Summary: A lesson of family, learned earlier, comes full circle.
Rating: T (for mention of off-screen violence) word count= 2835
Author’s Note: Thanks to Bluewind Farm for her invaluable beta skills. Her gentle edits brought clarity and led to a better story.
Lesson of Family
Jamie paused outside the bedroom door, swallowing before gathering his courage. Only rarely had he entered this particular room, and never alone. That closed-up smell, the one a room gets when it isn’t aired regularly, assaulted his nose as the door swung inward. Cautiously, he peeked around the door before stepping inside. With all that had happened recently, it wasn’t surprising that Hop Sing hadn’t the opportunity to keep it up to his normal standards.
With recent events, this was the first time that Jamie was left alone, giving him time to explore.
Silently closing the door behind him, he opened the curtains. The light from outside spilled into the room through the closed window, casting dark shadows that caused him to involuntarily shiver. Scanning the bookshelves, he ran his fingers across the well-worn spines and noted the titles of what he thought were obviously well-loved books. Adam’s guitar rested, propped up in a corner. Paper and pencils remained ready and waiting for their owner on the desk. The room was neat and orderly, a reflection of his oldest brother’s character. Sighing heavily; he’d hoped that there was something, anything, here that might help him. With his head lowered and his shoulders slumped, he turned to leave.
The house now had two empty bedrooms that used to have full-time occupants. And to his way of thinking, it was at least one too many. While he couldn’t do anything about Hoss’s, he vowed he would do all he could to get this one occupied again, even if just temporarily. Closing the curtains and looking around to be certain he hadn’t disturbed anything, he dragged his feet as he trudged to his own room.
Six Weeks Later
Adam opened the door to his hotel room. Leaning against the door, he sighed deeply. After a moment, he pushed himself up and locked the door. Walking into the room, he tossed the key and letters he carried on the dresser and placed his portfolio on the desk. Next, he peeled off his tie and jacket, and then hung them neatly on the room’s wooden valet stand.
It had taken all of his self-control not to lose his temper in today’s long, unproductive meetings with some of the state and country’s leading industrialists. In his opinion, those meetings had shown the men to be short-sighted and concerned only with profits. Not for the first time, he wondered why they had hired him. And tomorrow would be another round. Today, though, had been almost unbearable due to extraneous circumstances; it was the one-year anniversary of Hoss’s death, and Adam had grieved anew.
Now, all he wanted was a quiet evening. The Enterprise Hotel catered to travelers, and his room on its fourth floor was one of its best. Decorated in French Victorian style, the simpler lines of the furnishings and lighter-colored wood were comforting. They were a welcome reprieve from the furniture in the meeting rooms, which were dark mahogany in the more ornate Gothic Victorian style. To his mind, that furniture had contributed to the meetings’ oppressive atmosphere. This room had become his oasis; his escape from both the pressures of his job and the city’s congestion that at times made him feel claustrophobic, unlike the wide-open spaces of the West.
Sighing, he realized just how tired he was of living in hotels. Stepping up to the window, he looked out. He could see the Ohio River and its traffic. A paddle boat caught his attention before he gazed at the Allegheny Mountains that were hills compared to the Sierras of home. With a start, he realized that despite his extensive traveling, the Ponderosa was still home. Before a wave of nostalgia overcame him, he turned back to his mail.
Flipping through the three letters the desk clerk had handed him, he was drawn to the one originally addressed to him in Boston. From the multiple notations, he realized that it had traveled a while before catching up with him here in Pittsburgh. The return address indicated it was from Virginia City. While he thought the name above was a very smudged “J. Cartwright”, it definitely wasn’t Joe’s. His writing was much easier to read than Joe’s backwards-slanted script. Pouring himself a brandy and taking a sip, he walked over to the stuffed-wing chair. Setting his drink carefully on the side table, he made himself comfortable. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his often-used pocket knife and slit open the envelope before carefully removing the letter.
I’ve never met you, but have heard many stories about you. I want to meet you because your pa and brothers are also mine. Pa, Joe, Hoss, Hop Sing and others have told me how you always do what you think is right. Well, with all my heart I wish that were true now.
I hope you will know how to help Joe. The rest of us can’t reach him. You know Hoss was his best friend. From what I’ve heard, he was yours, too. I know Pa wrote you after we lost Hoss, and then again after Joe’s wife Alice and their unborn child died violently.
Pausing in his reading, memories bombarded him. As a child, he had climbed into the wagon and gazed in wonder at his newborn brother in Inger’s arms. From that moment on, Hoss was an important part of his life. He recalled staring in shocked silence as Inger had been killed while he protectively held his baby brother. Hoss, who grew into the biggest Cartwright brother with a heart to match, was a natural caregiver and healer. Whether it was one of his critters, a gal or one of his brothers, he instinctively reached out and knew how to heal both physical and emotional injuries.
