Just Between Brothers
P T Dutcher

    Joe Cartwright kicked a clump of dirt near his left boot sending it sailing into the bushes that lined the road.   Satisfied with the expenditure of energy and the effect of creating a small dust cloud, he was soon sending every modest sized clump he could find flying in the same direction.

Hoss watched his younger brother from a safe distance with a sympathetic gaze.   It wasn’t easy being the youngest member of the Cartwright family and at twenty years of age, Joe was still growing into his adult role.   The combination of being the youngest in the family and the smallest in size was a killer.   Joe was a good looking kid who was by no means short or slight, but with a brother Hoss’s size, comparisons were bound to be made.   In the same vein, he had a winning personality but not the cultured sophistication of Adam.   The hot temper expended, Joe fell down on the ground in a dust bath, breathing heavily.

Hoss urged his horse forward and left it amble leisurely towards his brother while he tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t ignite another outburst from his volatile sibling.   His brow furrowed in thought as he painstakingly worked through one tactic after another trying to find a way to help Joe appreciate his own unique attributes.  By the time the short distance had been covered, Hoss’s broad face was sporting a grin.

“You planning to be an Indian, Short Shanks?”  He swung a large leg over his horse and landed with a surprisingly graceful agility on the road next Joe.

    Joe glared up at him openly hostile.  “Go away, Hoss.   I’ll be home soon.”

    “You’d better be planning to take a bath before dinner.  Pa’ll have your hide if you show up lookin’ like that.”   Hoss leaned over to pat Joe’s thigh sending a substantial amount of dust into the air.

    Joe pushed his hat down over his eyes, making no effort to move.   “Go away!”

    The larger man set his ten gallon hat back on his head and smiled down at the youngster in front of him.   “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in kinda stirring things up for our older brother now would ya?”  He pulled himself up to his full height and wiped the grin from his face.   “Nah, you’re too mad for anything like that.”  Hoss sighed deeply.   “It’s a shame too, cause he’s been feeling a bit full of himself.”

    Joe pushed himself up onto one elbow and left the hat fall onto his lap revealing sparkling brown eyes.   “Yeah, he’s been feeling way too full of himself.   He’s got Maggie Rodgers all thinkin’ that he’s the finest thing to ever ride a horse.”

    “True enough.”  Hoss made a great show of thinking over the problem.  “It would be kinda nice to see him fall off the horse occasionally.”

    Joe laughed at the image.   “It wouldn’t hurt if that guitar of his was offkey either.”

    Hoss’s hearty laugh boomed across the valley as he held out a hand to Joe who took it.   With a solid jerk, Hoss pulled his brother off the road and sent him flying through the air to land on his feet.  “I saw a fella in a play once that got a pie in his face.”

    Joe laughed in delight.  “I saw that too.   What if he went to step off a sidewalk and fell flat on his face in the mud.”

    Hoss mounted his horse and pulled Joe up behind him.   “There ya go, nobody’s perfect.   Remember that time Adam was tryin’ to do log rollin’ and he landed on the log in a way that looked right painful?”

    Joe laughed warmly.   “Wouldn’t it be great if Maggie Rodgers had seen that?”

    Hoss nodded in agreement.   “Yep, I’d say Maggie Rodgers is a sweet little girl who needs to find someone a bit closer to her age.   Someone who’s real nice and likes to dance.   Someone who rides a horse real good and can handle a shootin’ iron.  Wish I knew someone like that.”

    Joe slapped him solidly on the back.   “We’d better get home if I’m gonna get a bath before Pa sees me.”

    Hoss sat at the dinner table and studied Adam with great interest.   Ben looked up from his food and noticed Hoss not applying himself to loading his plate and frowned.  “Something wrong, Hoss?”  He lifted a slice of bread from the serving dish and buttered it.

    Hoss shook his head.  “No, no…nothing’s wrong.   I just think that older brother over here should be more brotherly.”

    Adam dropped his napkin onto his lap.  “Does this have anything to do with Maggie Rodgers?”

    Hoss nodded solemnly.  “It might.”

    “I have no control over that girl.  In fact,” Adam leaned over at leveled a defiant glare at Hoss, “I think she’s a pain in my …elbow.”

    “Yeah, well, you’re causing a problem for Joe.”   Hoss picked up his fork and poked at the steak on his plate.   “You could try being a little less…perfect.”  He nodded his head forcefully.  “Yep, just a little less Mr. Perfect.”

