The Plunge


Lily of the West  

In the warm evening sunshine, the three elderly brothers shared a bottle of wine on the Ponderosa porch. This was their home, where they had spent their childhood and early manhood together. The youngest of the three, a wiry, white-haired man in his early sixties, still lived on the ranch with his wife and children, while his two older brothers had built homes elsewhere. It wasn’t often now that the three of them came together, but a few times a year, they met here to play cards, share some fine wine, and talk of the old days. They talked of their long-gone father, their childhood adventures, the people and animals they had worked with, their wives, children and grandchildren, and when their memories were stimulated by good wine and good company, they laughed about old mistakes and talked of other women they had loved, courted and almost-married, long ago before they became husbands and fathers.

The eldest, a bearded man in his mid seventies with a skull as smooth as a peeled egg, was now rising stiffly with a grin on his face and shuffled off towards the house with the empty wine bottle in hand. When he was out of earshot, the youngest of the brothers spoke, and his tone of voice was slightly cross.

“Adam shouldn’t have said that.”

“Said what, Joe?”

Joe looked at Hoss sullenly. “About me single-handedly depopulating the territory of eligible women, just by dating them.”

“Well,” Hoss said diplomatically, remembering a lot of funerals, “if I recall, you did have rather bad luck with the ladies.” Or they with you, he almost said, but stopped himself in time. “Adam meant nothing by it, Joe. He was only repeatin’ something Jared Cramer said to him back then, and if my memory don’t fool me, Adam jus’ about bit Jared’s head off for sayin’ it.”


“Now, don’t sulk, Joe, it’s all long ago. But tell you what, if you wanna needle Ol’ Adam jus’ a little bit, you know how to do it.” He flashed a meaningful grin at Joe.

Joe returned the look with raised eyebrows. “That old bit? Think it’ll still work? Nah, he’s getting’ too old for that nonsense.”

“Always worked before. Like a red bandanna on a bull.” Hoss nodded his head towards the house. “Whadaya think, Joe? Let’s see if Ol’ Adam still got some beans in him!”

The brothers locked eyes and two slow wicked grins spread across their faces.

Adam returned, a fresh bottle of wine in his hand and the smirk still firmly in place. “Now, where were we?” he asked as he sat down and uncorked the bottle. “We were talking about your romantic history, weren’t we, Joe?”

“I don’t know, Adam. I think we were done with my history and were gonna discuss yours a bit.”

“My romantic history?” Adam laughed. “I’m afraid there ain’t much written in that chapter.”

“Come now, Adam, no false modesty.” Joe smiled with a wink at Hoss. “For example, remember that time you almost married whats-her-skinny-face?”

“Yeah, Adam, that anemic little filly, what was her name? Lola, weren’t it?” Hoss piped in.

Joe gave Hoss’ brawny shoulder a friendly punch. “Nah, brother, your memory’s going. It was Lara. Lara Dalton.”

“Laura Dayton,” Adam sighed, his expression suddenly gloomy.

“Right, right, I remember now.” Joe said brightly. “Quite a piece of work, wasn’t she, Hoss?"

"Yeah, she sure was, wasn't she? Ol' Adam needed some trick bad to get outta that one, didn't he? Hey Adam, tell us again how it ended?”

Adam ignored them, clutching his wine glass and staring at the mountains instead.

“Joe, if I remember correctly,” Hoss knitted his brow in fake concentration, “didn’t she run off with Cousin Will?”

“You’re right, Hoss. But not before older brother here fell off the roof.” Joe laid a rather pointed emphasis on the word ‘fell’.

Hoss smiled sweetly at Joe and gave Adam’s bald dome an affectionate pat. “Fell off the roof? Naaw, shucks, Joe, that don’t sound like Adam here.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Adam growled, having a premonition about where the conversation was going.

“I don’t know, brother,” Joe mused. “I’d say, Hoss and I, we know you better’n you know yourself.”

“Yeah,” agreed Hoss. ”The way we figure, Adam, you been a lot of things in your life. Ya know. Smart. Educated. Independent.….”

“Bossy. Superior…”

“A gentlemen. Elegant. Popular with the ladies….”

“Moody. Grouchy. Bossy…”

“Skilled. Cultured. A good husband and father…”

“Courageous. Annoying. Well-groomed.” Joe knitted his brow, thinking hard. “Bossy. Interfering. A Royal pain in the…”

“Why don’t you get to the point,” grumbled Adam, although he had a pretty good idea what the point was going to be.

“The point is, brother,” Hoss patted him gently on the back. “that you been all them things in yer life, but one thing you never been is… clumsy.”

“That’s right, Adam,” Joe piped in. “What we’re sayin’ is, it just ain’t like you to up and fall off a roof, just like that.” He snapped his fingers in front of Adam’s face for emphasis.

Hoss nodded. “Yep. Especially when it happens to be so convenient.”

Adam pointedly refused to look at them and rolled his eyes instead. ”Don’t you start on that again. I’m sick and tired of hearin’ it.”

“You know the rules, brother,” Hoss said, with great sympathy. “All you need to do is fess up, and ya’ll never hear another word. Ain’t that right, Joe?”

“Absolutely, brother. Promise.”

“There’s nothing to confess, and you know it!” Adam, slightly agitated now, rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “This is ridiculous. I got hurt! I hurt my back. I couldn’t walk for…” he tried to remember.

“Half a day?” Hoss offered, and Joe pressed the back of his hand to his mouth to suppress a snicker.

“It was longer than that!” Adam snapped and jabbed a finger towards them. He glared at them, real anger in his eyes now. “I’ll not tolerate this nonsense any longer. I could have been killed. To suggest that I…. The insolence! What kind of a fool would do a thing like that!”

Hoss and Joe exchanged a glance. “A desperate one?” Joe suggested innocently, and it was Hoss’ time to cover his mouth with his hand.

“You. You….you two can drive a man to drink.” Adam shook his head in utter disgust at his brothers, then folded his arms and turned away from them and mumbled to himself under his breath. “I wanna… One day I’d just like to…”

“You wanna do what, Adam? Confess?” Hoss prodded, and he and Joe shared a grin.

“Yeah, older brother. Anytime you wanna let it out, we’re here for you.”

Very slowly, Adam stood up and turned towards them. He placed a hand on each brother’s shoulder and spoke in a low, dangerous voice. “I oughta crack your fool heads wide open! I’ll say it one more time, and one more time only, for the slow pupils in the class. And after I’ve said it, I never want to hear another word on the subject for the rest of my life.” He took an agitated breath, and then thundered at their smirking faces: “I DID NOT JUMP!!!”

And with a quick movement, he grabbed each of them by the ear and bonked their heads together. Not real hard, but hard enough for both of them to utter a surprised cry of pain. His eyes flashing, Adam turned on his heel and shuffled away towards the kitchen. “I’m gonna bring out the brandy,” they heard him mutter into his beard.

Joe and Hoss, holding their aching heads, looked after their brother with affection. Joe fondly shook his head. “Gets him every time, don’t it?”

“Sure does.”

“He sure enjoyed that, didn’t he?” Joe said lovingly.

“He sure did, Joe, he sure did.”

“Hoss, did you see the fury in his eyes? I thought this time he was gonna beat the stuffing outta us. Did I say he was too old for this?”

Smiling, Hoss rubbed the sore spot on his temple. “Don’t you worry non ‘bout Ol’ Adam, Joe. He’s still got plenty o’ beans in him. Dadburnit, I bet my hat for an ol’ bucket that he’s gonna outlive all of us.”

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