Summary: It was just a school project, something in which Hoss wanted to excel.
Rating: K (1,900 words)
The door flew open and banged against the dresser behind the door. Hoss jumped through the entrance and toward the stairs with a big rootstock under his arm.
“Hey Hoss what’s that?“
The boy froze in the middle of the room and turned around to face his father. “Hmmm, it’s a rootstock, Pa,” he answered hesitantly.
“Well, I can see that, but I meant the banging of the door. There are other ways to enter the house, aren’t there? And in our family we prefer those.”
“Okay Pa. Sorry, ” was the quick response and the boy headed towards the stairs again.
“Son, I’m not done with you yet.” Ben could see his son was getting a little nervous.
“I don’t have time Pa. I have to …”
The door opened again, and Adam entered the house.
“You see Hoss, that’s the way we enter,” Ben stated.
Before Adam could close the door smoothly, it got hit from the outside and banged against the sideboard behind the door again.
“Oh here you are!” called the youngster of the family jumping excitedly to join Hoss in the middle of the room.
The little boy stood there with boots, dirty all the way up to his hips.
“We don’t slam the door open like you did. Why can only half of the family enter like a normal human being?”
“Pa, Hoss won’t let me play with him.” Joe changed the subject because he really didn’t care about doors.
“You can’t Joe, you’re too small,” Hoss proclaimed.
“I’m not! Look, I grew this much today.” The youngest held his fingers up to show his brother.
“Maybe you grew because of all this dirt under your boots.” Adam pointed to his baby brother’s dirty marks he left in the entrance. “Well?”
Joe looked at his boots. “Oh,” was the only thing Joe said as he realized the mess. “But anyway, I’m not too small.”
“Yes you are! I don’t want you with me,” Hoss replied impatiently and blurted out.
Ben cleared his throat. “Hoss that’s not nice.”
“But it’s the truth.” He stomped with one foot and was on his way to getting angry. A mood whitch was rarely seen with Hoss.
Ben glanced at Adam but his oldest just raised an eyebrow.
“It’s a school project Pa,” Hoss spoke up again. “And Joe will only be desturbing me or he will destroy it.”
“No I won’t. I can help.”
“You are disturbing!”
Now it was the little one who looked angry; tears begun to fill his eyes and the corners of his mouth dipped.
“See, Pa, I’m not very smart at mathematics and reading. But this school project is different. I know I could do good at this one and for just once I don’t want to be the loser.”
Ben again looked to his oldest son. In this case they couldn’t argue. “Adam?”
“No, Pa, I have to prepare to leave for college. I can’t look after Joe.”
Joe dropped himself to the floor, and now the tears ran down his cheeks. Ever since his mother had died in a riding accident he was clinging to any family member.
“Well, as far as I’m concerned, I have to finish those timber contracts. Since you are going to leave, Adam, I’ll have to do this to make sure we keep the ranch running.”
Adam sighed and shook his head while watching his two little brothers. “Okay, Pa, let’s make a deal. How long will it takes you on these contracts? I can keep an eye on Joe for the next hour. After that it’s your turn and after dinner we can have a family night. There aren’t many evenings left to share untill I leave.”
Adam looked from Ben to Hoss to Joe and back to Ben. “How is that?”
Adam turned towards Joe and grabbed him under his arms to pull him to his feet. He knelt down to meet his baby brother at the same level, and wiped away the tears. “So what do you wanna do?”
“I wanna see what Hoss is doing,” moaned the little boy and eyed Hoss across Adam’s shoulder. “I’m not too small,” he whispered again and huddled against Adams chest.
“See, Joe, there are some things you really aren’t grown up enough for. It’s like with my room. I don’t want you in there when I’m not around because of the books I have in there. Some of them are pretty expensive and not meant for figure drawing in them.”
“But at night I can come?” the little one asked hesitantly.
“Sure, Joe. If there are any monsters in your room or you have nightmares, you know you’re allowed to come.” Adam stroked his brothers’ hair.
Joe by then watched Hoss mount the stairs and disappear toward his room.
Later that evening, Adam was sitting in his room and studied some of the recommendations concerning his start at the university. But he couldn’t really focus on the topic. The family had spent time after dinner by the fireplace. Adam had watched his younger brothers fooling around and his father watching them. In one way he felt remorse for leaving his family. Since Marie had died Ben was trapped between business and family. He tried to balance all the demands, but it wasn’t possible.
Adam felt as if he would betray his father and brothers by leaving for his own dreams. He glanced across his room. There were so many things he would miss. The view out to the back yard from his window, the little paintings, which Joe used to make for him and which Adam had tacked over this desk. The house itself, built particular for the Cartwright family.
