Summary: Little Joe recounts the tale of his encounter at the lake with a not so proper lady.
Rating: Teen for adult insinuations Word count: 1598
This story was written for the January Chaps and Spurs Challenge and was required to contain the following words: Health, Prosperity, Polka dots, Lead, Underwear
A Hot Day, a Cold Lake, and a Bare Brother
Adam Cartwright sighed and shook his head. “Don’t! Don’t say a word if you’re not going to tell me the truth. If just once…”
“Would you promise not to holler or lecture or tell Pa?”
“The simple truth?”
His brother Joe nodded.
“I promise.” Adam sat down, extended his legs, crossed them at the ankles, and fixed his eyes on the eighteen-year old in front of him. “The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Joe, or so help me God only His intervention will save you.”
“Well…” Little Joe cleared his throat and then cleared it again. “It was awful hot. You know how really awful hot it’s been, Adam. “
I should have had him promise to be direct and concise. As if…. Adams eyes rolled. “I’ll give you it has been hot for May anyway.”
“And I was working in the sun, the blazing sun, and there weren’t even a bit of shade, not a single bit.” Little Joe paused for breath keeping his eyes on his elder brother.
“Hot day, no shade, go on.”
“Well, it’s not good for a body’s health to get too hot; sun stroke can be deadly, you know. Pa always says to be careful of the heat.”
“So he does.”
“So when I got that piece of fence mended, I thought how maybe it would be wise to cool down some, and I thought as how a dip in the lake, just a quick one, mind you, would be just the thing.”
“Especially as the lake was, what, only about ten miles away?” The edge on Adam’s words could be heard clearly.
Little Joe shrugged. “Anyways, I went for a quick dip in the lake.”
“Purely out of concern for your health seeing as continued hard work would have only benefited the prosperity of the ranch.” The edge had grown sharper.
“I knew you’d understand, big brother. Health first is a Cartwright motto.” Little Joe gave his brother what others considered a charming smile.
Adam was not charmed. “Get on with it, Joseph.”
“Well, when I got to the lake, I set my clothes on some rocks right out in the open on the shore.”
Adam interrupted. “Including your underwear?”
“Well…” A slight blush rose on Little Joe’s cheeks.
“Oh, there wasn’t any underwear to be concerned with; is that it?”
“Well, it’s been awful hot!”
“We established that earlier. Still, a gentleman…”
Little Joe’s temper rose slightly. “It ain’t like you ain’t never swum naked!”
Hoss Cartwright chose that moment to enter the room sandwich in hand. “Naked! Who was naked?”
“Whom would you think?” Adam’s thumb indicted their younger brother. “Joe was just telling me a true little story about his day.” Hoss caught Adam’s emphasis on the word true and settled on the settee.
“What did ya do now, Short Shanks?” Hoss finished his question with a smile and a bite of his sandwich.
Little Joe’s mouth opened, but Adam’s raised hand paused Joe’s words. “I’ll catch you up. To keep it short and simple, we so far have a hot day, a cold lake, and a bare brother.”
“Went skinning dipping, did ya?” Hoss smiled and then frowned. He had spent the whole day hard at work in the blazing sun.
Little Joe shifted from one foot to another. “I was just about ready to get out and get some more work done when I heard something.”
“And that something was?”
“A buggy. It stopped and a female got out.”
Hoss grinned. “A pretty gal, I’ll bet.”
“Well, I didn’t really see her face very well. When I saw it was a female, I dropped down under the water like someone had put a load of lead in my drawers. I just shot straight down to the bottom.”
“But since there were no drawers nor any lead, you had to have bobbed right back up again.” Adam leaned forward and placed his forearms on his knees.
“Did she see ya?” Hoss had lost interest in his sandwich and set it down.
“Not right off. I went up and down a few times while her back was turned ‘cause she was getting out a blanket. She spread it out, sat down, and settled in right there looking at the lake.” The pink in Joe’s cheeks darkened two shades. “It was clear she planned to stay awhile and there weren’t no way I could sneak up to my clothes, and the water was getting colder.”
“You were getting colder not the water.” Adam could not resist making the correction.
“Whatever! I was near turning blue and could feel things just, well, you know.”
