Daniel McFadden hesitated in the hallway just outside the music room. He glanced down the hallway which led to the gym and the sign up sheets for all the sports teams. All his life he had dreamt of following in Adam and Brian's footsteps, but now that his time had finally come, he realized he had no desire to be their mirror. He was, as his brother Crane had often pointed out, his own man, and while he intended to play baseball in the spring, for now he was content to sign up for band. He knew that he would get a pile of grief from his brothers about being a nerd, but for the first time in his life he didn't care. He wanted to learn the drums and lessons were expensive. Band class was free. He was a practical man and so he turned the handle and stepped into the music room.

"Band?" Brian said later that afternoon as he stood before his two oldest brothers; his heroes. "Not football?"

"Band." Daniel said. He looked up at Adam who stood at the sink washing his hands. He turned off the water and drying his hands on a towel, he turned to face his younger brother.

"Either way, you'll have an excuse to go to the football games, Brian." Adam grinned at his brother. "Danny's his own man and a musician. It makes good sense, buddy. Where's the form? I'll sign it."

Daniel smiled up at Adam. Sometimes, he understood things pretty well.

"Daniel." He said looking at them both. "Not Danny."

Brian nudged Adam in the ribs. "Look who's getting all grown up and confident. Don't over do it, little brother, we're still trying to recover from dropping Crane off at college."

He gave Daniel a gentle push and went back to the stove where he was fixing dinner. "Now that you're all mature, why don't you get yourself a wife, she can cook for us -Daniel."

"I'll try and remember it." Adam said handing back the signed form. "But old habits are hard to break."

"Well, give it a shot, Junior." Daniel said and raced out of the room before Adam could grab him.

***7***

Crane McFadden found himself all alone in his dorm room on Sunday afternoon. He had no chores, no responsibilities, and as classes hadn't yet started, no homework. He stood in the center of his room completely at a loss. He never once had the strange sensation of nothing to do. His roommate, Allen, had a girlfriend and if the first two days at school were any indication, it appeared he would usually be with her. Crane didn't mind. Allen was a typical northern Californian teenager who had a perfectly normal life. Crane was fascinated by him, but hadn't found much he could relate to. Allen was spoiled and lazy.

He turned and looked at the picture of his brothers that sat next to his bed. They'd be just finishing up afternoon chores and getting ready for dinner. In the evening, they would sing. He sighed and remembered Brian and Adam helping him move into his dorm room. They strode through campus in their boots and cowboy hats, looking like visitors from Mars. A couple of sorority girls had followed all three of them down the hall.

"What's your major?" A beautiful blond asked Adam who was rendered speechless with surprise.

"He's Pre-med." Brian said with a grin.

"What about you?" Her friend asked.

"Oh I'm a dropout. I don't need some piece of paper from The Man. I pave my own road." Both girls turned toward him suddenly no longer interested in Adam.

"That's so deep." The blond said and Brian waggled his eyebrows at his brothers.

"Oh, I think you're gonna like college, little brother!" Brian said later watching the girls disappear down the hall.

"You need anything else?" Adam asked looking around.

"No. I got everything."

"Alright, then." Adam said. "We got a long drive so . . ." He shifted uncomfortably.

"Thanks, Adam." Crane said seriously. "Thanks for everything."

Adam shrugged pulling the rim of his hat down hiding his eyes.

"I'll work hard. And I'll call once a week."

"Have some fun, too, little brother." Brian said squeezing his shoulder. "Meet a pretty girl and take her out."

"Here." Adam said handing him an envelope. "I know all your expenses are covered, but this is in case you want to have some fun or go out. There's a hundred dollars, there so keep it safe until you put it in the bank."

"I don't need it." Crane said pushing the money back into Adam's hand.

"Don't be a jackass, Crane. I worked hard to save it for you." Adam said knowing that guilt was the easiest way to make Crane cooperate.

"Thanks Adam." Crane said taking the money and tucking it into his pocket.

"Alright then," Adam said and stepping closer to Crane he put his hands on his little brother's shoulders and said, "You take care of yourself, Crane. Don't forget how you were raised. I'll miss you." He swallowed down a lump in his throat. "I'll miss you every damn day." He hugged Crane tightly, and then Brian joined the hug too.

"Don't do anything stupid." Brian said through tears. "We can't afford bail money in a fancy city like this."

"I'll try and behave." He said laughing.

"We love you Crane." Adam said. "We are already so proud of you. You do your best and remember that we are brothers no matter what."

"And brothers always stick together first." Brian said echoing the words their mother had told them over and over during their growing up years.

Later, Crane had watched from his window as his two brothers made their way across campus and back to where the jeep was parked. They were easy to spot, Adam's white hat standing out like a beacon. He swallowed down tears watching them until they drove away and out of sight. He turned back to his dorm room and sat down on his bed wondering how he was going to manage a life without his brothers. He glanced at the calendar on the wall, wondering just how many days it was until Thanksgiving.

***7***

"The babies are all tucked in." Brian said sitting down next to Adam on the front porch. He eyed the six pack next to Adam which was already short three beers.

"Hey, I thought the rule was two beers." Brian said.

"There's an amendment to the rule. Two beers, unless you just dropped your brother off at college, than you can drink as much as you want." Adam said.

"As long as you crawl out of bed for chores." Brian said agreeing and lifting a beer from the box.

"Well, this part of parenthood sucks." Adam said.

"We'll add it to the list." Brian agreed.

"Days like today, I feel like I am fifty years old. I'm not even twenty-one! Will bought us this beer! It's ridiculous." Adam took another swig of beer.

"When we finally do have kids, we'll be old pros." Brian said.

"I'm never having kids." Adam said suddenly serious. "There's no way in hell a girl is ever, ever gonna sign up for all this!" He gestured toward the ranch and house. "I'm a bachelor for life. You have kids. I'll be a fantastic uncle."

Brian was surprised by Adam's bitter tone. "Nah, man. You're pretty good looking. Some girl will fall for those dimples." Brian tried to tease his older brother out of his mood.

Adam looked at Brian. "No man, I'll never marry." He said and taking another beer, he went inside.

Brian sat on the porch for a long time, watching the stars come out one by one. It seemed like just a few years ago, he had helped Crane learn to ride his bike.

"You can do it, Crane. Just remember to pedal really hard. If you stop you fall over." Brian had told him.

"I don't' think I can do it." Crane looked at the bike doubtfully.

"If you don't, you can't go on adventures with Junior and me. Come on, Crane, try."

"I'll fall."

"Maybe, but once you can ride it is like a passage to freedom. Come on, man! You can do this!"

He remembered the joy he had felt watching as Crane had pedal away, a little wobbly at first, but steadier and faster as he grew confident. It seemed like so much of life was just like that; you start out unsure but keep moving forward until one day you find yourself strong, confident and capable. All you need is a brother, to help you on your way. He smiled to himself and rose determined to help another brother make his own passage to hope.

"Hey Adam! What about that new girl at the feed store?" He said going inside. "She's pretty and I hear she has three brothers and two sisters. She'd be used to a big family! Or what about Julia? She came back home from college and she's . . ." He sat down on the couch next to Adam, even as he hid behind a pillow in protest. Brian didn't mind. He had plenty of time. Adam was stuck with him for life.