Challenged to Write at least 11 Stories:
1 for each character in this list:
Teaspon, Rachel, Sam, Emma,
Tompkins, Ike, Buck, Lou, Jimmy, Cody

There were 33 songs to choose from,
all of the songs are in the Statler Brothers
famous four part harmony.

Email Raye
*author's note from Raye: These 11 stories ended up being my Pre- Post- experiment. Taking all 11 characters through moment of their life either before the Express or After. Hope you enjoy them.
Character
Title
Summary
Cody
I Was There
In England for the Queen's Golden Jubilee, Cody meets with a reporter with a jaded view of the West
Sam
Hats and Boots
Sam wonders at the lonely look of his hat and boots... where did he go wrong?
Tompkins
This Ol' House
Tompkins would rather eat nails than take a delivery out to the station house... why?
Ike
Making Memories
Ike learns something new about the Family Bible
Rachel
You Just Haven't Done it Yet
Rachel has cold feet
Teaspoon
I'd Rather Be Sorry
She's tempting... very tempting
Emma
Too Late for Roses
Emma's trying to feel at home, but it may be too late
Kid
Child of the 50s
What was it like to be a kid in this family?
Jimmy
There's a Man In There
Is working for the Judge the way to become a man?
Lou
Leaving On Her Mind
Louise is caught in Charlotte's room... can she get away?
Buck
Burning Bridges
It's tough to be young and angry


I Was There



“I want to thank you, Mr. Cody, for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me.”

Cody gave the reporter a gracious smile. “Not a problem, Son. I’m always of a mind to speak with the media. After all the good people of England have been most supportive of our little show.”

“I’m told that ticket sales are at a record high.”

“Are they?” The older man’s face displayed his characteristic impish grin. “I’m mighty glad to hear that.”

The man shifted lightly in his seat, crossing one leg over the other in order to balance his notepad as he wrote down word after word of information. Cody, if the truth be told would have gladly been a fly on the wall, just to read what the man had written.

“Rumor has it that you and ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok were good friends.”

Shaking his head, Cody waved off the suggestion. “Rumor, eh? On that account, the rumormongers would finally win one, but in this case they are right. Mr. Hickok and I knew each other for many years. For a time,” Cody’s shoulders shook with genuine mirth, “we even had him traveling with us, but Jimmy wasn’t the kind of man to do the same thing over and over again. So our show, while the money is good, wasn’t enough to keep his attention.”

Cody’s fingers tapped on his thigh with a soothing rhythm. “So, while Jimmy took off for the excitement of the open road, we had to soldier on and build the show to this amazing precipice.” Cody’s voice rose to a trembling crescendo. “All who knew him miss him. The rest, well, Jimmy would have few qualms about telling the general public to leave it well enough alone. He was a private man.”

“Private?” The muscles around Cody’s eyes tightened as the younger man gave a laugh. “He was one of the most famous Pistoleers in your country. Quite the showman himself, if my memory serves.”

“He made do with a situation. I’ll not say anymore than that.”

“Out of respect for the dead?”

“Out of respect for a friend.”

There was a beat of time between them as the reporter measured the mood, deciding if he should press for more.

“I saw your cavalcade of acts when I was in America a few years ago. Can we expect the same show here? Or will there be new acts to see?”

He reached up and pushed his wide brimmed hat back a few inches on his head, his fingers scratching up into his hairline as he thought on the reporter’s question. “Well now, I think that puts you in our stands right around the time that Annie, our ‘Little Sure Shot’, joined up with the troop. I can assure you that we’ve been adding new acts to the show since we started it and we continue on that path until the show ends.”

“Oh? When will that be?”

Cody wagged his finger at the younger man. “Don’t know, really. I love a good show and so do many of my associates. When you really think about it, the way tickets are selling, it should continue around until sometime in the twenty-first century.”

The man paused in this fevered scribbling. “Right.” He flipped to a prior page, the back end of his pencil tracing over a few notes that he’d put down the day before. “I’m told that your sharp shooter, this ‘Sure Shot’, is purported to have received her ‘imaginative’ moniker from an Indian Chief… ah, what was his name…”

“That would be our Chief Sitting Bull, a venerated elder of-” Cody paused in mid-recitation when he noticed that the report had discontinued writing completely. Looking up at the younger man’s face, framed by a starched white collar and a pretentious woolen suit, Cody found himself fighting to keep his temper in check. “Son, do you want to write this article?”

Shrugging, the reporter gave him a lop-sided smile. “Of course.”

“Then why do I have the distinct impression that you find the show… beneath your notice.”

Shifting in his seat, the report tucked his pencil into his breast pocket. “I just don’t see the draw of it beyond the curiosity. Rampaging Indians, shootouts over a strong box of gold, Post riders delivering mail… it makes for a charming story, but what else?”

“Charming?” Cody flexed his hands, his fingers digging lightly into his thighs. “I guess for a man used to writing about life. It must be less than interesting to meet a man that’s lived it.”

“Are you telling me that these ‘acts’ are real?”

“As real as we wanted to make them.”

The laughter was back, so was the superior look in the reporter’s eyes. “What does that mean?”

“Reality can be over-rated.” He let out a breath and lifted his hand, turning it over and over before his face. “I have killed men with this hand, shot them down with my rifle. I’ve been in battle and watched…” he paused, taking deep breaths before continuing. “I’ve watched friends and foes die before my eyes.

“The West is neither charming nor quaint and I can tell you that. I have every right to look you straight in the eye and say, I was there.”

“I’ve read all about your past, Mr. Cody. Really, the stories were quiet enthralling, but-”

“Would you pay to see the real ‘Wild’ West?”

“I should think that it would be a bigger draw than something that’s no more than a ‘melodrama’ on horseback.”

Thoughtful, Cody pondered the man’s words for a moment before he tried to answer. “The day that good people pay to see a man gunned down in the street, we revert back to the days when Romans clamored to see flesh ripped from a man. While I’m sure there are those that would truly enjoy seeing a bloody massacre of innocents I could not live with myself for being a part of it. Surely, you can understand the necessity for ‘softening the blow’ of reality, editing the story so that good and decent folks can learn about a tragedy and not have it burned in their memories for the rest of time.”

Cody picked up his hat and dusted off the brim. “I appreciate the time that you afforded me today, sir, but really… I have to get back to the show. We are practicing around the clock to make this one of our best shows… for the Queen, of course. If you will excuse me…”

He didn’t wait for an answer. Setting his hat on his head William Frederick Cody walked out of the room.



Hat & Boots




The door slammed shut behind him before he dropped his saddlebags to the floor.

“Well, now, what are we having for dinner?”

“Ham sandwiches? Great idea here let me help.”

His hat rung around its customary hook by the door with nothing to jostle it or knock it from its position. His boots dropped to the floor one at a time bouncing off the wooden floorboards with a dull thump, the tops flopping down like dog ears to brush the dust on the floor.

Sam moved across the floor, his feet kicking up bunnies as he moved over to the food safe on the other side of the room. Set up on his chest of drawers, the little box held a few plates of food from the kitchen downstairs in the hotel. Flicking off the latch Sam pulled out a plate with some slices of ham. The bread, sent over by the widow Anders, was sitting on the top of safe and was quickly sliced, especially since it had hardened up from sitting around for a few days.

