weak and shaky, however, Joe was persistent. “Th-ey…. th-ey want… her….. bo-dy.” He exhausted himself and slowly let go of Adam, closed his eyes and let the tears just flow down his pasty cheeks and whispered . “Pro-mise…..prom……” His upper body slumped against Adam chest causing a natural cradling reflex.
Adam looked up at Charlie, then over to Hank. “That makes no sense, Why would someone want a dead body?” The possible realization of what Joe was telling him puzzled him. He looked down at Joe. “Joe, stay with me. Joe! Come on buddy, stay with me.” Reaching down he grasped his brother’s limp, bloody hand. “Squeeze my hand Joe, come on.” There was no reaction. Joe’s fingers remained limp. “Joe what do they want her body for? Why? ,Joe..Joe”. A sickly moan was the only response he got. “Yes, come on, buddy.” ‘What in God’s name is going on? Who are these people? Why Joe, and why Marie?’ Adam briefly pinched his eyes closed as a full plate of emotions were building within him. Adam couldn’t imagine what his little brother had just gone through and just who was capable of such a heinous act.
It seemed hours had passed before the three men had Joe bundled up in towels and blankets. By the time Adam started pushing himself to to his feet, he was so stiff he could almost believe he’d suddenly aged twenty years or more, however, it didn’t matter how he felt. He reached down to gently lift his younger brother into his arms, and then carried him to the settee. It was as far as he dares go until those wounds could be stitched closed. Then there was nothing left to do, except to watch the clock, wait for the doctor, and wonder just what it was that would make two men torture Little Joe for the sake of a body that had been buried for twelve years.
When Doc Martin had entered the house along with the Sheriff and Jimmy, none of them could help but notice the pile of bloody towels that had been abandoned on the blood-stained floor. Cleaning up had been the last thing on Adam’s mind, and both Charlie and Hank were too focused on looking after both Joe and Adam to bother with the mess left behind. Adam saw an instant of shock in both the doc’s and the sheriff’s eyes when then they discovered Joe’s bundled form on the settee. Jimmy was slower to approach, his own gaze locked on the gruesome towels.
There was no time to waste. Hours had passed and every minute still counted. The doc went straight to work as he noticed Joe’s face was shockingly pale.
“I will need some hot water, more towels, blankets and lots of help.” Doc Martin ordered as he placed his medical bag down next to Joe. He rolled up his sleeves. “Let’s get to work boys.” He turned toward Adam. It was very clear to Doc Martin just how out of it and in shock the man was. “Adam I have all the help I need. The sheriff needs your help, now.”
“Adam, come on son.” The sheriff’s concerned eyes met Doc Martin’s. “Son, the doc has all the help he needs right now.” With a firm grip, he drew Adam to his feet.
Adam was searching for words, help, even his own voice for what he just encountered, within his own house…his little brother…it was too much for him. He held out his hands in front of him, slowly glanced down and became entranced with what he saw. One fully painted with blood, while the other only the tips. He vaguely saw who gave him a towel, but slowly began erasing his crimson covered hands.
It was evident that Adam was having difficulty concentrating. He shook his head violently, firmly rubbed his forehead as he took in a deep breath. ‘Who? Why?’ Finally he turned to Jimmy standing by the credenza. “Jimmy, I will need you to stay here with Charlie and the doc.” With somber eyes he turned toward Hank who was still standing behind the settee. “ Hank, would you be willing to help the Sheriff and I find these….,” Pausing, he closed his eyes and clenched his teeth, then with a tear in his eye glanced back at Little Joe’s almost motionless damaged body, “find whoever did this to my brother?” Adam, usually could keep a cool, collected head in a situation like this, however, he now found himself backed into a corner and out of control, almost like a caged animal. He wanted revenge to whoever did this to Little Joe. Sure, the kid could get on his nerves and act immature, like a child at times, but like Pa said, “He is only a boy, not a man like you. The only thing wrong with him…he’s young.” Adam knew Joe would grow up soon, Adam just wanted it sooner rather than later. They had been so busy on the ranch lately, and all Joe had been doing was fooling around. Placing his hat back on his head, Adam took one last glance back at Joe. “ Don’t worry, buddy you’ll be okay. You’re in good hands. I promise, we’ll get whoever did this to you and save mama.” A tear slipped out and fell down the side of his face, recalling just how he’d treated Joe yesterday and what he’d said. ‘
‘That monkey pick your French quarter mother gave you.’
How dare I say that about Marie after all she did for us …for me.
‘You can forget about us being kin.’
What was I thinking? That is far from the truth. What has gotten into me lately? I have been no more mature than he.
‘You’ll be alright Joe I promise nothing will happen to mama, and I promise we will get these no good……. God, I should have been here. I shouldn’t have had that beer.’ Adam was now burdened with guilt. His eyes freely welled up, however, he quickly wiped them before others noticed. He never ment to treat Little Joe that way. What was he so afraid of? It was neither the time nor the place for Adam to be drifting off worrying about this. He, Adam Cartwright…the man, Adam Cartwright, had a responsibility, for now it was up to him to take Pa’s place and take control of the situation at hand. He just had to pull himself together… for his little brother…for Little Joe.
How was he to make responsible, logical decisions with his baby brother critically lying there on the floor …right there in front of him. ‘How can I leave him? He needs me. Oh, Marie, I am so sorry. Hopefully Pa got the telegraph and will be here soon. I need to go with the Sheriff, too.’ The inner voices within his head continued to persistently whisper, giving him an intense headache.
Suddenly Joe began to cry out in pain as Doc Martin was applying pressure on his right side while Charlie was tending to the left shoulder and, taking care not to cause more harm to his back. “ Ad-am…help me…Hurts…Ad-am….wh-ere are you…ple-ase… come ho-me….Ad-am.” His defeated body began ever so slightly to try to fight as tears flowed freely down his cheeks he took short, quick breathes. “Ad-am….hurts…I’m….sor-ry…Ad—am.” His labored breathing was making it difficult for him to speak.
The men briefly glanced over at Adam who suddenly stopped at the doorway, emotional, motionless, and filled with rage when Doc Martin spoke, “I will need you two men to gently hold him so he doesn’t further injure himself while I administer the morphine.”
“Adam,” The sheriff placed his hand gently on Adam’s shoulder, snapping him out of his trance, “we better go. The sun is about to set . Joe’s in good hands.”
