Talking It Out

By Ella


“What!” Adam barked the word as he dropped his saddle back onto its stand. Closing his eyes, he pressing his lips together, inwardly chiding himself for taking his anger out on his six-year-old brother. He turned to find the boy hesitating in the barn entrance.

Joe’s wide eyes locked on Adam’s for a split second before breaking away to survey his brother’s features. He noted the lines of aggravation creasing Adam’s brow, the stiffness of his posture, and how one hand was now clenching the horn of the stationary saddle. The boy cautiously raised eyes to meet his brother’s again.

The older Cartwright let out a quiet sigh, then managed the barest of smiles.

“Sorry, buddy, I didn’t mean to be short with you.”

Puzzlement chased the worry from Joe's face. He tilted his head to one side as he reached up to scratch the curls near his temple.

“You ain’t short, Adam. You’re near as tall as Pa, and he’s ‘bout the tallest man I know.”

The tension in Adam’s neck drained away as his sparing smile broadened into a grin.

“Yes … well … that's not the kind of short I meant, Joe." When the boy's expression clouded further, Adam explained, "You see, short is one of those words that can mean more than one thing. It means not tall, but it also means grouchy – like I was with you when you came in here."

"Oh." The boy digested the information, brow furrowing.


"Yeah, Joe?"

"Is short one of those words that Hoss gets mad ‘bout, when he's doin' his spellings?"

Adam raised a quizzical eyebrow.

"You know, those ones when he says ‘dad-burn it’ after, ‘cause you tell him he got ‘em wrong, 'cause it sounds like a other word, but that ain’t the spellin’? Then he tells you, if they'd spell 'em right, I wouldn't get 'em wrong."

Adam chuckled quietly as he turned away to pull the saddle blanket back off Sport. He tossed it over the partition between two stalls before facing his brother once more.

Joe scrunched up his face.

"Ain't ya takin' Sport out for a ride no more?"

Meeting his horse's eyes, Adam thought perhaps Sport was wondering the same thing. He patted the animal's flank, then left the stall to stride toward his brother.

"No … I changed my mind."

"How come?"

Adam scratched at the back of his neck as he gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.

"Sometimes a fella changes his mind, that's all."

Joe peered up and watched a fleeting expression cross his brother's face.

"Is it ‘cause you ain't mad at Pa no more?"

Adam’s eyebrow arched again.

"How’s that?"

The boy stared at the floor, then began nudging some stray straw with the toe of his boot. His answer was barely audible.

“I heard you and Pa yellin’ afore.” Wide-eyed, he jerked his head up, explaining hurriedly, “I bet everybody heard ya, Adam – even Hoss, all the way at school. ‘Cause you sure holler loud. And Pa was yellin’ even more loud. But that’s ‘cause he’s got bigger cords in his throat. That’s what Hoss told me one time.”

Adam rolled his eyes, then dropped down on one knee, to talk with his little brother, eye-to-eye.

“Yes … um … I guess Pa and I were going at it pretty good.” He studied the boy’s face, cocking an eyebrow as he asked, “And where were you when we were yelling?”

Joe rubbed one eye with the back of his hand while looking down his nose with the other.

“Well … first, when Pa started yellin’, I was at the corral, talkin’ ta Pepper – you know, the mare that’s waitin’ ta have her baby?” Joe looked up, long enough to catch Adam’s nod, then dropped his attention back to his fidgety foot.

“Then … when you started yellin’ … I was in the garden … um … ‘cause I ‘membered it was time ta do my weedin’. Then, when Pa started yellin’ again, I … um … come up on the porch, ta look for somethin’ I lost afore … ‘cause I was thinkin’ that maybe the porch was where I left it.”

Adam waited as Joe continued to push more straw around with his boot. The boy finally looked up to ask, “What’s that pro … pro … pro-grass-tin-ate mean?”

Adam blew out a gust of air, then muttered, “It’s what Pa does sometimes, after I make a suggestion for improving our operations.”


“Procrastinate means to put off doing things you know you should be doing. Um … that is, drag your feet when you know should be moving.” Adam poked the boy in the chest a couple of times. “Like a certain little brother of mine, when he knows he’s supposed to be doing his chores, but plays with his toys, or tries to talk his brothers into fishing, or just about anything else he can think up to put off doing those jobs.”

Joe frowned, then waved away the notion with a sweep of his hand.

“Oh, I don’t hardly ever do that.”

Eyebrows leaping, Adam cleared his throat.

“Well, in any case, that’s what the word means.”

The boy considered the explanation, then vetoed it with a shake of his head.

“But how come you said Pa does that, Adam? Pa’s a man of action – same as you. ‘Cause Hoss said so. He says when Pa wants somethin’ ta get done, he does it, or he makes us or the hands do it. And he sure expects it ta get done … else … there’s cons-qwen-says.”

Nodding, Adam corrected, “Consequences. Yes. But you hit the nail on the head, Joe. When Pa wants something done, he’s a man of action. But Pa is also … well … a careful man. And he likes to think on things before he does them. Especially if those things …” Adam let out another sigh, “are going to cost extra money.”

Lips bunching into a pucker, Joe dipped his head, giving his brother an exaggerated wink in the process.

“Oooooh … spendin’ extra cash. Yeah, ‘when it comes ta partin’ with money, Pa’s ‘real snug with a dollar’ .”

Adam’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. He shook his head sharply, as if to clear a ringing in his ears.

