Summary: How hard can it be, taking care of two little boys for one day? That’s what Joe thinks…. (Part of the Ties That Bind AU series)
Rating: K (1661 words)
Ties That Bind series
Ties That Bind
A Pearl Without Price
A Piece of Cake
Something About Amy
Guarding the Henhouse
When Angels Cry
When Worlds Collide
No Ordinary Day
Winter of Discontent
Gently, Full of Grace
Author’s note: For those of you not familiar with this series, Joe has a sister. Forewarned is forearmed — you can turn back now or read at your own peril….
A PIECE OF CAKE
“Hey Adam, have you seen Jilly?” Joe put his hands on his hips, looking around for any sign of their sister. “I figured she’d be here by now.”
Adam Cartwright scanned the street outside the church. Most of the worshipers were already inside, along with their father. “Well, she’s got Andy and Deke on her hands now. You’d have trouble getting anywhere on time if you were in her shoes.”
Hoss pointed and grinned. “Here they come.”
The brothers watched in amusement as the belated trio approached. Jilly had a firm grip on two young boys, one a gap-toothed tow-head of about seven, the other a five-year old carrot- top. None of them looked happy as they passed without a word.
“Wonder what those hooligans have been up to this mornin’?”
“Hoss, there’s no telling,” said Adam, following them inside. Jilly ushered her sullen charges to the pew anchored by her father. Adam sat down next to her and offered a sympathetic smile. She just shook her head and sighed as she opened her hymnal.
About halfway through the sermon, Jilly switched places with Deke to separate him from his brother. Apparently whatever happened between them that morning had generated a good bit of animosity, which Adam suspected was further fueled by having to endure an hour of sitting still in their Sunday clothes. It was hard enough for him sometimes. Reverend Fordham could be quite long-winded when the Spirit moved him.
Adam admired Jilly for taking a job nobody else wanted. The Reverend’s wife Anne had lost her third child in the middle of a difficult pregnancy and had to be confined to bed indefinitely. The congregation was generous when it came to kind words and covered dishes, but less so when it came to the supervision of Andy and Deke. Not that they were “bad” boys (though someone jokingly offered to foot the bill if Roy would house them in the jail); they just had a knack for finding trouble. “A handful” is how Mrs. Cameron described them, until they knocked over the pickle barrel in her store – since then she referred to them in polite company as “the devil’s angels.”
Deke squirmed next to her, and Jilly placed her hand on his knee as a warning without looking at him. The boy complied with a sigh, leaning his head against her, and in a moment he was asleep beneath her arm. Jilly fingered his burnt-orange locks, smiling down at him. Adam caught her eye and they both grinned before her attention was diverted to the child on her right.
After the service, they watched Andy and Deke bolt from the building like a pair of prisoners during a jail break.
“Problems this morning?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, nothing out of the ordinary – they insisted on oatmeal for breakfast, but neither one of them ate more than two bites because they spent the whole meal arguing about who got more molasses. Deke kicked Andy, and Andy hit Deke, and the milk went all over the table…and me. But other than that, everything is just…fine.”
Adam put his arm around her. “Sounds like you could use a break.”
“That’s not likely.”
“Listen, Annie Lundberg has been dying to meet you. She made me promise I’d bring you over to their place one day this summer. I’m sure we could find someone to watch the boys for one day. How about it, Hoss? We could bring the boys out to the ranch and you could handle them for a few hours, couldn’t you?”
“Probably not this week – Pa’s leaving for Sacramento in the mornin’ and I promised him I’d have that south fence fixed before he gets back. I could watch ‘em next week, though.”
Adam shook his head. “If I’m not mistaken, the Lundbergs are leaving for Europe next week.”
“Heck, I’ll watch ‘em,” Joe offered.
“Oh, I don’t know, Joe,” said Jilly. “With Pa and Hoss gone, you’d have them all by yourself.”
“So? I won’t need any help.”
She looked skeptical. “You really don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“What’s to know?” Joe scoffed. “They’re just a couple of kids. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Sheesh!”
Adam smirked. “Why don’t you ask Mrs. Cameron?”
Joe dismissed their warnings with a wave of his hand. “Look, Jilly, I’m perfectly capable of handling two little boys. I mean if you can do it…”
Her eyes narrowed as she silently considered his proposition. “All right, Joe,” she said finally. “They’re all yours; how about tomorrow?”
“Great,” Joe smiled. “I’ll pick you three up in the morning and bring you over to the ranch, and then you and Adam can go have a nice visit with Annie and the Swede. Now don’t you worry about a thing. It’ll be a piece of cake.”
