Second Chances (by Starlite)

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Summary: Ben brings Marie to the Ponderosa, and causes a rift between him and his young son. Will Adam ever forgive him?

Rated:  G  (12,150 words)

Second Chances

“There it is!”  Ben Cartwright beamed with love and pride, waving an arm in a sweeping motion towards the vast land before them.

Marie Cartwright looked toward the sprawling landscape that her husband indicated with awe.  Glancing over to the man who sat beside her in the buggy, she realized that she definitely had competition for her new husband’s affection.  Smiling at the boy-like quality of Ben’s actions, she took his arm with both her hands and leaned her head against his shoulder.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispered.

Marie was even more impressed when they drove into the yard of the great ranch house.  She was expecting nothing more than a large cabin.  But what she saw was so much more, the two-story ranch home was impressive, as were the surrounding structures.

“We’re home!”  Stopping the buggy, Ben called out to the house.  Jumping down he circled the surrey and easily lifted Marie to the ground in a smooth swinging motion.

Once on the ground, Marie straightened and smoothed her skirts and raised a hand to her head to fix her hair.  Lifting her eyes, she saw two young boys and a woman approaching.

The smaller of the two boys took off at a run for her husband.  He was chubby and exuberant, the other followed at a more reserved almost hesitant pace.

“Pa!”  Hoss shouted as he excitedly jumped into his father’s open arms.

Ben caught his youngest son in mid-leap and hugged him tightly to his chest.  He kissed the boy’s pudgy cheek before placing him back carefully to the ground.

“Boy son, you’ve grown since I’ve been gone.”  Ben stated as he rested a loving hand upon the young boy’s head.

“Yep, Pa.  Sure have.”  Hoss replied with pride and puffed out his chest.

“Adam, son.  You’ve grown as well.”  Ben declared as he held out a hand to his oldest.

Adam walked up to his father always keeping one eye on the woman who stood behind him.  He reached out and shook his father’s hand, then felt his father pull him into a small warm embrace.

Placing an arm around each son’s shoulders, Ben turned to Marie.

“Boys, this is your new mother.”  Ben announced happily, then gave his wife a small wink.

Hoss studied Adam’s reaction wanting to see what his older brother would do.  He watched as Adam just stared intensely at the woman before them.

Adam studied the young woman that stood by the buggy.  She was not what he had envisioned at all.  Though his father had wired that he’d gotten married, Adam really couldn’t believe it.  Now that she was here, she wasn’t what he’d expected.  She was young and very pretty, and he was anticipating someone about his father’s age and more plain, like Hoss’s mother.  He didn’t quite know what to do next, so he just stood there, dumbfounded, staring at his new ‘Ma’.

“Go and say Hello, boys.”  Ben instructed giving both sons a slight shove.  He was beginning to lose his patience over Adam’s lack of manners in greeting his wife.

Adam gave his father a slight upward glance from the corner of his eye, before stepping forward and extending his hand.

“Please to meet you, ma’am.  I’m Adam.” Adam offered.  He wasn’t certain how to address the woman before him and felt his cheeks blush in embarrassment.

Marie took the proffered hand and shook it, giving the shy young man a sweet smile.  She gazed warmly at the youth who stood before her, his thick hair was a curly dark black, his skin tanned with just a hint of freckles across his nose and cheeks, and his eyes were a dazzling dark hazel that were bright with intelligence.  She noted that he must have gone through a growth spurt recently, as his shirtsleeves and pant legs seemed a little too short.  Adam was about a foot shorter than her and a little on the thin side and seemed to be all arms and legs.  She smiled as she took in the young man, remembering her own firstborn son, who would’ve been about the same age as her new stepson.  In her heart, she believed Clay would have looked something like Adam.

“This is my little brother, Eric.”  Adam added, waving a hand behind him to Hoss.

Hoss bounded forward and Marie bent to accept the open arms of the happy cherub.  Ben’s younger son was almost the opposite of his older brother.  Hoss had fine blond hair, with very fair skin and sparkling crystal blue eyes.  Where Hoss was friendly and accepting, Adam was cool and reserved.

“I’s Hoss!”  Hoss corrected his older brother with a sharp look.  He didn’t like the name Eric very much, because it was only used when he was in trouble.

“Pleased to meet you, Hoss.”  Stooping over, Marie hugged the boy warmly.  She’d remembered what her husband told her about the little boy’s nickname, it was not ‘Horse’.

Standing erect once more, she took a small chubby hand in hers, and reached out with her other hand to touch the face of the dark haired boy who still stood before her.  She was slightly disappointed when Adam ducked his head away from her touch.

Ben watched his wife with his sons.  He was pleased to find Hoss so warmly accepting of his new mother, but he was not surprised at Adam’s reticence.

“Adam, please see to the luggage.”  Ben ordered sadly.

Grateful to get away from his father’s watchful eye and the disquieting surroundings, Adam quickly moved to the buggy.  Untying the bags, he grabbed two carpetbags and headed for the safety of the house.

Shaking his head in disappointment over his eldest reactions, Ben turned his attention back to the group before him.

“Shaughnessy, how did the boys behave while I was away?”

**************

Marie was disappointed when Shaughnessy announced she’d be leaving the following day.  In just the short time together, she had grown quite fond of the outspoken woman and felt an ally in dealing with Ben’s sons.  Though Marie had no trouble in bonding with the younger boy, Adam was a different story altogether.

Marie noticed that Adam often stayed to himself.  Even in their first evening together as a family, Adam had distanced himself in a far corner of the room with the new book Ben had brought him.  He’d even rejected attempts by any member of the family to join the others.

Stepping out on the porch, Marie watched as Ben and his sons bid goodbye to the family friend.  She was surprised when Adam stepped forward and hugged the woman warmly.  As the ranch hand drove the buckboard out of the yard, her heart skipped a beat when she saw Adam shoot her an angry glare, before running off to the barn.  She knew then, that she had her work cut out for her with her oldest stepson.

Quietly she turned and headed back into the house, she had some planning to do.  She set her mind to finding a way to win over her stepsons.  With Hoss, that was an easy thing to do with his warm, gentle and trusting personality, she knew he’d already accepted her.  But to seal that relationship, she would need to win over Adam, and he would be a challenge.

Initially, she felt that Adam distrusted all comers and saw everyone as a potential threat.  As time progressed, she saw so much more.  What she found was a very frightened and introverted little boy, who was trying very hard to be a man in every respect.  Squaring her shoulders, she realized she had a very long haul in front of her.

Just after lunch, Marie went out and found Adam chopping wood by the side of the house.  With plan in mind, she strode over to where her young stepson worked.

“Adam?”  Marie asked sweetly from the porch.

“Ah, yes ma’am.”  Adam answered, caught a little off guard because he hadn’t noticed his father’s wife approach him.

“Could you come inside and help me for awhile?”  Marie inquired with a warm smile.

Adam looked around at all the wood he had to get chopped that day, he really needed to get that done.  But if his father found out that he wouldn’t help Marie, he’d get his backside tanned for sure.  Nodding, Adam sat the ax down and followed his stepmother inside.

Marie sat in one of the big red leather chairs in the large living room and handed a mug of hot chocolate to her young coworker.  She smiled in satisfaction at the new arrangement of the furniture in the room, and her successful attempt to move Adam’s favorite blue chair closer to the fireplace.  Now when Adam sat curled in his favorite chair, reading the ever-present book, he would be closer to the family.

