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.

This is Raye's 2nd set... she's finished her first 11.

These stories are all set DURING The Express!
Character
Title
Summary
Kid
Do You Remember These?
Kid has a rude awakening on payday.
Sam
Thank You, World
Sam's grateful for the friends he's made and the family they've become.
Buck
Every Time I Trust a Gal
Buck goes back to the Cantina for a visit... and perhaps more.
Ike
I've Had a Good Time
Ike has a heart to heart with Buck.
Teaspoon
Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings
With Polly back in his life, he begins to wonder.
Emma
She's Too Good
It's a rude awakening for Emma when she gets a letter from Lou.
Tompkins
What Do I Care
Everyone's getting invitations to the wedding... everyone, but him.
Lou
Almost Persuaded
Joking's only really fun if 'everyone' is laughing
Jimmy
Have a Little Faith
Jimmy's going to face Longley, problem is that Jimmy's not sure he's going to survive it.
Rachel
You'll be Back Every Night (In My Dreams)
Rachel is struggling to put the past behind her and get rid of the bracelet are you
Cody
It Should Have Been Me
Cody ponders what he would have lost if he died in Noah's place


Do You Remember These?



They all tried to beat the others to the front of the line. It wasn’t easy, on a day like today everyone wanted to be the first one there. The bank doors sprang open under the added pressure of their bodies and Cody nearly tumbled to the floor as Jimmy’s boots got tangled up with his. “Watch it, Hickok.”

“Get outta my way, Cody.”

“Both of you just quit it.”

“I’d stay out of their way, Lou.” The warning was a moment too late as Lou laid an elbow into Cody’s side after he nearly knocked her off her feet.

*careful*

Buck pulled his friend out of the way as Kid suddenly appeared in front of the line eliciting loud complaints from the rest of the riders.

“I ought to tell Mr. Hunter to take the Express accounts to another institution,” Mr. Mathers cleared his throat as he stared at them. “The problem is, we ARE the only financial institution in this town and our bank has had a long standing relationship with Mr. Waddell.”

He waved to a young man with his sleeves pulled up into garters. “This is David, he’ll help you boys today and-”

Someone chose that moment to push and the whole pile of humans lurched forward nearly over-whelming the teller who leaned back in horror at their advance. “Wait your turn, all of you… this is not a circus.”

“Yeah, we know,” Cody assured him.

“Right,” Hickok agreed, “the circus is more fun.”

“Don’t forget the food.” Lou looked up at Jimmy. “Circuses let you eat inside.”

“There shall be none of that,” called Mr. Mathers from his desk in the back of the room.

Ike answered him, but Mr. Mathers could only squint at the young man. “What is it, son?”

Buck looked over and translated. “He said, ‘We know, we’ll behave.’”

Mr. Mather didn’t look like he believed it, but he finally looked back at the papers on his desk.

Ike grabbed Kid’s arm as he came back through the crowd a few coins held in his hand. Ike’s free hand signed out a simple message. *what*

“I just don’t believe it. This has to be wrong.”

Ike and Cody peered over his shoulder. “What’s the problem, Kid?”

“There’s barely two dollars here.”

“What did you ask for?” Cody was busy staring at the pile of coins in his own hand.

“My wages for the week.”

“And you got two dollars?” Jimmy barely choked down his laughter. “What did you do?”

Kid pushed him away grunting in satisfaction as Jimmy stumbled back before dropping to his knees to search for a coin knocked from his hand. “I’m going to see Teaspoon.”

“You think you got cheated?”

Buck gave Cody a withering look. “Not by Teaspoon.”

“No… no, of course not.” Kid’s tone was distracted as he weighed the coins over and over in his palm “It’s just a mistake, I’m sure… I’m sure it is just a mistake.”

****

Teaspoon looked up from his work, but he didn’t get up from his chair at the bunkhouse table. “Boy, it looks like something crawled up into your bedroll and had kittens.” He shut his ledgers and laid his spectacles on the table. “Is there something we need to talk about?”

