A/N: The prequel to
my QF #51 Who's Walkin' Who?
"He's doing it again."
Sitting at his desk, Jimmy looked up from the papers he was reading to see his wife standing in the doorway of the marshal's office. He couldn't help but grin when he saw the hands-on-hips stance she had.
"What now?" he sighed, getting up to give her a hug and kiss. He walked over, shaking his head. 'Here we go again,' he thought.
"The brother thing," Lou grumbled as she wrapped her arms around her husband. She couldn't understand why Joshua, who was six, was suddenly whining for a brother.
"Well, he is the only boy with three sisters...older sisters," Jimmy answered, trying to hide his smirk. He knew how his son felt; it was difficult being the only boy in a house full of women. Sure Jimmy was there, but he had work to occupy him, days and sometimes nights too. Joshua was either in school - with his sisters; or at home - with his sisters.
"Jimmy," she said, gently pushing him away, "remember, he wants an older brother."
Jimmy looked down at Lou and a teasing grin spread across his face. "Well now," he drawled, "that would be interestin' to try."
She swatted him playfully. "Get serious," she said, blushing as a small smile formed on her lips. "Honestly Jimmy." Her expression grew serious. Not wanting him to see the sadness that she knew would show on her face, she turned from him and walked slowly to a chair by the desk. Sitting down, she looked at the papers scattered across the surface. Taking a deep breath, she continued, "You and me both know that the possibility for another child is gone."
They'd been blessed with four children starting just over twelve years ago. Every other year thereafter, they were blessed with another; each time, a girl. But then six years ago, Joshua was born - Joshua Aloysius Hickok. As much as they both loved their girls, they'd been ecstatic when he was born. But after that, it was miscarriage after miscarriage until the doctor said he didn't think Lou could have any more children.
Jimmy was by Lou immediately, squatting beside the chair. Reaching over, he gently gripped her chin and turned her face towards him. "Lou," he said softly, "that's okay. Joshua will grow out of this jus' like he's done with everythin' else." He smiled, reassuringly, hoping to get his wife smiling too. "Our family is perfect."
Lou had been heartbroken but Jimmy had convinced her that their family was complete and he was beside himself with joy over the four children they had. And, looking in his eyes, she'd believed him. So, it was the Hickok family of six, happy as any family could be.
Until almost a month ago.
"Matthew has three brothers," Joshua stated, putting a stop to any other discussion at the dinner table. The little boy glanced up to see his father smiling at him.
"Yeah, he does," Jimmy said, curious to know what made Joshua bring that up of all things.
"I think it would be nice to have a brother," Joshua said, picking at his spinach. He hated spinach and didn't understand the need to eat something he didn't like.
"Well, you have three sisters," Lou pointed out, "now eat your greens."
"I jus' said it would be nice to have a brother is all," Joshua mumbled as he eyed the spinach disdainfully.
"I think it would be nice not to have a brother," Emma Louise said, sniffing slightly. Em, as her father called her, was the oldest at twelve. Her days were filled with worrying about which dress she would wear and how she would do her hair. She wanted nothing to do with her little brother. Emphasizing her point, she picked up a forkful of spinach and popped it into her mouth, smiling as she chewed.
Joshua glared at her, trying to hide his gag.
"I agree Emma, that would be lovely," said Maggie, the second child at ten. Christened Margaret Elizabeth, she was the intellect of the family and her days were spent reading anything and everything she could get her hands on.
"I'd like another brother," Polly piped up. Polly Ann was eight and loved playing with boys because they didn't worry about all the stupid stuff girls did. She'd pick riding horses over dancing, fishing over dolls, pants over dresses any day. She grinned at Joshua. They both loved to rile their sisters.
Joshua couldn't help but grin back. Polly was okay for a girl and he did like fishing with her but she wasn't a brother. It just wasn't the same. As the conversation turned to whether Em was actually going to get to go to the social, he sighed and continued to push his spinach around on his plate, thinking about having a brother to play with.
A week later, as Joshua wandered into Tompkins' store for his daily licorice, he saw the Hancocks holding a baby in their arms. Curious, because he didn't remember Mrs. Hancock being pregnant, he walked up to the counter where Mr. Hancock was talking.
"I tell ya' Bill," Mr. Hancock said, a huge grin on his face. "Reverend Brady worked wonders gettin' us Thomas here." He reached over and pulled the blanket down a bit, to show Tompkins the baby's face.
"Well, congratulations," Tompkins said, not really looking at the baby.
Though Joshua liked the curmudgeon, he knew, from listening to his parents, Uncle Buck and Grandpa that the storeowner just cared about keeping the people's business so he'd agree with anything.
"How'd Reverend Brady get you that baby?" Joshua asked, stretching up on his toes to get a peek.
"Oh, Joshua," Mrs. Hancock said, leaning slightly over to show him the little bundle.