Of course, his soft heart often pulled him into some of Joe’s more outrageous schemes; like robbing a bank to save the investors’ money, or both of them convincing Adam to pretend to be Hank Myers while serenading Abigail Jones. Cringing, he thought about how close that had been to a disaster. He could have ended up either married to Abigail or dead from Hank’s jealous outrage. The corners of his lips turned up slightly as he realized he wasn’t always sure which outcome would have been worse. He swirled the glass of brandy to warm it, staring into its depths for long moments before setting it back on the table and continuing his reading.
Other things have happened, which shouldn’t surprise me since I’ve heard many stories of what a trouble magnet Joe was. Anyway, most recently he was lost in the desert and stalked by a madman named Tanner who tried to kill him. And now, he’s lost himself.
I’m sure Pa wrote you how his arm was broken. It’s healed, but something inside hasn’t. Ever since he came home, he’s like a different person. He used to smile and joke, but now he’s always serious and quiet. He spends a lot of time alone; too much if you ask me, and won’t talk to anyone about this. He’s forbidden Pa to tell anyone, even you.
Reading about another desert madman brought up his memories of Kane. Shuddering, he remembered the torture he’d endured. He understood well his brother’s pain. Lost in his memories, Adam let the letter fall into his lap.
As if they had just happened, he remembered the weeks and months after his own ordeal in the desert. While he’d healed physically, the scarring on his soul hadn’t. Anger at, fear of, and loathing of both himself and Kane were among the many mixed-up emotions he had held inside. It was Hoss’s patience and gentle nurturing that had coaxed them out and led to Adam’s healing. As they worked side-by-side, his middle brother had known exactly what to do. Infallibly, he knew what Adam needed before he did, such as knowing when to speak and when to be silent; when to lend a helping hand and when to step back. His support had been unwavering and his patience inexhaustible. Joe’s situation was compounded because no one could replace Hoss. After a few moments, Adam turned back to the letter, picked it up and resumed reading.
I don’t know what else to do to help Joe. Hop Sing says you would know better than the doctor how to help him, but he won’t explain why. Can you help? Please?
And there’s something else. I miss you. You may think I’m crazy since we’ve never met, but Hoss explained it to me once.
When Pa adopted me, I wasn’t sure that Pa, Hoss and Joe loved me, and I ran away. Afterwards Hoss said, “You’re a Cartwright now. Pa taught us what being part of this family means: even if all of us got married and had a bunch of young ‘uns, when Adam comes home there’ll still be a place for everyone. You know we each have an Adam-sized hole in our hearts and lives that only he can fill. And though you don’t think so, you’d leave a Jamie-sized hole ifn you leave.”
Well, now we all have Hoss and Alice-sized holes in our hearts. Even though we’ve never met, I too have an Adam-sized hole in my heart and life. I don’t want to add a Joe-sized one. And I fear Pa wouldn’t survive it.
Please come home. Let me know what I can do because I’ll do anything to meet my oldest brother and heal these holes in my family.
Your youngest brother,
Jamie Hunter Cartwright
Adam sat rooted to his chair, having reread the letter several times. Each time, he blinked repeatedly to clear the moisture from his eyes. After picking up his glass from the side table and taking a sip of his brandy, he realized that although it slid down smoothly, its warmth didn’t penetrate the chill that had settled in his bones. He remembered caring for Joe both after Marie had died and when Joe had nearly died after the incident at Montpelier Gorge.
Could Jamie be right? That he was the one person who could help Joe now? Scanning the letter again, his eyes fell on the words, “Hop Sing says you would know better than the doctor how to help him”. Searching his memories, he couldn’t remember one time when the devoted cook had been wrong.
Carefully putting the letter back in its envelope, and then standing and tucking it safely in his jacket pocket, he walked to the wash basin. After shaving and cleaning up, he surprised himself at how hungry he suddenly felt. Changing into a fresh shirt, he decided to go to the dining room for supper and ask for one of their private tables. After reading Jamie’s letter, he had a lot to think about and needed to formulate his plans. Making sure he had paper and pencil in his pocket to make notes, his smile burst forth and his eyes twinkled at the memory of Hoss saying, “A man does his best thinking on a full stomach.” Forgetting his fatigue, he put on his jacket, grabbed his key and strode from his room.