Marie was touched when Adam not only graciously took the mug of hot chocolate, but also offered a very warm and loving smile in return.  She smiled back, not only pleased with her initial success with Adam, but at how his smile was so heart warming.  Not realizing the passage of time, they sat chatting about books and a certain pretty little horse, whom he’d called ‘Lady’.

Ben Cartwright rode up to the ranch house in a dark mood.  He’d not had a good day while out surveying the ranch.  Up near the winter pasture he’d found a break in the fence, which cost him eleven head of cattle to the nearby swollen creek.  Dismounting, he noticed a pile of wood and an ax but no son to be found.  Fuming he headed for the house in search of his oldest son.

Entering the house in his angry mood, he was not pleased to find his son and wife amicably chatting, with his son wasting the workday away.

“Adam!”  Ben thundered, standing near the open front door.

Adam jumped at the sound of his father’s voice and spilled the hot cocoa down the front of his shirt.  His father was angry, very angry.

“Yes Pa.”  Adam replied standing to face his father, he knew his father expected to be answered.

“Come here.”  Ben demanded pointing to a space on the floor.

Adam gave Marie a quick frightened sideways glance before complying.

“Ben, just a…” Marie tried to explain the situation, but Ben waved a hand to silence her.

As Adam reached the spot indicated by his father, Ben reached out and grabbed Adam’s upper arm and swung him around, swatting him resoundly on his lower backside.

Marie watched in horror as her husband struck his young son.

“Next time, you’ll finish your chores before playing.”  Ben instructed angrily.

“But Pa, I just…” Adam tried to explain before his father swung again.

“I will not tolerate any back talk from you young man!  Now I suggest you get outside and finish your work.”  Ben directed, pointing one finger to the open doorway leading to the yard.

“Ben, how could you?”  Marie yelled in anger, dismayed over her husband’s treatment of the boy.

Adam fired a bitter and betrayed look back at Marie before turning for the door.  Keeping his eyes downcast so his father couldn’t see, he hastily exited the house and made his way to the woodpile.

Marie charged to her husband with fire in her eyes.

“How could you?”  She again demanded.

“He’s been disobedient, and needed to be punished.”  Ben declared, now angry with Marie for questioning his disciplining of his son.

“For your information, I asked him to come inside and help me move the furniture.”  Marie barked back just as angrily to her husband.

Ben surveyed the room and for the first time noticed that the furniture had been moved.

“I’m sorry, I just…” Ben began to apologize before Marie interrupted him.

“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to Adam.”  Marie spat out before turning sharply on one heel, then stormed from the room.

Adam fought the burning tears he found in his eyes.  He willed himself not to allow them to fall.  He swung the ax with all the force he could muster.  He glanced up briefly, when he heard familiar footsteps on the wooden planks of the porch.  Trying to keep his eyes totally focused on the job at hand, Adam felt a small grip of terror begin to overtake him.  He was worried that his father was coming to punish him again for not finishing his chores before goofing off.

“Adam…” Ben stated softly, waiting for his eldest son to stop chopping wood.

Knowing his father would punish him for being disrespectful; Adam paused in his chopping of wood.  Keeping his eyes downcast, he studied the wood grain on the log before him while waiting for his father to continue.

“Adam, Marie told me about having you help her.”  Ben continued softly.  He was very ashamed of his earlier actions and for taking his anger out on young Adam.  “I’m sorry son.”

Ben moved to embrace his son, he could see that his very sensitive child was barely able to restrain the tears that were now flooding his eyes.  He mentally whipped himself over the harsh unfair treatment he’d meted out to this boy.  Adam was always so hard on himself; he never really needed anything more than a scolding word.

Adam noticed his father’s advance; he wanted nothing to do with the man who’d humiliated him when all he’d tried to do was be helpful.  Adam dropped the ax and ran for the relative safety and comfort of the barn.  Once inside he quickly climbed the ladder that led to the loft where he could lose himself in the piles of hay.  There he finally let the tears fall and swore he’d never do anything that his stepmother asked him to do again.

Hoss entered the barn about an hour later in search of his big brother.  He’d spent the day playing happily with a new litter of pups, and was blissfully unaware of the discord between his father and brother.

“Hey Adam, Ma told me to fetch ya for supper.”  Hoss called up to the loft.  He knew that’s where Adam went to get away from the world, including him because he was too young to climb the ladder.

“I’m not hungry!” Adam yelled down in response.  He had no intention of leaving the loft, especially if Marie wished it.

Shrugging his little shoulders, Hoss turned and made his way back toward the house.  Once inside, Hoss relayed the message to his parents.

“I’ll go and get him.”  Ben announced rising from the table, he felt he’d let this situation go on long enough.

Marie reached out a hand and gently grasped her husband’s forearm and shook her head ‘no’.

Heeding his wife’s wishes, Ben reseated himself and began the evening prayer.

Halfway through the meal, the front door opened.  Ben, Marie and Hoss looked up to see Adam quickly crossing the floor to the stairs.

“Son, would you like to join us?”  Ben gently called out to his son, hoping to make some type of amends.

Adam froze on the first step of the stairs at the sound of his father’s voice.  Knowing he had to answer or incur more of his father’s wrath, Adam replied.

“No sir, I’m not hungry.”  Adam turned and quickly raced up the stairs to his room.  He shut the door and locked it behind him.

Marie felt a small burning tear roll down her cheek to land on the napkin in her lap, while Ben pursed his lips and let out a deep regretful sigh when they heard Adam’s door shut.

**************

The next couple of days were tense ones, though Adam finally emerged early the next day, he’d built a very protective wall around him.  He only spoke when spoken to and just enough words to answer any request and no more.  Though he was overly polite with Marie, he hardly came near his father.

But with Hoss, Marie noted, Adam still had a very warm and loving relationship.  She watched them as Adam played checkers with his younger brother or read to him in his room at night.  Adam was always very protective of his little brother and seemed to confide in Hoss.  Marie fought the urge to go to Hoss and find out what was going on with Adam.  She knew that the bond between brothers was a very special and treasured thing, and she wouldn’t violate that trust.

On the third day after the misunderstanding, Adam eagerly arose and went down for breakfast.  Today he would get to ride out and check on the herd with the other ranch hands.  Adam quickly downed his breakfast and departed before the rest of his family awoke.

Adam ran into the barn and saddled his old horse.  He was eager to get out on the range with the other hands and to see his little filly.  His father had promised him the spunky little mare he’d named ‘Lady’ for his birthday, that was if he behaved for Shaughnessy and had taken care of the ranch and Hoss while his father was away.  Even though his birthday had occurred during his father’s extended stay in New Orleans, Adam felt he’d lived up to his obligations.  Now all Adam wanted was his father to say the filly was his, hurrying he went out to watch his little Lady run.

Adam spent the morning rounding up strays and making sure they got to the winter pasture.  In the early afternoon he spotted his father, another man and the ranch foreman, Jack in the horse pasture.  He spurred his horse when his father motioned for him to join them.

As Adam neared the men, he noticed his father deep in business negotiations with the unknown man.  They were talking about the sale of the horses.  Adam kept silent and listened to the exchange.  His heart dropped to his stomach when he heard his father order him to help round up all the horses, including the colts and fillies and drive them to the paddocks.  His father had sold them to the unknown man.

Adam’s eyes widened in horror as he gazed back at the horses, and saw his sprightly little filly dancing by her mother.  Adam was too hurt to speak, he figured that his father wasn’t impressed with the way he had tended to the ranch and Hoss while he’d been away.  He looked away so his father wouldn’t see the tears in his eyes.  Squaring his shoulders before nodding dejectedly, he rode away to obey his father’s orders.

