Summary: A thunderstorm brings two brothers together. Pre-series story.
Word count: 897
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Let’s Stay Together
The Ponderosa, April, 1854
I had just set aside my well-worn copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe when an earsplitting clap of thunder shook the four corners of the house. The howling wind shifted direction, driving the heavy downpour against my window and filling my room with the “plink, plink, plink” sound of raindrops as they dashed themselves upon the glass panes.
It won’t be long now, I mused, pushing all thoughts of knights, ladies, and the code of chivalry to the back of my mind as I began to silently count the passing seconds.
One thousand one.
One thousand two.
One thousand three.
One thousand—there! I sighed as the pitter-pattering of tiny, bare feet upon the rough-hewed pine floorboards reached my ears. Without a doubt it was going to be a long night.
“Come on in, Joe,” I said in answer to the light knock on my door. Not needing a second invitation, the barrier swung wide and my five-year-old little brother bounded through it; he made a beeline for my bed and crawled up beside me—green eyes wide. “You know it’s just thunder, right? It may be loud, but it can’t hurt you.”
As if on cue, a jagged bolt of lightning lit up the room more than my oil lamp ever could. The flash was swiftly followed by another earth-shaking boom that caused my curly-haired, younger sibling to squeak in fright and throw his little arms around my waist.
“I want maman*,” he whimpered.
A familiar dull ache shot through my heart, and I cuddled him closer. “Yeah, I know. I do too,” I whispered.
Marie’s unexpected death a few months ago had shocked us all. She had been so full of fire and laughter, that her passing had seemed to suck all of the joy out of the world. Nothing would ever be the same again, no matter how much time went by.
“When’s pa comin’ home?” the question pulled me out of my sad thoughts.
Pa. I swallowed back the bitterness that welled up within me at his name. After losing Marie, pa had closed himself off. As soon as the winter weather had cleared enough for travel, he had spent as much time away from the ranch, and his sons, as possible. He said he had business to attend to, but I knew better. He was running.
I didn’t understand it. We had all—with the exception of Joe—been touched by grief before, but for some reason, this most recent loss seemed to hit pa harder than even mama’s death had. And in his pain, he fled, leaving me to take care of the ranch and my brothers in his absence. I couldn’t help but resent him for it.
“Soon,” I said, hoping, rather than believing it to be so.
“W-what if he doesn’t?”
Now, that was something that had never entered my mind before. Pa was so strong and sure of himself; he’d always come back safe and sound. I’d never worried about his return before. But he was human, as his recent actions had proved, and there were all manner of things that could prevent a man from reaching his destination. After all, they didn’t call this the “Wild West” for no reason.
Shaking the thoughts aside, I pulled back a bit until I could look into my brother’s tear-stained face. “Have you been listening to Tommy Andrews again?” I asked, annoyed that one of the town bullies might have been picking on my youngest sibling once again, preying on his insecurities.
Joe nodded, sniffling. “H-he told me that-that people don’t always come back from Sam Fancycomb—”
“San Francisco,” I corrected.
“—that sometimes they get shanged or somethin’ and never come back.”
“Pa hasn’t been shanghaied,” I replied, “he sent us a letter a few days ago, remember? And even if that did happen to him, he’s smart. He was a sailor, and he’d be able to find a way back home to us.”
“Y-you think so?” he asked, and I tapped him on the end of his nose, causing him to wrinkle it in an adorable way.
“I know so. Now, it’s time for bed.”
Leaning over, I blew out the lamp and snuggled down on the mattress, pulling my squirming brother down beside me. The storm seemed to be tapering off, judging by the softer grumblings of thunder and the less frequent flashes of lightning.
“Adam?” Joe whispered just as I was beginning to nod off.
“Let’s stay together forever, okay?”
Joe tipped his head up, and even in the dark, I could see the pleading in his eyes. There was something else there too: fear.
He’s afraid of being alone. It was a natural fear; his mother had left him, and pa had left him. But I’d never lied to him before. I couldn’t promise him that, not when I’d be going off to college soon.
Unless pa forgets his promise and stays away indefinitely.
No, I couldn’t lie to Joe…but I couldn’t deny him comfort either. Taking a deep breath, I answered him, praying he wouldn’t resent me for my untruth. “Okay. Okay, we’ll stay together forever.” I ran a hand over his curls and he tightened his arms around my waist once more. “Now, get some sleep. Morning will come sooner than you expect.”
*Maman is French for “mama”.
This was written for another writing challenge on Bonanza Boomers where I was given the song title “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green and had to come up with a story based solely on that title.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, brother bonding, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright, thunderstorm
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