Joshua liked Mrs. Hancock; she made cookies and other good stuff and brought it over to the school for the children. He'd always wondered why they didn't have any children of their own since she seemed to love them so much.
"This is Thomas," she continued, "and Reverend Brady helped us adopt him from the Shady Bluff orphanage." She stood up, nodding to Mr. Hancock. "We really should be going. Thomas is going to need to eat soon."
"Right," Mr. Hancock responded. Turning to Tompkins, he added, "I'll be back for those supplies later."
Tompkins just waved as the Hancocks walked out the door.
"So," Tompkins said, eyeing Joshua, "you here for somethin' or just askin' questions?"
"Aw, Mr. Tompkins," Joshua giggled. They always played this game. "You know what I want."
Tompkins walked over to the jar that held the red licorice. He chuckled at how much Joshua liked the stuff and pulled out two ropes. Handing them to the boy, he said, "I'll put it on your parents' bill."
Joshua grinned and took a bite of one of the ropes. Chewing and staring at the door, he stood there thinking, as Tompkins began stocking some shelves. After a moment, it seemed Joshua had reached some decision but wanted some questions answered first.
"Mr. Tompkins?" he said, walking over to where the man was.
"Hmm?" Tompkins absentmindedly mumbled, bending over to get the last of the bottles of perfume.
Joshua hated the smell of that stuff. He never understood why a girl wanted to smell like something other than what she smelled like. Shaking his head, he asked, "How'd Reverend Brady get that baby?" He bit down and pulled another piece of licorice off the rope and added, "Did he steal it?"
"What?" Tompkins placed the bottle he was holding down and turned to face Joshua. "No, the reverend didn't steal him, he helped them adopt." Tompkins chuckled at the thought of that good-natured man stealing anything and asked, "Do you know what adoption is?"
Joshua just shook his head, so Tompkins explained, "Adoptin' is when a couple takes in a child that ain't their own but by adoptin', the child becomes theirs." Tompkins watched the boy's face light up. "Do you..."
Tompkins never got a chance to finish because Joshua ran out the door, calling over his shoulder, "Thanks Mr. Tompkins."
Standing in front of the church, Joshua contemplated exactly how he was going to do this. He decided that, as his father and his grandfather had taught him, being direct would be best so he opened the door and walked in. He immediately saw Reverend Brady at the front, and quietly approached.
"Reverend?" he whispered.
Reverend Brady looked up and smiled warmly at seeing Joshua. "Well, what can I do for you young man?"
"Um, well," Joshua hemmed, looking down at the ground. 'Be direct,' he told himself. "It's about the Hancocks' baby."
"What about him?" Reverend Brady asked, a bit confused.
"Well, we'd like one too," Joshua stated matter-of-factly not noticing the reverend's jaw drop slightly. "A boy." He definitely wanted to make that fact clear; he'd die if the reverend brought them another girl.
"I see," Reverend Brady cautiously answered. "And who is 'we'?"
"My ma and pa," Joshua said, hoping that the man didn't see through his lie. "And the rest of us," he added for good measure.
"Why don't they come talk to me?" The reverend had wondered about Lou and Jimmy. He knew they couldn't have any more children and had been with them through the pain but he'd hoped they would open their loving home to another child by adoption. 'Maybe this is it,' he thought.
Sensing the reverend's interest, Joshua eagerly continued, "Well, they've been talkin' about it but I guess they jus' need a push." He glanced heavenward, hoping that the Man didn't fault him his lie.
"I see," Reverend Brady mumbled, scratching his chin as he stared off into space, thinking. 'Seems possible,' he thought. 'Well, it can't hurt to talk to them.' He looked at Joshua, who had always been an honest, trustworthy boy, even if a bit boisterous. He smiled at Joshua and said, "I'll see what I can do."
Joshua grinned and hurried out of the building.
Three days later, there was a knock at the door as Lou was making dinner.
"Who in the world..." she mumbled, noticing that Joshua had peeked out the window and scooted upstairs a little too quickly.
Opening the door, she saw Reverend Brady standing there smiling broadly. Trying to figure out if she'd forgotten a meeting they were supposed to be having, she smiled back and invited him in.
"Please have a seat," she offered, motioning towards the settee and the man accepted. He removed his hat and sat down, placing the hat beside him. Taking off her apron, she patted her hair in place the best she could, walked over and, sitting in the chair across from the man, smiled again. "Um, what's brought you all the way out here, Reverend?" She prayed they didn't have a meeting. "Were we supposed to meet for somethin'?"
"Oh no, Louise," Reverend Brady assured her, "nothing like that. This is a visit to tell you that I've had some success in locating a baby for you."
Lou sat still as stone. She wasn't sure if she'd heard him correctly. Deciding it would be best to clarify, she asked, "Did you say you located a baby?" When he nodded enthusiastically, she blinked a few times and said, "For us?" Again, he nodded.