For the past six years this was his own private room, the only one he had ever known after having grown up in wagons, tents and rented lodgings for a couple days. He sighed and shook his head. This was his home. Adam’s glance went further through the room and then it stopped at his bed, and his eyes grew wider.
What the hell was that?, he thought. His blanket was covered with little black crumbs. But wait, those crumbs were moving! Adam rose from his seat to inspect it closer. Ants! There were ants all over his bed linen. “Oh, come on!” Adam shouted angrily. Where in darnation were those little insects coming from?
He checked the window but there were no signs of entrance. As he stepped to the door to check it for the bugs’ entrance there was a soft knock.
“Sorry, Joe, it’s a real bad moment to come right now,” Adam said opening the door, knowing his baby brother was on the other side. “Somehow, a couple of ants found their way into my bed. First, I have to find the source of this mess and then clean it out.”
“Oh, here it is!” Joe shouted excitedly. “Hoss hid that rootstock.” The little boy crept beneath the bed to pull out the wood. Immediately, the ants were all over his nightshirt.
Adam stepped out of his room and stomped to the next door. He entered without knocking. “HOSS!”
Scared, Hoss jumped from his bed and watched his big brother. “Hoss, what the hell is that rootstock doing in my room?”
The boy swallowed hard.
“Adam!” Ben arrived in the hallway. “What’s all this shouting for in the middle of the night?”
Little Joe came around the corner his nightshirt still covered with ants. “Pa it’s itchy. Can you take it away?”
“Joe!” Ben knelt in front of his youngest. “Adam!” He glanced at his oldest.
“Hoss!” Adam pointed at the middle one.
“School project!” Hoss shrugged and portrayed an innocent look.
Ben tried to keep some distance from Joe, who tried on his part to huddle against his father. “And what exactly is this school project about Hoss?”
“Well Pa it’s a perfect project.” Hoss remarked excitedly. “It’s perfect for me ‘cause we live on this huge ranch so I can do a really good job on this project and …”
“Hoss,” Ben interrupted his son, “just what is the topic?”
“It’s about animals and their home, Pa and I chose …”
“You were choosing ants, weren’t you?”
“Yes, Pa, ‘cause they are as busy as we are on the ranch and they work as a team like we and our hands do,” Hoss reported still excited and very happy.
The four Cartwrights stood in the hallway, and Adam watched his family from one to the next and back. Well, yes, he would miss them, and some memories they shared, he would remember better than others. He just shook his head and turned to his father. Ben had given in to Joe’s moaning and held the little one in his arms. Now the bugs were everywhere over both of them.
“It’s itchy, Pa,” Joe said hugging his father wearily.
“I know, Joe,” Ben answered making a face and gazed at Adam. They both rolled their eyes and sighed.
“Why my room Hoss? Why did you have to hide that rootstock in my room?” Adam turned to his brother.
“You see, Adam, you told Joe he would not be allowed in your room, so I thought in my own room Joe would discover the rootstock and could destroy my project. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any harm.”
“I know you didn’t. Well, I think I’ll take that wood where it belongs, out in the yard. And then I’ll clean up my room.”
“I can help you Adam. I can take the rootstock outside,” Hoss volunteered.
“No!” Ben interfered. “You two are the ones who are still clean of these ants. Joe and I will take that wood outside. After that, the two of us will have to take a bath.” He watched Joe with a smile. The boy, nearly asleep, was suddenly back in the conversation.
“Bath?” He wrinkled his nose. “Middle in the night? Do I have to?”
“You said it’s itchy. Or isn’t it anymore?”
“Yeah, it still is.”
“So then it’s the way we have to do it. But in recompense, you may carry this important school project out.” Ben turned to Adam. “You can sleep downstairs in the guest room. Hoss will clean out your room tomorrow.” And addressing his middle son he emphasized, “all of it!”
“Yes sir!” came the sheepish answer.
“Now close all the doors so the ants can’t go anywhere, otherwise the whole house will be infested. Joe and I’ll take care of that rootstock. Good night.”
Adam spent the rest of the night in the large bed of the guest room. But he didn’t spend the night all by himself. At least he didn’t have to share it with some ants. Shortly after the bath, Joe came to cuddle up next to him, and later on it was Hoss, who too, came to apologize once again. His bad conscience didn’t let him rest in his own bed.
“Hoss,” Adam whispered because Joe was already asleep between them, “Hoss you will do good at this school project, and I know you will do good on the ranch and helping Pa when I’m away.”
The middle son smiled at his big brother proudly. Life would be different without Adam for sure. But he, Hoss, would do very well with this school project. If Adam was saying that, it just had to be so.