Sure!” Adam wiped his face on his forearm sleeve and began to exit through the door, but not before one last word. “ Do everything you can Doc.” ‘Don’t worry Joe, I’ll get them.’ His nostrils flared as he gritted his teeth. The angel and devil were having one heck of a fight in his head. He was not one to run away from danger or problems, but this one was gnawing at him, confusing him. ‘I can’t just abandon him. He’s my brother. I promised you, Marie, as I promised myself, no harm would come to Little Joe. I failed. I’m sorry.’
“Your brother is young and strong.” the Doc responded without looking up. “Now go.”
Ben was slouched back in the chair near the window while early morning rain began tapping at the pane. He fought to keep his tired eyes open, for he and Hoss had rushed home after hearing the devastating news. His clothes still dusty and wet from sweat, the older man’s eyes briefly glanced over at his sleeping, injured son and when he no longer could fight the heaviness of his eyelids, rested his weary head against the wing of the chair and drifted off as his dream began.
‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are! Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky!’ Marie softly recited her son’s favorite poem as she slowly rocked him in the chair by the open window.
‘When the blazing sun is gone, When he nothing shines upon, Then you show your little light, Twinkle, twinkle all the night.’ Marie smiled as the five- year- old’s tired green eyes met hers.
‘Then the traveler in the dark, Thanks you for your tiny spark, He could not see which way to go, If you did not twinkle so.’ Little Joe nestled his tiny head against his mother’s bosom as he finally closed his weary eyes.
‘In the dark blue sky you keep,And often through my curtains peep, For you never shut your eye, Til the sun is in the sky.’ Marie ever so slightly leaned to the side as she pulled her little boy closer and continued to rock.
‘As your bright and tiny spark, Lights the traveler in the dark, Though I know not what you are, Twinkle, twinkle, little star. ‘ Marie glanced down at her sleepy baby. ‘You are my Little Star Little Joe.’ She kissed him on the forehead then glanced out the window at the stars on that clear night.
As she rose from the rocker she noticed Ben leaning against the wall by Joe’s bed, “ I love you so much Marie!” He walked over, kissed her and then watched as she gently lay the boy down in his bed.
As she tucked their little tike in, Marie kissed him on his cheek.’Sleep well my Little Star!” Turning to Ben she said, “Oh Ben, I hope he grows up to be just like you.”
Ben pulled her close. “Marie darling he has your sweet smile and your beautiful eyes.”
“Oh I do wish he could stay this young this forever, so I could protect him from that cruel world.” The two hugged.
“A-Adam…A-Adam! Help!” Joe began to slowly stir as he cried out in pain, waking Ben.
“A-Adam…Hurts…Help me!” He cried as he slightly began to thrash around in the bed. Ben was promptly at Joe’s side.
“Joe, it’s me son,” Ben sat on the bed next to Little Joe, trying to reassure his son. “ It’s your Pa.” He placed the palm of his hand over the young man’s forehead and shocked at just how hot he was.
“Pa, whats going on?” Hoss burst into the room. “ Is Joe alright?”
“He has a fever and we need to cool him down.” He motioned to Hoss. “Go and get some cold water quick, and towels please.” The panicked expression on his face said it all. He knew some complications that could arise from a high fever, but he also knew how to be level headed.
“Yes sir.” Hoss exited the room just as quickly as he’d entered.
“My ma-ma.” Squirming, Joe cried out once again. His fever masked his ability to feel any pain let alone know anyone. “My…..Ma-ma.”
“Shhhh, your gonna be okay son.” Ben tried desperately to calm the agitated young man.
“Noooo!” Joe’s cry elevated as did his fight. His wounded body now drenched with sweat was soaking the covers.
“Hey Pa, look who I found.” Hoss said as he rushed is the room with everything Ben had requested. Doc Martin followed belong behind him.
“Oh, Paul! Thank God, you’re here.” Ben sighed as he struggled to sooth his son. “He seems to have a high fever.”
“Let’s see what we have here.” Doc Martin quickly checked Joe over. “I am going to give him some laudanum.” He set his medical bag down on the nightstand. “I want to check on those wounds of his for infection.” After administering the medicine he began examining Joe. His concern now lie with possibility of open stitches with all the tossing and turning Joe had been doing. “Shhhhh…it’s alright Joe. Let me see what damage you have done to my work.” Knowing he wouldn’t get a response he calmly spoke to his semi-conscious patient.
“Owww!!” Little Joe weakly screamed. “Nooo!”
“Shhh., you’re okay, Joe. Ben tried to sooth his son. “Your Pa’s here.”
“Pa?” he cried out again.
“I’m here Joe.” Ben became surprised as to how alert his youngest son had suddenly become. “Doc Martin is here to check on you. Okay?”
His eyes barely open, Joe gave a slight nod.
“How do they look doc?” Ben was eager to find out as he held his son’s hand.
“Well, he didn’t tear anything but I’m going to change his bandages. The wounds have been oozing and a bit foul. We need to keep a very close eye on that. We will need to change the sheets and get him a fresh pair of pants. I don’t want a shirt or nightshirt on him just yet.” Ben trusted the doc as he has been to his house many times. He had even delivered Joe. “I felt bad I had to leave him last night, however, there wasn’t anything more I could do and he was resting comfortably. Jenny Thompson was about to have her baby and it was breach.” The doc finished checking Joe’s heartbeat. “He is young and strong, but still a very sick boy.
“Ahhhh!” Joe yelled.
“I know it hurts Joe, but we can’t leave you like this.” The doc explained to him.
He continued as he and Hoss carefully pulled Joe’s wet pants off while Ben was ready with a clean pair. The three of them then replaced the top sheet only, for it was too dangerous to move Joe and change the bottom one. Doc Martin filled Ben in on Joe’s condition. “ The wounds on his back from the glass will heal fine as will the scratches on his chest. His shoulder is going to take awhile to heal.” He took in a deep breath. “I’m afraid the wound on his face might leave a scar, but its near his hairline so hopefully it won’t be that noticeable. Ben, he was lucky that the wound to his abdomen wasn’t too deep or it would have been worse.” As he pulled the covers up to Joe’s chest the doc added, “he lost a lot of blood, Ben.”He turned his attention back to Joe. “Okay, Joe, let me check this last bandage here, and then I will let you get some rest, I promise.” He turned Little Joe’s head to the right.
‘You don’t deserve to look like her.’ Joe heard an annoying echoing in his head as the doc slowly took the dressing off.