    “Speaking of Joe,” Ben smoothly interjected himself into the conversation, “where is my youngest son?”  He leaned back into the chair and stretched his legs.  “Dinner is almost over.”

    “Oh, I can eat a whole lot more, Pa.”  Hoss helped himself to a large portion of potatoes.   “Don’ you worry that dinner is gonna be over real soon.”

    Ben stared at him with affection.  “You didn’t answer me.

    Hoss winced slightly.  “He’s takin’ a bath, Pa.   He’ll be here in a few and sparklin’ like a new top.”  He gave his father a broad wink.  “Ya won’t recognize him.”

    Ben raised an eyebrow put decided not to pursue why his youngest child was taking a bath just before dinner.    Instead, he leveled a look at Adam and held out his hand for the meat platter.  “You and Joe having an interest in the same girl?”

    Adam froze in place holding the platter over the table.  “Interest would be a strong word.   Joe has interest while I have a very young girl following me around like a puppy.”

    Ben took the platter from his hand.   “She just decided out of thin air to become attached to you?”   He looked skeptically at Adam.

    Adam shrugged his shoulders and returned to the food on his plate.

    Hoss chuckled.   “Adam here is being modest.   He sang for the church picnic last week and Maggie fell in love.”  He batted his eyes at Adam making Ben choke on a forkful of potatoes.

    Rapid footsteps running down the stairs heralded Joe’s entrance.   Everyone took great pains to be interested in the food on the table as Joe grabbed a seat and gave an embarrassed grin to his father.   “I was a bit dusty, Pa.   Sorry.”

    Ben nodded solemnly and pointed to Joe’s empty plate.   “I’d fill that up if I were you before your brother goes for thirds.”   He took a sip of his coffee.   Over the rim of his coffee cup, he saw Joe and Hoss share a bright grin and suppressed one of his own.   He glanced over at Adam who had also caught the exchange and was working hard at not smiling at the two conspirators.   The game was on.

    Adam awoke to a beautiful morning.  The sunlight streamed into his room and laid across his bed making the old quilt take on a jeweled radiance.  Slipping his hands behind his head, he reveled in the warmth of the room and the quiet of the house.   Quiet.  A memory tickled his mind and he sat upright.   Quiet in the morning was rather unusual in the Cartwright household.   The day more often than not began with Joe’s door slamming shut and Hoss yelling in annoyance as his youngest brother bounced him out of bed.   Joe had never learned to walk; he’d started life at a run and hadn’t stopped yet.

    The memory became a full blown thought and he hurriedly got out of bed to get dressed.   It was a safe bet that Hoss and Joe had been up for some time getting their set of pranks in order.   Adam checked his shaving cream carefully before lathering up his face.    Equal caution went into the inspection of the razor before it hit his face.  Satisfied that his room had been basically untampered with, he eased into the hallway looking up to be sure that buckets of water or less cleanly substances were not hovering over his head.   He slipped down the hallway being sure to press against the one wall for fear something obscure was hidden beneath the carpet runner.

    Entrance into the downstairs would be tricky.   The easiest thing would be to wait for his father and use him as a shield as he navigated the short staircase.   Somehow, that seemed to be cheating so Adam settled for peering cautiously around the hallway entry for a clear view of the living room.    The stairway appeared to be unaffected, no doubt due to the fact that Ben Cartwright wouldn’t appreciate being tossed down the stairs caught in the middle of the war games.

    Adam made his way towards the kitchen where an understanding Hop Sing had a light breakfast already on the table for him.    He nodded thankfully to the Chinese cook as he gulped down coffee and biscuits he knew wouldn’t be doused with heavy doses of black pepper.   The affable Chinaman smiled knowingly.   “Mr. Hoss and Mr. Joe got up very very early.”  His heavily accented English was tinged with laughter.   “I say you gonna have a busy day.”

    Adam chuckled.   “I think you’re right.”  He looked around for any signs of the enemy.   “You wouldn’t have happened to overhear anything?”

    Hop Sing chuckled.  “Not me.  I don’ take sides.  You leave my kitchen alone, I leave you alone.”

    Adam flashed him a feral smile.  “I’ll keep that in mind.   A safe haven so to speak.”

    Hop Sing laughed until his sides shook.   “You boys be careful.”

    “You’re telling me?”  Adam was incredulous.   “I’m the target here.”

    Hop Sing smiled.   “Sometime it better to lose the game and win the heart.”