Sinking into the chair at the table, he stared at the ingredients laid out in a row. “Now that’s a pretty good meal if I do say so myself.” He picked up a piece of the ham and laid it over the bread, piecing together nearly two full layers of meat. A slice of cheese went over that, hoping that it would hold it all together under the bread.

“A drink.” Pushing his chair back, he poured a cup of water from the pitcher and wished that it was coffee.

Pressing the lip of the cup to his mouth he closed his eyes and imagined that it was coffee. Warm and rich, mixed with a little bit of fresh milk from Emma’s cow, come to think of it, the way she cured her ham was his favorite, the way she smiled at him… well, it was wonderful too.

His eyes snapped open and he bent his head to hide the color in his cheeks. ‘From what?’ argued his mind. ‘Who do you need to hide from here?’

There was something that bothered him about the quiet in his room. Meals were a sullen nearly pathetic affair and Sam was good and sick about it.

* * * *

He’d turned heads by courting Emma. There were those folks in town that frowned on a woman willing to live by her self outside the limits of the town. They wondered what it was in her life that kept her away from the rest of them and their incessant curiosity… Sam knew. He knew what it was within her that kept her out at the station. Besides being allowed to pick and choose when she’d have contact with the people of Sweetwater there was a peaceful atmosphere there.

And some nights, right about the time that the sun had just about given up and fallen back below the horizon he would sit beside Emma on the porch swing and they’d listen.

Not to each other. They wouldn’t really need to talk, not when the sky was filling up with darkness and the stars had come out to sparkle with their own kind of music.

Those were the evenings that he missed the most.

Now that he’d walked away from Emma Shannon.

Walked away and hated himself for it.

* * * *

The widow Anders had been more than happy to shower attention on him, once the gossip had died down. She wasn’t one eager to set tongues wagging. Then again she wasn’t one to do much of anything except cook. It wasn’t a skill he was eager to criticize or downplay, but it did help him add an inch or two on his belt.

She was a wonderful woman and invited him over for dinner twice a week, but when they sat down to the meal she did little more than see to his needs and smile prettily at him. It was nice at first, but then he missed the challenge of a meal with Emma.

‘The woman knows how to carry on a conversation. Emma could talk about a great number of topics and had strong opinions on practically everything and…’

Sam caught himself in mid-thought. Emma was not to be the center of his thoughts, not tonight.

Standing up from the table, Sam put his plates and utensils in a wide bucket to soak until he could scrub them clean in the morning.

* * * *

Sarah Edwin was a young woman relatively new to town and she was a rather forward young woman who made no bones about the fact that she fancied him. The main drawback? The size of her father’s influential carrier as retired Army General. There was no fun or flirtation with Sarah, she got right to the point and it was a bit unnerving. As was her apparent desire to find a man her father would hate.

The more her father seemed to hate him, the more enamored that Miss Sarah became. It didn’t take long for her beauty and infatuation with him to pale in comparison to the amount of energy it took to play her games.

Pouring himself another full cup of water Sam Cain leaned against the wall and pondered the cracks in the paint.

* * * *

Emma. Emma was a real-life fire-breathing woman when she was angry, but there were the times when she would soften up and let a man get close enough to see the strength that was in every inch of her soul. It was those moments that kept calling him back, telling him to give up his need to protect her from gossip and find out once and for all how she felt about him.

Looking back over at his hat hanging on the wall he tried to imagine another hat beside it, then his gaze dropped and he wondered what kind of shoes would fit right there next to his old worn out boots.

It didn’t take him long to pick out the color of the hat or even its shape. The decoration was a bit fuzzy to his recollection, but he knew the colors that he longed to see hanging there beside his. Long burgundy ribbons, white carnations… right? The boots, how to admit that he’d memorized her shoes, or knew that her favorite boots were her favorites because they were comfortable and not fashionable.

Things certainly would be different with Miss Sarah or with the widow, they were both lovely women. They just weren’t what he wanted. They just weren’t…

He was tired. Tired of these one-sided dinner conversations with the air, tired of staring at the empty pillow on the other side of the bed… tired of staying away from Emma.



This Ol' House



Tompkins reined in the horses on his delivery wagon when the house came in sight. “Damn you, Robert.”

His young assistant had taken ill with influenza and hadn’t been to work in days. If it hadn’t been for Doc Weathers coming over to give him the notice himself, Tompkins would have fired the boy for shirking his duty. It was just that the boy was sick. Folks get sick from time to time. What it was that truly upset the older man was the fact that he had to do this delivery himself.

‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘I could hire someone, even for the day to bring this out.’ That was silly. He knew it. Still, he didn’t want to make the delivery, not for all the money in the world.

The white walls of the house were aging, badly. Tompkins wanted to walk right up to that woman’s front door and tell her… ‘Right’ he wasn’t going walk right up to that door and do anything.

Flicking the reins, Tompkins clucked at the team, getting them to lurch into motion despite the weight they were pulling. He was going to make the delivery, to follow through on his promise on the order that Emma Shannon made. He was going to do it and get right back to town… for a stiff drink. Or two.

That old curmudgeon, Al Hunter, came ambling out of the barn, stretching his back as he went, and one eye on the skies above. Bringing his gaze down, he caught sight of Tompkins and held his hand up in greeting.

“Great.” Tompkins raised his hand in a return greeting and moved the team into the yard, pulling up beside the man. “Just here to make a delivery, Al.”

“Al?” There was a distinct grouse in his voice as he leveled a one-eyed glare at the mercantile owner. “How many times I done told you that I’m called Teaspoon, Bill?”

“Well gee howdy; excuse me if I don’t want to call anyone by the name of something I tend to eat with. So, Mr. Hunter, if you could remember that I am Mr. Tompkins, Bill is reserved for friends.”

“Goodness, I am sorry if I did offend you. May I be of some help, Mister Tompkins, sir?”

Setting the break of the wagon the horses tossed their heads at the sudden stop. “I’m here to deliver supplies, this isn’t a social call.”

Taken aback by the severity of the man’s tone, Teaspoon thumbed his suspenders and stepped back a good foot or two. “I’m not much help as old as I am, and the boys the Express hired on ain’t expected for another day or so, but I can help as much as I can.”

“Ah hell, I can do it myself. Apparently I’m not as old and infirm as you are.” Slowly he lowered himself down from the seat of the wagon. One leg followed the other onto the exterior steps and he made his way around back pulling a list from his shirt pocket. “I have everything that she ordered here. I assume that full payment will be forthcoming in a week as promised?”

Teaspoon waved off the pointed look as he leaned back against the barn wall. “You’ll get what’s comin’ to ya, Tompkins. Just like we promised. You just keep them deliveries of yours on time and we should have the beginnings of a wonderful friendship.” He capped off his words with a smile that Tompkins didn’t echo.

“A friendship don’t put money in the bank or pay my suppliers, Hunter.” He hefted the first bag of feed into his arms and started to move past the other man. “You just keep that in mind.”

When he stepped back into the sun he noticed that Teaspoon was saddling a horse tied to the hitching post beside the bunkhouse. “So that I don’t go ‘gettin’ in your way, Mr. Tompkins, I’m gonna head into town and get some supplies of my own.”

“My store is closed. Since I’m obviously elsewhere.”