Jack sat next to his employer and studied the man intently.  He wasn’t one to openly say anything that would embarrass or offend his boss.

Ben Cartwright noticed the penetrating stare of his foreman, after the horse buyer had departed with his recent acquisitions.  It was rare that Jack had to be instructed to do his job.  Ben returned the gaze.

“Didn’t think you intended to sell them till Spring?”  Jack inquired, hoping that would start an amicable conversation.

“Well, I hadn’t.  But recent events have me a little over-extended at the moment.”  Ben didn’t want to discuss his financial outlay with the hired help.

Even though Ben Cartwright had managed to sell his furs in New Orleans, his unexpected marriage to Marie, as well as her passage and the shipping of her belongings to the Ponderosa, found Ben with his finances strapped.  With his now growing family, Ben found the ranch cash outlay barely breaking even.  With winter coming and the loss of cattle this early in the season, he needed to find a way to rebuild his reserves.  Deciding that it was more cost effective to sell the horses now, instead of trying to maintain the herd through the winter, seemed to be the best solution to his financial difficulties.

Jack nodded his head thoughtfully at his boss’s response.  Knowing that recent events included a new young wife and a very long trip to New Orleans.

“Will ya be selling your horse too, Mr. Cartwright?” Jack continued, ducking his head in the direction of Ben’s mount.

“Of course not!”  Ben responded indignantly to the foreman.

Jack nodded his acceptance of his boss’s response.  He spat out a mouth full of tobacco juice onto the ground beside him, before turning back to address Ben Cartwright.

“Oh, just thought you might, considering you just sold Adam’s.”  Jack added, before spurring his horse to catch up with the other men in moving the horses.

Ben sat stunned in his saddle, he’d totally forgotten about what he’d said to Adam before he left.  In fact, he’d totally forgotten Adam’s birthday altogether.  Normally Adam’s birthday made him a little melancholy because it reminded him of the pain of Elizabeth’s death.  But this year had been different, this year all the pain and regret was lost in the glow of a new love, Marie.

**************

Marie looked up from the dining room table where she was polishing the silver flatware, when her husband entered the house.  He looked so lost.

“In here darling.”  She called out.

“Is Adam home yet?”  Ben asked as he walked towards the dining room while looking towards the stairs.  He bent down and kissed Marie upon the cheek in greeting.

“No, not yet.  Is there something wrong?”  Marie could sense that her husband was troubled.

With shame, Ben told Marie about the horse sale, as he paced back and forth.

“Adam told me all about that little filly.  Ben how could you have done this to him?”  Marie was aghast over her husband’s admission.

“It wasn’t intentional, I assure you.”  Ben retorted a little miffed over his wife’s accusing tone.  How could he admit that he’d been foolish in trying to impress her in New Orleans, and now with the loss of cattle, found himself in slight financial distress.

Marie lowered her gaze back to the silver fork in her hand.  She hadn’t meant to be so harsh with her husband.

“Adam is easy to please.”  Ben added, hoping to get back in his wife’s good graces.

“He is, well that’s certainly a good thing, because from what I’ve seen, it’s even easier to hurt him.”  Marie sarcastically sniped over Ben’s nonchalant attitude concerning Adam’s filly.

“He’ll get over it.  I’ll get him another horse next year.”  Ben suggested helpfully, he felt he was beginning to lose ground in this discussion with his wife.

“Will he Ben?  You seem to think that Adam takes wrongs lightly.  He’s still a little boy Ben, not a man.”  Marie was now beginning to lose her patience over her husband’s seemingly callous attitude toward the horse.  Marie knew that horse was more than just an animal to Adam.

“Adam is not a little boy, Marie.”  Ben felt impelled to defend his treatment of his son.

“No, how old is he?”  She questioned, hoping her husband would eventually understand.

“Ah, he just had a birthday, so he’s now eleven.”  Ben replied.

“Eleven, well by all means that makes him a full grown man!”  Marie blurted out in frustration.  “What were you doing at eleven Ben?”

“I was…” Ben paused as his memories of playing with friends, fishing along the pier and attending school filled his thoughts.  Those thoughts were replaced with images of Adam as they traveled westward and working beside him, to build this ranch.

Suddenly, he began to understand what Marie was getting at.  For the second time today, he felt ashamed of his actions towards his eldest son.  It was so easy for him to think of Adam as his traveling companion and helper, he forgot that Adam was just a little boy.

“I see your point.”  Ben conceded as he sat down beside his wife in dejection.

Marie reached out to take his hand and squeezed it tightly; she gazed knowingly into her husband’s sad dark eyes.

Ben smiled slightly and accepted his wife’s silent forgiveness.

“You know some people believe Adam is a very thankless and unloving child.  He’s always distant from everyone, which some say is hateful.  It’s like he’s been some type of burden for me to have him as my child…” Ben began to confess.  He and Marie never heard the two young boys begin to enter from the kitchen.

Adam stopped Hoss and they stood to listen at the entryway to the dining room.  They hadn’t heard the whole conversation, but Adam froze at the mention of his name.  He swallowed deeply when he heard the words his father said to his new stepmother.  Stunned, he turned and left Hoss standing in the entryway.

Hoss saw a very strange expression cloud his older brother’s face.  In confusion, he watched Adam depart, before returning his attention back to the eavesdropping on his parents.

“But Adam has never been a burden to me, in fact he’s been a blessing.  Without him, I don’t think I could have survived after Elizabeth’s death.  He’s always been such a reassuring strength in my life.  He’s helped me to realize my dream, not to mention seeing me through all the bad times.  I’m very proud of that intelligent and sensitive young man.  I guess that sometimes I forget that he’s still just a child.”  Ben confessed.

“Tell him Ben.  Tell him, not me.  I think he needs to hear that from you.”  Marie comforted, studying her husband’s solemn face.

Finding the conversation between his father and stepmother to be somewhat boring.  Hoss wandered off in search of his older brother.

Adam escaped to the wash room; absent-mindedly he poured a basin of water and began to wash his hands and face.  As he held the bar of lye soap and turned it unconsciously in his hands, the words his father said echoed in his mind.  Mentally he built up his emotional protective barrier with each painful word.  ‘Unloving’ a brick was set into the wall and mortar added.  ‘Thankless’, another brick added and more mortar.  ‘Hateful’, a row was completed.  He thought of his father telling these things to Marie, and several rows went into the wall.  Then he thought of his little brother Hoss hearing too, and the wall doubled in size.

Adam was deeply hurt and confused by his father’s words.  He’d always tried to be a good boy and never gave his father any real trouble.  He’d also done all he could to take care of his little brother, and help with building the Ponderosa.  Adam guessed that his father really did blame him for the death of his mother, because his birthday always seemed to cause his father pain, and this year, his father had forgotten him altogether.

Adam equated the way his father dealt with the things he loved, like links in a chain.  First and foremost on the chain, was his father’s dream of the Ponderosa, next was his mother and when he was born, he became the third link.  But that all changed when Inger came along.  Adam didn’t mind moving down to fourth when his father married her, or even fifth when Hoss was born.  But now with the arrival of Marie, Adam seemed to be dropped from the chain entirely.

Adam took a deep breath and wiped his eyes with a shirtsleeve when he heard Hoss enter the room.  He felt his heart hardened, and decided he had things he needed to think through.

**************

Dinner that evening was a somber affair.  Marie noticed that something was deeply troubling Adam, and felt he was upset because of the selling of his filly.

Ben had noticed Adam’s very quiet disposition and made a mental note to speak to the boy after dinner.