    Adam handed him the coffee cup.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”  He slipped out the back door and spent a few precious minutes locating all possible trouble areas in the yard.   He appraised the barn door and then stopped and did a retake.  Over night, a vine had appeared along the barn wall and it climbed mysteriously up to the hayloft where it disappeared into the small baling door.    Adam smiled and followed the line back to where it was anchored in a large cord of newly chopped wood.   Whistling, he stepped into the yard and began his chores.   With ease, he found job after job that kept him in the relative safety of the small area between the house and the barn without actually stepping into the vicinity directly beside the cord of wood.   Every now and then, he’d go to step into the spot where disaster was sure to strike but then he’d change his mind and find another piece of harness to mend or some brush that needed cleared from the small area.   It had been years since the small yard had received so much loving attention.   Rustlings from the hayloft sent bits of hay falling to the ground.   Still Adam worked on with no interest in anything but the beautification of the property.

    Ben Cartwright stepped out onto the porch with his coffee in hand and stared quizzically at Adam who was bringing an armload of small twigs to fill up an already full chest of starter wood.   Adam caught his eye and nodded towards the hayloft.   Ben looked up at the vine that had grown in such a straight line and smiled into his coffee cup.  Drinking the last dregs, he handed the cup to Adam and indicated the kitchen then strode purposefully towards the barn.  “Joe!  Hoss!  I need you to ride fence for me.  Our steers are showing up over at Randall’s and he’s not a happy man.”

    The hayloft rustled a bit louder and minutes later a hay-covered Joe came out of the barn looking annoyed.  “Right now, Pa?”  He cast a longing eye on the “vine”.

    Ben swallowed a grin and nodded.  “Yep, right now.  Get going.   Where’s Hoss?”

    The large man stepped out of the barn directly behind Joe and towered over his father.   “I’m right here.”   He gave Adam a disgusted look.   “C’mon, Joe.”  He poked his little brother in the ribs.  “Let’s go ride fence.  We’ll take care of that other business later.”

    Adam wiped his hands on his jeans and watched as his brothers mounted up and rode off in the direction of the Randall property line.   “Thanks, Pa.  Now I can get some work done around here.”

    Ben laughed.   “I did it just so you could get some work done.  But tonight, I’m out of it.   If they get you, they get you.”  He waved both hands in the air.   “I’m neutral.”

    “You’ve been talking to Hop Sing.”  Adam laughed at him.

    Ben chortled.  “Maybe he’s got a point.   Winning isn’t everything.”

    Adam nodded.  “True.   However, I think if I’m going to lose, I’m going to choose the place and the time.”

    Ben slapped his son affectionately on the back before heading back inside the house.


      Hoss and Joe could barely eat dinner for watching Adam as he prepared his plate of food.   The sweet potatoes that were his favorite sat untouched on the table in front of him.   He’d hover over them as though going to pick them up and then would move on to choose another item that seemed to appeal more at the moment.       Joe held his breath as the hand moved once again towards the potatoes and then moved on to pick up the bowl of chutney.   His shoulders sagged in frustration and Hoss winced as Adam dove into a full plate of food with gusto.   His own plate sat unattended as he glared at his older brother.  “I thought you liked sweet potatoes.”

    “I do.”  Adam smiled up at him.  “But you know, I’ve noticed that I’ve put on a few pounds and I’m trying to watch the starches.”   He picked up the bowl and held it out towards Hoss.  “Here, be my guest.”

    Hoss shook his head and stared meaningfully at Adam’s trim figure.  “That’s okay, my plate is full.”

    “How about you?”  Adam had a charming smile for Joe.

    Joe shook his head and glared at him.   “You plannin’ to go to the church social tomorrow night?”

    Adam set down the potatoes and looked thoughtful.  “I thought I might.   I might even take my guitar.”

    Joe groaned and dropped his fork onto his plate.    “All of a sudden, I’m not hungry.”

    Ben gave his youngest son a glare over the rim of his coffee cup.   “Yes, you are.  Now eat.”

    Joe picked up his fork and sighed heavily before tasting a small bite of the chutney.   Within minutes, he was attacking the food like a starving man unmindful of his father’s knowing smile.

    Adam grinned at his father and offered the sweet potatoes to him as well.  Ben rolled his eyes and shook his head while Adam’s shoulders shook with silent laughter.

