Summary: Suffering from an embarrassing wound, Joe needs his father’s help to put matters into perspective. This is a set of missing scenes/WHN for “A Nice, Friendly Little Town.” At the beginning of the episode, Joe has been shot “in the middle of the Ponderosa,” and he returns to the house to find the sheriff, Ben and Hoss there. At the end of the opening scene, Joe turns to go into the house, and Hoss sets out to find the shooter. The episode focuses on Hoss’ efforts to bring in the shooter. These scenes follow Joe for the next few days, while Hoss is away, with one post-episode scene.
Rated: T. WC 5500
“They all think this is funny,” said Joe through clenched teeth. Behind them, Hoss and the sheriff were still chuckling.
“They don’t understand,” said Ben soothingly, taking Joe’s arm. “It’s just–well, they don’t know how you feel.”
“It ain’t like they’ve never been shot,” said Joe. He focused intently on his goal–the front door.
“True, but–well, they–” Ben was at a loss. He knew his son was hurting, and he also knew that it was going to be a long, long time before Joe was willing to see any humor in the placement of this particular bullet.
So Ben concentrated instead on helping Joe into the house. As soon as the door closed behind them, Joe sagged against the credenza, eyes closed in relief. Then, he straightened and turned to the next challenge–getting upstairs.
The simple wooden stairs looked much steeper and more imposing than they had when he’d run down them that morning. He took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
It was a long, slow, painful trek. Every time Joe lifted his right leg or put weight on it, he cringed and caught his breath. Ben tried to get Joe to lean on him, but his son was adamant. He was going to walk to his room if it took everything he had. He still had some pride left.
Finally, they got to the top. Joe stopped, letting the wall hold him up. After a minute, Ben said, “You ready, son?” The sooner Joe was off his feet, the better.
Joe didn’t answer. Mortification was still competing with physical pain. “Okay,” he managed finally. “Let’s go.” With his father holding his arm, Joe began the journey to his room.
At last, they made it through the doorway. Relief flooded through Joe. He could lie down. He could get relief. He could get privacy.
In the next second, he knew that none of these would come easily.
First, Ben said, “We need to get that saddle roll off you, son.” On the way home, Joe had wrapped the saddle roll around his hips for reasons he could no longer remember. Now, he clung onto the bedpost while Ben undid his handiwork. He was starting to feel lightheaded, and he was grateful that his father was working fast.
But then came lying down. If he tried to do it himself, he would need to bend his right leg. Helplessly, he looked to his father who, thank God, seemed to understand. “Hold on now,” said Ben, supporting Joe as best he could. He eased his son onto the bed and turned him on his stomach. So positioned, Joe was unable to see the look of dismay on his father’s face at the amount of blood on the back of his pants. It was, after all, a gunshot wound, regardless of where it had hit.
“All right, son, let’s see what’s going on here,” said Ben, trying to sound casual. He tugged first at one boot, then the other. “You need to help me take off your pants.” Joe managed to unfasten his pants, and Ben pulled them off. “Your drawers, too, son,” Ben added. Joe took a deep breath and unbuttoned them, and his father slid them off, leaving Joe’s bare bottom was exposed to the world.
Joe closed his eyes. If there was any way this whole thing could get more humiliating, he didn’t know what it could be. Unless–
Right on cue, Hoss burst into the room. “Hey, Pa, what do you–oh, sorry, Little Brother, didn’t know you were busy,” he said.
“Get out,” said Joe between clenched teeth.
“Hoss, was there something you needed?” asked Ben, deliberately backing Hoss out into the hall and blocking his view.
“I just wanted to do know if there’s anything you need me to do around the ranch before I go,” said Hoss. He really didn’t mean to laugh–he knew it wasn’t a wound he would ever want–but it just struck him funny. He wanted to be sympathetic, the way he would have been if Joe had been wounded in almost any other place, but he couldn’t seem to look at it the same way. Even now, seeing Joe sprawled on his stomach, bare butt out in the open, reminded him of the days when the boy was little and he’d received a much-deserved spanking.
“Don’t worry about that right now,” said Ben. “But I’d appreciate your bringing some soap and hot water, and alcohol.” Joe’s head jerked around at the mention of alcohol. “Has anybody gone for the doctor?”
“Hank’s already gone,” said Hoss. He sobered a bit. “You’re gonna be just fine,” he called to Joe over his father’s shoulder. “I’ll see who done this and bring him back.”