Three Weeks Later
After supper, Candy and Jamie were playing checkers as they did most evenings. Joe sat in the blue chair, staring blankly at the fire and rarely shifting his position. In the alcove, Ben sat at his desk trying to work on the ledgers while keeping a concerned eye on his now-middle son. Sighing inwardly, he noted his coffee had grown cold. Standing and walking to refill his cup, he paused when they all heard a horse and rider. Being closest to the door, Ben placed his cup on the sideboard before opening the door to greet their visitor. “Jumping Jehoshaphat!” he exclaimed before bolting outside. The others heard his laughter welcoming their guest. They hadn’t heard Ben laugh heartily in months, and, after looking at each other, they followed him onto the porch.
To their amazement, Ben held their visitor in a bear hug, who in turn had his head lowered onto Ben’s shoulder and gripped the back of his vest. A moment later, as their visitor raised his head, understanding dawned on Joe. Jamie watched, fascinated, as he saw his brother’s smile reach his eyes for the first time in months. Joe quickly joined the hug as silent tears tracked down his cheeks. Unsure about both who their visitor was and whether or not they should intrude, Candy and Jamie stood back.
After regaining his composure, Ben turned and made introductions. Adam stepped forward and offered his hand to Candy. They shook politely. Next, he turned to his youngest brother. In all the letters that Ben had written, he’d never mentioned the shade of the boy’s hair, and Adam had never figured his hair would be that red. Jamie tentatively offered his hand. His oldest brother did more than take his hand; he pulled him into a hug and proclaimed, “Welcome to the family!” With his mouth next to Jamie’s ear, he turned his head so the other men wouldn’t know that he whispered, “Thank you for your letter.” Jamie responded silently by patting his oldest brother’s back and nodding slightly.
Candy offered to take care of Adam’s horse, and then tactfully retired to the bunkhouse. Adam’s family propelled him into the house. After they had all started speaking at once, they broke out into joyous laughter. Hop Sing came out of his kitchen to see the commotion. He wondered who had the audacity to visit this late in the day. Initially, all he saw was the visitor’s back. As Adam turned around, he greeted his friend in Chinese and apologized for his late arrival due to delays with the stage. Hop Sing was momentarily speechless when he not only recognized the visitor, but also because Adam gave him a bear hug and spoke in his native tongue. Recovering his composure quickly and muttering softly in Cantonese, he retreated to the safety of his kitchen where he grinned in private. Shortly thereafter, he brought out cookies for everyone, coffee and brandy for the men, and hot chocolate for Jamie.
Adam entertained the family with lighthearted stories of his travels. He spoke of some of the places he’d visited, and promised to share more in the days ahead. Ben filled him in on some of the changes on the ranch and Virginia City. Joe and Jamie were more reserved, although both smiled often and laughed occasionally at their oldest brother’s adventures. Adam noticed that Joe’s infectious giggle was missing and wisely didn’t comment.
As the clock struck eleven, Jamie yawned. Realizing he had to be up early tomorrow, during a lull in the conversation he excused himself to sleep. After exchanging goodnight wishes with his father and older brothers, he headed upstairs. Once again he paused in front of Adam’s room, peeking around the now-open door. Hop Sing had already begun to air out the room; the closed-up smell no longer immediately assaulted his nose. The lamplight cast welcoming shadows. The curtains fluttered softly as a gentle breeze brought fresh air into the room. As Jamie glanced around, he saw clean towels on the dresser. Without looking, he knew Hop Sing had filled the water pitcher. Adam’s valise and saddle bags rested on the blanket chest at the foot of his bed. As he turned to go to his room, Jamie felt goosebumps and a warmth that spread to his toes, followed by the conviction that now all was right in this room. With renewed hope, he went to bed with a smile on his face and faith that his family would heal.
Joe headed to bed shortly after midnight. Afterwards, only Ben and Adam remained in the great room. Just like they had for many years, father and son sat by the fire in the familiar red and blue chairs and talked softly. When their conversation waned, Ben offered that he was delighted but curious about the timing of his eldest son’s return.
Adam allowed the warmth both of the fire and of being home to sweep over him. Swirling the brandy in his glass, he carefully chose his words to keep Jamie’s confidence. Speaking softly, he replied in his mellow baritone that Ben loved and had feared he would never hear again. “Jamie wrote and asked me to come home. He reminded me of the importance of family and said he needed his oldest brother. If a brother I’d never met felt that way, maybe you and Joe do, too.”
With tears threatening, Ben swallowed hard to get himself under control before answering. When he spoke, his voice was thick and brittle. “Son, I’ve missed and needed you every day. If I’d known it would be that simple, each of us would’ve written you letters daily asking you to come home. Guess I’m not too old to learn from your youngest brother.”