Summary: Adam, Little Joe, a strained relationship, and one stupid school essay. A prequel story.
Word Count: 1,190
“Ugh, this is impossible!” Joe Cartwright growled as he balled up yet another piece of parchment. He tossed it haphazardly in the direction of the fireplace; his aim off, he missed, and the paper joined a dozen others just like it on the floor in front of the hearth. With a groan, the ten year old laid his head down on the coffee table and allowed himself a brief moment to wallow in self pity. At this rate, he was going to run out of paper before he managed to get something decent written down.
Contrary to what folks might think, Joe wasn’t a terrible student. He could read and cipher without any trouble, but it was writing that he struggled with. What was the point in writing about his life when he could be out there living it? After all, this was a working ranch and he had better ways to spend his time than writing some dumb essay.
Someone entered the house, letting in a stiff, autumn breeze that held the promise of winter in it. The cooler air picked at Joe’s arms, causing goose-flesh to pimple his skin.
“Brr! It sure is cold out there,” said a familiar voice and Joe suppressed another groan.
Of course it’s Adam.
Their pa was away on yet another business trip to San Francisco and this time he’d taken Hoss with him, leaving the eldest and youngest Cartwright boys alone together in the house. Well, they weren’t entirely alone, Hop Sing was there to keep them from starving…and to make sure they didn’t kill each other. Judging by the way the boys had been sniping at one another ever since Adam had come home from college, they desperately needed someone to run interference, and the Oriental cook was the perfect mediator – he brooked no nonsense from anyone.
And to think I was excited for him to come back, Joe thought darkly.
When Adam had sent his family a letter telling them that he was finally leaving Boston, having completed his education, Joe had hardly been able to keep from bouncing off of the walls in joy. After all, he was going to get his big brother back: the brother who played with him, the brother who read bedtime stories to him, the brother who never tired of answering his endless questions…the brother who’d been more of a father to him that last year after mama had died than pa had been.
But when the stage had pulled up and Adam had reentered their lives, things just weren’t the same. Suddenly, he had no time to spend with Joe. He found his littlest brother to be irresponsible and annoying. In his mind, the boy was a slacker, a brat, and a tattletale.
And Joe? Well, Joe discovered that the brother he’d missed for four years hadn’t come back at all. Instead, he’d been replaced by a hard-hearted, impatient, know-it-all stranger. And he didn’t like it, not one little bit.
“What are you working on there, buddy?” A hand touched Joe’s shoulder and he nearly jumped out his skin. “Whoa! Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” Adam said, a note of remorse coloring his voice.
“Uh, nothing, just some stupid essay,” Joe mumbled, cheeks reddening at being caught off guard by the person he had just been thinking about.
Adam glanced at the balled up papers strewn on the floor. “It looks like you’re having a bit of trouble. Maybe I could lend you a hand with it?”
Joe stared at his brother as if the man had sprouted another head.
Adam help him? No way!
“That’s okay, I’ll figure it out somehow,” he replied, praying that his older brother would let it go.
In typical Adam fashion, he didn’t. “It’s not okay,” he said, falling into lecture mode. He sat down on the edge of the table – something pa would have told him off for if he’d been home. “School work is important, no matter what you might think, and I don’t want your grades to suffer because of your unwillingness to accept help when you clearly need it.”
With that, he leaned over and plucked one of the discarded parchments from the floor and started smoothing out the wrinkles.
Adam cleared his throat and started to read the paper out loud. “The best day of my life, was…”
Joe nearly lost it. “Hey, don’t read that!” but it was too late; the damage had been done.
“…the day that my brother Adam took me fishing for the first time.” Adam stopped and a blush turned his cheeks pink.
Joe took that moment to snatch the parchment out of his older sibling’s hands as he tried not to die of embarrassment. “Like I said, I don’t need help, I’ll figure it out myself,” he stated, sliding around the edge of the table to gather up all of the papers. He was just about to toss them into the flames when Adam spoke up.
“Wait! Don’t throw them all away. You-you had a good start there.” He stared down at his hands as if he’d never seen them before. “That was the best day of your life?” he whispered.
Joe shifted from foot to foot, feeling awkward. “Y-Yeah, it was. That was after mama died, and pa was gone a lot, he didn’t have time for me. But, but you did, or at least, you did then.”
“Oh.” Adam glanced up and looked into Joe’s eyes for a long moment, then he ran a hand through his hair and chuckled hollowly. “We used to have a lot of fun, didn’t we?”
“I guess I haven’t been much of a brother to you since I got back, have I?”
Joe shook his head. “No, but I haven’t been much of one to you neither.”
“Either,” Adam corrected and Joe let out a huff.
“Maybe,” Adam hesitated for a moment, then continued, “maybe we could start over?”
A small flicker of hope sparked in Joe’s heart, melting away a very tiny bit of the bitterness inside of him. “I-I guess we can try.”
“I’d like that.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, Adam reached his arms out to Joe. “Hey, buddy, I’m home,” he whispered.
Just as slowly, Joe dropped the papers and stepped into his brother’s embrace. Cautiously, he wrapped his own arms around Adam’s waist; then he pressed his nose into hollow of his brother’s neck and inhaled deeply. The scent of sweat, cattle, and old books filled his nostrils. It was comforting and familiar. It was the scent of home.
“I missed you,” he murmured.
Adam’s breath hitched as he lay his head down on top of his baby brother’s. “Yeah, I missed you too.”
When it became too awkward between them, they stepped back and Adam coughed. “So, about this essay….”
Joe rolled his eyes, but the corners of his mouth twitched with suppressed amusement. Maybe he’d been wrong, maybe Adam had truly come home after all. He’d always been way too serious when it came to school work. Evidently, some things would never change.
Other Stories by this Author
- The Maiden With the Chestnut Hair (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- A Matter of Guilt (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- You Are Not Alone (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- Amy (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- A Simple Life (by Annie K Cowgirl)