“Thanks,” muttered Joe, his face in his pillow.
“And don’t you worry ’bout a thing,” Hoss added. “I’ll make sure nobody makes you the butt of any of their jokes.” He chuckled at his own wit.
“Get out!” snapped his younger brother.
A few minutes later, Joe was clutching the pillow as his father carefully washed away the blood and examined the wound.
Blast. As if it had deliberately chosen the most inconvenient point, the bullet had entered right at the boy’s sitting spot. It was going to be weeks before he was back in the saddle, and longer before he could sit a bronc. He’d be lucky even to be wearing pants anytime soon. Well, it could have been a lot worse, Ben told himself. He knew Joe wouldn’t see it that way, but in that moment, Ben was grateful. Just a few inches higher, and–
“Okay, Joe, we’ve got to clean this out,” Ben said, shaking his head to rid himself of such thoughts. He had a job to do, and it was going to be unpleasant. “You ready?” At Joe’s nod, he poured alcohol on a cloth. “Here we go,” he said. He applied the cloth to the wound as gently as he could.
“Aaaaargh!” Even with the warning, the sharp burning caught him off-guard. He sucked in his breath and waited for the initial shock to subside.
“I know, son, I know,” said Ben. He waited as Joe caught his breath. “Ready?” He applied it again, and Joe moaned again. “Joe, can you lift up just a bit?” Burying his face in the pillow, Joe lifted his hips, and Ben took advantage of the better angle to clean the wound more thoroughly. The bullet wasn’t visible, which was a bad sign. If it had been close to the surface, he could have probed with tweezers and gotten it on his own. As it was, they would need to wait for the doctor, and he would probably have to cut to get to it.
Ben drew a sheet up over his son. “Nothing to do now but wait,” he said. “I’m going to heat up a little broth for you. Is there anything else you want?”
Joe turned to face him. For an instant, the sympathy in his father’s eyes nearly brought him to tears. He knew everybody else thought this was funny, but damn it, he was hurting. “Just the broth’ll be fine,” he said. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe deeply enough to sleep.
Three interminable hours later, Doc Martin finally came in. “So, what have we got here?”
“Gunshot wound,” said Ben. He stroked his son’s hair. He didn’t remember when he’d seen Joe look so miserable, and he knew it was more than just the pain.
Doc Martin was unimpressed. He’d seen similarly-located wounds a dozen times or more. Joe was lucky in any number of ways, although he knew the young man wouldn’t believe him right now. So, he just said, “Let’s see what’s going on.” He drew back the sheet and examined the wound, poking with his long tweezers. “That’s not too bad,” he said. At Joe’s over-the-shoulder glare, he said, “Bullet didn’t hit anything life-threatening. As far as I can tell, it barely even grazed the bone. You’re going to mighty uncomfortable for a little while, but you’ll be fine. Now, you take some of this painkiller, and we’ll be in business.” He handed Ben the bottle. “You’ll want to hang onto this,” he added as Ben poured the liquid into a spoon.
As the doctor looked more closely at the wound, he said, “I’m going to need some more light, too. Ben, can you get me a lamp?” As Ben jumped to his feet, the doctor said, “Take your time, we’ve got a few minutes. We’ve got to wait for the pain medicine to start working.”
“How long will that take?” asked Ben. He stood across the bed from the doctor, his prone son in between them.
“Ten, fifteen minutes,” said the doctor. He set out the tray and his instruments, whistling. When Ben returned with the lamp, Doc said, “You know, I can’t help remembering the first time I saw this young man. How long ago is that now? Twenty-three, twenty-four years?”
“Twenty-four in October,” said Ben.
“He was my first breech birth,” said Doc Martin. “So this right here was the very first part of Little Joe that I ever saw. Marie had a tough time, but she was such a fighter, God rest her soul. And when he came out with that cord around his neck and he wasn’t breathing–I didn’t tell her, but I wasn’t holding out much hope. But then, I just held him up and smacked his bottom, and he let out a wail you wouldn’t have expected from somebody three times his size.” He reached over and turned up the flame on the lamp, and he considered the wound. “Ben, can you get me a pillow?” Ben did as he was asked, and the doctor said, “Joe, I need to slide this under your hips so I have a better angle. Lift up, please. Ben, can you get me one more pillow? Thanks, that’s good. Okay, a little higher, Joe. Very good. Is the painkiller working? How do you feel?”