    After dinner, the great lengths Adam went to bypass his usual routine were even more evident.  A creature of habit, he had to consciously remind himself not to pick up the book he was reading or not to give in to the urge to stroke the strings of his guitar.  He almost sat in his favorite chair until he saw Joe’s eyebrows raise in interest as he lowered himself down and was forced to remember a need to visit the necessary before he could relax.   Silently thanking the good Lord for giving his brothers such open expressions, he adjusted his routine until he’d see the annoyance light up in their eyes.

    A near miss occurred as Hoss threw him his jacket and asked if he’d hang it up.   Usually accommodating, Adam’s hand hovered over the doorknob of the closet before he realized that the door was undoubtedly booby trapped.  Smiling at the door panel, he stepped back and dropped the jacket on a chair.  “No use putting this away now.  I’m going to wear it to check out the horses for the night.”   Hoss’s smile vanished as he buried his face in the newspaper he was reading.   Adam returned to sit by the fire feeling the heat roasting his backside in the already hot room.  Unfortunately, all the other seats were either taken or suspect.

    Ben Cartwright stepped out of the kitchen with a pie plate in his hand.   He took in the domestic tableau in front of him noting that Adam was not sitting in his usual chair.  Smiling to himself, he set the plate on the edge of his desk in order to choose a book from the bookcase.   This was shaping up to be a night where reading in his room was going to be preferable.   He added a volume of Dickens to the load of items he planned on taking with him and then noticed Adam’s jacket laying on the chair.  Sighing, he stared at the three young men who were working at ignoring each other and picked up the jacket.

    Adam looked up to see his father reaching for the doorknob but didn’t get the No out quite fast enough.   The door swung open and Ben Cartwright found himself standing in a puddle of water with the last dribbles of the deluge dripping off his aristocratic face.  He dropped the jacket on the floor letting it fall directly into the puddle at his feet.   He leaned over with exaggerated slowness to pick up the bucket.  He held it out to Joe with the air of a man who was tried beyond endurance.  Shaking his boot experimentally, he watched the water sparkle across the floor.   Wordlessly, he picked up his pie and book and moved towards the stairs wincing as his boots squished with each step.

    It wasn’t until he was fully upstairs that Joe galvanized into ridding himself of the bucket and industriously cleaning the floor.   Adam stared at him straight faced and then at Hoss who was grinning broadly.  Shaking his head, he chose a book for himself from the bookcase and made a great show of stepping around Joe to head for his room and comparative safety.

    The next morning had a noisy beginning as Hop Sing realized why the sweet potatoes he had so beautifully prepared were not eaten the night before.   The potato cakes he had prepared for breakfast were inedible with the large dose of garlic that had been hidden inside.   The small man burst into the dining room shaking his finger in the face of each boy in turn as he vented his feelings on wasting food in a string of unintelligible Chinese.   Every now and then, he’d emphasize a particularly strong point by slapping either Joe or Hoss across the back of the head with a dishtowel.  Adam made the mistake of smiling into his coffee and earned a dishtowel across his shoulders.   Only Ben remained inviolate and serene as he polished off a plate of eggs and bacon with toast.  It wasn’t wasted on the younger members of the family that his was the only plate of eggs and bacon in evidence on the table.   The rest of them were served the garlic strewn sweet potato cakes.  Hop Sing stood guard at the door to the kitchen holding a large meat cleaver and glaring at any and all comers.  Clearly, breakfast was either the potato cakes or nothing.   One by one, the boys each touched a tip of their tongue to the cakes and decided to wait until lunch for food.

    Hoss moved much faster than usual out into the yard and then made a face as his stomach growled in annoyance at not being fed.

Joe joined him rubbing his tongue with the palm of his hand in an attempt to remove the aftertaste of the bit of potato cake.   “Hop Sing has a mean streak.”

“Yeh.”  Hoss glared at the kitchen but felt his irritation turning into a bit of wistful longing as the smell of fresh donuts filled his nostrils.   “Ya know, we could try outflanking him to get some of those donuts.”

Joe’s expression brightened but fell almost as quickly.  “Nah, I can’t risk not getting’ lunch either.   He’s liable to feed us hay.”

Adam stepped out of the house and inhaled deeply enjoying the aroma of the donuts that were so tantalizingly near but yet out of reach.  Sighing, he settled his hat on his head and strode forward.   “I’m heading out to check that bridge over the North creek.   With the rain we had last week, it might not be in good shape.”

Hoss smiled wickedly.  “Want some help?  It wouldn’t do if you were to fall into the creek or somethin’.”