Cody stepped up onto the porch and scuffed the bottoms of his boots to knock the dirt off the soles while he peered inside, desperate to be a part of the ‘conversation’. “He wants to know why the Express stiffed him.”

“Excuse me?” Teaspoon’s shocked expression turned to concern when Cody answered back.

“Really, he thinks you did, Teaspoon.”

Buck winced as Teaspoon’s chair scratched against the floor. “You’ve done it now, Cody.”

The blond was affronted, the emotion plainly written across his face as he stepped inside the bunkhouse with the others. “It ain’t my fault, Buck, and Kid’s the one that said-”

Jimmy wound his arm around Cody’s neck and squeezed ever so slightly. “Why don’t you let the Kid talk? You and I will go into the corner and have our own little talk.”

Buck moved back to make room for Ike who was the last one in the door.

Kid paced slowly back and forth before the table while Teaspoon watched as much as he was able to without getting dizzy. “Son, I’m not sure I even want to ask but-”

“It’s our pay day.”

Teaspoon nodded. “Yes, it is.”

“And I went to the bank with the others. I have something I wanted to get… somethin’ for someone.”

“Well, that… uh, is a nice idea, Kid.”

“They said I was paid two dollars.” Kid took a step away and then whirled around. “How is that possible?”

Teaspoon flipped open the ledger and nodded. “That’s what I told them.”

Kid’s mouth gaped open.

“We’re promised twenty-five dollars a week.”

Nodding, Teaspoon agreed. “For work done minus expenses.”

“Expenses? What are you talking about?”

“There is the matter of a few… broken things around the station.”

“Broken thi-” Kid paced a quick square on the floor of the bunkhouse, “what are you talking about?”

Teaspoon’s expression changed from confused to concern and then just plain disbelief. “Did you get kicked in the head recently?”

“Oh boy, this is gonna be good.”

Buck rolled his eyes at Cody’s words. “This doesn’t concern us.”

“Of course it does, Buck.” Cody leaned up against the wall. “This is instructional.”

*is that what they call it*

Jimmy nearly choked on a mouthful of water. “Ike, keep quiet, Teaspoon’s talkin’.”

“Thank you, Jimmy.” Teaspoon pushed back his chair and got up, “Although I don’t know that I’d worry about Ike talkin’ over me.” He pushed open the door of the bunkhouse and stepped outside to the wood box. Picking out a few pieces he slipped back inside. “Well, Kid… you remember these?”

“It wasn’t my turn to chop wood, Teaspoon.”

“Didn’t say it was, son, but I thought you’d recognize this wood, since you’re the one that split it for us, nonetheless.”

“Teaspoon-”

“Ladies… um, Gentlemen of the Jury, Exhibit One: the remnants of our eighth chair. Meaning that now, our friend Mr. Kid here has to sit on an old crate until Mr. Tompkins can get in the order to replace said chair. Then, Exhibit Two: there was the wood needed to replace the horse trough on the south side of the barn. Which I might add, Miss Rachel is more than thrilled at having her bath tub used for a watering hole.”

“That was a mistake.”

“We have a lot of those mistakes around here, Kid.”

“That’s enough out of you, Cody.”

Shrugging, Cody flopped down on his bunk. “Wasn’t there another chair, Teaspoon?”

The man’s expression lit up like a firecracker and he scanned his notebook. “Ah yes, thank you, its right here. There were the two chairs at the Founder’s Day Dance. It seems like you got a little… how do they say it… overly excited when one of the Randal boys cut in on a dance and a few ‘words’ changed into a few ‘shoves’ and then,” he slapped his fingers against the notebook, “here they are… on my list. I had to pony up the money myself that night and I have to tell you, I’m not really happy about it.”

“So is that it? Is that all the damage, Teaspoon? I can’t think of anything else-”

“What about the water pitcher?” Buck took a seat at the table.

“Why thank you, Buck, that was the next thing on my list.”

“The water pitcher?” Kid pressed a hand over his eyes blocking out the light.