“You’re doing real good son,” Ben told him. “Easy now.”
‘You don’t deserve to look like her.’ Joe squeezed his eyes as a few tears slipped out.
“Almost done Little Joe.” Doc Martin explained. “Easy.”
‘You don’t deserve to look like her.’ If he didn’t slow his rapid breathing down he could hyperventilate.
“Okay, I’m done.” The doc cleaned up his mess and tools. “Take it easy son.”
Joe cautiously lifted his eye lids and stared straight past his father who sat in the chair beside him. The tears flowed down his face and lightly wet the pillow.
“Joe?” Ben slowly leaned forward as he softly called to his youngest boy. “Joesph.”
The three men in the room simultaneously glanced at each other with a puzzled look. Joe was just
fine. He was hurting, and feverish, but had seemed to be coming back to them. Now, however, he looked to be in another world.
“Joseph, can you hear me son?” He stroked Little Joe’s hair. “Joe.”
“Pa?” Finally, an answer. “Pa?”
“Yes, I’m here son.”
“Ben, I believe he needs rest.” The doc rechecked his patient one last time, closed his medical bag and headed for the door. “I have to go check on Jenny and the baby.”
“Ben, when Adam comes home he can fill you in.” Doc. Martin began . “He also saw just how bad Joe was, but please be patient with him, as I saw just how traumatic it was for him to see what happened to Joe.” He continued. “I knew he wanted to stay and help his brother, but Joe was bad Ben. I have to tell you, I haven’t seen that much blood on one young person in awhile.” He shook his head. “I can’t explain it, but it was obvious that Adam was somewhere else. The last time I saw that expression on him was when Marie died.” He gently placed his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “I am leaving Joe’s medicine here with the instructions. Only use it if necessary, and keep those cool towels on him. We need to keep that fever down.”
“Yes, of course. Thank you.” With somber eyes he shook his old friend’s hand then glanced back at Hoss. “Hoss, can you walk the doc out?”
“Yes sir,” Hoss answered as the two men exited the room.
Ben walked back to his chair beside Joe’s bed. There was a constant pitter-patter of rain now hitting the window. He slowly lowered his body down beside his young son and began cooling Joe’s forehead with a wet cloth. “God please help my boy through this.” He closed his eyes as he began to pray. “He’s too young, just a boy.” Ben slowly opened his eyes again and gazed sadly upon his son’s broken body. “You’ll be alright, Joe. I know it as you have always had a fight in you, just like your mother.” He spoke softly as a glassy sheen formed over his eyes. “I love, son.” He continued to try to cool the boy down.
“Pa?…Hey, Pa! Adam’s back!” Hoss called out from down stairs.
Not wanting to leave Joe’s side Ben responded, “Have him come up!”
It wasn’t long before Adam stood in Joe’s doorway, frozen. Hoss, hot on his heels slammed right into him. “Uh, sorry Adam.. You okay?”
“Uh, yeah.” Deja vu. Wide eyed, Adam was sluggish as he entered. The realization of what happened to his little brother hit him smack in the face. There was Little Joe not moving. Adam’s nightmare returned and was staring right at him once gain. The only difference was where there’d been blood, there were now bandages, and bruises were beginning to appear. But Adam’s mind briefly played tricks on him for he saw straight through the dressings and was visualizing blood….lots of blood. Flashes of red were appearing in front of him. He saw wet crimson sheets covering his baby brother. He glanced down at his hands and saw blood dripping from his fingertips. Adam made a tight fist, while squeezing his eyes shut. With his finger and thumb, he pinched the brim of his nose in order to collect himself.
“Adam?, Are you okay, son? Did you get them ?” Ben anxiously asked . There was no immediate response, so Ben called to him again. “Adam?” He became a bit concerned about his older son. He then turned to Hoss. “Hoss, can you take over?”
“Sure Pa.,” Scrunching his brows, Hoss was quickly grabbed a wet towel. He strolled over, sat down on Joe’s bed, and placed the cold cloth on his brother’s forehead.
“Um, sorry Pa.” Adam sat down in the chair next to Joe’s bed, leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face, then slowly allowed his weary body to rest against the back of the chair. “Yeah, we did.” He sighed.
Hoss and Ben frowned as they glanced at each other then back at Adam who was now focused on Joe. It was very evident to them that Adam was distant, distraught, tired and dirty…yes he needed a bath.
“Son, what happened?” Ben was becoming worried. “Do you know who these men are? Have you seen them before?” He was very careful with his tone as it was very clear that he now had two sons who needed his help. “Adam?”
“Pa, there was so much blood,” he began. “ So much blood, pa, and I didn’t know what to do.” Tears began to roll down his cheek as he stared at Ben. “I let Joe down…. I let you and Hoss down.” Raising his arm, Adam wiped his face along the upper part of his sleeve while his father walked over and knelt down in front of him. ”Pa, I don’t know what came over me…. I.. I…” Adam voice cracked as he searched for words. He turned and stared at Joe. “I-I tried to help him, but he was so weak and calling out for me to save his mother. I didn’t understand.” Adam slouched forward as he looked up at Ben. “Then he grabbed my arm, and wanted me to promise, he needed me to promise to save her…her body… and then he collapsed into my arms.” He imitated the position in which he’d held his baby brother. Adam squeezed his eyes shut and wiped his face with both hands. “Little Joe was screaming Pa, screaming for me to help him. I….I froze.” He couldn’t hold it in anymore and a single tear slipped down his cheek.
Hoss had to fight against tears of his own at seeing that. He couldn’t even remember seeing Adam cry before. Like Ben, he, too was worried now for both of his brothers.
“Why?” He asked. “My own brother. What is wrong with me?” He was getting angry…angry at himself. “I just didn’t know what to do.”
Ben grabbed hold of his son’s hand as he tried to console the young man, something he hadn’t had to do in a very, very long time. The last time Adam was this upset was when Marie died, just as Doc. Martin said. “Son don’t blame yourself. You were in shock, scared and angry… angry at the men who did this to your brother.” Adam hung his head and was not able to meet Ben’s gaze. “Adam there are things we do, things our bodies and our minds do in a time of crisis that we don’t understand.” He touched his son’s chin, forcing Adam to look at him. “Son, you did not let Joe down. Nor did you let Hoss or I down. You did the best you could. Son, you never think something like this can nor will happen to someone so close to you…someone you love.” Ben’s eyes filled with tears as he remembered Marie…. the blood that had surrounded her head while she lie on the ground, so still. Ben tapped Adam on the leg and changed the subject. “Son you need to rest. So…”
“No! Adam interrupted him. “Little Joe yelled out my name…he called for me to help him, and I didn’t!” Adam cried out in frustration. He slammed his hands down on the arms of the chair, stood up and walked over to the window, pushing the curtain back to he peer out. “ Don’t you understand that?” He sucked in a deep breath as he raked his fingers through his sweaty black hair. “ The other day I yelled at him Pa….I said some things I shouldn’t have. What if he’d died?” There was a long pause. “He could have died, pa! He wasn’t alone, but without one of us there…..”