The man shrugged as he pulled on his old black hat. “Don’t recall that I’ve said a thing about goin’ to your store, Mr. Tompkins. There are other such establishments in town and I am not bound by any contractual obligations to visit your store.” He swung up into the saddle and looked down at the man with an armful of flour bags. “And given my treatment, I dare say that I will think twice before I find myself in your store anytime soon.”

Gently calling to his mount, Teaspoon Hunter eased the mare into a slow walk toward town.

Tompkins turned away and headed toward the bunkhouse. “You want me to leave the supplies in the bunkhouse? You can have the boys move it when they get here.”

“That seems like a waste of effort my good man.” Nodding toward the house, Teaspoon gave him a passing smile. “I left the back door open for you. You can go on in and put things away in Emma’s pantry.”

With that, he was gone.

Tompkins stared down at the bags of flour in his hands and gave a sharp sigh of disappointment. “Just put it inside the pantry.”

He set his jaw, teeth gnashing together. It’s simple. Just put the goods inside and get back to town. ‘Don’t think about it. Just do it.’

* * * *

Every trip inside the house he averted his eyes from the open door at the other end of the room. He quickly stacked the cans on the shelves and laid the sacks of provisions on the lower shelves. When it came down to the final box of supplies the old crate he’d packed the goods in fell to pieces.

Most of the cans ended up at his feet, smashing into his toes and rolling across the floor. With a curse he tried to follow them, reaching in different directions in a vain attempt to gather them all before Emma Shannon returned.

He set the rescued cans up on the shelves and gave a quick count. Eleven cans six of peaches and five more of preserved beets. Where was the last can? His eyes scoured the floor, under the stove, the… there, just inside the living room of the house, beneath one of the dining chairs a single can sitting on its curved side. He could leave it, he reasoned. He could leave it there and let Miss Shannon pick it up when she returned, but another voice was louder. One that called him a coward.

Lumbering to his feet, he straightened his back and walked into the living room.

He put a hand on the back of a chair and prepared to lean down and grab the wayward can when he stopped short.

The room was filled with quilts and pillows, a needlework sampler adorned one wall and small trinkets dressed up simple shelves.

It was a warm, lived-in room and William Tompkins hated it. It turned his stomach and gave him a knot of pain his head that threatened to ruin the rest of his day.

It took a moment, but he finally stooped down and picked up the last can, setting it on its shelf in the pantry and beating a quick retreat out of the back door. He scrambled up into the wagon seat and released the brake before the reins were firmly in his hands. His breath caught in his throat as the horses stumbled into a lumbering trot.

Moving quickly away from the house, Tompkins paused a moment, slowing their progress as he turned on the bench to have one last look.

“That old house. Our house. Emma Shannon’s ruined it Sally. All those… things everywhere. The colors… nothing like we’d planned. Nothing like what I’d promised you when we started out West.”



Making Memories


The McSwain family never really owned much of anything, but what they did own they took special care of.

The family Bible was one of those things. It was his mother’s comfort and she told him its stories again and again at the end of the day when she tucked him into bed. In fact, while he was sick, he lived for those stories, especially the story of David and Goliath.

While the fever raged through his body he would dream of the Philistines as the sickness in his body, ripping things to pieces, setting fire to his skin and through the pain and fear he waited for David to come, waiting for something to fix it all, make it all go away.

“Mama?”

“Yes, son?”

“Why won’t God make me better?”

Althea McSwain rung out the cloth in her hand, draining the water back into the bowl. She paused for a moment pressing the back of her hand to her forehead, her shoulders sagging in the long shadows of the room. “It’s not like that, Ike.” She unrolled the towel and laid it gently against his forehead giving him a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “The Lord doesn’t pick and choose to suffer illness on one person or another. The Lord lifts us up, gives us hope for the future. Hope that things will be better with the next rising of the sun.”

He laid his hand on hers, feeling the gentle warmth of her skin through the fever.

“So, we just have to try and take care of you and do everything we can to make sure you’re brave until the fever breaks.”

“Brave.” He sagged back against the mattress, the towel cool against his skin.

“Yes, brave, just like my father.”

There was a moment of silence as he carefully watched her expression. With the darkness in the room he couldn’t be absolutely sure that she was smiling, but he could hear her breathing… slow and steady. “You don’t talk about him much.”

“No,” she sighed, “I don’t, but that’s neither here nor there, sweetheart.”

She got up from her chair and Ike fought the urge to make a grab for her hand and keep her beside him. Althea stopped near the fireplace, lifting up the family bible from its place beside her wedding picture and turned back to her son.

“Have I shown you the entries in the Bible?”

Ike shook his head and watched his mother advance across the room, waiting. She sat beside him on the bed and reached over to readjust the blankets around him. With her long fingers she opened the cover of the Bible and turned a few pages over until he could see handwriting in the book.

“Someone wrote in it!”

She laughed her voice melodic in its amusement. “Yes, my mother. She wrote here-” She pointed at the top of the page. “My father’s name. Isaac Morgan. Then my father’s birth date and hers. Then the day they married. My sister, Lily, her birth date and then mine. Here.”

Ike struggled to brace himself up on his elbows to see directly into the book. “What’s that number on the end of your Pa’s name?”

Her hand lifted up and swiped away a tear on her cheek. “He died, years before you were born.”

“Then Pa right beside your name.”

“That’s right,” she slid her finger down to smooth it over his father’s name, “That was the last entry that my mother wrote. She gave this Bible to me when I married your father and I’ve entered in all of the important memories of our family right here.”

“That’s me.” Ike saw the neat numbers printed in his mother’s handwriting and recognized his own name. “When I was born.”

“That’s right, and your sister, too.” She smiled and ran her hand over the entire page, her voice colored with her smiles. “This book isn’t just the word of God, Ike. This book is our family’s history something that tells our story.”

That day he fell asleep listening to his mother reading David and Goliath again, the words echoing in his head as his dreams blossomed with his hopes and imagination.

Small David stood in the field, tiny in comparison to his foe. Goliath stood; assured that no shepherd boy could ever harm him. The Philistines mocked the boy, calling to him to surrender, give up and they might spare his life. Instead, the boy reached into his pouch and pulled a small round stone and fitted it into the curve of his sling. The men laughed at his folly, reeling back with their laughter, blinded by their conceit. It was into that laughter that the rock sang through the air. Arching through the sky and searching out his target.

Ike awoke in the early light of dawn and climbed from the bed, wincing at the chill of the floor boards as his feet padded over the few feet to the rocking chair where his mother slept. Lifting up her arms he sat down on her lap and pulled her arms around his body, leaning into her warmth.

* * * *

The next few weeks were wonderful as far as Ike was concerned. His Pa made him a kite, the best kite there had ever been and Ma had made his favorite kind of chicken at every chance they had. He was in such a good mood that even his little sister ‘borrowing’ his colored pencils didn’t make him mad.

He’d started learning to read the Bible with his mother, sitting beside her sounding out the words to his favorite stories, the ones he knew by heart. And sometimes, when he woke up before the others in his family, he’d sneak over to the fireplace and pull down the family Bible, turning the leather-bound book in his hands and reading the names and dates written within.

Ike remembered his mother’s words... heard her soft contralto in his mind. “This book is our family’s history something that tells our story.”