“Yes.”

“You mean the white one that was on the table over there?” Kid pointed to the table in the corner, a simple blue pitcher held court over its meager kingdom of blue checked gingham.

“Yes,” Teaspoon let out a long suffering sigh, “that would be the one.”

“But,” Kid looked off toward the window his hands shoved into his pants pockets, “I didn’t break that.”

“Now wait a minute, Kid.”

“I didn’t,” repeated Kid, “that was Jimmy.”

“Jimmy?” Teaspoon leaned back and looked around the room, meeting the gaze of the other riders. “What did he have to do with this?”

“He broke the pitcher,” Kid insisted.

Buck chuckled. “With his head.”

“After you knocked him into it.” Cody elbowed Ike. “You sure know how to end an argument, Kid.”

“So, ah,” Teaspoon gave him a knowing grin, “you gonna have an issue with anything else on my list?”

“There’s more?”

Kid sank into a chair, his head dropping into his hands as Teaspoon flipped to the next page of his notebook. “Oh, that’s just the beginning, Kid, that’s just the beginning.”


Thank You World




Sam dragged his feet a bit, waiting until the boys had all washed up before he stepped up to the spigot. It wasn’t a matter that he was a ‘visitor’ and the boys lived there. He knew them all well enough and they knew him, but he was a man that had a lot to think about and he needed to ponder a few things before setting down to Emma’s table.

He knew the boys. Knew them well enough to cross the street and chew the fat a bit. Knew enough to ignore Jimmy when he was frettin’ about something or when to step in when he let his tender ego in the way of somethin’ bigger’n’ he could handle. Same for all the others, really. He’d been around long enough for Emma to school him in the way of things, even bringing something to his attention that he felt a little chagrined that he hadn’t figured out on his own.

It had been late one night and Sam was nearly asleep on the swing beside Emma when Lou had peeked out of the bunkhouse and came out a few minutes later fully dressed. He’d leaned over and commented that “he seems to have more common sense than the other boys.”

“Really?” She’d looked up at him in the soft moonlight and given him a bright smile. “How so?”

Shrugging, he answered her. “Well, most of the others probably wouldn’t think
anything of comin’ out here to talk to you dressed in nothin’ but them union-suits, but Lou, saw that you were out here and put on pants and a shirt.

I think it says somethin’ about Lou’s character.”

By then the smaller rider had sidled up to the fence and given them both a nod in greeting. “Emma, Sam.” Clearin’ his throat he’d continued. “The boy’s wanted me to remind ya that the Founder’s Day picnic is comin’ up.” Lou fished into a pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. “They made out a list of what they wanted to take and they said…” Lou had gone on to detail the whole transaction, all the while lookin’ like he was about to be sick to his stomach, “So, you want me to leave you the list tonight…”

Emma shook her head and leaned into Sam’s shoulder. “We’ll go over it tomorrow, Lou… go on and get some rest.”

The boy’s face had bled relief and he’d disappeared into the bunkhouse a minute later. “I was thinkin’ that if it weren’t for his size,” Sam had whispered in Emma’s ear, “I’d ask Lou to work part time as a deputy. Teaspoon ain’t never got anythin’ bad got say about the boy.”

“True...” Emma nodded slowly, a giggle hiding in her voice, “but I doubt Lou’d take the job. It’s one thing to have to outrun a gang of thieves or a renegade Indian or two, but Lou’s got a brother and sister to think about,”
“I pay pretty well,” he started to interject before Emma got a hand on his chest and distracted him with more than her pretty smile.

“And the fact that she’s a girl.”

“Girl… really?”

He knew the truth of the statement before Emma nodded.

Now, he had to remember the secret before he could talk about Lou, even in front of Teaspoon.

Lou opened the door and Sam held up a hand to say he was comin’ and he was, but there was still a bit on his mind. “I’ll be right in.”

“Alright, Marshal. I’ll let Emma know.”

Teaspoon ambled out of the stable and walked over to stand beside him. “Forgot the way to the bunkhouse, Sam?”

