Summary: Adam Cartwright sentimental? A certain day and a certain blue velvet chair hold bittersweet memories.
Word Count: 3019
Forget Me Not
Adam Cartwright paused at the door, hat in hand. So far he had made it down the stairs, all the way through breakfast, back up the stairs to change, and returned to the entry without incident. On his way he heard no stifled snickers or furtive whispers. No one moved too quickly, ducked around a corner, or exchanged one of ‘those’ looks with someone else.
He must have gotten up on God’s good side this morning.
As he stood there, his hand on the latch, two sets of approaching footsteps alerted him to the fact that he had better let go and move back, otherwise he could end up with a bloody nose. A moment later the door was flung open and his two younger brothers rolled in sporting smiles.
“Hey, Adam!” Little Joe tossed off casually as he headed for the table before the fire and its bowl of enticing apples. “We decided you must have sneaked out the back door and were halfway to San Francisco by now.”
“We sure did! How come you’re draggin’ them fancy boot-heels of yours, older brother? We got work to do.” Hoss frowned. “You ain’t…scared of nothin’ happenin’ today, are you?”
Baby brother had taken a seat by the fire and was happily munching his apple as he warmed himself. It might have been April, but it was cold as December outside and the two of them had been waiting for him in the wagon. They were due to head to town.
“Scared? Me?” he asked as he followed Joe into the great room. “Now, what reason could I possibly have to be scared? After all, I have the two best brothers in the whole wide world with whom I share a deep fraternal love.” Adam eyed them each in turn. “I know neither of you would ever do anything to hurt me.”
“Hurt you? Of course not!” Little Joe replied. “We love and respect you, older brother. Don’t we, Hoss?”
The big man was nodding his head. “Sure do!”
He wasn’t buying it.
“Even on April Fool’s Day?”
Baby brother batted those black eyelashes of his and put on his best ‘innocent’ face. “Oh?” he asked, “is it April Fools Day?”
Adam crossed his arms. “I’d have to be a fool to believe you didn’t know.”
Joe tossed the remainder of his apple into the fire and then rose to his feet. “I’m all grown up now, Adam,” he said. “I haven’t pulled any practical jokes in years.”
Which was precisely why he was expecting one.
“You done pulled some doozeys when you was a little tyke, Joe,” Hoss snorted.
Adam sighed. He remembered some of those early ‘doozeys’. Little Joe’s co-conspirator had often been his mother. Marie had a wicked sense of humor – and a penchant for mischief just like her son.
Unbidden, the black-haired man’s gaze shifted from his mischievous youngest brother to the Romanesque chair beside him. It’s vibrant blue color shouted in defiance, anchored as it was in a masculine sea of sober wine and brown.
April Fools Day. It always reminded him of Marie.
And of why he loved that chair.
“What do you think we oughta do?”
Fourteen-year-old Adam Cartwright looked at the area to the right of the hearth and then drew his fingers across his chin in unconscious imitation of his father.
“I’m thinking…maybe you and I should ask Pa if it’s okay if we go camping tonight.”
“Ain’t it too cold?”
April was proving to be a challenge this year. Still….
“It’s never too cold for camping.”
Eight-year-old Hoss scratched his reddish-blond head. “How’s that gonna help? If Pa sees that there thing sittin’ there, he’s gonna….”
“We catch him outside. Before he sees it.”
“You think Pa’s gonna be mad?”
The older boy halted, his hand on the latch. “I don’t know. Usually Marie can get by with anything, but Pa’s pretty…bull-headed when it comes to certain things.”
“Whoo-ee! You ain’t kiddin’, older brother! I remember me that time I came down the stairs wearin’ my Sunday pants with my work boots.” Hoss shook his head slowly as he let out a long, heartfelt sigh. “It weren’t a picture!”
It certainly hadn’t been. He’d thought their father was going to collapse from a fit of apoplexy. He didn’t remember much about living in Boston, but he remembered enough. There had been rules for everything – how to sit, how to stand, what time to eat; which fork to use and when. Pa was just as strict about ‘attire’. Even when they’d been a part of a wagon train heading west, the older man had always seen to it that they looked like gentlemen.
Beggarly ones at times, but gentlemen.
Pa told him once that, even though it was true that the West was peopled by uncouth, uneducated, and uncivilized men, his sons would not be counted among them.
Adam’s hazel eyes flicked to the offending object. There was nothing wrong with it. It was just that, considering everything else in the house, it was…well…out of place.
“When Ma took it out of that there crate she didn’t act like she was skeered of Pa none.”
Adam swallowed his chuckle. Marie wasn’t afraid of anything. No, that wasn’t right. The lovely woman did have her fears and most of them concerned Little Joe. But she wasn’t afraid of Pa.
Not one whit!
Their father was away. He’d gone to the settlement to deal with business, so he hadn’t been around to see Old Charley roll into the yard, or to help remove the gigantic crate from the back of his wagon. When the sturdily-constructed wooden box marked ‘San Francisco’ hit the ground, he couldn’t help but note how it was almost as tall as his stepmother. Marie had clapped her hands with delight and Little Joe – he was two and easily influenced – did the same while letting out a loud whoop! After that, the two of them joined hands and did a little dance.