“A-Adam.” Joe whimpered.
Alerted, all three men simultaneously were now attentive to Little Joe.
“Joe? Joe, it’s me…I’m here Joe.” Adam was quick to collect himself and tend to his little brother ,however, there was no response.
“Pa, his fever seems to be down.” Hoss explained.
Ben was quick to check by placing the palm of his hand on his youngest son’s forehead. “I think your right.” He agreed. “He does still have one, but it isn’t nearly as high. Boys, this is good news.” He looked at his two sons and smiled. Ben noticed Adam’s stoic expression and once again became concerned. “Adam, Charlie told me you were there for Joe when he needed you, and then you did exactly what you had to do. You caught the men who did this to your brother. You did what you had to,” Ben repeated. “You have to believe that.”
Adam looked skeptical as he gazed at Joe. “ Pa, do you mind if I stay here with Joe….alone?” Without waiting for an answer, he moved to the chair, pulled it closer to the bed and sat down.
Ben glanced over at Hoss, and with raised eyebrows answered. “No, I don’t mind at all. Hoss and I will go get something to eat and change. Do you want us to get you anything?” He added before he and Hoss exited the room.
“No, thanks.” Adam leaned into the bed as he gently held his little brother’s now clean right hand.
Adam spoke softly. “Joe, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me. I’m sorry for what I said to you the other day. Your mother was the best thing that ever happened to our family. Hoss and I were without a mother for too long and when Marie came along it was like she was our own mother and she took us under her gentle wing without question. Please forgive me!” Adam was exhausted and fell back in the chair, but continued to speak to his brother. “Joe, when she fell…. Oh Joe there was so much blood… just like…” He paused and slowly blinked as he glanced over at Little Joe. The flashback of seeing her immediately transferred to the gruesome image of his little brother. “Joe I promised your mother and I promised myself that from that day forward I was going to keep you safe. I felt obligated to repay her.” He rubbed his face with both hands as he heaved a deep sigh. “I tried over the years to keep you out of trouble and I suppose I have. But in these past few months it’s coming between us. I realize now that I have to… I should have been there as your brother and not as a parent. For that, I am sorry.” His heavy eyelids finally closed and although his heart was in the right place, realized here is where ‘The end didn’t justify the means’.
“Ad-am! Little Joe cried out. “Ad-am help me, pl-ease.”
“Joe, I’m here buddy,” Adam’s eyes flew open. “It’s Adam.”
“My ma-ma…” Joe slightly opened his eyes . “Hurts.” His breathing was becoming rapid.
“Shhh, Joe it’s okay, buddy.” Adam gently placed his hands on Joe to try to calm him. “Slow your breathing, Joe.”
“Joe? Adam?” Ben hurried through the door followed by Hoss. “Adam, is he okay?”
“Ad-am ….hurts. My mama.” Joe’s glassy eyes weakly met Adam’s. “My mama…..”
“Shhh…You’re gonna be okay Joe.” Adam tried to reassure him. “I’m here, Joe.” He took a wet towel and wiped his brother’s sweaty forehead. His full attention on Joe, Adam paid no notice to his pa and Hoss.
“Adam?” Ben asked.
“I got it Pa.” Adam didn’t even raise his head nor did he make eye contact. “I’d like to be alone with Joe.” He continued to tend to his patient…his brother. “I’m here for you buddy.” Tears welled up in his eyes. Adam was going to make things right, as a brother and not as a parent.
Ben gently placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “Okay son, but if you need us we will be right downstairs.” After receiving a nod from Adam, he and Hoss lingered just a moment before leaving the room again.
“Joe I can’t believe how I’ve treated you all these years.” His memories came flooding back to him. “Believe me, I did not do it intentionally. ”He knew Joe couldn’t hear him, however, this one sided- conversation was already beginning to soothe his soul. He was finding understanding and forgiveness, the forgiveness he needed for himself, for the only way for him to eventually help Joe was to help himself first. “Maybe it has to do with me being the oldest. I just don’t know, but what I do know is that I made a mistake, a mistake I intend to fix…as your brother.” A small tear slipped out.
“Joe I have been so disrespectful of you recently. Not just you but Marie, too.” His voice cracked. “I allowed myself into a situation where I didn’t have full control, making it easier for me to lash out at you than to listen.” His fingers lightly enfolded Little Joe’s limp hand. “Then when I called Marie those awful names. Joe, that is when I realized I had gone too far. That promise has been costing me our relationship. It pains me to see you like this.” Adam curled his fingers and stroked Little Joe’s cheek. He couldn’t stand to see his little brother like this. He heaved a deep sigh and continued. “Joe, you are such a dare devil that I was and still am afraid for you. Afraid you might do something foolish and get hurt. I guess that is why I jumped on you when I saw you playing with that epee. I should have known better, I should have trusted you. Why couldn’t I give you a chance like you deserve. Like Marie gave me. I miss her, Joe, just like you do, and I didn’t want to disappoint her.” Adam leaned forward and whispered into his brother’s ear. “I am sorry, Joe. I am so sorry.” He sat up and gripped the younger man’s hand. “Please, forgive me. I love you, brother.”
“Ad-am…. Ad-am.” Joe moaned.
“Joe?” Shocked out of a surprisingly deep sleep, Adam sprung up in his chair. “Joe? Can you…”
“My ma-ma.” Joe was struggling to speak as he looked at his brother. “ My….Ma-ma!”
“Joe, we got the men who did this to you.” Adam carefully squeezed Little Joe’s hand and then reached for the wet cloth again, confused to find the water wet and cold. A glance at the window had told him that the sun had changed position. It must be late afternoon already. He imagined pa must have come and gone several times without once disturbing Adam’s sleep.
“Hurts..,” Joe cried softly, pulling Adam’s attention again. “Breathe….” A tear slipped out as Joe struggled for air. “Scared…Ad-am..help….” He began to tremble. “Hurts.”