Adam grinned back at him.  “I think if I want to stay out of the creek, my best chances would be to go do this job without the two of you.”

Adam enjoyed the ride to the north creek.   It was a warm day and the heavy coat he wore was soon  uncomfortable.  Ruefully, he slipped off the coat and draped it across the back of his saddle wishing for the third time that his lighter jacket hadn’t been hanging on the line to dry.   Still, the ride was free of the pitfalls that awaited him at the house at the hands of his over eager brothers.   The sweet smell of new grass flowed around him lulling him into a kind of lethargy.   He was in no hurry to finish his job and return to the battlefield.

The gentle lowing of the cattle told him he was getting close to the pasture.   The horse picked up its pace as the smell of the fresh water hit its nostrils.   Adam was jogged into a more immediate awareness of his surroundings as he swung off the well-worn path onto the less used trail that led to the upper meadow.  A gentle nudge of his heels and the horse happily broke into a trot.   One look at the bridge and Adam sighed deeply.   The rain had been devastating.   If they were to get the cattle back down from the pasture without having the horses struggle through the swollen waters of the creek, the bridge needed repaired.

He slipped off the horse and dropped the reins so that the horse would graze until he needed him again.  The horse promptly pushed his muzzle down into the rich grass of the pasture and indulged in the fresh greenery.   Adam moved towards the bridge to see if the underpinnings were still in place.   Years of replacement bridges had resulted in the implementation of stone pilings instead of the less durable wooden ones.   If the stone had held, it would be a matter of an afternoon’s work for the top boards to be replaced.

The water moved quickly beneath his feet as he balanced on the pilings checking each one for stability.   The set of three had ridden out the rain well and he smiled with satisfaction.  The stone pilings had been his idea and it had taken almost a week to talk his father into it.   He walked up the small bank and watched the cattle with a wide smile.   They looked fat and healthy fed on the meadow grass.  It would be a good beef year.   Taking advantage of the fact he was already in the vicinity, he counted the cows in the pasture taking note of the number of calves and the number of cows ready to drop.

Returning to the creek, he jumped on the first piling to make his way back across the rushing water.   It was amazing how much water the usually quiet little creek could hold.   Nimbly he hopped onto the next piling balancing expertly on one long leg.   The next jump carried him to the last stack of stones.   The water wet the moss that had grown along the stones in less stressful times and made for a slick surface.  Adam felt his foot slide but had no chance to right himself before he was in the water.   The first contact with the cold spring fed creek was shocking to his system.  He lost the small breath of air he had taken in with a whoosh when the cold hit his chest.   He struggled to his feet but lost his footing again as a broken tree branch hit him behind the right knee.    This time he felt the pain shoot through his head as his skull made contact with the stones.  The jagged lightning strikes of the impact floated across his eyes.   He found that the effort to stand was more than he could handle.   Panic sunk into his oxygen deprived brain as he found that his hands wouldn’t close around the objects he touched.   His powerless grip slid off the roots and rocks of the bank and he cringed to think he was going to drown in less than three feet of water.   The black of what Adam knew would be permanent darkness inched around his eyes giving him tunnel vision.    He barely noticed when the large hand grabbed his shirt collar and yanked him back out of the water.

Adam became aware of the warmth long before he opened his eyes.   His arms seemed too heavy to lift and he was more than happy to sleep in the warmth that he felt.  He turned his face and felt coarse but well worn fabric against his cheek.  He coughed gently and then with more feeling as the water in his lungs made an effort to empty out.   Gentle hands held his head as the water drained out his mouth onto the grass at his side.   A soft voice told him he’d be all right even as strong capable hands pressed against his back forcing the remaining water out.    He fell back against the body warmed fabric and gasped for air.

Opening his eyes, he stared up into the concerned face of his youngest brother.  Joe’s soft features were twisted in an expression Adam knew so well.   The tears were barely being held in check.   Joe gulped them back and brought one hand over to let it lie warmly against his brother’s cheek.   “About time you got awake.”   His voice was roughened with emotion.   “You shoulda told us ya wanted to go swimmin’.”

Adam lifted his head from his brother’s lap and pushed weakly against his heavy jacket that was laying across his chest.   “Thought it was a bit early in the year for swimmin’.”

Hoss pushed him back down and brought the jacket up under his chin.   “We thought so too.   That’s why I figured I’d help ya out there.”   Adam turned his head away from the sunlight and focused in on Hoss’s features.

“I appreciate that.”   He coughed gently again.   “I thought you’d be back home sabotaging my lunch.”