Folding her hands in her lap and pursing her lips, she refrained from screaming at a man of the cloth. Instead, she quietly asked, "Why?" He had talked to her and Jimmy after the third miscarriage and after the doctor's prognosis about adopting. It had been too painful at the time to consider so the man had dropped the subject. She couldn't believe that he was bringing it up again.
For the first time, the smile left the reverend's face. "Because you wanted me to." He was a bit miffed that she could be so indifferent after all his hard work, until he saw the look on her face and realized she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. "Oh Louise," he said softly, "you really don't know about this?"
"I'm sorry Reverend but..." Lou swallowed past the lump in her throat. This was churning up too many painful memories. Part of her wanted to tell the reverend this was wonderful and she'd take the baby but another part wanted to throw the man out of her house. When she looked at him, though, she understood that he'd come here honestly thinking she and Jimmy had wanted this. Suddenly it dawned on her. Joshua.
"Reverend, did Joshua come to you?" she asked, her anxiety over thinking this man was pushing them to adopt abating.
"Well," he hemmed. Though he really didn't want to get the boy into trouble, Joshua had lied. Defeated by that fact, he regretfully said, "Yes...I'm sorry."
Lou smiled at him and said, "It's not your fault. Joshua wants a brother."
"Yes, he did say you wanted a boy," the reverend confirmed.
She shook her head and asked, "Did he ask for an older boy?"
"Why no," the reverend stifled a laugh. "He seriously wants an older brother?"
Lou couldn't help but laugh, and answered, "Yep." Though she found this partly amusing, that wouldn't let Joshua off the hook.
"Well, he is an imaginative boy, isn't he?" the reverend said, chuckling.
"I guess you could put it that way," Lou agreed, trying to think of what to do with her imaginative son.
Just then, the door opened and Jimmy walked in. He'd been surprised to see the reverend's buggy outside and was worried they'd missed some meeting with him. Smiling, he walked over to shake the reverend's hand. "Reverend, it's good to see ya'. Did I forget somethin'?"
"No, no, you didn't forget a thing," the reverend said, standing to shake Jimmy's hand. After the greeting, he glanced at Lou. "I suppose I should be going," he said as he collected his hat, "I don't want to keep you." He turned and walked towards the door.
"Let me walk you out," Lou offered, following behind the reverend. "I'm sorry if Joshua caused you any problems."
The mention of 'Joshua' and 'problems' in the same sentence had Jimmy sighing as he said, "Nice to see you, Reverend." He walked over and plopped down in the chair that Lou had just left.
"Well, I'm sorry if I've caused you any discomfort from my unexpected, unwanted visit," the reverend said, waving at Jimmy. "As for Joshua, well, I would like to see Joshua in Sunday school tomorrow and perhaps helping around the church some."
"That would be a wonderful idea," Lou agreed, figuring that some work around the church and some extra chores around the house would keep Joshua too busy to be bothering people about getting him a brother. "And, Reverend, please don't worry," she said softly, "I know you mean well and I thank you for your concern."
The reverend smiled and reached out to squeeze Lou's hand. "You and your family take care." He turned and headed down the steps.
Lou watched as the reverend's buggy disappeared, knowing Jimmy was waiting for an explanation. She turned to see her husband sitting, slumped, in the chair, his eyes closed. Tiptoeing, she got just to him, ready to pounce, when his hand quickly grabbed her and pulled her down in his lap.
"That's just not fair," she grumbled, "I never can sneak up on you." She idly pulled at his fingers and played with his shirt cuff until he finally opened his eyes and looked at her.
"What'd Joshua do and what does it have ta' do with the reverend?"
Knowing that Jimmy would be upset, she sighed and said, "He told Reverend Brady that we wanted to adopt a boy."
Jimmy sat up quickly and Lou would have fallen if he hadn't been holding her. "He did what?"
She didn't say anything because she knew he'd heard her.
"Lord," he muttered. "Does Reverend Brady think he's crazy?"
"Jimmy!" Lou slapped him on the shoulder. "Of course not."
"Well, I do." He patted Lou on the leg. "Get up, we need to talk to him."
She stood up, smoothed out her dress and suddenly remembered that dinner was still cooking. "Oh good grief," she said, running into the kitchen to make sure everything was okay.
As Lou hurried away, Jimmy hollered, "JOSHUA! GET DOWN HERE!"
After a few moments, Joshua peeked around the railing and down the stairs. "Yes?" he tentatively called.
"I said HERE!" Jimmy yelled again, pointing at the spot in front of him. He was glad that the girls weren't home; he hated disciplining his kids, though they didn't know that, and he really hated doing it in front of their siblings. It didn't happen often, which was good for Jimmy.
The boy slowly came down the stairs and made his way to his father. He could tell the man was angry because he had his hands on his hips and that was always a sign that an adult was angry.
"Yes sir?" he mumbled.