“Shhhh! Easy Joe, breath slow.” Adam coached him. “You’re safe and you’re gonna be fine. Try to get some rest….” Joe’s eyes were already closed, however, not before Adam could see the fear and sadness in them. He wondered, ‘What really happened? Why did they do this to Joe? Why did they want Marie’s body?’ Adam wanted to know, but he either had to wait for Little Joe or those thugs to provide him with the answers. Those thugs whom Adam wanted so much to be able to strangle.
“My Ma-ma,” Little Joe mumbled again and Adam knew that he was dreaming.
When the door opened, Adam glanced up to see pa and Hoss walk into the room.
“How is he?” Pa asked?”
“Resting.” Adam set the cloth back into the basin and gave them his attention.“He keeps saying ‘my mama.’ “It doesn’t make sense.”
“The sheriff is here and wants to speak to us.” Ben told him as the sheriff came in through the door behind them.
“How ya doing, Adam?” He walked over and shook his hand. “Don’t get up. I might be able to answer that question.”
“Fine sir.” Puzzled, Adam eyes met Ben’s and Hoss’s.
Ben dragged a chair over and placed it at the end of the bed. “Have a seat, Roy.”
“Thanks, Ben.” He took off his hat and began fidgeting with it. “Ben I think you and Hoss should have a seat as well.”
“What’s going on?” Ben and Hoss simultaneously stared at each other. Ben sat on the side of the bed while Hoss chose the large wing back chair by the window.
“Ben I need you and the boys to promise me you will not go anywhere near the jail right now.” There was a long pause as they all frowned and gave hasty nods.
“Ben, I mean it, I need your word.” He was very adamant.
Heeding his warning, Ben turned to Adam and Hoss. “You two heard what the sheriff said.”
“Yes, sir.” they answered.
“Well, with a little coaxing, a very drunk Dubois confessed as to why he came here.” The sheriff looked at each of them in turn. “He and his son are from New Orleans. He actually came here looking for you, Ben.” He and Ben locked eyes as Ben’s eyes widened. “He had no knowledge of Little Joe until Joe told them who he was. Dubois’ wife died when his boy was young and he was going to ask Marie to marry him, knowing that his son needed a mother.” He glanced over at Little Joe and took in a deep breath before continuing. “It wasn’t until he forced some information out of Little Joe that he went into a fit of rage.” Sheriff Coffee slowly stood up and began pacing the room. “We all know just how ugly things can get when a man with a bad temper drinks. Ben, I have never seen such huge men.” He glanced over his shoulder at Hoss. “Except for Hoss, here, but these two are bigger than him.” He quickly ran his fingers threw his short gray hair. “Ben, I think Joe is lucky to be alive after seeing these two giants.” His pacing halted when he stood in front of Ben. “The only thing I can think of that prevented Dubois from making sure he was dead, is this.” The sheriff reached in his vest pocket and carefully pulled out the precious item. “I believe if it wasn’t for Dubois finding his son with this, Joe would be a goner.” He slowly handed Ben Marie’s slightly wrinkled picture as he scanned each man’s watery eyes.
Tears clouded Ben’s eyes, as he gently took the photo.“Thank you,” he said softly, his voice cracking. Ben remembered exactly when that picture had been taken for they’d had to wait. It hadn’t been long after Little Joe’s birth. Ben had insisted on buying Marie the finest dress. ‘The most beautiful dress for my beautiful wife.’
Ben’s reminiscing came to an abrupt end when Adam bolted upright from his chair, knocking it over as he hurried toward the door.
“Adam, stop!” Ben had a pretty good idea of his oldest boy’s intentions, however, needed to confirm his suspicions. “Where are you going?”
“To the jail.” He paused at the door, glowering back at his father.
“Son,we promised,” Ben softened his voice as he lay his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “It is up to the law now. Our place is here, with Little Joe.”
Adam lowered his head and firmly rubbed his brow.
“Come on, son.”
Finally, Adam allowed Ben to pull him slowly back toward Little Joe’s bed. Neither had any way of knowing what was going on in Joe’s fevered dreams now that all four men were standing over him.
Silent screams were locked in Joe’s head as monstrous shadows surrounded him. He tried to cry out for help, for Adam, but there was no answer. He couldn’t even hear his own voice. Why? He tried to run, but he couldn’t move. He was frozen, though he was hot, not cold. Yet through it all the large shadows swayed back and forth… back and forth as they slowly moved closer. Joe’s heart beat faster and faster, as he struggled for an escape, any escape. But how? Where? His hands were red and wet. He was weak… so weak. Was he awake or was he dreaming? Suddenly there was pain… excruciating pain. Voices, he heard voices. Familiar voices.
“Joe. Son, you’re okay. You’re safe.” It was his Pa.
“Hey buddy, we’re here.” There was another familiar voice… Hoss. “That’s it buddy.”
“I’m here Joe,” Yes, the voice he had been searching for since his nightmare began.
“Pa…Hoss…. Ad-am?” With his eyes barely open Little Joe slowly scanned each one carefully, making sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“Yup, and you’re stuck with us.” Hoss grinned.
“Water,” Joe pleaded as he attempted to get up. “Oww!”
“Easy son.” Ben rushed over. “Let us do the work.” The three men carefully lifted Joe’s torso just far enough so he could get a drink without choking.
“Thanks.” His parched mouth was finally wet.
“How are you feeling, buddy?” Now seated next to Joe, Adam was anxious to find out.
“Sore?” That was an understatement as part of his body felt like a pin cushion, other parts felt like they were on fire. “Oww! Oww!”
“Easy, buddy,” Hoss jumped in. “I’m just giving ya a few extra pillows here to prop ya up.”
Sudden fear built up within Joe as his body began to tense. “Let me go!” He yelled as Hoss’s large hand briefly held Joe’s good arm. “Let me go! Adam help!” He tightly closed his eyes as he squirmed in the bed in an attempt to free himself from his imagined attacker.
“Joe, it’s only Hoss.” Adam was quick to respond and was at his side in an instant. “Little Joe you’re okay. You’re safe.” Careful not to hurt his little brother, Adam pulled him close to his chest as he sat on the bed. “Shhh! Slow your breathing buddy. I’ve got you.”
“Adam, hurts.” With his good hand, Joe held his right side.
“Pa, where is the medicine the doc left?” Adam shot Ben a worried look.