Hoss grinned.  “No, we were going to catch you on the way back and get you with a peashooter.”   He laughed gently.  “Then, we thought that was a bit too much and figured you might be as hungry as we were.   We thought we’d make a truce until we ate these donuts.”

Adam struggled up to a sitting position and looked with interest at the donut that had materialized in Hoss’s hand.   “You wouldn’t take advantage of a poor drowned man would you?”

Joe’s tinkling laugh came from behind him.  “Nope.  We really did come out here to eat donuts.   If Hop Sing finds out we got em, we won’t be able to get a bite.”

Taking the donut from Hoss, Adam bit into it gratefully.    “How’d you get em?”

Hoss took a bite of his own donut and winked at Joe.   “We outflanked him.  He can’t watch both doors to the kitchen at the same time.”

Adam laughed.   “You two make a good team.”

Joe stopped laughing and stared down at his donut.  “We all make a good team.  I’m sorry I got mad at you for Maggie.   It’s not your fault she likes you.”

Adam leaned back on one elbow.   “She doesn’t really like me, Joe.   She just thinks she does.   She wouldn’t really prefer to spend time talking literature with me when she could be dancing with you.”  He ruffled Joe’s hair with one sugar covered hand enjoying the effect.   “You ask her out.  She’ll go.”

Hoss offered another donut to Adam who broke it into two pieces and gave one to Joe.

Ben smiled warmly at his sons as they laughed and jostled against each other entering the social hall.  He stood a bit taller as the handsome young men took more than their fair share of attention from the feminine element in the room.

Maggie Rodgers straightened her skirt and patted her hair.   She gave a quick glance at Joe to be sure he was noticing her before moving in a straight line for Adam.    Ben eyed her up suspiciously.   It was becoming very clear to him that the charming Maggie was playing Adam to make Joe jealous.   He watched her carefully coiffed hair with some aggravation.   Deciding to let his boys handle it, he turned his attention back to the lovely widow that stood at his elbow.

Adam looked up to see Maggie advancing on him and sighed.   There were several lovely women his own age in the room, and his plans were to spend the evening with them.   Maggie was lovely, but far too young for his tastes.    He searched for a place to retreat to and found it in the person of Abigail Forliss who was manning the punch bowl.

Pushing Joe towards Maggie, Adam crossed the room to speak with Abigail.  The warm smile on his face was returned in force by Abigail delighted to find that the punch bowl might have to struggle through on its own.

The front door of the hall swung open and several giggling boys fell into the room carrying a squirming bag that was howling with indignation.   In a flash of mischief, the bag was opened to release a mussed cat that had a score to settle.   The cat landed on the floor with its feet spread wide and was off like a cannon shot.   A large woman screamed in consternation as the animal sped below her skirts and sought a way out of the densely packed hall.   To Adam’s disbelief, the feline saw the opened window above the punch bowl and decided to take for the heights.

With one well timed leap, the animal used Adam’s back as a ladder digging claws through the fabric of his dress coat and balancing on the man’s head.    With another leap, the cat went for the windowsill and missed.

Abigail screamed as the punch flew from the bowl in a crimson wave of liquid leaving in its wake a highly annoyed cat that had lost at least two thirds of its bulk as soon as the liquid hit.   Adam reached for the cat and was scratched for his efforts.   The animal hissed in outrage and attacked.   Jumping on Adam’s shoulder, it arched its back and spat at the astonished crowd of people before once again trying for the sill.   Success was met with some applause from the boys as the cat slipped away to freedom leaving Adam and Abigail dripping with punch.

Joe started to giggle softly.  The contagious sound infected Hoss.  Soon his hearty guffaw filled the hall and one by one the partygoers joined in.  Adam reached for his handkerchief and wiped the punch off his face and shoulder before helping Abigail from behind the table.   The two of them looked at their clothes and soon joined in with the laughter.

Ben crept up behind Joe and Hoss.  “If I thought you two had anything to do with this…”

Joe gasped and leaned against his father.  “Not…not me.”

Hoss shook his head helplessly.  “Nope.”

Ben smiled.   “I’d better not find out differently.”

Joe whooped in delight.  “I couldn’t have come up with anything this good.”

Maggie Rodgers slipped her arm through his.   “I love your laugh, Joe.   It’s musical.”

Joe stared down at her with wide eyes.  “Wanna dance?”

She smiled sweetly up at him and nodded before pulling him to the dancefloor.

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