"What's this I hear 'bout you askin' the reverend to find you a brother?"
"Umm, well, I thought it would be easier," he reasoned.
"Easier than what?"
"Than you all gettin' me one," Joshua explained.
Jimmy gritted his teeth to keep from laughing. "Joshua, your ma and me have said you ain't gettin' a brother, understand?"
"Yes sir," Joshua said, softly. Since his father's teeth were clenched, Joshua knew that was another sign for anger in an adult so he wasn't going to argue.
"And, you'll be in Sunday school tomorrow, helping at the church after school..." Jimmy held up his hand when Joshua began to argue.
"And, you'll be doin' extra chores 'round here too."
Defeated, Joshua hung his head and just nodded.
"Now go on upstairs 'til dinner and think about what you've done."
Turning, Joshua trudged up the stairs to his room.
Lou had mixed feelings about this situation. Though Joshua's actions had brought up some difficult memories, his innocent reactions and answers made her laugh. So, she walked over to Jimmy and, once they heard the door close, they both had to try very hard to contain their laughter.
After a week of extra chores and helping the reverend, both Jimmy and Lou were sure that Joshua was over his hunt for a brother. That Sunday at dinner they found they were wrong - very wrong.
"Did I hear right?" Teaspoon said as he and Jimmy were riding up to the house.
"All depends," Jimmy teased, "what'd you hear?"
"That Joshua is lookin' for a brother?" Teaspoon eased his horse towards the barn. Turning for an answer, he realized that Jimmy had stopped. "Son, you okay?"
Jimmy shook his head, guiding his horse beside Teaspoon's. "He got a wild hair about wantin' a brother a few weeks back but after..." Jimmy paused, not sure he wanted Teaspoon to know about Joshua trying to adopt, so he just said, "we just thought he was over it."
Teaspoon climbed slowly down from his mount. Stretching his old bones, he said, "Um, has he tried to adopt again?" Teaspoon grinned as he looked over at his deputy.
"Aw, Teaspoon," Jimmy groaned, "how many people know about that?"
"Not sure," Teaspoon answered, honestly, "but those that do think it's kinda' cute."
"Cute?" Jimmy couldn't believe his ears. "How about embarrassin'?" He rolled his eyes as he led his horse into the barn and began to unsaddle the animal.
"Now Jimmy," Teaspoon said, "don't fault the boy for wantin' a companion."
"I know but it's just...well, difficult sometimes." Jimmy looked over at his friend and mentor, seeing that Teaspoon understood.
Finishing up, Jimmy slapped Teaspoon on the back and said, "Let's get in the house, I'm starvin'."
Just as they walked out of the barn, they saw a rider approach and recognized the familiar faces.
"Good, you haven't started without us," Buck called out as he and Joshua rode up.
Buck had been picking up the boy from church the whole week and had promised they'd go fishing again once he was free of his punishment. He really liked being an uncle to Jimmy and Lou's children. Especially Joshua. The boy was just so easy to be around and, oddly, he was nothing like either of his parents. Except for one trait - stubbornness. Joshua had gotten that tenfold.
"Of course not," Teaspoon said, laughing, as he walked over to help his grandson off the horse.
Once Joshua was off, Buck maneuvered the horse towards the barn so the animal could enjoy some oats and water and the company of Teaspoon's horse. Dismounting, Buck hurried over and joined the others as they entered the house.
"Oh my," Teaspoon murmured, as his nose lifted in the air to take in all the wonderful smells.
"I'll second that," Buck said, as he followed Jimmy over to the sink to wash up.
"Joshua, go wash up like your father and uncle," Lou ordered, pointing over at the sink.
"What about Grandpa?" the little boy muttered as he begrudgingly headed to do his mother bidding.
"I'm comin', I'm comin'," Teaspoon said. As he strolled by the table, he snatched a piece of the ham and popped it quickly into his mouth before he was discovered.
Joshua saw him and when Teaspoon held his index finger to his mouth, the boy giggled.
Finally the family was all washed and scrubbed to Lou's approval, so they sat down for a nice Sunday feast. Jimmy at one end of the table and Teaspoon at the other. Talk was mostly about what was going on around town; there were four new families added to the growing population of Sweetwater and, because of this, a new schoolhouse was being built. Everyone was chatting, happy to be together.
Joshua quietly observed his uncle sitting across from him. Buck was so much fun. He took him and his friends fishing without complaint; he'd helped Joshua build a small playhouse all his own, behind the barn; and he kept secrets really well. Suddenly it hit Joshua.
"Buck should be my older brother," he announced, quite pleased with himself. He sat and waited for everyone to agree.
"Yeah!" Polly squealed. She loved Buck because he let her tag along when he took the boys places. He didn't think that just because she was a girl she shouldn't get to fish and swim and ride horses. He always compared her to her mother and that made her very happy.