“What’s a piece of cake?” asked Ben, joining them.
“Joe offered to watch Andy and Deke tomorrow while Jilly and I pay a call on the Lundbergs.”
“What’s everybody so worried about?” Joe laughed. “How hard can it be? I can think of a lot worse ways to spend a day.” He whirled around at the sound of a feminine voice calling his name. “Excuse me,” he grinned, sauntering away.
Ben stared after him. “I know what that boy’s up to.”
Hoss scowled. “Yeah, he’s figurin’ on gettin’ out of a day’s work tomorrow.”
Adam shook his head. “He’ll be wishing he was riding fence or digging post holes before the day’s half over.”
“So, what did you think of Annie?”
“She’s a darlin’ woman,” Jilly replied, mimicking Annie’s Irish brogue. “And she makes a great mulligan, too.”
Adam laughed. “That she does. It was her mulligan that started her on the way to fame and fortune.”
“I wish I had been around to see you and Annie as partners. Is it true you almost married her?”
“Heck, no – I was just helping a damsel in distress.”
She laughed. “That seems to be your specialty. Thank you so much for today. I had a wonderful time.”
Adam smiled. “Me too. I like showing you off every now and then.”
“Yeah. I know this is not the way you intended to spend your summer, but I’m really proud of you for helping the Fordhams. I’m not sure what they would have done without you. I think you’re handling the situation very well.”
“Thank you.” She took a deep breath, frowning a little. “I just hope Andy and Deke haven’t been too much trouble for Joe today.”
“Well, he asked for it.”
Jilly looked sober. “He did, didn’t he?”
When they arrived back at the ranch house, Jilly and Adam found Joe and the boys seated at the table eating chocolate cake.
Joe stood up and greeted them with a grin. “Hey, you’re just in time. The boys and I were just about to get seconds.”
“How did everything go?” Jilly asked.
“Fine,” said Joe. “Great, as a matter of fact.”
Joe shook his head. “Nope.”
She stared at the boys. “Really?”
“We were good,” said Deke. Andy smiled.
“Is that a fact?” Jilly’s face bore a strange expression. She turned to Joe. “Okay, how’d you do it?”
Joe put a hand on her shoulder. “Jilly, you just have to come a mutual understanding with kids. Show ‘em who’s the boss, right up front. It’s that simple.”
Something rolled off the table. Adam stopped it with his boot and bent down to pick it up.
“Hey, that’s mine!” Deke hollered.
Adam handed the silver dollar back to him. “That’s a lot of money, Deke. Where’d you get it?”
“From Joe,” Deke grinned. “He gave Andy one, too.”
Jilly scowled at Joe. “You paid them — I knew I smelled a rat!”
Joe crossed his arms and scowled back. “Well, it takes one to smell one!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adam asked.
“It seems those two rascals are for sale to the highest bidder. At least I paid them to behave!”
Adam’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “What?”
“Yeah, she paid ‘em fifty cents to dry gulch me, but I outsmarted her!”
“You outsmarted yourself, buster – I only paid them twenty-five cents!”
Joe directed his scowl at Andy. The seven year old shrugged and grinned. “Hey, I’m just a kid. I’m not very good with money.”
“Seems like you’re doing pretty well for yourself,” said Adam before turning back to Jilly. “Well?”
She wilted a little under the waiting eyes of her brothers, and then she stuck out her chin and frowned. “Well, he just made me so mad yesterday, and I didn’t want him to get off easy.” She paused, adding almost by way of apology, “I did tell them not to break anything.”
“Well, they’re not very good listeners, did you know that?” Joe huffed.
“Really, you have no idea.”
Joe cleared his throat, looking sheepish. “Well, uh, as a matter of fact, I think I’m beginning to. I’m sorry, Jilly. I never should have said those things to you.” He handed her a piece of cake. “Truce?”
Her mouth curved into a half smile. “Piece of cake, huh?” She stuck her finger in the frosting and smeared it across his face. “There’s your piece of cake.”
He picked up a napkin and wiped his cheek as she headed for the door. “I’m givin’ you a head start because you’re a girl, and yeah, you’d better run…”
Adam laughed as Joe dragged her kicking and squealing toward the water trough, both of them slathered in chocolate. It was nice to know that some things would never change.
Bonanza character acknowledgements: Annie (O’Toole) and Swede Lundgren appeared in The Saga of Annie O’Toole (Season 1), written by Thomas Thompson.
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