Summary: This was my entry for Round Three of the Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament. Not a typical day on the Ponderosa.
Word Count: 1,795 Rated: K
Not A Normal Day
The cards I drew were:
- Three of Clubs – The Scarlett Letter
- Jack of Hearts – Ink
- Two of Diamonds – Breaking Horses
- Queen of Spades – Mine
- Wild Card – The Ponderosa
It was late afternoon when Joe Cartwright rode into the yard of the Ponderosa. He had just dismounted when an old-time hand offered to take care of Cochise. This was one of the few chores that Joe enjoyed doing and normally wouldn’t allow anyone else to do; but today was not a normal day. The young man gladly surrendered the reins and watched as his horse was led away.
Turning, Joe looked at the house, most particularly at the front door. Usually, he would stride into his home and more times than not, slam the door behind him to announce his arrival; but today was not a normal day. Heaving a sigh of surrender, the youngest Cartwright, with his right arm held close to his chest, limped forward.
Slipping inside, Joe softly closed the door behind him, removed his gun belt and dropped it and his hat on the credenza. When he turned around he spotted his brother Hoss sitting in his father’s favorite chair reading a book.
“Hey, Big Brother.”
Startled, Hoss about jumped from the chair. “You stop sneakin’ up on me like that!” snapped the bigger man, keeping his face averted from his younger brother.
“Sneakin’? I wasn’t sneakin’, you just wasn’t payin’ attention.”
“You was sneakin’, normally you slam that door as hard as you can. The only time when you don’t is when you’re trying not to get caught comin’ in.”
“Well, I ain’t sneakin’ and I haven’t done nothin’ to worry about getting’ caught,” Joe shot back. “I’ve been breaking horses all day, and I sure can’t get in trouble there.”
“Ha! That’s what you think. You can get in trouble just by breathin’,” teased Hoss.
Joe just shook his head. He knew he did tend to get into more trouble than his two brothers put together, but it took a lot more than breathing.
“Where’s Pa and Adam?”
“They had to go up to the mine. They should be home before dinner.”
Hoss went back to his book and didn’t notice Joe’s abnormal gait as he made his way to his father’s desk. Sitting down in the green, leather chair he pulled out a ledger from the desk drawer. Running his hand over the smooth front cover, he couldn’t help but smile. This wasn’t one of Pa’s books, it was his, and his alone. Ben had put Joe in charge of the horse operations, and one of the things Joe started doing right off the bat was keeping a record of how many horses they had gentled and trained. After opening the book, Joe reached for a pen, and dipped it in the ink. When he pulled the pen towards him, it caught the edge of the bottle, spilling ink all over the desk.
Hoss’s head snapped up at the exclamation. “Joseph, you best not let Pa hear you talkin’ like that.” He stood and strode over to find out what had happened to cause such an outburst.
“Oh, Lordy,” Hoss gulped seeing the ink spilled all over his father’s desk.
Joe glanced up at his brother, his face pale, while he tried to mop up the mess with scrap paper. “Pa’s gonna kill me.”
“Naw, he may yell a little, well maybe a lot, but he won’t kill ya.” Surveying the desktop, Hoss chuckled. “Probably won’t even be that bad, seein’ as how you only ruined your things and not his. But then again, I don’t think the blotter can be salvaged,” predicted Hoss.
“Have fun, Little Brother,” he threw over his shoulder as he turned and walked back to his chair.
Joe glared at his brother’s back. Can this day get any worse? With it not being a normal day, he should have thought before tempting the gods.
The desk clean, Joe stared at his now ruined ledger, closed it, and dropped it in the wastebasket. Pushing himself up, the younger man limped over to the settee and eased his body down. A soft sigh escaped him as he rested his head against the back of sofa and closed his eyes.
Looking up from his book, Hoss scrutinized his brother’s appearance. He noted the arm that was held closely to stomach and the tight, drawn look on his face.
“I’m fine,” Joe said without opening his eyes.
“Then what’s wrong your arm?”
Joe raised his head and looked at the older man. “Just a little sore.”
“A little? The way you’re protectin’ it, I suspect it’s a might more than sore.”
“Okay, it hurts. Dang horse threw me and I landed funny.”
“What else did you hurt?”
“Nuth—” Joe stopped mid-word when he saw the look on his brother’s face and knew he wouldn’t get away with any type of denial. “My ankle, if you must know.”
Closing his book and setting it on the table, Hoss moved over to his brother and sat down in front of him. “Let’s get that boot off of you and see how much damage you did.”
“I’d rather leave it on,” groaned Joe.
“You keep thinkin’ that, Little Joe, and I’ll get this here boot off.”