"What?" Jimmy blurted out, choking on his corn. Picking up his napkin, Jimmy coughed into it a few times, as Em patted him on the back to help. He looked over at his daughter, nodding his thanks.
"Joshua!" Lou admonished. "What are you talking about?" 'The ideas this boy comes up with!'
At Joshua's announcement, Buck had been dumbfounded, his forkful of ham halfway to his mouth. Setting his fork down, he couldn't wait to hear the reasons behind this new revelation. Even with the amount of time he'd spent with Joshua, Buck was still baffled at what Joshua came up with.
"You alright Daddy?" Em asked.
"Yes I am, Darlin'," Jimmy said, smiling at his daughter. The smile faded when Em continued the discussion.
"I can't believe you sometimes," she said, snidely, as she peered down her nose at her brother sitting beside her. "You just don't think before opening your mouth. Tsk." She shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"Well, what Joshua wants is impossible," Maggie announced with the look of someone who was very sure she knew why.
"Um, and why's that?" Teaspoon asked, turning to his granddaughter beside him. He was very much enjoying the scene unfolding in front of him. He loved all his grandchildren but Joshua was just something special. The boy never ceased to amaze those around him with how his little mind worked.
"'Scuse me Teaspoon," Jimmy said, replacing his napkin in his lap and leaning on his forearms to stare at the man. "I'm thinkin' we all know why.'"
"Well now," Teaspoon drawled, "your why may not be the same as her why." With a small shake of his head, he turned back to his granddaughter. "Now Maggie dear, why 'xactly would Buck bein' Joshua's brother be impossible."
"I'm the one that wants him as a brother!" Joshua snapped, slamming his small hand down on the table. This got everyone's attention - fast.
"Young man," Lou said, quietly. "Don't ever raise your voice like that - ever."
"I'm sorry mama," Joshua mumbled, his head hanging down.
Joshua's actions gave Buck back his voice and, feeling sorry for the boy, he said, "Joshua, I think we are like brothers."
"That's not what I mean," Joshua mumbled, still not looking up.
"Alright," Teaspoon said, "I believe Joshua wants you," he pointed at Jimmy, "and Lou to adopt Buck." He looked at his grandson for confirmation. "Am I right?"
All Joshua did was nod, again without looking up.
"Grandpa," Maggie said, irritated that no one was listening to her, "that can't happen."
"Tsk, you don't know that," Polly said, looking across at her sister. Maggie was always trying to correct people, which Polly hated, because she was normally the one Maggie corrected. Besides Joshua.
"Yes, I do," Maggie stated emphatically.
Finally, wanting to know why she thought Jimmy and Lou couldn't adopt him, since it seemed not to be the obvious, Buck ventured forth. "So," he said, glancing over at Jimmy to see his friend glaring back, "why can't your parents adopt me?"
"Buck!" Lou said, trying to stifle her giggle since she did find this rather amusing especially Jimmy's reaction. And though she hadn't forgotten Joshua's outburst, she figured they'd talk to him about it later, in his room, and let the interesting conversation continue.
"What?" Teaspoon said. "I'm like him, I wanna know too."
All eyes were now on Maggie, but she glanced over at her father making sure she wouldn't get in trouble.
"Fine," Jimmy said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. He knew when he was defeated. "Go ahead, Maggie. Why can't we adopt Buck?"
"Because Em's going to marry him."
Everyone was silent for just one instance until Polly and Joshua squealed with laughter. The reactions were varied. Em sat, mortified, her face covered with a cherry-red blush as her younger brother and sister giggled beside her. Teaspoon did his best to quiet Polly and Joshua down but the little ones' laughter just tickled him, so he just shook his head, smiling sheepishly. Maggie didn't see what was so funny, since she'd just stated a fact, so she sat slightly confused at the results. Jimmy's head lolled back and he covered his face with his napkin. He was pretty sure he'd lost complete control of the evening.
Lou curled her lips over her teeth, biting down, trying desperately not to laugh and embarrass her daughter even more. She had always thought Emma had feelings for Buck; just by the way the young girl would always ask when he was coming over and then take extra time getting ready. Emma had also asked Lou if Buck would mind being her chaperone for the dance, since she wanted to go without the family and the only way Jimmy would let her go was if someone was with her.
As for Buck, he glanced at Jimmy, making sure his friend didn't think he knew about or encouraged this. When he saw Jimmy had pretty much given up, Buck then looked over at Em. She appeared, to him, ready to cry so he decided to end this.
"Hey!" he said. He realized it had come out a bit louder than he intended when he saw that all eyes were on him and Jimmy's head had snapped forward, causing his napkin to fall in his plate. Buck blushed slightly but continued, "I don't think it's very nice to be laughing at anyone, do you?" He specifically looked in Polly and Joshua's direction.
The brother and sister shook their heads and mumbled, "No sir."
"Good," Buck replied. "Now I think we should just finish eating."
