Picnic Day

by

Helen Adams

 

 

"Amazing."

"What?" Adam looked up from his perusal of the Cartwright picnic basket, alerted by the tone of his brother's voice that something amusing was going on. "Has he taken another one?"

Little Joe laughed. "Yep. That's three cheese sandwiches in the space of a half-hour. I don't think he's even noticed!" He waved a chicken leg in the general direction of the blanket upon which their brother Hoss sat across from a young lady. Hoss was flashing the same moony-eyed smile he'd been wearing for the past hour, his head bobbing in agreement with whatever she was saying. Miss Valerie Moore evidently had quite a lot to say, for Joe had not seen her stop chattering for longer than was needed to take a deep breath all afternoon.

"How do you know for sure it's cheese," Adam wondered, chuckling as he watched Hoss take a huge absent-minded bite of the sandwich in his hand, nodding all the while. "She could've brought more than one kind."

"Nah. You know Mitch Devlin was sparkin' her for awhile?" Adam inclined his head as Joe paused for confirmation. "Well, he liked her fine except he said that Valerie was about the worst cook he ever came across. She only makes three things; scrambled eggs, buttered toast and cheese sandwiches. That's what she likes herself, so that's what she fixes. It's no wonder she's such a scrawny little thing!"

Adam snorted gently. There was no denying that the girl was more than usually slender, all right. Tall, blonde, and skinny as a rail, with huge blue eyes that looked almost absurdly large within the narrow frame of her face. Really, he wasn't quite sure what Hoss saw in her, but then, he and Hoss rarely saw eye to eye when it came to women. And, after all, maybe that was a good thing.

"Oh, and lemonade."

"Lemonade?" Adam frowned, having momentarily lost track of Joe's conversation as he observed Hoss' companion.

Not at all bothered by his brother's blank expression, Joe repeated, "Lemonade. She makes that, too. Don't know how I could forget about that." He stuck his tongue out with a disgusted expression and gave a dramatic shiver.

Adam raised a questioning brow. "Bad?"

"Awful. She made a big batch of it for the last town social, the one you missed on account of that trip to Carson. Jedidiah Millbanks personality is sweeter than that stuff."

A sympathetic grimace met the statement. "And Hoss likes his lemonade with a healthy dose of sugar." He shook his head, grinning as he watched the brother in question take a hearty swig from the glass his lady-friend handed him. Hossí lips puckered strangely for a moment, but then he shrugged it off and drained the glass. "My, my, it looks like our big brother is smitten. If a girl could make Hoss forget all about his stomach, then it must be love."

Joe snickered, then looked up as their father came over to join the festivities. "Hey, Pa."

Ben Cartwright lifted an eyebrow as he lowered himself to the ground. "Boys. Not like you to sit here all by yourselves during a town picnic. What's going on?"

"Bird-watching, Pa," Joe replied, grinning cheekily. "We're just trying to decide if that big one over there is a love-bird."

"Or maybe a pigeon," Adam opined with a grin.

Following their gazes, Ben smiled in pleasure at the sight of his normally shy son comfortably sharing a meal with a young lady. "Well, now! Isn't that Curtis Moore's little girl? She's turned into quite the beauty."

"Mmm," Adam grunted noncommittally. "Friendly, too. She sailed over here and grabbed Hoss before he had a chance to do more than tip his hat. Dragged him over there and has been pouring cheese sandwiches and sour lemonade down his throat all afternoon."

"You're joking."

A chortle erupted from Joe. "No sir, he's not. Best show we've had around here in ages. Ol' Hoss is so horn-swoggled by all the attention she's payin' him that he hasn't even noticed what he's eating. Pretty good deal for Valerie all around, I'd say."

Ben's expression was dubious. He instinctively knew that his youngest was not praising the young lady's good fortune in getting such a worthy suitor for the day. "Meaning?"

The grin instantly disappeared from Joe's face at the warning tone of his father's voice, but he could not stop his hazel eyes from dancing with merriment. Adam, having picked up the thread of Joe's thoughts, answered, "He means that Hoss is too polite to insult her lack of cooking skill and too shy to say much of anything else, so Miss Moore can talk as much as she likes without having to worry about being interrupted."

The older man stared at his sons blankly for a moment, then turned to observe the couple in question. Hoss had finally stopped nodding but he was still clearly fascinated by his date's chatter. His mouth was hanging open a bit and his blue eyes appeared somewhat glazed as his head jerked and swayed to the rhythm of Valerie's graceful hands, which she waved to illustrate her latest point. He reminded Ben of a serpent he had once seen mesmerized by a snake charmer in a circus tent. The girl seemed utterly oblivious delighted at having such an appreciative audience.

A laugh bubbled up Ben's throat as he observed the scene and burst forth in deep chuckles that his sons both joined heartily. After a moment, Ben stifled his mirth, feeling slightly ashamed of himself for giving in to the impulse at Hoss' expense and said, "All right, now. That's enough. It's good that your brother has found a young lady who appreciates his company and I suggest you two young scamps go do the same. Too nice a day to sit here lollygaging."

With cheerful grins, the two rose gracefully from the blanket and hurried off on a willing search for female company. After all, it wasn't every day that their father practically ordered them to go impress the ladies! There would be plenty of opportunity to tease Hoss later.

A broad smile spread over Ben's face as he watched them go, the two handsome young men already attracting glances and smiles from ladies, young and old, as they went. They would have no trouble enjoying the rest of the afternoon. His eyes drifted back over to where his middle son was laughing over something Valerie had said to him. That relationship might not be love, in fact he severely doubted the infatuation would far outlast the contents of the lady's picnic basket, but there was always a chance that love could develop if the seed of affection was properly cultivated. Ben settled back against a tree trunk and helped himself to a chicken leg from the basket next to him, smiling as he observed his boys. All three were healthy, happy and full of life and possibility. On a beautiful summer day like today, what more could a father ask for?

 

End

 

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