It was rather confusing.
When they stopped, he asked Marie what was in the crate.
‘A surprise, mon loulou!” she beamed.
That was her pet name for him – mon loulou. Marie assured him it was a term of endearment in France applied only to men and it meant ‘my wolf.’ Hop Sing, however, told him it’s other form – mon loup – actually meant ‘sparky’.
Sadly, Little Joe loved the feel of his nickname on his tongue. Every time Marie used it, Joe used it too – as he understood it. His baby brother would grin from ear to ear as he declared, ‘Adam is loopy. Adam is loopy. Adam is….”
Marie had quite a sense of humor.
“Hey, Adam! You hear that? Pa’s comin’!”
Even as Hoss declared their doom, a sound made Adam turn toward the stairs. What he found reminded the fourteen-year-old that God had a sense of humor too. Marie and Little Joe had been upstairs. She was headed their way now carrying their baby brother in her arms.
The two of them were singing ‘Frere Jacques’ at the top of their lungs.
As the song waltzed down the steps before them, the door opened and their father – their tired, half-frozen, saddle-sore and bone weary, father walked in. The older man’s gaze settled on him first and then moseyed on over to his over-sized eight-year-old brother who was standing close by.
“Is something wrong?” Pa asked, a note of angst in his tone.
“No, sir. Everything is fine,” Adam answered quickly.
“Then why are the two of you standing so close to the door?” Pa inquired as he hung his hat on the peg beside it. “Were you looking for me for some reason?”
Hoss spoke up. “Me and Adam was gonna ask if we could go campin’ tonight, Pa.”
Their father’s bushy black brows knit together in the middle. “On a school night?”
Adam winced. “Sorry, Pa. I thought it was Friday.”
“Well, it’s not. It’s Thursday and about time you both got to bed. You need your rest and – ”
Dead silence was never a good thing.
Though Pa’s raised voice was worse.
“What is THAT?”
“It’s a chair, Pa,” Hoss replied. “Don’t you know what a chair is?”
The older man strode over to the hearth and halted beside the elegant Romanesque chair. It had been a pipe dream to hope he might miss it. The bright blue-velvet chair looked as out of place in the red and brown great room as a beeve in a chicken coop.
“Great Jehoshaphat!” Pa exclaimed. “What is that doing here?”
“Is it not marvelous, Mon moitié?” Marie asked as she made her appearance amidst a swish of satin skirts and the scent of French cologne. Little Joe was balanced on her hip and he was beaming as broadly as his mama.
“Papa! Papa! Look! The seaty place blue like Hoss’ eyes!”
“Yes. I can see the ‘seaty place…the chair is blue,” Pa said, his tone matching the growing color in his cheeks. “It’s the only blue thing in the room, how could I not see it?”
Little Joe was only two but he knew that tone. Of course, it usually came just before a swat on the britches.
“Don’t you like blue, Papa?” he asked, his little voice trembling.
“Oui, Mon Cher,” Marie echoed. “Do you not like blue?”
Pa hesitated. After all, this was Marie and – most times – Marie could do no wrong.
“It’s not, well, that I have anything against blue, my love,” Pa answered. He was speaking slowly; choosing his words carefully. “But, do you see any other blue in this room?”
“Of course not, that is why I bought it,” the lovely woman answered, her tone implying that Pa had the IQ of the village idiot. Marie met his intense gaze with a sharp one of her own. “It is an ‘accent’ chair. The room needed….” She frowned, searching for the word or phrase. “Comment dites-vous? How do you say…. Waking up?”
“There is nothing wrong with this room!” Pa declared. ” I happen to like it sleeping!”
“Papa mad! Papa is shouting!” Little Joe wailed as tears formed in his eyes and streaked down his chubby cheeks. “Little Joe don’t like Papa shouting!”
“Benjamin, you are upsetting our son,” Marie breathed.
Or maybe, seethed.
“Well, you’ve upset me, woman!” Pa countered – and regretted it as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
“Woman? Woman!” his step-mother shrieked. “Mon Dieu! I am your wife, Benjamin Cartwright, and you will treat me with respect. If not, then perhaps I will take our son and go back to New Orleans where the men are ‘gentle’ men!”
Pa sputtered. “You will do no such thing!”
Marie went toe to toe with Pa, which was amusing since Pa was over six foot and Marie barely topped five foot four.
“Just you try me!” she warned.
Both Marie and his father turned to glare at him. Pa took a step forward.
And then dissolved into laughter.
Little Joe was terrible confused.
So was he.
His father came over to him and planted a hand on his shoulder even as he used the other one to swipe a tear from his eye.
“I’m sorry, son. Will you forgive us our little joke?”
“You sure that was a joke, Pa?” Hoss asked. “Ain’t no one laughin’ but you.”
Pa’s free hand went to his little brother’s shoulder. “Do you know what day it is, son? Sons?” he added looking back at him.