For a few moments everyone sat quietly eating until Teaspoon could stand it no longer. Turning to who started the whole thing, he asked, "Maggie, where'd you get the notion that your sister wants to...well, where'd it come from?"
"From her," Maggie said, quietly.
"She tol' you?"
"Um, well," Maggie hemmed. "Not exactly."
Jimmy leaned forward, his brow furrowed. "Then what exactly?"
"She...she..." Maggie knew she'd get in trouble for what she was about to say.
"Maggie," Lou said, realizing what her middle daughter had done. "Did you read Em's diary?"
Nodding, Maggie hung her head, tears falling silently.
"May I please be excused," Em said, getting up without waiting for an answer. She hurried up the stairs to her room.
"I didn't mean to make her angry," Maggie whined. "I just know how much she likes Uncle Buck."
"Well, I think we'll discuss this later," Lou said, looking at Jimmy, who was shaking his head and staring at his plate. "Right now, I'm going up to talk to your sister." She pushed back her chair and stood. "And you should think long and hard what you're going to say and do to get Em's forgiveness." Lou turned and hurried upstairs to her eldest child's room.
"Daddy?" Maggie said, softly.
Hating it when his children were upset, Jimmy scooted his chair around and opened his arms to Maggie. She ran over and fell into Jimmy's embrace, crying on his shoulder.
Polly and Joshua sat staring at their sister. They'd never seen Maggie cry like that. She was always the sensible one; Em was the emotional one.
Exchanging a weary look with Buck, Teaspoon turned to the youngest, hoping to get their minds off the situation, and said, "So, when's the next fishin' trip?" He looked again at Buck for help.
"Um," Buck said, "we're talking about going next Friday."
"Oh, I might jus' join ya', if'n that's okay," Teaspoon said, cheerily. He looked down to see Polly and Joshua still staring at Maggie. "Joshua?"
Joshua's head snapped around to see Teaspoon looking at him.
"Gee," the little boy said, staring into Teaspoon's eyes. "I guess Buck's not gonna get to be my brother after all, huh?" He looked over at Buck.
Buck coughed to cover the laugh that escaped and bit the inside of his lip as he shook his head in answer to Joshua's question.
Teaspoon, again trying not to laugh because he knew that it would be inappropriate, had a pained expression as he looked from Buck to Jimmy. Jimmy just closed his eyes and continued to soothe his daughter.
Clearing his throat, Buck said, "Why don't you and Polly go in there and play." At the mention of being able to play and not finish dinner the two children eagerly left their seats and headed to the sitting room.
"That boy's got a one track mind," Teaspoon muttered, though Jimmy and Buck both heard him. "Wonder where he gets it from?" His eyes twinkled as he looked at Jimmy, who returned the look with a glare.
Shaking his head, Buck stood up and started clearing the table and soon Teaspoon began to help.
Everything was quiet for about a week. Em and Maggie were mending their relationship, Buck had agreed to escort Em to the social and Joshua hadn't mentioned anything about finding a brother, so Lou and Jimmy thought all would be fine.
That was, until Matthew's mother announced that she was pregnant and the Kroger family would be having yet another baby. And, odds were around town; the baby would be another boy.
The news caused Joshua to sulk. He started out by just being grumpy in general and refrained from saying anything about a brother but that didn't last long and for the last few days, he'd been going on again about a brother. And had broached the subject of Buck again, as well.
This is what had driven Lou that day to see Jimmy and talk about what they would do.
Sighing, she leaned into Jimmy's hand. "I guess you're right," she said, "Joshua will move on eventually like with everythin' else." She was more trying to convince herself than agree with Jimmy. Normally, Joshua had moved on to something new within a short time span - a day or two at most.
Standing, Jimmy offered his hand to help his wife. She smiled and accepted, as he said, "So, you goin' to collect the little devil at the Krogers?"
"Yes, and he'd best not mention the fact that Matthew will be havin' another brother soon." She shook her head as she followed Jimmy to the door. Joshua just didn't understand how all the talk about babies affected her.
Standing by the door, Jimmy leaned over to give Lou a kiss when a hand popped him on the head.
"Hey," he said, looking up to see Buck standing there, grinning. "Now, that jus' wasn't nice." He smiled at his friend.
Buck was still joking Jimmy about being either his son or son-in-law, which Jimmy didn't find the least bit funny. Of course, they kept the jokes confined to the jailhouse and never in Em's, or any of the other children's, presence.
"Alright, I'll leave you two alone," Lou said, standing on her toes to kiss Jimmy. "I'll see you tonight." She smiled and waved as she walked down the boardwalk towards the Kroger place.
"So Dad," Buck said, ducking Jimmy's hand, "time for lunch?"
Lou had just reached the edge of the Krogers' yard when Joshua came tearing out of the barn, running towards her as fast as his little legs would carry him.