Adam toyed with the food on his plate; he moved the meat and vegetables back and forth with his fork never placing anything into his mouth.  His mind was still reeling from the conversation he’d overheard earlier, and what he needed to do.  He wasn’t even aware when Marie addressed him, until his father’s deep voice brought him back to the present.

“Adam, your mother is speaking to you.”  Ben firmly stated, seeing that Adam was not responding.

Adam’s eyes slowly came up from his plate and he gazed without really seeing in the direction of his stepmother.

“Are you not feeling well?”  Marie asked gently, she’d noticed Adam’s downcast appearance and lack of appetite.

“I’m fine.”  Adam answered abruptly before turning his attention back to his dinner.  What did she care, he thought.

Ben was not pleased with Adam’s tone and excused it for the moment.

“Is there something wrong with your food then?”  Marie persisted becoming more concerned with Adam’s forlorn behavior.

“No, there isn’t.  Would you just leave me alone!”  Adam shouted in frustration and anger.  All the hurt he’d been feeling was beginning to overwhelm him.

“That will be enough!  Adam apologize to your mother.”  Ben bellowed in anger, he would tolerate no further disrespect from his son towards his wife.

Hoss cowered in fear, looking between his father and older brother.  He knew his father was very angry and could tell that Adam was too.

“She’s NOT My Mother!”  Adam yelled back angrily as he jumped up from his seat at the table.

Ben Cartwright was now out of patience with his eldest son, he quickly rose from his chair.  Before Adam could successfully make his escape from the room, Ben grabbed him by the upper right arm and pulled Adam towards the door to the downstairs bedroom.

“Ben, don’t!”  Marie pleaded, trying to calm the now crying Hoss.  Fearfully, she watched as Ben slammed the door behind him and Adam.

“If you want to continue to live in this house, you will keep a civil tongue and address your Mother with respect!”  Ben bellowed, the words echoing through the closed door into the dining room.

Marie closed her eyes and felt her own body convulsively jerk with each loud resounding smack she heard.  She opened her eyes when she heard the turning of the bedroom doorknob.  She was deeply saddened by the look of pain and lack of spirit she found, when Adam re-emerged from the room.

“I’m sorry ma’am.”  Adam mumbled with downcast tear-filled eyes studying his hands before him.

Marie didn’t trust her voice to speak and felt hot bitter tears burn at her eyes.  She nodded her silent acceptance to Adam, then heard him run from the room to the stairs.  She closed her eyes when she heard his bedroom door slam.  Now enraged, she glared up to her husband as he re-entered the dining room.

“Thank you, very much.”  She bitterly stated, as she folded her napkin and placed it upon her unfinished dinner.

Ben looked at Marie with uncertainty, not understanding either her tone or her words.

“Thank you, for making him hate me.”  Defiantly, Marie rose from the table and without another glance toward her husband, she entered the sanctuary of the kitchen.

**************

Adam lay upon the bed in his room, his backside was sore and his feelings hurt unbearably.  But he’d finally come to a decision; it was time for him to go.  His father no longer needed nor wanted him, and he would burden the man no further.  Quietly, he went over to his bureau and pulled out his knapsack and began to pack.

“Whatcha doing?”  Hoss asked, letting himself into his older brother’s room.

“Don’t you know how to knock.”  Adam retorted angrily, wishing his younger brother knew how to respect his privacy.

Hoss first shook his head yes, then no when he realized Adam was angry.  Shrugging his shoulders when Adam made no move to throw him out, he climbed up onto Adam’s bed.

“Read me a story?”  Hoss begged as he began to hop on Adam’s bed.

“No, I’ve got things to do.  And stop jumping on the bed.”  Adam replied as he grabbed Hoss by the upper arms and made him sit down on the bed.

“Whatcha gotta do?”  Hoss asked innocently, now seeing Adam with bag in hand.

“Packing.  I’m gonna take a trip.”  Adam answered.

“Where ya going?”  Helpfully, Hoss began to hand the things Adam had laid out for packing to his older brother.

“I dunno, probably Boston to see my Grandfather.”  Adam answered pensively.  He’d never really met the man, but they corresponded frequently.  Having no where else to go, he hoped that his grandfather would let him live with him.

“Why?”  Hoss pressed, with tears beginning to form in his blue eyes.  He really didn’t want Adam to go.

Adam could tell he was upsetting Hoss, he really didn’t want to make his brother cry.  In fact, he really didn’t want to leave Hoss behind.  Steeling his nerves, he sat down next to the little boy on the bed to explain.

“You see Hoss, things just aren’t the same around here.  You’ve got a new Ma, and Pa just doesn’t want me around anymore.  So it’s just better if I left.  I’ve been a burden to Pa long enough.”  Adam answered sadly, hoping that his explanation was sufficient.

Hoss nodded his acceptance sadly as a tear escaped and rolled down his chubby cheek.  He remembered what his father had said about Adam from earlier in the day, and he didn’t want his Pa to be angry with his older brother anymore.

“Now, how about I read ya a story.”  Adam suggested hoping to cheer his little brother up.

Hoss nodded happily as he crawled over to the pillows and made himself comfortable.  Adam joined him a few minutes later with Hoss’s favorite book in hand.

**************

Adam listened for the footfalls of his father.  He knew his father would be checking on him before he went to bed.  Adam heard the bedroom door slowly creak open and held his eyes closed waiting for his father to depart.  He noticed that his father lingered longer that night near his bedside, even lifting the covers over his shoulders and tucking him in gently before leaving the room.

Adam patiently waited for his father to go across the hall and check on Hoss, before making his way to his and Marie’s room.  Hearing the click to the closing of the door to the master bedroom, Adam quietly slipped out of bed.  He slipped off his nightshirt and quickly donned the heavy woolen shirt he’d laid out on the chair beside his bed.  Already wearing his socks and jeans, he tucked in his shirt before putting on his coat.  Reaching under the bed he found the knapsack that he’d stashed there earlier, before grabbing his boots and tiptoeing toward the bedroom door.

Slowly and carefully he made his way into the hall, he glanced down the hall to the master bedroom when he heard silent voices coming from within.  Strengthening his resolve, Adam turned and made his way quietly down the stairs to cross the great room.

As he walked by his father’s desk, he saw his mother’s china music box sitting beside her and his first stepmother’s pictures.  He’d always cherished the little trinket and it gave him such pleasure to listen to the simple tune it played.  Figuring his father didn’t have much use for it anyway; he reached out and took the box carefully from the desk.  Opening his knapsack, he retrieved a shirt he had packed, and used it to carefully wrap the box before placing in into his bag.

That task completed, Adam proceeded into the kitchen to fill a bag with the proper provisions, just like his father had shown him on their last hunting trip.  As soon as the bag was filled, Adam headed out of the side door from the kitchen and stopped to put on his boots.

Feeling he was completely outfitted, he checked to make sure he had everything he needed for his long journey.  In his pocket he confirmed that he had a small tin of matches and a pocketknife.  He also had a bag of food, a filled canteen and his knapsack, which held a change of clothing and what little money he possessed from his wages.  Though he knew that twelve dollars and 32 cents probably wouldn’t get him to Boston, he figured it was just about enough for a stage ride to San Francisco from Genoa.  He remembered stories his father had told him about sailing, and figured that once in San Francisco, he could sign on as a cabin boy and work his way to Boston.

Stopping briefly at the barn he reconsidered borrowing a horse, but not wanting to incur his father’s wrath over stealing a horse, he decided to make the journey on foot.  Momentarily he felt saddened, as he glanced back once more towards the large ranch house that he helped design and build.  Taking a deep breath to strengthen his resolve, he turned to begin his long trek away from the Ponderosa.