And there, hunched over his family Bible he knew. He knew how to add to their story… how to tell the story of their family, their struggle to make a home on the hill. He’d draw the picture of their time here, his family happy and smiling. He’d record it for his mother. He’d put it in the Bible so she’d never forget.

Smiling to himself he slipped the Bible back up onto the mantle and went back to bed, imagining his mother’s surprise.



You Just Haven't Done it Yet


She looked in the mirror and couldn’t help but cry. The woman staring back at her, well, she wasn’t that woman.

Prim hairstyle, elegant crystal bobs swinging from her ears, even the lack of face paint… it was all because Henry Dunne said he liked to see her, the way God made her.

That was the difference she told herself. When Henry said something like that he meant it, then again, so had Thad. It’s just that Thad meant it in a different way.

To Thad she was good enough to lay down with… good enough for a meal or two brought back from the restaurant, but with Henry. Henry was candlelight and gentle words.

There it was… the smile he liked so much. “Oh my…” the Reverend’s wife appeared behind her and Rachel turned to greet the woman who had allowed her to use her home, stand here at her mirror, become rooted to her floor, “aren’t you a vision!”

Rachel felt her heart rise into her throat and then plummet to her feet. “I feel as fat as a buffalo and I’m sure everyone can see that I’m sweating all over.”

The woman’s gentle hands smoothed over her shoulders, righting the fabric so it didn’t bunch against her skin. “Now, don’t you believe any of those thoughts; just put them out of your mind.”

“Mrs. Graham, I-”

“You and your mister will be wonderful parents when the time comes and he looks to be as smitten as my Edward. He won’t notice anything but the fact that you’re there and you’re going to be his for the rest of his life.”

Rachel’s hand covered her belly and she leaned closer to the older woman. “How did you-”

“How did I know that you were expecting?” Her peal of laughter was delightful and showered down around them both. “Sweet Lord, we women don’t miss much, do we? Especially if we’re looking into the heart of someone.”

She suddenly felt very very uncomfortable… very very… naked. “I… I…”

“Oh, dear,” the concern on the woman’s face was plain to see, “are you quite alright?” When Rachel didn’t answer her, the Reverend’s wife took her hand and drew her to a settee along the wall. “I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you. My husband would be very cross with me for talking too much.”

“No, really.” Rachel was in a hurry to assure the woman that she was fine. “You’ve been so kind to us.”

“That is what we do, dear.”

“You don’t seem to understand. You don’t know who I am.”

There was snap of light in her pale blue eyes. “Then why don’t you tell me.”

Rachel’s chin dropped a fraction of an inch as she lowered her voice. “I love, Henry;” The seriousness of her gaze seemed to stop the older woman from interjecting, and so she continued, “but he’s not the only man I’ve been with.” Rachel took a shuddering breath before adding on. “But I swear to you, on everything I hold dear he is the man I will love until I die.”

Reaching over, the Reverend’s wife gave her knotted hands a gentle pat. “I don’t doubt that my dear. I saw the way you looked at him when my husband agreed to marry the two of you.” She blushed like a young girl. “I dare say he feels the same way.”

“That’s what he says. Henry says that he loves me all the time. I just worry,” she couldn’t bear to look up at the older woman, “that he’ll wake up one day and realize that I’m too much trouble and he should have run in the other direction the first time he saw me.”

“Oh my, it sounds like you’ve got a case of cold feet,” she gave another reassuring pat to Rachel’s hands; “it will pass. Just wait until you’re standing there… he’s holding your hands and looking into your eyes.” She looked over at the ornate picture frame on the side table, “and he promises to love you and hold you for the rest-”

“I’m not ready for this.” Rachel launched herself from the settee and moved to the doorway. She paused there listening to the voices from below. The preacher’s deep bass tones matched harmony with Henry’s light Irish brogue and the two men laughed over some shared joke. “I’m not going to be good wife.” She whirled back around to see her companion shake her head with a sympathetic look. “It’s not for the lack of trying. It’s not. I love him beyond reason, but he deserves a blushing bride-”

“Then you truly fit the bill, my dear.”

Rachel’s hands fluttered over her face, her skin heated to the touch, her heart pounding deep within her chest. “I don’t know how to be normal… I don’t know how to be a lady, a wife, a… a mother.” Fear was coursing through her veins. “I’m no one to tell a child how to decide right from wrong. I’ve been through so many… mistakes in my life. I’ve done,” she put her head in her hands, “so many horrible, selfish, sinful things.

She looked at the Reverend’s wife, true horror in her expression. “How am I going to take care of a husband and a… a child, when I’ve never even been able to really care for myself. There’s no school to teach those skills.”

Her eyes threatened to rain down tears over her gown, but the Reverend’s wife quietly came forward and took the younger woman in her arms. “You may see yourself in that way, but I don’t… your man doesn’t either. He sees the good in you. He sees the love in your heart as I do. And when you tell me that you worry over being a good wife and mother I can tell you with all honesty that I don’t it’s because I know that you can be… darling, you just haven’t done it yet.”

“Rachel!” Henry bellowed up the stairs. “I’m an impatient man!”

“Well, dear?” Rachel felt the corners of her mouth turn up, mirroring that of her new friend. “Do we go downstairs for a wedding?”

There was a moment when Rachel considered running away. Running away from Henry, from this town, from her life. Then, she remembered his words when she told him she was pregnant… with Thad’s child. “Dinna worry, my darlin’, it matters only that the child is yours… that’s enough to make him ours in my heart.”

With a sure nod Rachel accepted a bouquet of gathered blossoms and a handkerchief, quickly blotting away the tears that tracked across her skin. “I’m ready… I’m ready for anything as long as I have Henry.”

“Then you both are truly blessed.”

“Rachel! I’m a man in a marryin’ mood! Come down here and make me happy!”

Giving her new friend a wink Rachel leaned out over the banister and called down. “Keep up your bellowin’ and bellyachin’ Henry Dunne and I’ll drop something nice and heavy on your head and make you delirious!”

“I’d love to see you try, darlin’!”

“Shush, Henry, I’m coming!”

“Then let’s not keep him waiting.” The two new friends linked their arms and descended the stairs together.



I'd Rather Be Sorry



A shadow slid across the floor and covered the toe of his boot. Inside he groaned, he couldn’t take another beating.

“Go away.”

“Well,” her honeyed tones were dipped in ice, “if that’s the kind of reception I’m liable to get from you, then I think this will be my last visit.”

“Hell.” He looked up and the pain in his neck forced him to bend to the side. “Polly.”

“Yes, that is my name and I will thank you not to use it anymore. Really, Mister Hunter. Using a woman’s first name is a sign of familiarity… or even intimacy.” Her eyes narrowed slightly as she gave him a cold look. “We wouldn’t want folks to think we were… intimate, would we?”

He got up to his feet silently cursing Deputy Moore for his handiwork that morning. “Don’t get yourself in a twist, Miz Watts. If you’d rather not be associated with a rabble-rouser like me, I’m sure that’s for the best. After all, your father has been very clear on the subject.”

He took a few hesitant steps forward, drawn by her lips and the heady scent of her perfume.

“Oh no,” she waved her hands before him, warding him off, “you stay right there or I’ll tell my Daddy.”