“Nope,” Sam shook his head slowly, “just had a few things to puzzle out.”

“Made any headway in the puzzle?” Teaspoon looked up at the stars high above the Station.

Sam, wondering what Teaspoon found so interesting did the same. “Not really, I was just thinkin’ over the last few days…”

They walked a few paces to the left, Teaspoon following Sam, letting him talk.

“When everyone was comin’ down on me, turnin’ their backs; you and the boys didn’t.” Sam scuffed at a rock beneath his boot. “I told myself it was just because of Emma. That their loyalty to her… kind of bled over like.”

They paused by the coral, Sam leaning on the top rail, thoughts rolling through his brain.

“But-“

Sam took a moment to acknowledge Teaspoon’s question. “But… I don’t think that’s it.” He turned a little trying to gauge Teaspoon’s reaction.

“You want me to tell you, Sam? You want me to tell your fortune like a swami with,” his hand circled around and around over his bare head, “one of them towel things wrapped up or a crystal ball?”

Turning to the bunkhouse, Sam watched the scene inside the room, the boys shoving one another back and forth as they watched Emma pile the food on the table. He saw Teaspoon’s place at the far end and two empty places on the end closest to the window. One he knew was the Emma’s the other, for him. “Nope. I don’t really need anyone to tell me what’s right in front of my face, huh?”

Teaspoon thumbed his suspenders and cleared his throat. “Well, I don’t mean to be rushin’ ya at all, Sam. I’m a big believer that men need to work things out for themselves rather than have folks shovin’ it down their throats, but,” he gave Sam a wry look, “I am getting’ a bit hungry and Emma ain’t servin’ a damn thing until you sit down at the table.”

“Point taken, Teaspoon.” Sam walked into the bunkhouse in companionable silence with Teaspoon and greeted the riders with smiles, handshakes and congratulatory slaps on the back. Jimmy even got up, his napkin dangling from his collar as he pumped the Marshal’s hand in a firm greeting.
He took the head seat where Emma usually sat and gave her a quick peck on the cheek that set her cheeks aflame with a mixture of emotions. She set the last trencher down on the table and took the seat next to him.

“You look like you got a load off of your mind, Sam.” Cody shouldered Ike who sat next to him. “Glad this is your first meal as a free man, instead of bein’ your last.”

“Shut it, Cody.”

The blonde rider glared at Lou, who gauging upon his hiss of pain, kicked Cody under the table. She turned and nodded to Teaspoon. “Since it’s a special occasion and all, Teaspoon, what if Sam said the grace?”

The riders agreed and all heads turned to the end of the table. “I think that would be fine idea, Lou. A fine idea, indeed. Marshal?”

Sam gave a simple nod and took Emma’s hand in his, running his thumb over the back of her hand. “Thanks, Lou… Teaspoon. I’d really like a chance to say grace tonight.” He bowed his head slightly and the others and the table bowed in turn. “Sometimes a man feels alone. So alone he wonders why he’s even breathin’ or livin’ one day to the next. Then he hits the lowest part of his life when even he starts to question if what he’s done good in his life is enough to keep his soul out of trouble in the hereafter.”

He took in a slow breath and felt Emma squeeze his hand gently, lending her support.

“Then he looks around him and he sees what amounts to a miracle. He sees friends who step up and help when everyone else has written him off. He sees folks that he thought only as a passing acquaintance or friends of circumstance; and they treat him like family… like he matters.” He cleared his throat a bit and continued on. “So thank you Lord for the world you have created, that it ended up where I have a group of friends, seated around this table that I consider family. Amen.”

“Amen.”


Every Time I Trust a Gal



The bed shifted beneath him. If it wasn’t for the fact that the movement turned him onto a wooden beam that he could clearly feel through the mattress it probably wouldn’t have bothered him much. “What’s wrong?”

She giggled and he cracked open an eye to see her tying the top of her blouse together, her delicate fingers making quick work of the numerous lengths of cotton. “Nothing, eres preciosa, its jus’ that mama won’t like me spending the day in bed… even if she knew you were in it.”