**************

Marie walked down the hall to put away the clean laundry.  She stopped when she saw Hoss playing on Adam’s bed.

“Young man just what do you think you’re doing in Adam’s room?”  Marie demanded, as she entered her eldest stepson’s room and proceeded to stand over Hoss, who was lying on the bed flipping through one of Adam’s books.

“Nothin’ Mama, but it ain’t Adam’s room no more.”  Hoss answered innocently, looking up to the angry young woman standing over him.

“It most certainly is Adam’s room, and you, young man will respect his privacy.”  Marie scolded, pulling Hoss from the bed by his arm.

“Nu uh, it ain’t neither.  Cus Adam don’t live here no more.”  Hoss responded, wriggling free from Marie’s grasp and looking back at his stepmother with his lower lip protruding in slight defiance.

“What do you mean Adam doesn’t live here anymore?”  Marie felt a sudden sense of panic at Hoss’s answer.

“He done left, cus Pa don’t want him.”  Hoss explained, not sure why his stepmother seemed so upset.

Marie felt lightheaded and swayed on her feet; she needed to find her husband.  She dropped the clean laundry onto the bed and grabbing Hoss once more by the arm, she led him from the room and down the stairs.

Ben rode happily into the yard, pulling a little filly on a lead rope. Anxiously he looked around for this oldest son.  Not finding him in the yard, he dismounted then put the filly into the corral before heading for the house.  His wife and youngest son met him at the door.

“Have you seen Adam?”  Not noticing the frightened look upon Marie’s face, Ben greeted his wife by kissing her upon the cheek, before tousling Hoss’s hair.

“He’s not with you?”  Marie asked as her panic increased.

“No, of course not.  He was supposed to be cleaning out the barn and working on that wood pile today.”  Ben responded, now beginning to become upset at Adam’s shirking of his responsibilities.

“He’s gone, Ben.”  Marie whispered.  Horrified, she looked down to the small boy standing beside her.

“Gone, gone where?”  Ben asked, not truly understanding why his wife looked so distraught.

“San Frisco, or Boston, or some such place.”  Hoss spoke cheerfully, happy to oblige by answering his father’s question.

“What?”  Ben sputtered in shock, then knelt down to look his small son in the face.

“He’s gone to see his Grandpa, cus you don’t want him round no more.”  Hoss answered helpfully, he was confused by his father’s shocked expression and added.  “Why are you sad Pa?  You said you hated him and he was a burden.  Pa what’s a burden?”

Ben was stunned and unable to speak; ignoring Hoss’s last question, he looked about the room in disbelief.

“Little walls have very big pictures.”  Marie muttered as she raised a hand to her face.

Bewildered, Ben raised his eyes to her face and realized what she meant.  Adam and Hoss must have overheard them talking the day before.  No wonder Adam acted so strange at dinner, my God what have I done, Ben wondered?

Ben quickly rose to his feet and ran across the yard to the barn.  He found the horse Adam usually rode still in its stall and realized that Adam must be on foot.  Since he hadn’t seen Adam at breakfast, he assumed he must have left during the night.  Running back to his horse he quickly mounted, stopping only briefly to inform his wife of his plans.

“Marie, I’m going to go and find him and bring him home.  If I’m not back before sundown, have some of the hands go out to start searching the ranch.”  Ben spurred his horse in the direction he thought Adam would have taken.

Marie nodded in acknowledgement and offered a silent prayer that Ben would be able to find the child before nightfall.  She glanced down at the small boy who took her hand and gave him a small reassuring smile before squeezing his hand tightly.  Turning, she guided the little boy into the house where she had some serious explaining to do.

**************

Adam trudged through the thick underbrush, it was getting late in the afternoon and he’d gone a long way since the night before.  He wanted to sit down and rest, but he knew if he did, he wouldn’t start again.

Adam couldn’t believe how tired he was, or how much his feet hurt.  He’d done more walking than this when he came west with his father, not even seven years before.  He paused to take a drink from his canteen and surveyed the landscape to get his bearings.  His canteen was almost empty, so he would need to head to water to fill it up.  He remembered there was a stream a couple of miles away where he could fill the canteen, and possibly stop for the night.

Ben found and began to follow the small footprints of his son.  He was relieved when he easily found the trail that Adam was leaving, and was surprised at how far his son had traveled in one day.  Riding several more yards, he found another set of tracks that appeared to be following the same path as his son.  His blood ran cold as he recognized the heavy paw prints of a mountain lion.  Frantically, he scanned the countryside hoping for a glimpse of his eldest.

Still not able to see his son in the thick stand of trees, Ben spurred his horse into a canter and rode into the brush.  Ben had barely gone a half of mile when he finally spotted his son.  Adam was making a slow progression down the hillside toward the stream, and was totally oblivious to the cougar, which stalked him from a couple of yards behind.

Ben was uncertain as to how to proceed.  If he yelled out to his son, that could cause Adam to start running and the big cat would begin its chase.  But if he didn’t warn his son in time, Adam wouldn’t have a chance to try and get away.  Spurring his horse into a gallop, Ben drew the rifle from his scabbard and charged towards his son.

Adam was lost in thought as he slowly plodded along.  He wondered if anyone had even missed him, and decided that only Hoss probably did.  He was so wrapped up in his own misery of feeling sorry for himself, and of his sore tired feet, that he didn’t even realize he was in danger until he heard the low growl of the cougar.  Stunned, he momentarily froze before turning around to face the dangerous big cat.  Seeing the large mountain lion mere yards from him, he dropped his canteen and knapsack, then took off at a run.

Ben watched in horror as Adam turned and fled from the approaching cougar.  He was still too far to get in a decent shot, and spurred his horse harder.  He felt his heart drop into his gut as the mountain lion pounced upon his son.  Knowing he only had one chance, he aimed and fired.  He was relieved to see his shot find its target and the big cat lay still.  He thanked his Lord when he saw Adam shimmying out from under the very heavy dead weight.

Ben jumped down from his horse and ran over to his son; he was stunned by Adam’s response.

“Go away!  Leave me be!”  Adam screamed at his father as he pushed his arms away.

“Please son, let me make sure you’re alright.”  Ben pleaded, he could see Adam’s clothing was torn and covered in blood.  He was uncertain as to whether the blood was Adam’s or the cougar’s.

“What do you care?  Leave me alone!”  Adam demanded as he continued to struggle with his father.

“Adam, please son.  Settle down now; let me take a look at you.  I can’t leave you here all alone.”  Ben begged as Adam began to pound his small fists against his father’s chest.  Though the blows were those of a small, frightened young boy, the pain they delivered struck deep into the older man’s soul.

“Why not, you’ve left me alone plenty of times before!”  Adam accused as he redoubled his efforts.  Remembering all the lonely and sometimes frightening days spent in boardinghouses, while his father worked to allow them to continue their journey west.

Ben closed his eyes against the pain of his son’s words and actions.  He couldn’t believe the anguish that he must have inflicted upon his son, to result in such a response from Adam.  He continued to hold Adam’s upper arms as the boy struggled against him, soon the resistance weakened and then stopped.  Ben shifted his grasp to catch his son before he fell to the ground winded and exhausted.

After Adam succumbed to unconsciousness, Ben assessed the damage to his firstborn.  He found deep claw scratches upon his thighs and what looked to be a bite to his right forearm.  Using his sleeves, he quickly made bandages to dress Adam’s wounds.