“What, Polly?” His voice slowed, the tone dropping deep in his chest as he drew in breath after breath of her light lilac scent. “You’ll tell your Daddy that I was close enough to touch you?”

Her hands slowly fell to her sides and she shook her head. “Not really. I wouldn’t tell him that.”

“NO?” He arched his brow and slipped his hand through the bars to cup her cheek, gently sliding his thumb over her skin. “What if I did touch you? What would Daddy say then?”

“I wouldn’t… couldn’t tell him.”

“You wouldn’t?” He slipped his hand into her hair, twisting a little curl from the nape of her neck around his index finger. “You know it’s dangerous for a girl like you to visit the jail.”

Her eyes snapped open and a hand reached up to squeeze around one of the iron bars next to his face. “I’m no girl. I’m a woman, if you haven’t noticed.”

“Oh,” he gave her a sly smile, “I noticed alright.”

“Really?”

He nearly chuckled at her tone. It was hopeful and unaffected. She was pleased.

“I see the way you swish around the front office, those kid boots of yours look right nice peekin’ out from under those frilly petticoats you like to wear.”

She tried to look affronted. “A gentlemen would never discuss a woman’s petticoats. It’s just not done in polite company.”

“If that’s the kind of company you want, you’re in the wrong place, Missy.” He looked from one end of the cells to the door. “There’s no gentlemen comin’ through a place like this. You better rush off to one of them ‘social halls’ and see who you can scare up there. I ain’t goin’ anywhere soon.”

“I’ve been to the social halls and found them-”

“Boring?” He offered, looking for rise in her color.

He got exactly what he wanted. “I never said boring… perhaps lacking is a better word for it.”

“Lacking doesn’t sound much better.”

She nodded. “True.”

“Is that why you’re here, Miss Watts?” He let go of her hair and she swayed back before she righted herself. “Are you looking for something to keep your interest? Cuz’ if that’s all you’re after, then I think Deputy Moore would be more than willing to oblige.”

“Silas?” Polly looked at him with a sour expression. “He’s so… rough.”

He laughed a good hearty laugh that had her folding her arms in a pretty pout. “Rough? Darlin’ have you taken a good look at me?” He looked around at the long shadows in the room. “Granted, there ain’t much sunlight in the back here, but you have to know that a man stupid enough to get himself locked up his first day in town is bound to be a bit on the rough side.”

“I know.”

“Then,” he couldn’t help the slight tinge of frustration in his voice, “what are you doin’ back here, you know there ain’t no one to ‘save you’ if I get evil thoughts in my head.”

He looked away expecting her to look outraged or shocked; he expected anything but her next words.

“I don’t want to be saved from you; I want to be here with you.”

His heart hit the floor somewhere about his spurs and the wood seemed to shift beneath him as he looked into her warm brown eyes. “Don’t play with a man like that.”

“I’m not playing at anything, I meant what I said.”

“No.”

“Yes. I took one look at you yesterday and I knew.”

“You’re sick… in the head if you think that your Daddy would let you go any further with this… this…”

“Don’t you tell me that I don’t know what I want. I’m a willful young woman, Mister Hunter and I will not be dissuaded when I make up my mind.”

He looked at her, the determined angle of her chin, the fire flashing in her eyes, turning them amber in the dusty light around them. She sure was pretty angry. ‘Hell,’ he thought, ‘she sure looks pretty all the time.’

“I think I’m the one in danger here, sweetness. Any man with eyes would fall for you.”

“I don’t want just any man. I want you.”

Shaking his head, he turned away from the bars, trying to recover his sanity. He swung back around, determined to chase her off. “You won’t feel that way when your Daddy hears you say that.” He tried to get her to see the truth. “You’ll be sorry you ever came here to see me. He’ll most likely shoot me first and then send you off to a convent for even thinking like you do.”

“I’ll be more sorry than anything if I don’t go after what I want, and make no mistake about this. I want you, Al Hunter, and what I want… I get.”

Reaching through the iron bars she grabbed a hold of his shirt and pulled him forward, momentum doing most of the work that had him meet her halfway in the dusty room. Their lips met and his eyes widened in surprise as the willful little miss curled his toes with her kiss.

She left him gasping for air a moment later and he knew he was gone. He knew he was going to be strung up when her Daddy found out, but somehow he didn’t care.



Too Late for Roses



Mrs. Sheldon and the Widow Allen just didn’t want to leave and darn the fact that her father had drilled manners into her for as long as she remembered. Still, the way these women talked about the others in town, it set Emma’s teeth to gnashing.

“Really, that boy at the livery doesn’t have a lick of sense about him. He’s been seen at the Saloon, mooning over that new girl, the one with the long brown hair.”

“Hmpf,” Mrs. Sheldon shot a disapproving look at her friend, “I wouldn’t know what the Saloon girls look like, since I wouldn’t got anywhere near that den of evil.”

“You know,” Emma found the silence between the two as the perfect opportunity to interject for a moment, “while I would be delighted to sit here and share this time with you ladies, I’m sure you can understand the mountain of housework that I have to do before Sam gets home.”

“Well, I believe I do,” the widow gave her a smile, “do you need any help?”

Emma was pretty sure the last thing in the world she wanted to do was ask either woman to stay a second longer. So she had to think fast. “I was planning on cleaning out the fireplace and there are the sheets to clean and I do believe that I have to-”

Mrs. Sheldon snapped the case of her watch shut and gave a distinct cough. “Oh dear, I just remembered. Laura? Didn’t we tell Millie that we would help her with the… the meeting she was-”

“What meeting?” She caught the narrowed look and quickly changed her own expression. “Of course! The meeting! How silly I was. I completely forgot! We should be going.”

The two women couldn’t seem to stand fast enough and nearly didn’t wait for Emma to hold the door open for them. “Well, you be sure to tell Millie that I’ll be happy to help if you need me.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Sheldon gave her a quick pat on her shoulder, “we’ll call, dear. Don’t you worry about it.”

She ushered the widow down the stairs and Emma followed after them, picking up her watering can as she descended behind them. The two ladies, contrary to their insistence that they were in a hurry, dawdled as they walked, one then the other looking back over their shoulders as Emma moved through her little garden, watering as she went.

Emma was determined not to give them the satisfaction, not to give them the power they so desperately wanted, the power to see her pain.

Instead, as the two ladies reached the corner of Main Street, Emma stopped her watering and raised a hand in greeting.

Both ladies froze like cigar-store statues, their eyes wide as saucers. They were caught at they knew it.

Mrs. Sheldon recovered first, her hands reaching for the widow to drag her along as she started down the street. Their conversation started up again as they rounded the corner and Emma knew that their words were about her.

“Well, now that those ‘ladies’ are gone, let’s see what we can do to help you.”

Bending down beside the gnarled branches of the little bush and carefully poured water down around the base.

She watched as the water seeped into the ground and reaching out with her fingers she touched the dirt. Lifting her hand up she looked at her fingers. “Dry.” Emma gave a long sigh and poured more water around the base of the plant. “You are thirsty, but that’s fine with me. We’re going to make you healthy again. Just you wait.”

Sitting back on her heels she shielded her eyes from the sun and scanned the sky from one end to the other looking for clouds. It was a fruitless search but it didn’t really matter.

