The Morning After    
Tahoe Lady Irish  

He groaned and once again tried to pull the quilt over his head but it was tangled around his body and he couldn't…he groaned again and pushed his face into the feather pillow. Why wouldn't his head stop pounding? And his stomach flopped over a time or two, reminding him of its uneasy quarrel with the rest of him. A cramp started in the back of one leg, its none too subtle tightening going from his heel to his thigh. Freeing a hand, he reached for that leg, wishing to knead the blossoming knot away. But first he had to find it in the wild confusion of bedclothes, nightshirt and…what was that? A boot? How had a boot……

Finally he opened his eyes then wished he hadn't when the room turned in lazy circles around his head. To stop the slow orbit, he managed to get one foot on the floor. It hit something hard and cold but he shoved it aside without looking and planted the foot firmly on the floor. The ceiling stopped moving.

"A man of my years," he said aloud then flinched at the sound of his own voice in the otherwise still room. "I should be smarter than this!" he continued when his ears quit ringing.    

Shoving at the soft mattress and pushing the quilts and bedcovers away, Ben Cartwright succeeded in getting out of bed. Blinking slowly, for his eyelids felt heavy, he surveyed his room. Usually a neat man, what he saw made him cringe. The clothes he had worn the night before were on the floor except for one boot that rested it the seat of his chair. The other one he knew was somewhere in the bed but he didn't have the energy to go looking for it. He staggered to the mirror and looked at his reflection. He groaned at the sight. His silver white hair hung haphazardly over his forehead, his ears and in general, looked like it had been combed by a Washoe zephyr. The bloodshot eyes that looked back at him were underscored by dark circles. With one hand he rubbed at his bristled chin and wondered if he could handle a razor this morning without cutting himself too badly.

"A little cold water will do the trick," he muttered and poured water into the basin then splashed his face with it. "Great, now I am a wide-awake hung-over sixty-year old."

He pulled out a clean set of clothes from his bureau and laid them out on the bed. Without looking at his fingers, he tried to unbutton his night shirt but found that wasn't possible since he had it on backwards. Shrugging, he pulled it off over his head, back muscles complaining as he did. The coolness of the morning hit him full force and he dressed quickly, stomping into his boots with more zeal than he actually felt.

As he stood looking over the disaster area that was his bedroom, he considered his next option. Habit would dictate that he merrily go down the stairs and have breakfast. But that morning, something much darker and sinister bubbled in the man's thoughts. As he walked down the hallway, he hammered on doors relentlessly, shouting, even though his brain begged him not to. The rafters shook with his sons' names as he roared each one. Beds emptied suddenly as he flung blankets from atop their occupants. As he left each room, the door remained open, letting the warmth disappear with him as he departed. The stairs trembled under his heavy tread as he thumped down them and the china cups rattled on their saucers as he sat down at his accustomed place at the table. He bellowed for Hop Sing, demanding coffee. With it in his hand, he sipped the bitter brew and waited.

Down the steps they came, fearful. Adam came first, buttoning his shirt as he slipped into his place at the opposite end of the table. He couldn't help but notice that his father looked terrible, his hair uncombed and his eyes bloodshot but Adam held his tongue.

Next Hoss chanced a quick look around the upstairs' corner into the great room below.

"Get down here! NOW!" his father demanded, catching him, and swallowing hard, Hoss did as he was asked. He took his place at the table, rolling his eyes in Adam's direction but keeping his head tucked.

Last to appear was Joseph, nervously smiling and wishing his father a good morning as he sat down much too close to his father's outstretched hand.

"Good morning, huh?" Ben said, the tone of his voice clearly stating that it was anything but a good morning. He looked around the table and noted the smiles that went from hopeful to doubtful. "Yesterday was my birthday and while you three were away, I do appreciate the thoughtfulness of the gifts that you left me," Ben spoke lowly, trying to inject sincerity into his words. In all actuality, he couldn't recall what any of the gifts were except for the bottle of brandy they had given him jointly. His hangover was a keen reminder of just how good the liquor had been but also how small the bottle had been. "Yes, my dearly beloved, thoughtful sons, remembering their dear old father's birthday. Touching." Dramatically, he pressed one hand to his chest.

Adam started to say something but stopped before a completed word left his lips. His father's darkened glare had told him to be quiet.

"But once again, I didn't get what I truly wanted."

The three sons traded confused looks around the table so Ben continued. "You," and he pointed to Adam with one blunt finger, "are well into your prime as a man. Handsome, educated, sophisticated. You, Hoss," and he watched as his giant of a son jerked and grimaced, "are also in your prime. Strong, considerate and compassionate. And you Joseph, charming, good looking--a true ladies' man if I ever met one. I would have thought that one of you could have managed." Ben snorted once.

"What's this got to do with your birthday?" Joe replied, his voice bumped up half an octave.

Abruptly Ben stood up. "The one thing I want for my birthday, the one gift that one of the three of you could have gotten me, none of you did!" For emphasis, he smacked the table hard enough for the silverware to jump.

"Which is?" Adam let the words out smoothly, hoping to calm his obviously irate father.

"A daughter-in law!"


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