Fearing something was wrong, Lou ran the rest of the way to him. "Joshua," she said, frantically, "is everything alright?"
"Mama, Mama," Joshua hollered, "come see! Bessie had her puppies!"
"Well, okay," she said, as he took her by the hand and tried to drag her towards the barn.
Bessie was one of Jacob Kroger's hunting dogs, though she did more playing than hunting. She was so sweet and gentle and good with the kids that she became more of a pet than a working animal. When one of the other dogs had been injured and Jacob had put it out of its misery, the children had been so distraught that something would happen to Bessie that they begged and pleaded for her to stay with them and not go hunting. Jacob had given in to keep peace and Bessie had lived with the family for the last two years.
Sarah Kroger stood at the barn door, waving at Lou. "Louise," she called out, "how are you?"
Lou skipped the remaining steps trying to keep up with Joshua. Once there, Joshua dropped his mother's hand and ran into the barn.
"Whew," Lou said, laughing at Joshua's antics. "I'm fine. What about you?"
"Oh, we're all fine," Sarah assured her friend. "And Bessie is too. A new mother to three puppies."
Lou's face lit up and pointed inside the barn, indicating if it was okay for her to see.
"Oh, sure, come on in," Sarah said, leading Lou over to where Bessie was curled up with her newborns.
"How sweet!" Lou cried out, quickly covering her mouth when Bessie looked up at her.
"Mama," Joshua said in a hushed voice, pointing to a small form behind Bessie's back. "Look at that one."
Lou saw that there were actually four babies. Looking questioningly at Sarah, the lady shook her head. Making sure that Joshua wasn't listening, Lou asked, "Is it dead?"
"Not yet but..."
Sarah stopped when she saw Joshua pick up the small bundle and walk it over to the mother's teats. Lou's eyes grew wide, hoping that Bessie wouldn't mistake Joshua's actions for aggression, but the dog just watched the boy place the tiny dog by one of the nipples. "Come on," Joshua encouraged, "ya' need to drink."
Lou covered her mouth again, this time trying not to cry. Shaking her head, she took two steps to stop Joshua but was surprised to see the puppy take hold and start to drink. Turning back to Lou, Joshua smiled triumphantly.
Lou walked back to Sarah. "Do you think the puppy will live?"
"Well, not normally," she said, smiling at Lou, "but with Joshua to instruct him, I believe the little guy jus' might."
Lou smiled as thoughts turned around in her head. Before she could voice any, Joshua beat her to it.
"Um, Mama," he said, coming up to stand in front of her. "I know I've been kinda' bad lately," he rolled back on his feet, "but do ya' think I could have that puppy?"
Lou stared at her son then back at the puppy, which, by now, was going to town on the milk supply Bessie had, then back at Joshua. "Well, what does Mrs. Kroger say?"
"It's fine by me," Sarah said, winking at Joshua.
"Really!" Joshua started jumping around the barn and his friend, Matthew joined in.
Pointing at Bessie, Lou quickly stopped the boys and said, "You don't want to bother the new mama, do you?"
Shaking their heads, the boys ran out of the barn, screaming, "Joshua's gettin' a doggy! Joshua's gettin' a doggy!"
"Now," Lou said, watching the boys wrestle outside, "how do I explain this to Jimmy?"
Sarah just shook her head and laughed. "That is your job."
"Oh Jimmy," Lou said, as they stood in the Krogers' barn looking at the puppies, who were now four weeks old. "It's the littlest one."
"Humph," Jimmy replied.
"Admit it," Lou challenged, "Joshua hasn't brought up having a brother since."
Jimmy looked at Lou and, nodding, said begrudgingly, "Suppose you're right."
"Then what could be the harm?" Lou walked over to where the puppies were playing. Picking up the smallest one, the one that Joshua wanted, she added, "Look at how cute and cuddly it is." She hugged the squirming ball of fur. "Oh it won't get that big, just look at him."
"Humph," Jimmy replied again. Suddenly he felt something barrel into his leg.
"Daddy can I pleeeeeease keep him?" Joshua pleaded with his father, as he tugged on the man's pant leg. "I swear I'll take care of him. Honest!"
Sighing, he looked at Lou playing with the puppy and then down at Joshua and smiled. "Yes, you can keep him."
"Whoop!" Joshua let go of Jimmy and ran out of the barn screeching for his friend. "I get to keep him!"
Jimmy closed his eyes. "So the days of peace and quiet are over," he announced.
"Like we've ever had peace and quiet," Lou replied, laughing. She held the puppy up so he could lick Jimmy's face. She laughed harder when Jimmy's eyes flew open.
"Ew," he said, wiping his face. "I'll thank you not to do that again." Taking the puppy from Lou, Jimmy held the dog up and, face-to-face, looked into his big brown eyes. "You ain't workin' that sweet puppy magic on me, ya' hear?" In response, the dog licked Jimmy's nose.