He walked over and retrieved Adam’s knapsack and flung the bag over the saddle horn, before returning to his son.  Gently, he lifted Adam into his arms and walked over to his horse.  With great care he lifted Adam into the saddle, and holding his son in place, mounted behind him.  Once mounted, he pulled his still unconscious child into his arms and cradled him on the long ride home.

Marie paced the great room downstairs, it was almost dusk and she was becoming more frantic by the moment.  She no longer attempted to put on a brave face for Hoss, who now watched her with fear of his own.  She’d finally decided to alert the hands and strode toward the front door, when she heard a single horse gallop into the yard.  Throwing open the door, she rushed outside hoping that it was Ben.  Her heart leapt with joy as she saw her husband and young stepson, then she felt it crash to her stomach, when she realized that Adam was limp in his father’s arms.  Running she went to help.

“Ben, Ben what’s wrong?”  Marie pleaded as she reached her husband’s horse, and watched him stumble from the saddle with Adam still in his arms.  Seeing the torn and bloody clothing, she was horrified when Adam’s head dropped to hang back lifelessly over his father’s arm.

“He’s been mauled by a mountain lion.”  Ben mumbled absently, this had been one of the longest and most painful days of his life.

“Oh my lord.”  Marie reached out to brush the hair back from Adam’s forehead to reassure herself that Adam was still alive, before helping to lead her husband and stepson back into the warmth of the house.

Hoss’s face turned white when he saw his father enter the house with Adam in his arms.  He could see all the blood on Adam, and was afraid that he was dead.  Frozen to his chair in the living room, he stared with mouth gaping as his father took Adam up the stairs to his room.  He watched as Marie ran to the kitchen, only to return moments later with a basin and towels, before following them up the stairs.

Ben placed Adam carefully on the bed and began to undress his son.  He found some of the scratches and the bite to be deep, but didn’t believe that they were life threatening.  Removing Adam’s shirt, he found deep purplish-black bruising along the boy’s torso.  Gently, he felt along Adam’s ribs and was relieved when he found no broken bones.  Marie joined him, to help clean and re-bandage the wounds.

Once the task was completed, Ben and Marie gingerly dressed Adam in his nightshirt; then tucked him into bed.  Ben pulled up a chair to Adam’s bedside and sat down heavily into it.  Watching his precious child sleeping, he reached out a hand to lovingly stroke back a lock of wayward hair from his forehead.

Feeling that Ben needed time to be alone with his son, Marie wiped her hands upon her apron and turned to find Hoss.  Reaching the downstairs, she found Hoss anxiously looking towards the stairs.  Smiling broadly, she walked up to the frightened boy and gave him a big hug.

“He’s going to be just fine honey.  Now why don’t we go and fix something for dinner.”  Marie suggested, leading Hoss across the room.

Hoss nodded eagerly in response, he was suddenly very hungry.

**************

Ben spent the night at his son’s bedside; it was dawn the next morning before he noticed Adam begin to stir.

Adam awoke to overwhelming pain.  His arm and chest throbbed, his upper legs burned, his feet hurt and he ached all over.  Wincing, he forced his eyes open as he tried to move.  He was not happy to find himself in his own room with his father sitting nearby.

“Adam, how are you feeling son?”  Ben asked, moving closer, he reached out his hand to his son’s shoulder.

Adam swatted his father’s arm away.  He didn’t want anything to do with the man.

“Adam, please son.”  Ben pleaded, watching as Adam struggled to move away from him.

Adam tried shifting in his bed and found his legs screaming in agony.  Gasping in pain, he settled for rolling over on his side with his back to his father.

Ben’s heart sank as he watched his son’s struggles.  He was at a lost as to how to proceed.  Taking a deep breath, he tried to get Adam to talk to him.

“Adam, son, talk to me.  Please tell me what I’ve done.  I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you, I never meant to.  I do love you son.”  Ben stated gently.

“No you don’t, you never did!”  Adam accused, as he turned back to face his father.

Ben was stunned by the vehemence of Adam’s actions and words.  Where would Adam get such an idea?  Dumbfounded, he just stared blankly back at his son.

“I’m hateful, unloving and thankless.  I’m a burden to you and you don’t want me around.  Why Pa, why did you drag me out here, why?”  Adam felt his protective mental wall begin to crumble, causing the tears to begin to flow.

Ben was horrified by Adams words and couldn’t believe his son truly believed them.  He was ashamed to realize that Adam had overheard his conversation with Marie, and had obviously misunderstood.

“No Adam, you’re not those things, and you’ve never been a burden to me.  You’re my son, I have always and will always love you.”   Reaching out, Ben tried to soothe and comfort his terribly hurt child.

Adam desperately wanted the reassuring embrace of his father, but the words his father had said and his actions ever since Marie arrived, had cut too deep.

“Then why did you tell Her that?”  Adam demanded an explanation, still pushing his father away.

“I didn’t Adam, what you heard was just part of a conversation between adults…” Ben attempted to patiently explain.

“Don’t lie to me anymore, Pa!  I heard you, I heard what you said!”  Adam was again becoming agitated, to the point of hysterics.

Ben moved quickly to the bed and grabbed Adam’s arms to keep him from striking out.  He wrapped his own arms around Adam’s upper body in a strong embrace, both to comfort his son and to keep him from re-opening the wound on his arm.  Ben continued to hold Adam tightly to his chest, then began to rock back and forth.

“Shhh now, Adam, shhh.”  Ben soothed as Adam began to sob.

“Why Pa?  Why?”  Adam cried into his father’s chest, no longer able to struggle further or maintain his emotional barrier.  Exhausted from his efforts, he drifted back into unconsciousness.

Ben felt tears flow down his face, as he held his sobbing child to his chest.  How would he ever be able to explain his words or actions to this young confused boy?  Looking toward the door, he saw his young wife standing in the open doorway with tears streaming down her beautiful face, wetting the front of her rob.

Marie had barely slept during the long night.  She was worried about her husband, but even more about Adam.  She hurriedly threw on her robe and slippers before running down the hall to Adam’s room, when she heard him crying out.  She watched in horror as Adam accused his father of hating him and pushed him angrily away.

Sadly, she looked to her husband and shook her head in bewilderment.  She was at a loss as to what to do to help.  Without a word, she approached the bed and sat down on the opposite side from her husband and Adam.  Tenderly, she stroked the back of her stepson’s head.

**************

The next time Adam awoke, he found not only his father but also the doctor in his room.  Dr. Paul Kay was a physician who traveled the surrounding area and mining camps, usually spending about a week a month near the Washoe, before heading back to his regular practice in Carson City.

Adam quietly watched and listened, while the doctor gave his father the instructions for his care.

“Everything looks pretty good, just keep those wounds clean and bandaged and make sure he stays in bed for a couple of days to rest.  I believe he’ll be just fine in no time.  If you see any swelling or redness on those scratches, you send for me immediately.”  Dr. Kay instructed, looking at his now awake charge and gave the boy a small wink.

“Thank you doctor.”  Ben gratefully shook the man’s hand and escorted him to the door of the bedroom.

“You stay with your son, Ben.  I can see myself out.”  Paul Kay directed before turning to address Adam, “and you, quit playing with mountain lions.”  The doctor warned waving a finger playfully at the little boy lying in the bed.

Adam shyly nodded his head in response, and felt his father’s intense gaze upon him.  To avoid his father’s eyes, Adam continued to look towards the open doorway and out into the hall.

Ben neared his son’s bed and watched as Adam pointedly avoided his gaze.  Using one arm under his son’s shoulders, Ben gently raised Adam into a sitting position then propped some pillows behind him.