It didn’t serve to dampen her determination.

“You know,” she began again, her fingers gently followed a branch from the trunk to the tip, careful not to snap the delicate fingers of the plant, “they say it’s to late for roses, but what do they know? How do they know what can and can’t be done?”

Her fingers were trembling and she pulled her hands back from the rosebush and wiped them on her skirts, feeling the fabric brush back and forth across her skin warming them in the cool air.

“How do they know anything at all? They spend their time poking their noses into everyone else’s business. They just don’t know what’s possible, they just want to-”

“Know what’s makin’ the prettiest woman in these parts talk to herself?”

Emma turned and threw her arms around her husband. He tried to back away with a laughing protest. “I’m covered in dust and dirt… three days worth.”

She held on even tighter. “I don’t care! You’re home… you’re home!”

“Well,” he kissed her temple and held her face between his hands to get a good look at her, “if I’d known that this was going to be my welcome home, I’d go away more.”

Emma smacked him on his shoulder. “Don’t you dare! I hate it when you’re away.”

His expression changed, there was less laughter in his eyes, the corners of his mouth relaxed and he pressed a kiss to her lips. “I don’t like it either, darlin’, not one bit.”

She nodded, a smile barely cracking through her serious expression. “When do you have to go again?”

“Not for a few weeks, maybe a month.”

Her smile gentled, relaxing with the news. “A few weeks.”

“It’s time together.”

“That’s all I wanted.”

“I just want you…”

Emma blushed, her face flushing red in her cheeks as her hands smoothed over his chest, shoulders, and down his arms until her hands covered his. “That, I can give you, Sam… I just wish-”

He cut off her words with a kiss, gently brushing his lips against hers. “You don’t have to ‘give’ me anything, Emma. As long as I have you, that’s all I need.”

She fell against him a moment later, her arms circling around his chest, her breath warm against his chest. “I just wish I was more-”

“Perfect?” Sam heard the overly bright sound of his voice and struggled to tame it so she wouldn’t hear. “You’re everything I need, Emma… don’t worry about the rest.”



Child of the 50s



They rode up to the outskirts of town and Kid waited while their daddy set the break on the wagon before getting down. He'd learned the hard way that he wasn't supposed to get down until they were good and parked.

"Hey, Kid, wake up." Jed was hissing in his ear a hand rocking his shoulder back and forth. "Let's go."

Jed climbed down first reaching up to help his brother down. Daddy's cane cracked across his forearm. "He ain't no girl… let him get hi'self down, or he'll be needin' you to do it for him until he dies."

Jed clutched his arm to his body, breathing through the pain. "Sorry, Daddy."

Benedict clapped his hand down his elder son's shoulder and spurred him forward, oblivious to the hiss of pain that passed his son's lips. "Don't be sorry, son… be a man."

Kid stood for a moment, watching the two walk down the lane. He felt his brother's pain, they'd both received the same kind of blows from time to time, but there was a… connection that existed between Jed and their Daddy that he never felt. He'd witnessed it sure enough, but whenever it came down to him, their Daddy never could seem to muster up more than a tolerance.

"Come on now, Boy… don't be wasting our day. We've got marketing to do."

They moved quickly down the road, even with Daddy's cane, they moved quite quickly, passing by the ramshackle houses at the edge of town. Ramshackle but still better than their own dwelling.

Nearly a block down from the wagon they all turned at the sudden clatter of a wooden door against its frame. A man stood on the step, his massive body clothed in a simple brown cotton cover-all that strapped over a dim white shirt. He saw them in the next moment, his eyes solemn and posture slipping in recognition.

The man stepped down slowly, his head bowing in greeting.

"Damn, Darkie."

Kid's steps faltered for a moment, the venom in his father's voice was palpable.

Slipping his hand onto Jed's shoulder he steered his eldest over to the far side of the street. "Wouldn't know their right place unless you shove their faces in it." They continued on with Kid right on their heels. "You just pay them no never mind, son… they don't know much more than what they're told.

Ain't nothin' much you have to worry about from them, 'ceptin' when they get

too angry or too stupid to know any better."

A sudden shift in the bush at his side nearly wrenched a gasp from Kid's lips, but he kept silent. Daddy didn't like it when they went all weak and girly on him.

Instead, Kid turned his head to the side and peered in through the leafy mess.

"Shh!" Two dark brown eyes peered back at him, spread across a dark brown nose.

Kid tripped over his toes and nearly fell into the back of Jed's legs, but he managed to stop himself from making the embarrassing blunder. As they continued on, Kid turned around and peered back at the bush. Nothing.

It was an instant admiration that Kid felt deep down inside himself. He wanted to be able to hide like that. Hide in the brambles and brush, keep out of his Daddy's way.

There was truly something grand in the idea. Then again… he could just be a better son. Surely that would make his Daddy happier.

Thomas Vaughn called out to them from his doorstep and ambled down his stone walk to meet their daddy at the fence. "You look like a man off to market,

Arnold."

"That I am, Thomas."

The older man leaning over his wooden fence gave their father a close look.

"Then why the sour look, my friend? What's got you in such a state?"

"You aughta have a talk with that boy, Bobby. His darkie done stare at us as though we'd care to take notice of him."

"Nerve that boy has, buyin' a big monster like that. Shouldn't get a man you can't beat down on your own."

Benedict nodded, his lips pursed together. "It's just not wise." He let out a long sigh and looked down at Jed. "'sides, there are those of us that would be grateful for the help, but then we jus' can't afford no darkie." He ruffled his fingers through Jed's hair. "Jus' don't seem fair… a hard workin' man like me jus' can't afford to own one… not with two young sons in the house, eattin' me outta house and home."

"That's right," Vaughn agreed, "can't do a single thing to help ourselves if men are just able to flaunt their darkies right underneath our noses."

"That's right," grumbled their Daddy, "If'n they're just lookin' to drive us

outta Virginia and buy up our land, then they'll just have to think again… we don't scare so easy… do we boys?"

Kid and Jed shook their heads, they didn't even really think about the question. It didn't pay to think around daddy. He never liked it when you got smart.





There's a Man In There



Jimmy found his way into the Judge’s house long after he was sure everyone had gone to sleep. He knew if he was caught, the Judge wouldn’t hesitate to have him beaten… to have Brad beat him. They weren’t allowed in the house uninvited… they weren’t anything more than hired hands when you got down to it.

Something had always put words of doubt in his head. Doubts that said the Judge wasn’t the man he wanted to look up to. God knows his father hadn’t been any kind of man at all, beating his Ma for every little perceived offense. That kind of man wasn’t good for anything more than hating.

When he’d met the Judge he’d been fresh from two days in jail with a knot on his head the size of a big ol’ goose egg from some mad as hell farmer with a few less eggs in the hen house. The Judge had given him an offer that a boy just couldn’t refuse. He’d pay that ornery farmer for the eggs out of his own pocket, if Jimmy would consent to work for him for a few weeks.

At first, it had been like something from Heaven… a second chance to make his life into something and he grabbed onto it with both hands, never planning to let go. Even when the work was hard and put a pain in his back, he made it through. When his hands blistered up and someone took his gloves, he didn’t stop for the blood.

All that mattered was that once in awhile… when the Judge was pleased with him, Jimmy got an invitation to the table.