“I’ve got it.” Between the two of them, they were able to carefully restrain Joe while giving him his medicine.
Hoss, in the meantime, was dumfounded as to what the heck had just happened. He knew he hadn’t hurt his little brother, he’d been as gentle as he could be.
“Dadburnit,” he mumbled to himself, as he meandered over toward the window. He wasn’t complaining to any particular person, he was just confused…and hurt, truth be told.He would never hurt Little Joe. How could Joe think that?
“Adam! Get him off me!” Now hallucinating, Joe still saw his right arm being swallowed by a massive hand. “Oww!” Moving his left arm was a bad decision as he soon found out and a bolt of lightening pain was sent through his left shoulder and down the arm. “Adam, help!”
Ben sat next to Little Joe cooling his now sweaty head with a damp cloth. Adam’s chest was still a replacement pillow for Joe as his arms carefully supported his younger brother. Father and son kept a vigil until Little Joe finally settled. What had just happened? Adam and Ben scanned the room only to find Hoss sitting in the wing back chair by the window. His large statue leaned forward as his hands were clasped together. Ben walked over to his middle son and bent down.
“Hoss, you can’t take this personally.” He tried to make eye contact but failed.
“Pa. Did you see the look on Little Joe’s face?” Hoss met his father’s eyes. “He was afraid of me.”
“You have to give him time, son.” This wasn’t easy for Ben. He knew it was true, but, Little Joe would never knowingly treat Hoss that way. “Be patient…we all need to give it some time.”
“Yes sir.” He pursed his lips while peering over his father’s shoulder. His sad eyes came in contact with his two brother’s. It wasn’t easy, but Hoss understood just by seeing the scene that was playing out across the room. Sad, but all to real. ‘I’m here for ya Little Joe.’ A tear slipped down his heavy-hearted face. “I’ll be alright, pa. You tend to Little Joe.”
“You sure you’re okay son?” Ben’s parenting skills were sure being tested now as all three sons required his attention, however, he was a strong man.
“Please pa, we all know that Little Joe needs you the most right now.” The slight nod and smile was all reassurance Ben needed from his middle son.
It hurt Hoss so damn much to see his little brother like this. But he knew with the help of his family,Joe would get through this. They’d been through many tough times before… granted, nothing like this. From a physical aspect the closest Hoss could remember was when his father had been beaten pretty badly by some men after he’d won a bid for a timber contract. Ben had been laid up for months, waiting for the bruises and broken bones to heal. They never did find out who’d done it,though they all had a pretty good idea. As for the mental standpoint, it was no doubt the untimely death of Marie. It had been very easy to connect with Marie and she’d quickly accepted the boys as her own. They all grew to be a close-knit family and Little Joe was like the icing on the cake after he was born. Understandably, the hardest hit from that tragedy had been Little Joe. He’d only been five-years-old and couldn’t really understand why Marie had gone away. Eventually, over time, they healed. Not completely, for who really does after such a tragedy. But they’d gotten through it.
‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’
“Pa you expecting anyone?” Adam asked.
“No, it’s kinda late for visitors.” Ben replied.
“I’ll get it.” Hoss was quickly out the door.
Moments later, Doc Martin was at Joe’s bedroom door.
“Hello Ben. How’s our patient tonight?” Doc Martin greeted the man. “I’m sorry as I know it is a bit late, but I was in the area.” He shook Ben’s hand then set his medical bag down on the night stand and proceeded to pull out his stethoscope. Adam was about to get up when the doc held up his hand. ”No, stay put Adam. He is in a perfect position for me to check his bandages.”
“Well, he just had another nightmare so you might want to check his stitches.” Ben explained.
“If this little wiggle worm would only stay still I wouldn’t have to keep re-stitching him.” A slight smile formed across his face which lightened the tension in the room.
As usual, he began with Joe’s side. “Looks good.” With Hoss’s help he re-bandaged the wound.
“Ahhh!” Joe whimpered.
“Easy kiddo.” Still cradling Joe against his chest with one arm, Adam brushed his younger brother’s hair back with his free hand.
“Let’s look at the shoulder and back.” Turning Joe on his side was going to be painful as it put pressure on his right abdomen.
“Oww! Ad-am! Help!” Joe screamed.
“Shhh, I gotcha Joe.” Adam reassured him. “Slow your breathing buddy.”
“Okay, Hoss, hand me that bandage over there, please.” The doc was quick with his work. “Okay, easy, now lay him back.”
“Adam?” Joe”s opened eyes and met his older brother’s. A slight grim formed. “Hey, brother.”
“Hey to you.” He smiled back. “How ya feeling?”
“Wanna race?” They all chuckled. “Oww. Don’t make me laugh.”
“Hi, Joe.” Doc Martin jumped in. “I have one more bandage to change and then I’m done.”
In slow motion Little Joe saw the doc’s hands come toward his face. ‘You don’t deserve to look like her’. Doc Martin carefully turned Joe’s head to the right. ‘You don’t deserve to look like her’. His heart began to race, while he stared right past Ben seated there next to the bed.
“Joseph, what’s wrong?” his father asked seeing that same expression again.
His heart was pounding now, echoing through his head while tears escaped from his eyes. ‘You don’t deserve to look like her’. He tried to yell. He wanted to yell, but he was frozen with fear.
“Hey buddy, come on.” Adam tried this time, while the doc continued to change the dressing.
“Almost done, Joe.” Doc Martin tried to comfort Joe. “There we are.” He finished.
“Doc, what’s wrong with him?” Ben asked. “This is the second time this has happened.”
“I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t doubt it has to do what happened. The attack, Ben.” He stood up, cracked his back and walked over to face Joe. “Little Joe can you hear me?” He gently tapped the right side of his face. “Ben, I have to leave. I want you to let me know how often and when these events occur. I can see myself out”
“Sure.” Puzzled, he stood and shook the doc’s hand. “Thanks doc.”
“Pa what do you think is going on?” Hoss asked.
“I’m not sure, son.”
“Joe…Little Joe.” Adam attempted again. “Easy Joe.”
At a snails pace, Joe turned his head, showing his joyless face to his brother. “Adam?”
“What happened?” Adam looked directly at Joe.
“Is he gone?” His breathing slowed a bit, however, he was still trembling.
“The doc?” Adam asked with raised eyebrows. “Yes. Why?” Hoss and Ben were just as confused as to what was going on, however, were beginning to surmise it all tied to those men.