“Shrinking?” Adam glanced at Hoss and smirked.
Little Joe’s temper rose again. “If you two yahoos are gonna…”
“Whatever we two yahoos do or don’t do, you, little brother, are going to tell the whole truth to us or to Pa.”
Little Joe sputtered wordlessly, considered the probable reaction of his father, and decided to continue. “Well, a body can get too cold too which ain’t any healthier than being too hot.”
“Which is why Pa never allowed us to go swimming in the lake before June.” Hoss nodded agreement with Adam’s declaration. Little Joe’s eyes rolled.
“Anyways, after a bit, I figured there was nothing for it but to call out and ask her to, well, turn her back and let me get my clothes.”
“Did she?” Hoss leaned forward as did Adam.
Little Joe’s cheeks turned bright red. “No.”
“Still you are here and clothed, even if not fully clothed.” Adam’s raised eyebrow requested the remainder of the story.
“She laughed. That’s when I knew she weren’t no lady. She laughed and said she preferred to see the show.” Little Joe’s voice had softened to a whisper.
“She didn’t!” Hoss’s voice held both shock and indignation.
“She did! Then she just sat there and waited.”
Little Joe’s voice took on a pleading tone. “It wasn’t like she was a proper lady. A proper lady would have blushed and turned away. A proper lady would have left!”
Adam leaned back in his chair and sighed. “So when the not proper lady told the less than gentlemanly cowboy she intended to wait for the show, what did that bare cowboy do?”
“Well, I waited until I couldn’t wait no more and then I just, well, I kind of dashed out of the water and grabbed my clothes and darted behind some bushes a ways down the shore.”
“She watched.” Despite his promise to tell the whole truth, Little Joe refused to mention the woman’s continued laughter.
“She watched you reveal all your Adonis-like glory.” Adam shook his head slowly. “Then?”
“I got on Cochise and left. I don’t know what she did then. But she sure enough didn’t faint from the shock like a real lady would.” Little Joe’s righteous indignation rang in his words.
Adam chewed on the corner of his lip. “You have no idea who this not so proper lady was?”
“No. I didn’t really see her face clear mostly I just saw her dress.”
“It was blue with little white, umm, circles all over.”
“Polka dots, that’s what their calling them now. It’s after that dance, the polka.” Adam felt compelled to supply the correct term.
“That the dance you and Maybelle was doing at the last shindig?”
“Yes. It’s become quite popular. I’ll have to teach you and Joe.”
Little Joe rolled his eyes at his brothers’ exchange. “Well, she had on this polka dot dress and a big shade hat with blue flowers. I’ve never seen a dress like it before.”
“So you would recognize the dress but not the woman in it?”
Adam sighed. “You’d better hope you never have reason to recognize either one. If Pa…”
“You promised, Adam; you promised if I told the truth you wouldn’t tell Pa. I told the truth, and you promised!”
“I keep my promises.” Adam glanced at Hoss who, of course, had promised nothing. Little Joe looked at Hoss too.
Hoss gave a sad shake of his head. “I don’t figure to go stirring in that stink hole.”
Little Joe’s smile encompassed his whole face. He startled though when a voice rang out.
“Sons, go get cleaned up. Get changed. Father send word he bring guests for dinner.” Hop Sing accompanied his instructions with a myriad of gestures.
“Meet in town today. No warning. Always you think Hop Sing need no warning to feed all of Virginia City!” Hop Sing punctuated his words by stabbing the air with his wooden spoon and then turned away muttering in his native Chinese.
Less than an hour later as he was buttoning his vest, Adam heard a buggy enter the yard. He looked down from his window to see his father on Buck and an unfamiliar buggy. He watched as a gentleman in a gray suit exited the buggy while his father went to assist the female passenger. As she took Ben’s hand and stepped down, Adam’s breath caught in his lungs. Then he turned from the window and began to laugh. He laughed until his knees bent, his stomach ached, and he had to lean against the wall with his arm curled around his waist. Finally, he straightened, rubbed his chin, and decided to at least give the boy some warning. Simple pity demanded that he tell Little Joe that one of their guests was wearing a blue and white polka dot dress.