How do I feel? Joe thought incredulously. How naïve he’d been before, thinking things couldn’t get worse. It wasn’t enough that he’d had to listen to Hoss and the sheriff laughing at his distress. Now, his father and the doctor were standing around, casually chatting about old times, while he was lying here, just as naked as the day he was born, with his throbbing backside sticking up in the air. If anybody opens that door. . . .
“Let’s just get it over with,” he said, burying his flaming face in the pillow.
* * * * * * * * * *
It was early evening when Joe awoke. Groggy and bewildered, he had no idea where he was or what had happened. In the next moment, though, the shooting pain in his backside reminded him of everything. “Pa?” he managed.
“I’m right here, son,” said Ben. He closed his book and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “How’re you feeling?”
“Worst tanning I ever got,” said Joe. His mouth was dry, and his tongue felt thick. He blinked hard and rubbed his eyes with the cuff of his nightshirt, trying to clear away the fog.
Ben smiled. If Joe could make jokes, he was all right. “Doc left that pain medicine,” he said. “How about we get you something to eat, and then you can have some of the medicine and go back to sleep?” At Joe’s weary nod, he went to prepare his son’s supper.
By the time Ben came back upstairs, Joe was asleep again. Ben set the tray on the bedside table and rested his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Joe, wake up,” he said. “I brought you some soup.”
Slowly, Joe opened his eyes. A quick intake of breath showed that the pain had reached his consciousness as well. Biting his lip, he pushed himself up, onto his left side. Even the slightest movement of his right leg sent waves of pain through his aching buttock. “I’m not that hungry,” he said.
“You need to eat something, Joseph,” said Ben. “At least enough for the medicine to stay down.” He set the tray on the bed beside Joe, and his left-handed son struggled to maneuver the spoon with his right hand. “Can I give you a hand, son?” he offered gently. He wasn’t at all surprised when Joe shook his head, gripping the spoon more tightly. Another couple of bites, and his son dropped the spoon on the tray, exhausted. Ben sighed inwardly. When Joe was sick, his appetite was the first thing to go. “Maybe you should try a little more,” he suggested, even though he knew it was futile.
“Just give me the painkiller,” said Joe. “I won’t get sick. Promise.”
Ben moved the tray on the bedside table. “Let me see how your backside looks. Can you lie back down on your stomach?” Joe obliged, tensing, and Ben drew the bedclothes back. Doc had indeed had to cut a little bit to get to the bullet, which had been deeper than they’d thought, and he’d had to stitch the incision. The edges of the wound were red and mighty sore-looking, but there didn’t appear to be any infection. Considering everything, this was good news indeed.
Ben brought the covers back up over his son, and Joe relaxed into the mattress. “How is it?” the patient asked.
“Doesn’t look too bad,” said Ben. “But I imagine it hurts like a sonofagun. Let’s get you that painkiller now.” He poured the medicine into a spoon and held it to Joe’s lips. “Another one?” At his son’s nod, he repeated the process. “Why don’t you try and sleep now, and maybe you’ll feel better in the morning,” he suggested.
“‘Night, Pa,” said Joe, closing his eyes. As Ben rose to go, Joe murmured, “Thanks for not laughing.”
Ben stroked his son’s hair. “You just get some sleep now,” he said. He blew out the lamp, took the tray and left the room.
* * * * * * * * * *
Joe was awakened in the morning by pain that nearly took his breath away. For a moment, all he could think was that he was twelve years old again, and Pa had caught him and Mitch Devlin smoking in the hayloft–with tobacco they’d taken from Pa’s drawer and then lied about taking. That tanning had left him so sore that he’d barely able to sit at all, even with a cushion, for almost two days. It was, without question, the worst pain his backside had ever known.
The memory of yesterday flooded back, and he closed his eyes, grimacing. No doubt, everybody on the ranch knew what had happened, and he was sure to hear about it once he was up and about. They’d all be watching for the return of his famous swing mount. Just the thought of landing in the saddle made him wince.
A tap on the door, and his father entered. “Morning, son,” he said. “How’re you feeling?”
“Fine,” said Joe automatically.
“Good,” said Ben, laying his hand on Joe’s forehead anyway. “You’re a little bit warm. You hurting much?”