That first time, had been about the most scared he’d ever been in his life. He must have washed his hands near twenty times before he felt like he was presentable for the table. He’d used his best shirt, fairly worn a hole through his pants dusting off the dirt from workin’ in the yard all day.

He’d remembered Mrs. Travis, the old housekeeper. She’d come to the door clucking over his lack of compartment… comportment, whatever she’d said. The old biddy had fairly attacked him with something that looked like the hind end of a turkey. She’d waved it at him while he swatted at her hands. “Come on, Missus Travis, I’m clean enough.”

“Clean, humph, clean enough ain’t nearly clean enough to my way of thinking.”

“I’m sorry, really, but-” the clock on the kitchen wall had chimed a gentle reminder, it was 5:45pm, “The Judge told me not to be late.” He wanted to shove past her, push beyond the wall of calico that kept him out, but that kind of behavior probably would get him banished from the house. In an instant his expression changed from reticent to rattled.

That’s what probably got her, his hang dog expression. It had been known to turn Mamas into mush when used the right way.

She seemed to soften up in a moment, her eyes crinkling up in the corners as she lowered the duster. “Then you better get inside, and,” she gave him a smile as she pushed a plate of rolls in his hands, “while you’re headed in there, be a dear and put these on the table.”

Jimmy had walked into the dining room, picking his steps to keep the sound of his boots from echoing off the walls and slowly lifting the basket of rolls under his nose so he could smell the buttery scent roll off of their flaky tops in waves.

The night had passed in a blur, the only thing that he could remember clearly the next morning was the sweet rosemary scent of Clara’s hair as she leaned over to hand him a napkin and the warm smile that the Judge had bestowed on him at the end of the night. “You did a good job tonight, Hickok. It shows that what I’ve been teaching you has been sinking in.”

The judge’s hand had been warm on his shoulder as he showed Jimmy to the door. Pausing at the entrance of the house he’d looked out over the yard and then settled his gaze on Jimmy’s upturned eager face. “You keep up your practice, Hickok… you keep your mind where it belongs… on your work… and we’ll… we’ll make a man out of you.”

Now, hidden in the dark living room of the Judge’s house he searched around on the floor, he didn’t know what to think. His papa had prided himself on being a learned man, a man who could read and write, and when Clara had given him the opportunity to learn, to read a book, especially the book that Clara had given him. “Robinson Crusoe.” He’d said the name over and over under his breath in the last few hours. It was such a strange name, but Clara had said it was an adventure and that was enough for him.

He crouched down beside the fireplace and sifted through the ashes with his fingers, feeling for the flat piece of leather that he’d seen on the edge of the grate. A few more minutes and still nothing. Jimmy set his lips together, determined to forget what had happened. The wanton destruction of the book had hurt Jimmy in places that he didn’t know he had in his mind.

His gift… his present had burned before his eyes and he’d done nothing about it. He’d let it happen, and now, he feared, he’d never learn to be anything more than the Judge’s gunman. How would he be able to rise above anything unless he found a way to stand up for what he wanted?

Twelve chimes resonated through the room from the standing clock along the wall and Jimmy scrambled to his feet, fearing the worst with the sudden explosion of sound. He lifted his face, catching the glint of light from the lantern left burning in the hall.

The oily light cast long shadows across his face, lengthening his features in the wall mirror. He looked older, tired, withdrawn. Was that his future? Was he going to become that kind of man?

Was he going to be the kind of man capable of bending things to his will?

He hung his head and drew in a long shaking breath. What kind of will did he have anyway? What kind of will could a man have and still let another decide his life?

Jimmy shook his head and turned. Turned his back on the room and all of its fancy trappings. This wasn’t for him. None of it. He didn’t want to do what it took to keep it. Clara was a sweetheart, a real gem, but he didn’t have the killer edge that the Judge wanted him to have… needed him to have.

He’d faced Brad, faced him down the end of his Colt and knew, somewhere in a part of his mind that couldn’t quite make sense of it, knew that Brad had been more than willing to kill him, if the time ever presented itself.

He left the Enright house with his face turned up into the dark night sky. Left it behind him as he went to pack his things and head out for the world that the Judge had told him was out there, waiting to teach him things.

So, that’s where he was going, to find a place where he could learn about being a man by doing it.



Leaving On Her Mind



“It’s so pretty… it’s sinful.” Lou laughed at herself, wiggling her toes against the fancy Oriental carpet on the floor. “I wish it was mine.”

Fingers wiggled across the expanse of satin as it lay over her stomach, enjoying the smooth feel of the fabric beneath the pads of her fingers and the slight rasp of it against her middle. It was a multitude of sensations that filled her from head to toe and one of them was fear. This wasn’t her room and these weren’t her clothes.

Louise blushed in the mirror, smiling as she ran her hands over the silken drawers she’d borrowed from the laundry pile. Her smile faded as her own body failed to measure up to the other women in the boarding house. Whereas the same garment looked so elegant and ‘curvy’ on them, on her scrawny little body it gaped and puffed… obviously empty in all the wrong places.

The door opened before she could change her clothes. “Well, hello sweetie…”

When Louise looked back into the mirror and saw the man, there was a moment of relief that it wasn’t Charlotte, and then a moment later she was frozen in fear.

He stepped closer “What’s your name, little girl?”

She was caught. Her clothes on the bed a good three feet away and he was in the way. “I … I .. .um… Charlotte’s not here… I just, I’m just-”

“A tempting morsel… an aperitif to whet my palate? Or a mouse caught in the kitchen?”

“Look mister, I don’t rightly know what all you’re sayin’ but I’m just the laundry girl… I was just,” she turned her head away, “I was just trying on some things. Look, I shouldn’t even be in here… I’m real sorry, Mister, I-”

His hand was suddenly on her shoulder and she turned back around to protest, but she realized that from his vantage point, over a head taller than she, he could see straight down into the gaping front of the camisole. She grabbed at the material, fingertips tearing through the worn lace trim. “Look, I don’t know what you’re after, but you shouldn’t be in here with me… I have work to do.”

“Work? Oh yes,” he murmured, his hand coming up to cup her chin and tilt her face up toward him, “that’s exactly what I had in mind.”

Lou’s stomach turned, a knot forming in the pit of her stomach where her supper should have been. “I’ve got more laundry and-”

“Thomas Harper, you know we have rules in this house.” Charlotte stood in the doorway, leaning against the open frame. “You know you’re not supposed to be in here until Wicks opens the doors for business.”
He pulled Lou up against his side and smiled at Charlotte. “Yeah, yeah… I know, but now that I’m here, we can have a party… you, me... and,” he jostled Lou, nearly shaking her teeth out of her jaw, “little missy here can have ourselves a private party.”
She wanted to disappear… she wanted to fade away into the shadows… and even as Lou stared longingly at the door, she knew she was in trouble with Charlotte. She could read that in her eyes.

The older woman fell into her role perfectly, her voice dropped into her throat, deep and sultry, and her hips began to swing gently back and forth, attracting his notice. He loosened his hold on her shoulders, but Lou didn’t dart for the door, something in her gut told her that the danger wasn’t over.

“Now, Thomas. Let’s make a deal… you and I.”

He grinned as he watched her lacquered fingertips drift slowly over her ample bosom. “I’m listening.”