Adam thought a moment. What ‘day’? Why would that matter? It was April.
April Fools day.
Marie was shushing Little Joe. She wiped away his tears and then turned to look at him. “April first, Adam. Do you remember?”
He blinked. Remember?
The lovely woman came toward him. She handed Little Joe off to Pa and instructed the startled man to take their weeping and wailing little boy to the kitchen for a cookie before coming to stand before him.
“This day,” she said. “One year ago.”
Good Lord! How could he have forgotten?
It had been a frigid beginning to the month – cold as this April was turning out to be. A late snow lay on the ground. He and Marie had quarreled about something – he had no idea what any more. He had grown so mad he’d thrown, well, a tantrum, the end of which saw him slamming the door and taking off into the cold without a coat.
Marie followed him.
She found him up by the lake half-frozen. He’d gone there to think. He’d decided that, at thirteen, he was old enough to be master of his own destiny and was contemplating running away. Marie, God bless her, brought his winter coat and a pot of hot coffee with her. She came out of nowhere to drop the garment about his shivering shoulders and then sat down and poured them both a cup.
They sat in silence with the steam rising up into the air for some time before she spoke.
“I am sorry, Adam. I should not have made you angry.”
“You didn’t…make…me angry, Marie,” he confessed. “I am quite capable of doing that for myself.”
“You remind me….” She stopped.
“Remind you of what?”
A slight smile curled her full lips. She took a sip and then said, “Of me when I was younger.”
The beautiful woman nodded. “My maman remarried when I was young. I did not like him. I made his life…misèrable.”
“Marie, I don’t…dislike you.”
She turned toward him. Her eyes were misting. “But you do not like me? Oui?”
He felt like a heel.
“It’s not that. It’s….”
“I am not Ingrid.”
He frowned. “I know you’re not. I don’t expect you to be.”
“Non. I do not mean that. I mean, ‘I am not Ingrid’. I will not die and leave you. Dieu willing, at least.” Marie held his gaze. “Do not be angry, Adam. This I must say. You are afraid of me.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Oui, you are. You are afraid to love me because you fear I will leave you as Ingrid did – as your own mother did.”
His jaw was tight. He said nothing.
“There is a remedy for such pain,” she said as she drew her cloak closer about her neck. “I believe you know what it is.”
He shook his head.
“You are fond of Mr. Thoreau’s writings are you not?”
That took him by surprise. Marie knew, of course, that he was. The nicest book of Thoreau’s writings he owned had been a gift from his step-mother.
“There is no remedy for love…” she began.
“…but to love more,” he finished.
Marie had the most amazing green eyes. They settled on him as she said, “Wise words…from a wise man.”
She didn’t mean Thoreau.
She meant him.
Marie touched his cheek with her fingers, pulling him back to the present. Little Joe had stopped wailing and Hoss, deciding that the war had been averted, had retired to the settee and was reading a book. It was just the two of them, standing by the door. Normally he avoided touch, but somehow – at this moment – it seemed right.
Adam covered his step-mother’s fingers with his own and said, “I remember. That was the day you and I became friends.”
“Oui.” Her lips curled with that same smile. “But there was something more.”
“Do you remember what I said to you as we climbed into the buggy to return home?”
He thought a moment. “You told me that I needed a better place for contemplation. That the one I had chosen was….”
“Blue as your nose on a cold day.”
Adam’s eyes flicked to the chair.
“This one is blue as forget-me-nots,” Marie said as she took his hand and led him over to the chair and waited until he had taken a seat. “It is a gift from me to you, so you will remember me when I am gone.”
Adam blinked back tears.
“Hey, Adam. You okay?”
He had been unaware of his youngest brother coming to his side. Adam braced himself and then turned to look at Little Joe. There were times the resemblance to his mother was startling and this was one of them.
“I’m fine,” he replied with a sniff.
Hoss slapped his back as he joined them. “Well, then, older brother, we best get to work. Pa ain’t gonna be happy if that lumber don’t make its way to Old Man Morgan’s and make it on time!”
Adam nodded. ‘Of course. We should go.”
Little Joe moved toward the door but stopped just short of it. With a grin, he said, “Age before beauty, older brother.”
He had a soft spot for his little brother. At the moment it was deepened by the memory of his mother, standing by that very door with her hand on his cheek. Hurrying over to his hat, the black-haired man anchored it low on his forehead to hide the mist in his eyes. Hoss stepped away as he did, sensing he needed his space.
“After you, big brother.”
With a nod Adam put his hand to the latch and pulled the door open and stepped outside. As soon as he did, he knew he’d been had.
His boot struck a rope. There was a sound.
Seconds later he was dripping water and staring at the empty bucket at his feet.
Adam turned to find Hoss wiping his eyes and Little Joe rolling on the floor clutching his middle. He could see they were laughing, but it wasn’t either one of them he heard. What he heard was a light, lilting, feminine laugh. It echoed across the years to warm his sodden form and touch his heart.
Marie needn’t have worried.
He could never forget her.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Family, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright, Marie Cartwright, wife / wives
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