“Good.” His nostrils flared while trying to fight back the tears. “She’s my mother, Adam. Mine. Not his.” The cloud burst as streams of tears lined his cheeks.
Just when was the right time to tell him? “I’m sorry Joe. I’m so sorry for the way I have been treating you lately.”
“What?” His eyelids were getting heavy.
“Joe, in short I haven’t been there for you as a brother.” He confessed. “I am now.”
Ben and Hoss had no idea what was unfolding in front of them.
“It’s okay. I love you Adam.” He slipped off to sleep. He drew Joe closer to his chest and allowed a few tears to roll down his cheek.
They were a family, always there for each other. Ben and Adam still, at Little Joe’s side, while Hoss unfortunately, still keeping a slight distance, yearning for the time…day when Little Joe would not see him as a threat. He kept reminding himself, that day would come. ‘Patience.’
Over the next couple of weeks the Cartwrights were still bewildered about Little Joe’s refusal to talk about his terrorizing nightmares, however, they were there for him in case he wanted to open up. It was going to be a long and bumpy road, and this was just the beginning.
Hop Sing had returned home and assisted in caring for Little Joe. “Little Joe eat breakfast.” Slightly hunched he shuffled into the room. “You must eat.”
“Thanks Hop Sing.” With many pillows supporting him, Joe was now able to sit up in bed, but was, still very much in pain. “Just set in down on the nightstand, Hop Sing, I’ll get it in a minute.” Holding a book, Joe pretended he was reading.
Hop Sing did as he was told. “You need to eat.” Shaking his head, he reminded the young man before exiting the room.
Peering out the open window, Joe let the book fall onto his chest as a slight warm breeze brushed his face. It wasn’t the most comfortable position, but he was tired. A tiny smile appeared while he visualized his mother sitting in the rocker. His eye lids slowly opened then closed, opened then closed. Within no time the curtains shut on his weary eyes. Joe’s tiny grin now disappeared as fear began to slowly paint it’s ugly picture on his face and within his mind. ‘You don’t deserve to look like her’.She was just right there almost within his reach, and then ….within a split second she was gone. ‘You don’t deserve to look like her’.
Dark figures hovered over him while red raindrops began falling.
“Mama.” he whispered as he searched for her, in his mind, in his dream….Then it ended as quickly as it had started. “Nooo!” His thrashing and yelling alerted the family who were soon at his side.
“Joe…Son.” Ben was the first to respond and gently tried to rouse the young trouble man. “You’re safe, Joe.”
“Pa?” Joe was drenched in sweat and his legs were tangled in the sheets. “Pa?” he repeated as a tear slipped out.
“Yes, you’re safe son.” Ben rested his body down on the bed next to his son and held him. “I’ve got you, Joe.”
Joe’s heart was pounding so hard he heard it in his ears. “I’m sorry.” He winced as he struggled to calm his breathing. He slowly drew up his legs. “Hurts.” His ribs were going to take awhile to heal. His labored breathing had to be slowed to ease the pain. With every nightmare was continuing pain. This had to stop and Joe knew it.
“Slow Joe, slow.” Adam was always the best coach for this. “That’s it buddy.” He knelt down by the side of the bed.
Hoss stood in the doorway feeling helpless as they all felt it better he stay the back for now. Although he fully understood that the fewer setbacks Little Joe had hopefully the quicker he would heal…emotionally. Hoss just witnessed one of those setbacks. With his sleeve he wiped the tears from his face, turned and went back downstairs.
“Pa, can I have a drink?” Joe was beginning to feel better.
“Sure son.” He handed Joe the glass. “Felling better?”
“A little.” His head hurt. He should have been getting better by now as Doc Martin had said, however, just the opposite had been happening. Why? He could only guess it was the nightmares. He wanted to tell his father but, it wasn’t just fatherly advice he wanted. He needed Adam. Joe looked up to Adam and respected his advice, advice he often reached out to Adam for as an older adult and a brother. For this reason he became confused as to why Adam’s behavior had changed drastically over these last months. He couldn’t concern himself with that now for he really needed Adam. He needed to talk.
“Pa, do you mind if speak to Adam…alone?” Joe looked at his father
“Sure.” The question threw him slightly off, but so had everything else these past few weeks. Ben carefully slid out of the bed. Just the thought of Little Joe wanting to open up brought light into his heart and a tear to his eye as he stepped out.
“Adam, I don’t know who else to talk to about this.” He cringed as every move he made was painful. “I can’t talk to Pa ’cause well…he’s pa.” They both made eye contact and chuckled. Where should he begin? How should he begin? Little Joe knew he had to tell someone about the nightmares that had been plaguing him and how he had come to realize how it was affecting his relationship with his family. It wasn’t going to be easy, but could it ever? Was it really worth living the rest of his life with this on his own? On the other hand would he be less of a man doing this? Crying on someone’s shoulder? He decided that is exactly what he had to do. “Can you help me sit up?”
“Sure.” It was painful and slow going but, Adam managed to get him into a comfortable sitting position. Well, as comfortable as he could be. Adam pulled his chair closer to the bed and sat down. “What wrong Joe?”
“Adam, I need to talk about what happened and it’s not just the injuries.” Searching for the right words he began fidgeting with the sling which was still supporting his left arm. “Adam those men…”
“Joe, stop.” He interrupted his brother. “ The man was very drunk when we captured them and he confessed.” Adam gently grabbed his younger brother’s arm. “He told us that they were from New Orleans and why he came here.” Adam noticed the comfort and ease he was giving little Joe just by taking control of the conversation. It was short lived though. “It isn’t your fault Joe, it isn’t anyone’s fault.”
“No!” Joe perked up catching Adam off guard. A few tears leaked out as he continued, while looking Adam in the eye. “He said pa and I…we…stole mama from them!”
“Shh, Joe it’s okay…” Adam was interrupted.
“No, Adam,” He started again. “He said we…we..stole mama from them.” Joe began fiddling with the bed sheets.” He told me the pa and I….” Tears flowed freely as he glanced up at the ceiling. “Pa and I…killed her.” Placing his right hand on his abdomen Joe winced for his short rapid breathing was hurting his ribs and wound.
“Easy Joe….” He once again was interrupted.
