Like his father and brother, Adam found sleep an elusive quality that evening. Hearing voices, he decided to join them. As he neared the top of the staircase, Joe called out in low tones,
"You awake too, Adam?"
"How did you know it was me?" Adam enquired, joining his brother on the hearth, eager to share in the dying warmth of the fire
"Footsteps are very distinctive," Joe explained. "You've been favouring your right leg all day. Is your back sore after that long journey?"
Adam nodded, still finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that Joe had been forced to acquire new skills in order to be able to function independently. It was almost impossible to imagine the reckless, heedless, impulsive Joe planning everything meticulously and Adam could vividly imagine the traumas his whole family must have endured. He felt guilty that he had not been there to share them or to try to ease some of the burden.
"I'm glad you're back, Adam," Joe said, interrupting his brother's thoughts. "But I really wouldn't have wanted you to see me the way I was then. I wasn't the easiest person to live with."
"You never were!" Adam responded, trying his best to make inject some levity into the conversation. He was always uncomfortable discussing emotions. "And I should know! After all, I used to have to get you out of bed in the mornings, remember?" He got up and poured himself a glass of brandy to help ward off the chill night air. "Would you really have left home to take up that teaching position at the Institute?" he asked curiously.
Joe considered this for a moment. "I think I would have had to. Losing my sight totally changed everything – the whole balance of my life altered and starting a new life, somewhere completely different was the only way forward that I could think of."
"I'm glad it didn't come to that," Adam said. "You're a part of the Ponderosa and I can't imagine how it could continue without you."
"Neither can I," Ben said. After nearly losing Joe, first to the terrible accident and then to his black depression, the thought of his son physically leaving the ranch had almost broken his heart. "But I would have gladly seen you off to a new life, if you felt that was the right thing to do. You do know that, don't you? I would have missed you dreadfully, but I would have rejoiced to see you happy and fulfilled."
Adam gave his father a grateful smile, knowing the words were also a testimony to his own decision to leave the Ponderosa and lead an independent life.
He turned to Joe. "You've got a rare gift for delighting in life sharing your emotions with us, little brother, and I've often envied you that. And you live life with a recklessness and joy I can never hope to achieve. Maybe I'm being selfish, but I'm glad you're still here at home, rather than working at the Institute."
Adam stopped and thought deeply for a moment. This was not easy for him to say, but he knew it was necessary. "When I read that letter from Pa, I didn't think, I just acted on pure instinct – and love," Adam continued. "But even if I had stopped for a moment, I couldn't have written the words that I felt, that I wanted to say. The only thing I could do was to come home, to be with you." He wanted to say more, but…
Joe looked stunned at this revelation. He had always viewed Adam as the brother who was good with words, who could explain things coherently and was basically infallible. It was more than a little disconcerting to realise that Adam too had his limitations. All his life Joe had been the youngest child, the one who felt he never quite measured up to the high standards set by his brothers, the one who fought to be recognised and treated as an adult. It came as a shock to realise that his elder brother envied him.
But he also realised that Adam had always avoided talking about his emotions, preferring to demonstrate his love through actions. Joe realised why Adam had rushed home so precipitously.
"Thanks, Adam," he said simply, appreciating how difficult this was for his brother. "I love you too."
Those words had always come easily to Joe, Adam thought enviously. Then he looked at his brother and quickly revised his opinion. Joe's eyes were bright with tears.
Blinking hard, Joe muttered, "Big boys don't cry!" then drew the sleeve of his nightshirt across his face.
A plaintive voice called down from the landing.
"Hey Pa! This here little boy's got a powerful hunger!"
Listening to the sounds of amiable bickering coming from the kitchen, Ben felt a rare sense of fulfilment and contentment. His sons were safe and happy and Adam and Joe seemed to have reached an understanding and mutual respect. Life seemed very good.
He leant back and blew a smoke ring, watching it as it rose lazily towards the high ceiling. Thoughts of Marie, who had given birth to Joe and loved him so fiercely sprung unbidden to his mind. How he missed her! And then he saw Julia Bulette, all swishing silk skirts and feisty attitude, whispering "I am going to give you back your son."
Would Joe have gone? Ben decided he really didn't know. Finally, he thought of Ellen Dobbs, the woman who had given his son back his pride in himself and in doing so, had literally given Joe back his life. Three very different women. But Ben felt that he owed each of them a profound debt and he would never forget them. He closed his eyes and gave a silent prayer of thanks for all his sons.
Much later, Adam banked up the fire and took a last look around before going up to bed. The room was empty once more, just as it had been that morning, but now he knew what was missing from his life. Now he could face challenges with a new purpose and resolve. It was peculiar how a return to the familiar surroundings had crystallised all his confusions and provided him with a solution to his unease. It had taken a near tragedy for Adam to realise that all he needed was right here.
Stopping outside Joe's bedroom door, Adam whispered "I love you too, little brother," and then went to bed with a light and joyous heart. He was home at last.