"Now Jimmy," Teaspoon said, about to impart all the wisdom he knew about dogs. "Takin' care of a dog really ain't that hard. And he'll be a darn good guard for Lou and my grandchildren."
"Fine Teaspoon," Jimmy said, putting his hands up, "I said Joshua could have the dog."
"Oh, well then good."
It was the day that Joshua would get the dog, though Jimmy had been having his doubts. He'd verified with Buck, and anyone that would answer, that the dog wouldn't get that big. Bessie wasn't too big so Jimmy figured if the puppy grew to Bessie's size, everything would be fine. Buck had wanted to see the dog first and then, after, hadn't really answered the question but Jimmy wasn't worried. He'd seen Bessie so all was good.
"He got a name?"
Jimmy shook his head. "Not real sure. He's been thinkin' on it but hasn't said anything." He looked down the street and saw Lou and the girls walking with Joshua and his new pet.
"Look at the boy strut!" Teaspoon laughed, slapping Jimmy on the back.
"Yeah," Jimmy said, grinning. He was glad he'd finally acquiesced. To see Joshua that happy and to not have any more talk about a brother - it had been worth it.
"Daddy!" Joshua ran, practically dragging the dog behind him, up to where Teaspoon and Jimmy were waiting. "Grandpa! See my doggy!"
"Yes I do, and a might fine dog he is," Teaspoon gushed, leaning over to give the puppy a scratch behind the ears. The dog rolled over for a belly rub too, causing Teaspoon to laugh.
"Well, here's the new member of the Hickok family," Buck said as he walked up to the happy family.
"Yep, little thing ain't got a name yet but..." Teaspoon glanced at Joshua as the boy began to jump up and down. "Son?"
Jimmy looked at Joshua as Lou and the girls came forward to see what the commotion was about.
"Is he alright?" Lou asked.
"I know it! I know it!" Joshua squealed, laughing and jumping. The puppy tried to jump too but kept rolling backwards not having his feet yet.
"You know what?" Buck asked. He leaned down and picked the puppy up, getting a good lick for his troubles. Wiping his face with the back of his sleeve, he curled the dog under his arm.
"I know his name!" Joshua announced, so pleased with himself he was about to burst with excitement.
"Well?" Jimmy coaxed him, knowing that it sometimes took Joshua a while to get his news out even if he desperately wanted to tell it.
"His name is," Joshua paused, making sure everyone was listening. When he got a few impatient looks, he said, "Hickok."
"His name is what?" Buck asked, looking down at the dog in his arms.
Jimmy looked heavenward.
"Um, Honey," Lou said, trying to explain. "That's your last name."
"Tsk," Joshua looked at his mother like she was the crazy one, "I know that."
"Then why are you naming your dog that?" Jimmy asked, shaking his head.
Teaspoon was grinning gleefully, watching the whole exchange. He winked at Buck as the young man shrugged his shoulders and put the dog back on the ground.
"That's why," Joshua said.
"That's why what?" Jimmy truly felt like he was losing his mind, it hadn't been this way with the girls, where did Joshua get it from?
"That's why I'm namin' him Hickok," Joshua explained, speaking slowly like his parents did to him sometimes.
Everyone exchange confused looks before Buck interrupted. "I think this has to do with still wanting a brother."
Jimmy was about to disagree when Joshua grinned a silly grin and nodded his head vigorously. Jimmy looked at his son. "You serious?"
"Yes sir. It's like we're adoptin' him."
Jimmy looked at Lou for help but she was just smiling, happy that the brother situation was resolved. "Hickok is a fine name," she said, nodding to Jimmy for him to agree.
As everyone's eyes were on Jimmy, he released a heavy sigh and said, "Well, Hickok, welcome to the family."
Buck walked over to where Teaspoon stood and nudged the old man. "Teaspoon," he said, hesitantly, "do you realize how big that dog's gonna get?"
"Now Buck," Teaspoon said softly, holding up his hand, "far be it from us to burst a young boy's dream." He leaned against the railing and crossed his arms over his chest, looking out of the corner of his eye at Buck.
"Well," Buck said, assuming the exact same position as Teaspoon, "you put it that way, I guess you're right." He grinned.
"Buck," Teaspoon said after a moment of watching the puppy jump all over Jimmy's leg and then pee on the young man's boot. "Did ya' ever think, thirteen years ago, that Jimmy marryin' Lou and havin' a family would bring such entertainment into our lives?"
"No," Buck replied, "I sure didn't." He paused as the dog grabbed hold of Jimmy's hat, which had fallen off when Jimmy bent over to wipe his boot. "But I'm thinkin' we'll get another thirteen years now that they've added the dog."
Teaspoon and Buck looked at each other and broke into gales of
laughter, joined by Lou and the girls, all earning a sullen look from
Jimmy as he fought with the puppy for his hat.