Closing his eyes, Joe braced himself against the onslaught of pain he knew was to come. When Hoss lifted his foot off the floor, Joe couldn’t help his sharp intake of breath. Then when his brother started pulling the boot off the injured appendage, the younger man grabbed the edge of the settee with his good hand, and held on for dear life.
“There, it’s off.” Hoss looked up at his brother and cringed at his pale face and sharp, rapid breathing. “Easy, Little Joe, the hard part is done.”
Placing his hand on his brother’s ankle, Hoss started to prod the swollen, bruised mass.
“Ow! Leave it alone,” Joe yelled and tried to pull his foot out of his brother’s grasp, only to cause himself more pain.
Reaching over, Hoss grabbed one of the pillows off the settee, placed it on the table and gently lowered his brother’s injured foot onto it. He then switched positions and sat next to Joe.
Feeling his brother’s hand touch him, Joe tried to twist away, but Hoss was having none of it. After examining it, he patted the younger man on the shoulder.
“Nothin’ seems to be broken. I think you just have a bad sprain. I’m gonna get Hop Sing, you stay here.”
“Believe me, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Opening his eyes, Joe looked towards the fireplace and sighed. “Pa’s not gonna let me leave the house for a month. Heck, he’ll probably keep me in bed for half that time.”
Spotting the book sitting on the table, Joe remembered his brother’s reaction when he greeted him. Curiosity peaked; Joe gritted his teeth, lowered his leg to the floor, stretched across the table and retrieved the book. Reading the title Joe’s eyes grew as big as saucers. He had never completely read the book, but he knew what it was about. With a brother like Adam, how could he not. When he was thirteen he had overheard his oldest brother talking about the book with a friend. Joe being Joe, he couldn’t resist reading it. He was only partially into it when his father caught him red-handed, so to speak. That little event cost him a trip to the barn.
When Hoss returned from the kitchen he found his brother lying on his side, on the settee, both arms folded across his stomach, laughing his fool head off.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You . . .” Joe gasped. “. . . reading . . . Scar . . . Scarlett . . . L-Letter.”
Finally looking up, he saw Hoss staring at the book lying on the floor next to the table, and the ‘scarlet’ blush that started on his brother’s neck and quickly rose to his hairline. Unable to help himself, Joe laughed harder and louder until tears were streaming down his face.
“Dadburn your ornery hide!” Hoss exploded and made a grab for his brother, who was still cackling so hard he was unable to defend himself. On a normal day, Hoss would never do anything to hurt his little brother, especially when he was already injured. But this was not a normal day.
“Ow! Hoss, Let me go! You’re hurting me!” Joe yelled, completely sober from the pain tore through his ankle and wrist as his brother man-handled him.
Just then the front door burst open and two men rushed in, guns drawn. Having heard the commotion coming from inside the house, Ben and Adam feared the worse. The scene that greeted them wasn’t something they saw on a normal day, but today was not a normal day.
“What in tarnation is going on here?” Ben bellowed.
Hoss dropped his younger brother, causing Joe to cry out in pain as his ankle came into contact with the floor and his wrist to bang against the table.
“Well? I’m waiting for an answer.”
Hoss couldn’t look his father in the eye. He was embarrassed and felt guilty over reading a book like that.
Before anything could be said, a hand shot up from the other side of the settee, a book grasped in it and the title facing toward his father and brother.
Adam snorted, trying to contain the laughter that was demanding release once he realized Hoss’s vivid coloring was due to embarrassment and not anger.
“New reading material, Hoss?” Ben choked.
That’s all it took, the laughter exploded from Adam; the book dropped with a thud to the floor and high pitched cackling come from the unseen brother.
Ben tried, he really tried, but he couldn’t help it, not with Joe carrying on as he was, and Adam bent over, holding his sides as deep belly laughs escaped from him.
“I don’t see what’s so funny about me readin’ a book.”
“It’s not you reading,” Adam wheezed between bouts of laughter. “It’s what you are reading.”
“In all my years, I would never have pictured you reading that,” Ben gasped.
Hoss looked at his father and oldest brother, and shaking his head, he stomped to the table and picked up the book. He glared at his younger brother, and then puckered his lips in thought before a gapped-tooth smile spread across his face.
“By the way, Pa, Little Joe took a bad fall, hurtin’ his wrist and ankle. You might want to get Doc Martin cuz they look pretty bad.” His smile grew wider at the panicked look on his little brother’s face. “I’m gonna go cleanup for dinner.” Chuckling, he made his way to the stairs and the sanctuary of his room, leaving a sputtering Joe behind.
This definitely was not a normal day.