Now resting comfortably against the soft pillows, Adam cast his eyes downward and began to fiddle with the bindings on his arm.

“You hungry Adam?”  Ben gently inquired, hoping that Adam would respond.

Without looking up, Adam shrugged listlessly while continuing to fidget with his bandages.

“Look at me son.”  Ben directed patiently.  When Adam didn’t respond he reached down, taking the boy’s chin with his index finger and thumb, and tilted his son’s head upward to face him.

Adam briefly glared at the man who stood over him, before pulling his head away from the light grasp.  He braced himself for the impending storm, from his father, over his disrespectful act.  Adam was surprised and confused, when he felt his father place a hand gingerly on the back of his neck, before kissing his forehead.  Instead of the expected loud reprimand, Adam heard a deep sad sigh when his father left his bedside and departed the room.

Ben was stunned and hurt by the anger he saw in his young son’s eyes.  He was not surprised to find that Adam’s emotional barrier was now back firmly in place.  He was dismayed and felt his heart ache when he realized, for the first time in Adams’ short life, he was now on the outside of that protective wall.

**************

Adam was deep in thought and barely noticed when his stepmother entered the room.  In her hands, she carried his breakfast tray.

“I hear tell you’re hungry.”  Marie smiled sweetly, using her best southern charm and hoping to melt some of the ice with her stepson.

Adam glanced up and nodded meekly.

“Would you like some help with this?”  Marie asked standing next to Adam’s bedside.

Adam responded with a slight shake of his head.

“Did that cat get your tongue too?”  Marie questioned firmly, then gave Adam a no more nonsense warning look with one eyebrow raised.

“No ma’am.”  Adam replied quietly before lowering his eyes from her face.

“Well, that’s good, I was beginning to worry that you wouldn’t be able to swallow this.”  She smiled warmly, placing the tray onto Adam’s lap.

Adam looked down at the breakfast that his stepmother had brought him.  He found all his favorites including pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon.  He never realized how hungry he was until he smelled the food placed before him.  Ravenously, he grabbed the fork and dug into the eggs.

Marie sat down lightly in the chair beside Adam’s bed and watched her stepson devour his meal.  She was pleased to see Adam eating and felt it was a good sign that he was getting better, both physically and emotionally.

Idly she began to make small talk to Adam while he ate.  The conversation was mere chitchat about the weather, the ranch and his little brother Hoss, but she was gratified when he minimally responded to her.

Noticing that Adam had finished eating, she rose to retrieve the tray.  Before taking the tray, she reached out to brush a lock of Adam’s hair back from his forehead.  She was a little hurt, yet hopeful, when he only ducked his head from her touch, but didn’t swat her hand away.

Reaching the door with tray in hand, Marie turned back to look at Adam.  He looked so lonely and forlorn lying there in his bed.  With a sudden inspiration, Marie called out to Adam.

“Adam, would you like a visitor?”

Adam was a little caught off guard by Marie’s question because he thought she’d already left the room.  Inquisitively, he cocked his head to one side before nodding slightly.

“Well, don’t you go anywhere.  I think I know someone who’d like to see you.”  Marie smiled broadly and practically glided from the room.

Marie returned minutes later with a very happy little Hoss in tow.  Beaming, Hoss broke from his stepmother’s grasp and ran into Adam’s room.

“Howdy Adam!”  The chubby little boy exclaimed happily and jumped onto the bed.

“Don’t jump on the bed!”  Both Adam and Marie scolded in unison.

Hoss froze and looked first to Adam, then back to his stepmother with a repentant look.  Not sure who he should apologize to.

“Behave young man.”  Marie stated as she placed her hands firmly on her hips, and gave Hoss a warning glance.

“Yes, Mama.”  Hoss replied.  He turned sad eyes to his older brother for help, and only received a small shrug and a slightly raised eyebrow as assistance.

Turning on one heel, Marie exited the room with a broad smile on her face.  Proceeding down the hall, she went in search of her husband.  She found him sitting at his desk, attempting to do the books and failing miserably.  She could tell his mind definitely wasn’t on ranch business today.  Walking over to where he sat staring at the ledgers before him, Marie reached out and took his hand and pulled, indicating that he should follow.

“Really Marie, I’m not in the mood.”  Ben offered in response, totally misinterpreting his new bride’s intentions.

Grinning impishly, Marie raised a shocked eyebrow in response.

“Oh, but indulge me anyway.”  She hinted, realizing her husband’s mistake.

Unable to refuse his wife’s request, Ben rose and allowed himself to be led up the stairs.  Reaching the top of the stairs, Marie stopped to face him.  Raising a finger to her lips, she indicated that he should stay silent.

Practically on tiptoes she led her husband to the open doorway of Adam’s room.  Hesitantly, Ben began to draw back from the room when he realized what Marie had in mind, but he stopped when he saw her insistent stare.

Marie had decided that what was sauce for the goose, would indeed be sauce for the gander.  If Adam had overheard and misunderstood a conversation between her and Ben, then perhaps they could learn what was going on with Adam, by listening to what he said to Hoss.  Afterall, Hoss seemed to be Adam’s sole confidant.

“You mad at me for telling Adam?”  Hoss asked quietly, making himself comfortable next to his brother on the bed.

Adam scrunched up his face and shot a cross look at Hoss from the corner of his eye.  Seeing his brother’s look, Hoss held his breath and felt small tears begin to form; he couldn’t bear for Adam to be sore with him.

“Nah,” Adam finally answered with a little grin.

Hoss happily reached out and gave his older brother a hug in thanks.

“Adam?”

“Ah huh?”

“Do ya still want to leave?”  Hoss asked, fearful of the answer.

Adam thought solemnly for a few moments, he was beginning to feel uncertain.  Images of his little filly and his father quickly replaced the uncertainty.  He nodded sadly.

At the doorway, Ben and Marie strained to hear a response.  Their hearts sank when they heard none forthcoming.

“Mama told me ’bout what Pa said, he didn’t mean them things and he’s real sorry.”  Hoss added helpfully, hoping that Adam would change his mind.  Hoss didn’t like seeing his father and brother so sad.

Adam glanced briefly at his little brother before looking away.  The wound was still too fresh and deep, and he really didn’t want to talk about it right now.

Seeing Adam’s reticence to talk, Hoss sighed deeply.  He tried to think of something else that the two of them could do, with Adam being confined to his bed.

“Wanna play some checkers?”  Hoss suggested hopefully.  He smiled broadly when Adam nodded his assent.  Jumping down from the bed, he ran from the room in search of the checkerboard and pieces.

As Hoss rushed out of Adam’s room and down the stairs, Ben and Marie were barely able to duck into the bedroom next door unnoticed.  Not feeling that they had made much headway in resolving the problem with Adam, they both frowned in frustration and disappointment.

**************

That night Adam tossed and turned in his bed.  Visions of a very dark and scary forest haunted him.  He found himself running, but didn’t know where he was going.  He was all alone and afraid, hearing a deep growl he turned to find a snarling mountain lion flying towards him from the darkness.  Fighting and twisting in his bed, Adam found himself unable to move or get free.  He awoke with a start and found his father holding him still.

“Shhh Adam.  It’s alright son, you’re safe, you’re home.  Lay still now.”  Ben quietly tried to reassure Adam, holding his son in a warm embrace to comfort him.

Adam momentarily accepted the solace of his father’s loving embrace, before once again pushing him away and rolling over so that his back was to his father.