“I was just remembering that time you caught me and Mitch in the hayloft with your pipe tobacco,” said Joe.
Understanding the reference, Ben bit his lip. It was the one time he’d broken his cardinal rule never to discipline his sons while still angry. The combination of offenses–stealing, lying and smoking–had been bad enough, but they paled next to the risks attendant on smoking in the hayloft. All he’d been able to think about was how easily the boys could have started a fire that would have trapped them in the burning barn. He’d had the presence of mind to send Mitch home, but the boy was barely out the barn door before he had his belt off and Joe’s pants around his ankles. Even all these years later, he cringed at the memory. It was the only time he’d ever asked his son’s forgiveness for tanning him.
“Well, hopefully, this won’t be as bad as that,” said Ben lightly.
“It’s worse,” Joe admitted.
Ben patted his son’s shoulder sympathetically. “Tell you what,” he said. “Let me take a look and see how it is, and then maybe we can put some ice on it. Okay?” At Joe’s nod, he pulled back the covers.
The incision was typical second-day fare, angry and red-looking and slightly swollen, but at least there didn’t seem to be any sign of infection. On the other hand, the bruising around the site had blossomed into spectacular color that covered the entire lower half of the buttock. From the looks of things, his son wouldn’t be moving off his belly any time soon.
“So? Does it look okay?”
Ben drew the covers back up. “Looks pretty painful.” His son’s over-the-shoulder look was clear: No kidding. “I’ll bring up some ice when I bring your breakfast.”
“Thanks.” Joe dropped his head back onto the pillow. It wasn’t as if there was anything else he could do.
Between the ice and the medicine, they kept the pain at a manageable level that day and the next. The morning of the fourth day, Doc dropped in on his way back to town from a neighboring ranch. To his chagrin, Joe once again found himself lying with his bare bottom exposed while the doctor and his father discussed the state of his wound.
“If this part heals up a little more,” said Doc to Ben as he lightly tapped the subject area, “I should be able to take the stitches out by the end of the week.”
“That’s not going to be too soon?” asked Ben.
“I don’t see why,” said the doctor. “Mind you, it’s not as if he’s going to be all healed just because I take out the stitches. That bullet went pretty deep, and everything inside has to heal, too. That’s part of the reason for all this bruising.”
“It looks so painful,” said Ben.
“It is,” said Joe, not bothering to turn. He didn’t even try to conceal the bitter edge in his voice as he asked, “Are we just about done here, or do you still need my back end for something?”
Silence greeted his question. He could almost hear the doctor and his father exchanging the same looks he’d seen ever since he was a little kid and they first thought him uncooperative.
“You’re healing nicely,” said Doc, finally covering him. “Another day or so, and you should be able to put on your pants.”
“There’s something to look forward to,” said Joe. He couldn’t see his father’s frown at his sarcasm, but he knew it was there.
By the time Ben brought up a lunch tray, Joe’s mood had descended into a full-blown sulk to which he felt completely entitled. After all, he’d tolerated ridicule about this injury almost from the minute he was shot. He couldn’t sit, walk, or even wear pants. It seemed like every time he blinked, his father and the doctor were poking around back there, and he had to lay face-down on the bed while they chatted across his naked backside.
And there was more. He’d tried to bear up with reasonably good grace as his father placed the towel-wrapped ice chunk against his incision, and while he’d let out a gasp when Ben inadvertently bumped the sorest spot, sending pain radiating through his seat, he hadn’t said a word. Then, mindful of the extra load his father was carrying these days, he hadn’t even called him back when Ben left the room without putting his book within reasonable reach, and so he’d had nothing to do but lie on his stomach and endure the throbbing like a spanked child.
So, when Ben came back, he was welcomed with a grunt, and nothing more. This was definitely one of Joe’s less-charming traits. When he was truly ill, he’d bear up bravely and insist that he was fine, and when he was fully recovered, he was generally delightful. But in that in-between stage, when he was only moderately indisposed, Joe Cartwright was the grumpiest person you’d find in a day’s ride.
It wasn’t as if Joe didn’t have good reason to be unhappy, and Ben recognized that. Even putting aside the embarrassment–as if Joe would–the boy couldn’t sit on a horse or a buggy seat, which meant no riding, no trips to town, no outings with young ladies, no broncs–in short, none of the things that made summer Joe Cartwright’s favorite season.