“Adam please let me finish, I have to get this out!” He couldn’t wait any longer, although his short, rapid breaths made it a struggle to talk. “Adam he…he…told me…” Joe turned his head and began staring at the rocking chair in the corner of his room. The rocker Ben had made with his own two hands when he’d found out Marie was pregnant. The rocker that gave Joe vague memories of falling asleep in his mothers arms. The rocker that he’d found solace in after his mother had died, where he would sit by the window on clear nights, looking up at the sky as he recited, ‘Star light, Star bright, First star I see tonight, I wish I may I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight’. His wish always the same… For his mother to come back.
“He told me I…I didn’t deserve…” Small tremors began jolting his body as his eyes darted around the room. His heart raced and his tears began to choke him. “Deserve to look like.. my mother, and that is when he did this.” Joe pointed to his face, he hung his head, and could no longer hold it in. His breathing got worse, as did the pain.
Adam was practically speechless, however, was there for his little brother. “Oh, my God Joe!”Adam squeezed himself onto the bed next to Joe, and pulled him close to allow his little brother’s head to rest on his chest. “Easy, Joe. Slow your breathing. Come on, buddy. I’m here, Joe.”
“Adam, why?” The seventeen-year-old kid was now searching, asking for answers from his older brother. Answers his older brother wasn’t sure he could give, although he could give support and love. “I wanted to tell pa, but I couldn’t…I just couldn’t.” His breathing was beginning to slow. “They said it was his fault, too.”
Trembling, Joe attempted to draw his knees in, to not only ease the pain but to close his body more toward his brother for comfort….security. He remembered the time when Adam had come came his bed after his mother died to sleep with him to keep the nightmares away. Adam would take turns with Ben and Hoss, however, as the oldest, Adam automatically took over and was the one who was there at night the most. Not to say Ben or Hoss didn’t care, they did. Hoss wasn’t that old and Ben was struggling himself, so Adam took it upon himself to care for his little brother.
“Why Adam? Why did they do this?”
“Shhh. It’s not your fault, Joe and it’s not pa’s either. It was an accident.” He gently hugged Joe a little closer to him as he began to slightly rock. “It’s gonna be okay Joe.” ‘How the hell can someone tell something like that to a kid?’ With tear filled eyes he glanced down at his little brother then laid his cheek on his curly hair. “Close your eyes, Joe.”
“Mama’s picture, Adam.” Joe whispered. “They took it.” Adam’s shirt was now wet with his little brother’s tears. “Adam.” After taking some choppy, deep breaths, Little Joe closed his eyes.
“Shhh. You sleep now buddy.” Adam slowly and carefully made himself comfortable, until he fell asleep, as he cradling his little brother.
Over the next month Joe’s healing, both physically and mentally, although slow was progressing, as was his relationship with the family. He was limited in what activities and chores he could do, and still moved slowly. Doc Martin did an excellent job with the sutures on his face for the scar was barely noticeable. His ribs were still healing as were the other wounds. He was even able to walk past the place on the floor where he’d lain… where his mother’s picture had fallen when the intruders had invaded his home and changed his life….he could see it now without losing his breath and reliving it all over again in his head.
“Joseph.” Ben called out to his youngest son now sitting on the settee. “ How about a buggy ride? Get some fresh air.” He walked over to his chair by the fireplace with his morning coffee and sat down.
“Sure. Where?” Joe took a sip of his own coffee.
Hoss has the buggy already hooked up for you. Adam said he will drive.” He glanced over at Joe, waiting for an response. “Hoss and I will follow.”
“That sounds good.” Joe was a bit anxious to get out. He was still sore but, had cabin fever.
Father and son placed their cups on the table as they headed toward the door to grab their hats. Joe was still not well enough for a gunbelt.
Bubbly, Hoss came charging in the front door, rays of sunlight rushing in behind him. Little Joe suddenly froze. He closed his eyes remembering just when he’d first met his assailants.
“Little Joe, you alright?” A wave of concern stopped Hoss in his tracks. “Joe?”
“Uh yeah, let’s go.” Joe breathed in a breath of fresh ai,r remembering what Hop Sing had said to him just a couple of weeks earlier, when he’d struggled to approach his father at the desk, his mind taking him back to the far different struggle he’d faced at the hands of the monsters in his nightmares. ‘To get through the hardest journey we need to take only one step at a time, but we must keep stepping.’ Joe went ahead a took another one of those steps through the front door.
“Hey brother, you ready to go?” Adam was already seated in the buggy.
“Yup.” He answered as he climbed in.
The only conversation heard within the buggy was small-talk, for Little Joe seemed preoccupied with his surroundings as though it were the very first time he had been to the Ponderosa, but instead of feeling hurt, angry or scared, he was remembering and appreciating its beauty, it’s memories…His family.
The buggy suddenly stopped, jolting Joe back to reality.
“Were here Joe.” With somber eyes Adam glanced over at his little brother.
Little Joe didn’t even have to ask. It was a secluded place surrounded by the beautiful pines overlooking the lake. His eyes focused though on what was right there, foremost in front of him, his mother’s gravestone. He bit his lower lip as his nostrils flared, while a single tear fell from his eye. It was still there…she was still there, untouched. They never took her. She was still here. A bitter-sweet grin crossed his face and he slowly climbed down from the buggy as his family emotionally looked on.
“Joe, wait.”Adam reached in the back of the buggy and handed him a large bouquet of wildflowers
“Thanks Adam.” Joe softly answered. Wildflowers Adam knew were what she and Joe had picked every summer.
Joe eased his way over to her headstone and, laid the flowers atop it as he carefully and painfully knelt down. “I love you ma. I didn’t let them take you.” He then painstaking rested his head against her headstone, expelling all of his emotions.
His family watched from the buggy, giving Little Joe a private moment. It was obvious how they all were affected and how they all knew they had once again come together as a family, to not only help Little Joe but each other deal with what had happened.
With his head down, Joe slowly walked back toward his waiting family.
“Joe, we have something for you.” As his family surrounded him, Adam handed him a wrapped package. “Open it.”
Joe was confused. He pushed his brows together, then quickly raised and lowered them as he slowly accepted the gift.. Why would they want to give me a present at this time? Why here? He slowly unwrapped it only to discover it was the best gift they could have given him. They had his mother’s tattered picture, fixed and re-framed in a beautiful gold European frame. Little Joe was speechless, however, words were not needed to see just how much he appreciated what they had done. The family group hug was the icing on the cake.
“Let’s go home boys”. Ben coughed out, as a smile finally ran across each of their faces simultaneously.
“Yes sir!” The three boys cheerfully shouted.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.