Rosa gave him a wink left the room with a flounce of her skirts behind her.

Shifting over into a more comfortable spot on the thin mattress Buck took a moment to stretch out as he stared up at the fluttering ends of the curtains above him. Spending the day in bed had sounded like a good idea, but if he were honest with himself, the blanket was a bit scratchy and really… he wasn’t the type to ride into town and take advantage of a woman. Was he?

*****

Rosa barely looked up when he walked in through the front door and took a seat at a table against the wall. She had her hands busy with a few gringos that looked like they hadn’t slept off the whiskey from the night before. He watched the exchange carefully from his table, one hand resting on his thigh… within reaching distance from his revolver.

“No no,” she smiled at the men, fairly dancing away from their grasping hands, “we serve food, not me.”

“Awww… don’t you go sayin’ that I can’t have you. That’ll make me mean and when I’m mean… ain’t no one safe.”

“Then you,” she leaned close enough that she was nearly nose to nose with the man, “will find yourself bleeding on my floor!”

The others laughed as their friend grabbed her upper arm with his hand, meaning to drag her into his lap, but they all stopped when he squeaked in pain.

Buck’s advance stopped when a flash of sunlight illuminated the wicked little dagger she held in her hand. If he could trust his eyesight after a night of mescal, he would swear that the tip of her blade had already drawn blood.

“Git off me!”

“Uh uh, you will let me go first.” She twisted the blade to the side and the man lifted his chin in reaction, his hold on her arm loosening until his hand fell limply at his side. “That is better… you have proven yourself to be a smart man,” she pulled the blade back a fraction of an inch as her gaze circled the table, meeting with the other men that were sitting with him, “So, do you want to eat or do you want to bleed?”

Buck’s heart was pounding in his chest, when he finally found himself back in his chair. He noted that the blade disappeared a moment later and he watched a calm, almost cheery smile transform her features and when she sauntered over to his table he had enough control of his faculties to answer her questions as she took his order.

“Is there something else you’d like?”

He saw the twinkle in her eye and the saucy smile playing across her lips, but if truth be told he couldn’t seem to let go of the fear that had gripped him the moment that man had touched her.

She raised a questioning brow at him. “Querida, are you sick?”
“What?” He shook his head, trying to wrap his brain around the question. “Sick? No… no…”

Rosa set down her tray and leaned on the table, to stare at him, concern darkening the look in her eyes. “Is it the heat?”

“No… no…”

She sat down on the edge of the table and slid her fingers through his unbound hair, her palm resting on his forehead. “Then what is it? You look…” She murmured something in Spanish and laid her other palm on the side of his face and he was left staring up at her in amazement. The very touch of her skin against him stopped the frantic pounding of his heart and the fear turning his stomach upside down fell away when she brushed her lips against his. “I think you should go back to bed.”
His hands reached up and settled on her hips, feeling the shift of her muscles beneath the indigo colored fabric. “I’ll go… when you can join me.”

Rosa slid from the table, slowly extricating herself from his touch, her skirt swirling around her as she moved. “Now that order, senor, I can fill.”


I've Had a Good Time



Ike took his time in the barn. Shadow was having a bit of trouble getting used to the barn and the other horses. Ike saddle-broke the horse a few weeks ago, but there was something in the way he shied away from the others… it kept them from accepting him.

“Sure you should keep him in here?”

*why not*

“They don’t like him.”

Ike pulled the brush through Shadow’s mane and shrugged his shoulders. *he’s not a barn horse*

Buck watched the way the stallion leaned into Ike’s touch. “He’s comfortable around you.”

*I caught him*

“You put a saddle on his back and made him live indoors.”

*should he go back*

Buck leaned against the wall and looked at the way the horse watched Ike’s every move. The gentle way that Ike seemed to respond without even looking; hand sliding along the animal’s coat in a soothing motion. “He’s probably too used to the moonlight and the crickets to get settled into a place like this.”