Still, Ben had never been one to indulge in self-pity, nor did he tolerate it from his sons, even when there was cause. So, even though he tried to tell himself that Joe’s orneriness was a sign he was feeling better, Ben was irritated anyway.
“Joseph, do you want your lunch now?” He tried to sound pleasant, as if he could coax his son into the same attitude by his example.
“Sure,” said Joe with utter indifference. When his comment was met with silence, he added, “Thanks, Pa.” He pushed up onto his left side, and Ben set the tray, with its bowl of soup, on the bed in front of him. Pursing his lips, Joe refrained from pointing out that, since he had to eat right-handed, it would have been preferable if his father had brought him something that he couldn’t spill.
The room was silent as spoonfuls of chicken broth dribbled down Joe’s chin and onto the front of his nightshirt. On another day, he might have slowed down and focused on the task. Instead, he became increasingly exasperated and tried to eat faster, spilling even more. Finally, Joe flung the spoon down onto the tray in disgust.
“All right, Joseph, that’s enough!” Ben removed the tray to the bedside table.
“Enough of what? What did I do? Can I have the napkin back?” Joe added. Ben handed him the napkin, and Joe rubbed at his face and shirtfront.
“Enough of your attitude,” said his father. “Just how long do you plan to feel sorry for yourself, anyway?” he demanded as Joe handed back the napkin.
Joe glared at him. “I don’t feel sorry for myself,” he shot back.
“Oh, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t,” snapped Joe. He never spoke to his father this way, but– “But even if I did, I’ve got a pretty good reason here!” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, as if his father could have any question what he was referring to.
“What you’ve got, young man, is a pretty good reason to feel grateful,” said Ben.
“Grateful!” It was the last thing that would have crossed Joe’s mind. “Grateful? For what? Being humiliated in front of everybody? Not having any privacy? Not even being able to do simple, stupid things like put on my pants? Oh, yeah, Pa, I’m grateful, all right. And maybe if I could do something really amazing, like–oh, I don’t know, sit down in a chair the way you’re doing right now–I’d be even more grateful.”
“You watch your mouth, boy,” warned Ben.
“Boy? I’m a grown man!”
“And you are behaving like a child!”
“If I am, it’s because you’re treating me like one!” Even as the words came out, Joe was aware that he wasn’t exactly refuting his father’s point, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
By this time, Ben had a full head of steam himself. “I am treating you exactly as you deserve, Joseph. I am still your father, and I’ll tell you this much. You either stop this nonsense right now, or–well, I won’t touch the side that’s wounded, but I can make the other side feel just as sore, and I don’t care how old you are!”
Joe would have given anything at that moment to be able to storm out of the room and ride away–but here he was, flat in bed, utterly powerless. He couldn’t even stand up without help, couldn’t do pretty much anything except wait for the next indignity, and now his father was yelling at him because he wasn’t grateful. It was just too much, and something inside the young man snapped.
Trembling with anger, he raised his chin defiantly. “Well, I’ll tell you what, Pa, you go right ahead and tan me if you want, ’cause I haven’t been humiliated quite enough this week. I still feel just a little bit like a man, even though I had to lie here with my bare butt hanging out again today while you and Doc had another nice little visit. I’ve still got a tiny shred of dignity left–not much, mind you, but there’s still some. So why don’t you just go ahead and finish it off if that’s what you want to do!”
The words hung in the air as the men glared at each other. Ben was ready to let loose with a thunderous rebuke as only he could. But then, he looked, really looked, at his son, and the reprimand died on his lips.
Underneath the anger and defiance, Ben saw frustration and fatigue in his son’s face. He saw humiliation, and hurting. He watched as Joe’s eyes grew dark with consternation and shame. Ben felt his own exasperation fade. But before he could reach out to his son, or even speak, Joe looked away, down at his pillow.
“I’m sorry, Pa,” he said. He couldn’t meet his father’s eyes. “I had no call to say that to you. It’s not your fault, none of it. You’ve been–I just–I’m sorry.” His voice broke. He closed his eyes and turned his face away, fighting the tears that threatened suddenly, inexplicably.