“Little brother, I hope you don’t have any plans to repeat what you just said when Pa’s around where he can hear you.”

Swinging his head widely from side to side Joe assured, “No sir-ee, Adam. ‘Cause I’m good for my word. See, I heard a couple a fellas talkin’ outside the General Store, the other week, and that’s what they said. Then they saw me sittin’ on the bench, waitin’ on Pa while he finished inside, and the one man said, ‘There ain’t no cause fer ya ta pass what I done jest said onta yer pa, now is there, son?’ And I told the fella, ‘no sir.’ So, I figure that was kinda like a promise. Ain’t that right, Adam?”

Adam smiled. “Yeah, I’d say that was like a promise.” And it’s a good thing for all of us that you made it, little brother.

Joe began kicking the straw again, finally asking, “So … um … Adam … how come you get to yell at Pa, but me and Hoss don’t?”

Standing, Adam lifted the boy into the air and deposited him on his shoulders.

“How about if you and I continue this conversation down at the corral, so we can keep an eye on Pepper … hmmm?”

The boy nodded. “Good thinkin’, Adam, ‘cause I promised Hoss I’d watch her for him when I wasn’t doin’ chores.”

“Good boy. I know he’s hoping she’ll wait for him to be home before she decides to have her foal.”

Adam chuckled softly, feeling his brother’s movements against his broad shoulders. He imagined the boy was taking advantage of his elevated view, head turning as far as it could one way, then swiveling back the other, checking out every detail around them.

Frowning, Adam wondered if Pa was watching from the house. His mood began to deteriorate again, but they reached the fence and Joe began to squirm, bringing Adam’s attention back to the little question box.

He placed Joe on the fence so he was facing the expectant mare, but the boy instantly pivoted himself around on the rail to face his brother.

“So, how come ya get to and we don't?”

Meeting the boy’s eyes, Adam insisted, “Joe, I was not yelling at Pa.”

Joe’s eyes rounded at the blatant lie, then his mouth opened and closed as he began to splutter.

Adam raised a hand, then waggled it back and forth several times between them, before continuing.

“That is, I wasn't yelling at him in the usual sense."

Joe's eyebrows folded.

"What I mean is, Pa and I were having a discussion about ranch business and … we weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. Joe, Pa doesn’t approve of me raising my voice to him any more than he approves of it from you or Hoss, but … since I’m a man now … and I’m helping to run the ranch … well … business talk, by nature, sometimes gets heated - ”

Mouth twisting to one side, Joe eyed his brother uncertainly.

“Is that another one of them words that’s more than one, Adam?”

Massaging his temple, Adam shifted with his brother’s thinking.

“You mean heated?”

“Uh huh.”

“Yes. Yes it is. Heated in this instance means ... well ..."

Joe gave a sharp nod, then sighed, deciding aloud for himself.

"It means you get to yell at Pa."

Scratching at the back of his neck, Adam shook his head.

"No, that's not what the word means. When there's a situation where people aren't agreeing with each other, like at a business meeting ... things get can tense ... and the people get excited. They raise their voices, their faces get red, some men even throw things during all the ruckus. But when a conversation gets out of hand like that, that’s when we say it’s heated.”

Adam gestured toward the house.

“And that was the case with Pa and me. We both wanted to prove our point and our voices got louder while we were trying to do it, and the more we tried to prove our side was the right one, the louder our voices got."

Joe’s forehead buckled. He lifted his hands off the rail long enough to wave them back and forth, then quickly clutched the fence again to keep his balance.

"But … us Cartwrights … we're all on the same side, ain't we, Adam?"

Patting the child's thigh, Adam nodded. "Yes, of course we are. We all want this ranch to grow and be a success. It's just that I have some ideas I'd like to try and Pa's not ready to try them."

Joe scratched his curls. “’Cause of that pro-grass thing?”

With a resigned sigh, Adam reached out to push his fingers through his brother’s hair. He shook his head, really believing the words he spoke to Joe this time.

“No … because Pa is a cautious man … and being cautious is being wise, when you’re a man in Pa’s position.” Adam shook his head slowly. “And one of these days, older brother will remember that when Pa makes up his mind … getting him to change it is like …”

Little ears waited for the end of the sentence.

Adam cleared his throat as he considered his audience.

“Well … sometimes the best way to get Pa to change his mind is to let him give what you’ve said some thought.”

Joe’s eyes traced Adam’s features and saw a familiar conflict playing there. He waited, glad when the battle lines faded and his brother focused on him once more. The child smiled.

“Think we can take Sport out now, Adam? Cause I think you mighta made him sad, when you took that blanket back off of him afore.”

Adam ran his fingers lightly down the boy’s face. He answered quietly.

“Yeah, I expect you’re right. But there’s something I’ve got to do first. Can you stay here and watch Pepper? Then, before we go, I’ll get one of the hands to take over for you.”

Joe grinned, pushing his shoulders back and sitting a little straighter.

“Yep, I sure can.”

Adam returned the boy’s smile, then turned away. He squared his own shoulders as he strode purposefully toward the house.

Inside, Ben dropped the curtain at his den window and scrambled back into his chair at his desk. He picked up his pencil and listened for the click of the front door latch. He smiled softly as he tapped the bottom figure in the ledger column total.

The money is there and Adam has given his plan a lot of thought. It’s worth the investment. And I’ll tell him so. Just as soon as he agrees that I’m right about wanting to think it over first!

The End.

(May 2007)