*are you talking about you or the horse*

Stopping for a moment, freezing in place, Buck looked away and then back to Ike’s face. “What do you mean by that?”

Ike put the brush away and stepped out of the stall reaching out to close the gate behind him. *he’s like you*

Walking alongside his friend, Buck helped Ike put away his tools and even thought he had a bunch of questions he remained silent as they worked.

It took him a moment to realize that Ike wasn’t standing beside him anymore. He turned and caught site of his friend standing at the open door of the barn looking first at him and then back at Shadow. It was unnerving, how Ike’s look reminded him of Red Bear. The way his gaze seemed to measure him up in a moment, but what was going through Ike’s head?

Ike’s expression shifted as the stallion clipped his hooves on the wooden side walls of his stall. *I change my mind… he’s half like you*

Buck followed Ike out of the barn and into the clear night air. He had to work to catch up to Ike since he had the head start. He managed to jump up to the porch a breath before Ike could get there.

“What did you mean?”

Ike’s smile was bemused with a hint of satisfaction. He shrugged his shoulders.

He waylaid Ike with a hand on his arm. “No, wait… what did you mean?”

Ike turned and leaned against the wall, smiling at his friend. *you were wild too* His eyes held a far away look. *when we met*

Buck scoffed at the memory. “You were the one with the silly faces… and drool!”

*survival*

They both nodded. “We’re both good at that.”

*you didn’t stay inside for months* Ike’s shoulders shook with mirth. *sneaking out to sleep under the stars* He paused for a moment. *shadow would too, if he got the chance* Ike nodded toward the barn and then to his friend. *same… different… wild*

“A horse.” The idea seemed to bother Buck.

Ike thought it was the most natural comparison in the world. His lack of reaction said it clearly.

Buck sulked back into the shadows of the porch roof and turned his face down toward the floor. “Sorry… I never realized it was such a hardship,” he hazarded a look back up to Ike, watching his expression, “being my friend.”

An exasperated huff was the immediate reaction and Ike looked like he wanted to throw something at Buck. *you know that’s not it*

“What am I supposed to think? You tell me I’m this wild creature that doesn’t fit in and I’m not supposed to think that it’s this huge problem being my friend?”

*quiet*

Buck wasn’t one used to being ordered around… especially by Ike, but he stopped talking and stared… waiting for Ike to say what he wanted to say.

*I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you* Ike smiled and nodded at his friend. *you let me smile – really smile and now we have jobs doing what we like to do*

“You’re good with the horses… you calm them.”

*you were the one that got Teaspoon to hire me* Ike’s memories turned back to that first day for just a moment. *being here is good… because of you*


Funny, Familiar, Forgotten Feelings




Marshal Teaspoon Hunter left the jailhouse in the capable hands of his deputy Barnett Hamilton, and walked slowly across the dusty street toward Rachel Dunne’s house. He knew the vivacious redhead would be holding dinner for him, but still he couldn’t seem to make his feet move any faster. He was going to ask her to marry him. Having made the decision only a short time earlier, Teaspoon wanted a chance to go over in his head how he was going to actually do the proposing.

“Rachel, you and I have known each other for awhile now,” Teaspoon snorted. *Just dripping with romance aren’t you?*

He thought for a moment before trying again, “Rachel, I’ve come to care for you deeply over years since we’ve known each other.” Teaspoon stopped and shook his head. “I know that I don’t have much to offer you in the way of material things and I’ve got a few years on you,” * Great way to go there Hunter, remind her that you’re poor and old. Yep, that’s a sure fire way to get her to accept your marriage proposal. *

Growling in frustration at his inability to come up with just the right words that he wanted to say, the marshal halted in the middle of the road. He wasn’t going to take another step toward Rachel’s house until he came up with just the right phrase. Unfortunately, a group of rowdy cowboys feeling their oats had other plans. They charged down the street in his direction and if one of them hadn’t yelled, “Hey, old man, get out of the way,” and broke through his thoughts and alerted him to imminent danger. He hastened his steps and reached the other side of the road as the cowboys sped by. At any other time, Teaspoon would have turned his full attention onto chasing after the reckless cowboys, and tossed them all into jail, but tonight he gave them a free pass. He had more pressing matters to tend to. Asking Rachel to marry him was of the utmost importance to him that evening.