“Good.” She stopped right in front of where he was, her hand lifting to trail down the side of his face and down onto his shoulder. “Now, I know you to be a man of educated tastes… an innocent little thing like her will just slow us down...” Charlotte lifted his hand off of Lou’s shoulder, “so we’ll just send her on her way and-”

He shrugged out of Charlotte’s grasp and clutched at Lou’s arms, his fingers biting in hard enough to make her gasp. “I say we keep her around… you could always teach her a thing or two.”

Her eyes were pleading, begging Charlotte to set her free, but Charlotte only pinched her to keep her from saying anything.

“That’s not the deal that I had in mind, Thomas… and you know me, if I’m not happy… no one is happy.”

“Oh? Is that it? Are you,” he pushed Louise to the side and wrapped both of his hands around Charlotte’s tiny waist, “are you tellin’ me what to do?” Laughing, he pulled her tight up against his body. “You know I like it when you order me around.”

“Oh, you do?” Charlotte leaned her head to the side, giving him access to slobber over her neck, while she grabbed Lou’s shoulder with her hand and shoved her toward the door with a sharp look.

Lou didn’t stop to think… she didn’t even stop to grab her clothes… she ran.



Burning Bridges



He was angry. He was angry and young… and that meant, careless. Red Bear had often asked his younger brother if he had a wish to die young. Little Buck didn’t know any better than to say, “Why not?”

Running away had seemed like so much fun. He’d planned it for days, planned it while he waited for the right time, when all were busy with preparations for the next feast. He doubted that anyone would question his absence… or that they would even care. They all hated him, hated what he reminded them of. He should know. He hated who he was too.

It took him the better part of an hour to get himself horribly and irrevocably lost. He looked up one moment and realized that none of the trees looked familiar and the rocks were a color he had never seen before. The reds and oranges seemed tinged with an unsettling green as if the leaves were starting to blend right into the face of the rocks themselves.

Turning around, Buck realized that the opening he had just come through seemed to disappear, the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon sun. For a few heartbreaking moments he thought of crying out, calling for someone to come and get him.

Then, in the next moment, he realized that his greater fear was that they’d hear… they’d hear him begging for help… and they wouldn’t come. That they’d leave him out here and go back to the camp, laughing.

He’d heard it over and over. He had no talent for scouting. The Kiowa boys held him in contempt for that alone, taunting him as if it made him less of a Kiowa… and maybe it did. By his age, most Kiowa boys could find their way around the surrounding countryside without aid, but Buck was forever in his brother’s shadow.

Their mother had made the decree herself.

Oh, their father fought her, his voice bleeding anger when they argued over him. He wanted ‘the boy’ to fend for himself… find his own way. Then, there was the fear that the hard edge to his father’s voice held another want… that he’d go off on his own… go off and never come back.

Well. That wasn’t going to happen. He’d show them.

Fisting his hands, Buck strode over to the wall of rock and felt around for a hand hold. “Up. I need to go up.” One hand after another… one foot and then another he made his way slowly up the rock face, pebbles and edges digging into his palms. Biting back the tears and ignoring the dull red stains he left on the striated stone, Buck continued up and up until he felt just above his head a flat expanse of rock. Convinced he had finally reached the top, he slung his arm up and over his head and pulled his body up.

“SCREE!” Buck’s vision was filled with talons and red-brown feathers beating at his face.

“Stop… stop!” He waved his hand around, trying to ward off the creature, but instead of scaring it away, his desperation seemed to anger it. “Stop!” Talons bit into his forearm, clamping down so hard that it took precious seconds before he actually felt the pain. “Let go!”

With one hand firmly dug into rock and the other held by the angry talons of the hawk, Buck didn’t expect the very thing he begged for. The instant the hawk let go, he lost his purchase on the rock and tumbled backwards into the open air.
He fell like a stone, heavy and unmoving, his eyes watching as the hawk swept up into the sky, spreading its wings as it laughed at him.

“Bucks don’t fly.”

Buck shut his eyes and wished to be alone just as hard as he wished for help a few minutes ago. Maybe if he pretended to be asleep then Red Bear would leave him alone, and-

Red Bear pushed his shoulder. “Get up… you can’t pretend to be dead. I don’t think we’d be that lucky.”
The tone of his words was in jest, but there was an edge to them, just as harsh and cutting as the stones had been, and Buck knew there would be hell to pay if he didn’t listen.

Opening his eyes, he rolled gingerly onto his side, the back of his head shooting pain through the rest of his skull. “I’m not ready to go back yet.”

“You were lost, again.” Red Bear had found a seat for himself, just a couple of feet away. Legs gracefully folded beneath him he looked every inch the Chief’s son. Without looking down, Buck was sure his clothes were covered in dirt and sticks and his hair must look as though a wind storm had pulled it away from his head. “You were told to stay where I left you.”
“I was bored.” He was going to ignore the pout that had formed from his lips. He couldn’t help it. “You left me behind.”
Red Bear sighed and gave him a pointed look. “I was courting Dancing Bird and we did not need… your company.”
Buck’s shoulders sagged at the rebuke. At eighteen, Red Bear was a man… a man who would marry as soon as he found a maiden he wanted as his own. He’d waited, bowing to the pressure that his mother had put on him, making him his brother’s protector.

Buck had heard as much from Red Bear himself, when his brother wanted to make him mad… mad enough to return home to their mother. “Then why did you come for me? I would have found my way home. I was climbing the rocks to see the village from height. To see as the birds do and find my way home. I did not need you to come.”

The knowing look set him in his place. He turned his gaze down to the ground and pulled himself up regardless of the pain throbbing through his head. He would not admit by word or deed exactly how much he had injured himself. “Our mother has sent me to find you. To find you and bring you home to her so that she may swaddle you like the babe that you are… that you always will be.”

Folding his arms Buck gave his brother a haughty look. “Find your woman, leave me alone.”

“Leave you?” Red Bear’s laughter bounced off of the walls of rock surrounding them and made the sounds multiply as if a score of men stood around them. “No, I will not leave you, Little Buck.” He reached over and tousled the long lengths of hair.

“I’m not a baby, not anymore. I can climb… nearly as high as you can, you’ll see.”

His brother stared at him as though through his eyes he could see deep into Buck’s soul. “What I see is a boy trying to be a man by proving that he knows little of what it takes to be strong… to be a man… to be Kiowa. You seek comfort when you should fight… You run when you should stand…” He seemed to give the matter great consideration. “Then that is what we shall call you… the boy who runs. Running Buck.”

Red Bear unfolded his legs, stretching himself to his full height and pulled Buck along with him, his firm hand tucked under his brother's arm. “You will come with me and beg our mother’s forgiveness for her worry.”

Buck shrugged away and gave him a sour stare. “I beg of no one.”

“You do what I tell you, or I will do worse than knock you on your back.”

Shoving Buck toward the gap in the rock barely visible to Buck’s searching eyes. Red Bear saw the stones and dust kicked up by his angry feet. He chuckled at his brother. “Running Buck. You have earned the name.”

*note: I understand that Buck and Red Bear would not have spoken in the English language, but I lack the skills to translate the dialogue into Kiowa and that most of you wouldn’t be able to read it if I did, so we’ll just have to pretend we all have our universal translators on.


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