Feeling that he was possibly making some progress with his son, Ben tenderly assisted Adam to get comfortable once again, then covered and tucked him in.  Lifting Elizabeth’s music box from where it now sat on Adam’s bedside table, Ben gave the key two full turns before setting it back down and lifting the lid.  Wistfully, he listened briefly to the lovely tune and hoped it would help Adam to sleep peacefully.  He gazed down at Elizabeth’s son with a small sad smile before departing Adam’s room.

Bewildered and confused by his father’s tender actions, Adam watched his father’s departing back as he exited his room, before allowing the comforting music to lull him into sleep.

**************

The next morning after breakfast, found Ben Cartwright once again in Adam’s room.  With great care he was seeing to the changing of his son’s bandages.  Gingerly he removed the wrappings, then massaged Adam’s legs to alleviate the muscle cramping before replacing the dressings.

Though it was painful, Adam observed his father and the way his touch soothed and eased the ache in his legs.  His father’s attention and loving actions were comforting, yet puzzling to the young boy.  Adam continued to ponder why his father was being so kind, and wondered if he might be wrong about him.

When Ben completed the task of replacing the bandages on Adam’s arm and legs, he resettled his son in the bed and propped him up against the headboard.  Once he felt his son was comfortable, Ben sat down on the bed next to Adam to face his son.

Adam watched as his father sat down beside him, and once again cast his eyes downward, and began to twiddle with the bindings on his arm.

Ben decided it was time for him and Adam to talk about what had happened and if possible, to make amends.  Wanting his son’s full attention, Ben reached out and placed a hand onto either side of his son’s face, he gently lifted Adam’s head to face him.  He smiled slightly when he noticed that Adam still kept his eyes downward.

“Look at me son.”  Ben instructed patiently and waited for Adam to comply.

A few moments passed before Adam raised his eyes and looked uncertainly into his father’s face.

“That’s better.”  Ben said warmly.

Adam looked at the dark eyes that seemed to bore right through him.  He wanted to look away, but found they commanded his full attention.

“Talk to me son.  I want you to tell me what is troubling you.”

Adam hesitated, unable to voice the hurt and betrayal he still felt.

Seeing his son’s hesitancy, Ben took a deep breath before speaking.

“I’m sorry son if I’ve hurt you in anyway.  I’ve never meant to hurt you.  Can you forgive me?”

Adam shrugged minimally in response to his father’s request.  He was confused and unsure what to do.

“Tell me Adam, tell me what I can do to make this right with you.”  Ben hoped that Adam would finally open up to him.

“I want, I want to go and live with Grandfather Stoddard.”  Adam said quietly, dropping his gaze once again to the quilt that covered him.

Though Adam was now uncertain if that was the right thing to do, it was the decision he’d made a few days before and felt he should stick to it.  He didn’t know what else to say to his father.

Ben felt a cold knife stabbing through his heart over his son’s request.  He couldn’t imagine a life without his firstborn son.  He closed his eyes then inhaled deeply, before rubbing a thumb across Adam’s cheek to get him to look up at him once more.

“Know this Adam, if you never know anything else in your life.  That no matter where you are, nor how old you become, you are my son, my pride and joy, and you mean more to me than you will ever know.”  With that said, Ben pulled Adam’s head towards him and kissed his forehead.

Adam saw the tears in his father’s eyes, and felt tears begin to well in his own.  He was even more confused, and wondered if he’d made the wrong decision.  But now that it was said, how could he take the words back.

“Adam, whenever you’ve made a mistake, haven’t I always given you a chance to make it right?”  Ben simply asked, deciding to try another avenue to reason with his son.

Adam nodded curiously in response.

“Would you please consider giving me a chance to correct this one?”  Ben inquired, hoping he’d planted the right seed in Adam’s analytical mind.

Seeing no immediate response, Ben prodded. “Please, just think about it?”

Meekly, Adam shrugged his shoulders, then nodded slightly.

**************

At noon and with picnic basket in hand, Marie escorted a very excited and happy Hoss into Adam’s bedroom.  She retrieved a red and white checkered tablecloth from the basket and spread it across Adam’s bed.  She watched while Hoss crawled up onto the bed and settled himself near the footboard to face his brother, she winked at his glowing face.  Leaving the basket near Adam, she turned and strolled from the room.

Both boys watched their happy stepmother exit the room before eagerly diving into the contents of the picnic basket.  The afternoon was spent enjoying sandwiches, apples and sugar cookies while they played checkers, read books and talked about far away lands.

“Adam, ya still gonna go away?”  Hoss asked fearfully.

Adam shrugged and frowned in response, he wasn’t sure what he should do.

“Don’t know.”  Adam responded when he saw Hoss’s waiting glance.  He knew Hoss would continue to pester him until he got an answer.

“If ya go, who will I have to play with?”  Hoss asked tearfully, he knew he’d miss his big brother.

Adam gave a small smile and shrugged, he never liked seeing his tender hearted little brother hurt in any way.

“I’d miss ya somethin’ terrible Adam, and so would Pa.  Please don’t go.”  Hoss pleaded seeing the uncertainty in Adam’s face.

“I let ya have this here cookie iffen ya stay.”  Hoss offered, holding out the last sugar cookie to his brother.

Adam gave his brother a shy small smile, then grinned broadly.  Reaching out, he took the cookie from the chubby little hand.

**************

The following day was the first day that Adam was allowed out of bed since the attack.  Rising early, he dressed in the new jeans and checkered shirt his stepmother had left out for him to wear.  He was pleased to find that Marie had already washed the jeans to make them softer on his legs.  But he wasn’t pleased to find them several inches too long in length.  He blushed deeply when Marie chuckled at his predicament, before rolling the pants legs up to form cuffs.

Adam still objected to most of his father and stepmother’s attempts to help him.  Anticipating Adam’s resistance, his father had fashioned a pair of crutches to help support his injured legs, which would provide him with more freedom around the house and yard.

Apprehensively, Ben watched while Adam maneuvered his way from the house into the yard with his brother, Hoss.  He and Marie followed at a safe distance to watch their sons.

Adam struggled with the awkward crutches and his stiff and painful legs.  But Hoss had insisted there was something outside that he needed to see so off he went, following behind his very excited little brother.  Adam kept his full attention on the steps to the porch to avoid tripping, as Hoss ran off towards the corral.  Once he’d successfully completed that obstacle, he looked up to find his brother.

Looking across the yard, he saw the most beautiful sight to a little boy’s eyes.  There, dancing back and forth in the corral was his pretty little filly, Lady.  Forgetting all about his injured legs, Adam dropped the crutches and attempted to run.  He made it a few yards before his feet failed him, and he fell almost face first into the dirt near the corral.

Ben beamed as he saw Adam’s reaction to seeing his little horse, then watched in horror as Adam stumbled.  Racing forward, he reached his son just as Adam struggled to stand.  With great care, he easily lifted his son from the ground and into his arms.  Looking his son over to insure he hadn’t injured himself further, he found a very elated Adam with a broad smile brightening his handsome face.  Without a word, Ben felt two arms encircle his neck and squeeze tightly.  Returning the loving embrace of his son, Ben knew that he had gotten his second chance.
The End

Other Stories by this Author

Author: starlite

4 thoughts on “Second Chances (by Starlite)

  1. Such a nice story. I had get the tissue box for this one. So touching with emotion. Love can very blind at times.

  2. I think Ben was so caught up in falling in love with Marie, that he temporarily forgot the other important people in his life and ended up learning a very powerful lesson.

  3. A heart-rending story all around as Ben finally saw life through his son’s eyes. Let’s hope there is nowhere but up to go from here!

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