Ben moved to sit on the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry, too,” he said quietly, resting his hand on his son’s shoulder. “I always try to tell myself you got your temper from your mother, but I think I have to take some of the credit for it, too.” He waited, and after a minute, Joe looked up at him and smiled weakly. “It’s all right, son,” Ben said. “It’s all right. I understand.” He rested his hand on Joe’s head and eased him back down to the pillow. “Just take it easy,” he murmured. Joe closed his eyes tightly, drawing deep, shuddering breaths as his father rubbed his back.
After a few minutes of quiet, Ben said, “Joe, don’t think I don’t sympathize with you. I’ve had my share of–awkward injuries, shall we call them.” At his son’s raised eyebrow, he said, “Back when Adam and Hoss and I were coming to Nevada, I got kicked in a very sensitive area by one of the horses.” Joe cringed, and Ben nodded. “Hoss was just a little fellow, and even Adam wasn’t quite old enough to understand just how bad it was.”
“What did you do?”
“We made camp,” said Ben. “I wasn’t about to climb back up on that wagon seat. I sent Adam and Hoss off to look for berries or something, and I just stayed behind and tried to get my eyes to uncross.” He shook his head ruefully, patting Joe’s shoulder. “There are some things that a man never forgets,” he added.
“I can imagine,” said Joe, shifting unconsciously at the thought.
“And I expect this will be one of those things for you,” Ben said. “But, son, you need to understand something. Even though this is awkward and embarrassing and painful, it could have been so much worse.”
“You think so?”
Ben ignored the faint belligerence creeping back into his son’s tone. “I know so,” he said. “I would never want one of my sons to be shot, but I’ll tell you this. If it had to happen, I’d far rather have seen the bullet hit you where it did than just a few inches higher.” Lightly, he ran his hand down Joe’s spine, coming to rest at belt level. “If the angle of the ricochet had been just a little bit different, that bullet could have shattered your spine–” he pressed gently “–or killed you outright.” The thought left him silent for a few minutes. Then, he said, “I know you’ve been pretty miserable these past few days, and I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t have good reason, but I’ll tell you something. If the alternative would be to lose you, or to have you lying here paralyzed–then yes, I would choose a thousand times over to have you just as you are right now, even with your injured dignity and your sore bottom.”
Joe was quiet. After a moment, he turned his face away from his father. At last, he said, “You’re right.” The slight wobble in his voice told it all: even for all his histrionics in the yard that day about how he could have been killed, he’d never truly thought about how close a call this was. Just a few short inches. . . .
“It could have been bad, but we’re very fortunate, and you’re going to be fine,” said Ben. He rested his hand on his son’s shoulder, but Joe didn’t turn back to him.
“I know,” Joe said simply, and he said nothing more. After a moment, his father resumed rubbing his back. Slowly, the tense muscles beneath Ben’s hand began to relax. Joe’s breathing became deep and even. The only sounds were the chirp of the bird that perched on the windowsill and an occasional whinny from the corral. Eventually, the father’s hand stilled, resting quietly on his son’s shoulder.
And in the peacefulness of a summer afternoon, Ben Cartwright knew to give thanks once again.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Hey, Pa!” Hoss bounded into the room, Joe behind him. “We’re starvin’! Is supper ready yet?”
“Just about,” said Ben. Joe was grinning. It was his first day back at work, and he and Hoss had been out all day, riding fence in the north pasture. Ben had suggested that Joe start slower, but his son was adamant.
Hoss bounced into the kitchen for a first peek at supper. Alone with Joe, Ben asked, “So, how was it to be back in the saddle?”
“Just fine,” said Joe. “Like I’d never been away.” He surveyed the room casually, as if simply appraising his surroundings.
“Looking for this?” Ben asked quietly. Joe wheeled around, and Ben offered him the cushion that he’d had used for the first several days after he was out of bed.
Caught, Joe hesitated. Then, with the slightest reddening of his cheeks, he took the cushion. “Thanks, Pa,” he said somewhat sheepishly.
“You sure you’re all right?” Ben kept his voice down, even though Hoss and Hop Sing were in the kitchen.
Joe shrugged. “I’m fine,” he said. At his father’s skeptical gaze, he smiled and winked. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It could be a lot worse.”
Ben smiled, too. “I know,” he said quietly. He and Joe regarded each other for a moment, and both nodded their recognition of the fact that most things in life weren’t perfect, and some of them were damned inconvenient, but every now and again, those imperfect, inconvenient things were just exactly what was needed in order to be sure that a man could see the rest of what he’d been given.
And be grateful.
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