Once he had cleared his thoughts, he again searched his mind for the words that he wanted to ask Rachel to marry him. “Rachel, all I have to offer you is me, but if you marry me I promise, you won’t hurt for nothing.”

Teaspoon replayed the words he had just spoken aloud inside his head and deemed them a fitting enough proposal. The words weren’t eloquent, but they were honest and heartfelt and he knew Rachel would appreciate them. The marshal didn’t allow himself to dwell on the possibility that Rachel would turn him down. He accepted that it could very well happen, but for now he would refrain from focusing on a possible negative reaction.

He reached the front door of the small clapboard house and knocked on it. He knew Rachel would be surprised by him knocking instead of coming in like he usually did, but he didn’t care.

The door swung open a few moments later and a beautiful young woman with reddish blonde hair and wearing a green skirt stood before him.

“Teaspoon is everything okay?” she asked him with growing concern.

Suddenly Teaspoon’s mouth went dry, as he gave her attractive figure an appreciative glance. “You look real pretty, Rachel,” he told her and then remembering her earlier question, quickly assured her that everything was fine. “I was wondering if you and I could sit outside on the porch for a few minutes so that we could talk.”

“All right,” Rachel agreed, stepping out onto the porch and closing the door behind her.

Teaspoon gestured for her to seat herself in one of the two chairs on the porch.

“Okay,” Rachel replied with a perplexed expression on her face. “I’m listening.”

Teaspoon pulled the other chair closer to hers, before sitting down in it. He worked hard to come up with just the right words to say to her that would indicate how much she had come to mean to him. He reached out and silently took one of her smaller hands in his, enjoying the way the soft skin felt against his roughened one. Everything about Rachel complimented him. She was soft curves to his rough edges, open and caring to his hardness. He knew that he wasn’t worthy of such a woman as Rachel Dunne, but he couldn’t imagine his life without her. She made him feel young and whole again, and he only hoped that his instincts weren’t off in telling him that her feelings for him had deepened as well.

Rachel, you have come to mean the world to me. I know I don’t have much in the way of material things, but what I do have, is yours. Will you marry me?”

Silence settled between them for a couple of moments as Teaspoon waited breathlessly for Rachel’s response. He could see that his question had moved her, but were the tears now flooding her beautiful eyes joyful ones or an expression of remorse for the hurt she was going to cause him? He tried not to let his inner turmoil show on his face, not wanting to put pressure on her to say yes to his proposal out of some sense of duty she owed him, but because she really and truly wanted to.

He knew his instincts had been accurate the moment Rachel raised her head and gazed into his eyes. Her love for him was shining in the depths of the green orbs and he felt relief and happiness spread through him, even before she spoke.

“Yes, Teaspoon, I’ll marry you.”

“I love you, darling,” Teaspoon said as he pulled her into his arms.

“I love you too, Teaspoon,”

Teaspoon lowered his mouth to hers and sealed her acceptance of his marriage proposal with a kiss.


She's Too Good



Sam let the door swing shut behind him and headed for the coffee pot on the stove. It was his usual stop this late in the afternoon. His deputy was good at catching criminals, so-so at filling out paper work… hell on coffee.

As Sam breathed in the heady sent of Emma’s strong coffee he gave a little sigh. His deputy knew how to make a good pot, but the man never understood the need to keep it hot. He thought they should save on the cost of wood and let it burn out in the stove. That didn’t help when Sam came back in from his rounds.

The coffee by mid afternoon was like the sludge you find when you check a stage axel after a long hard trip. It was thick and goopy and wasn’t good for anything more than caulking the walls.

He set the pot back on the stove and started to head back to the door, stopping just inches from the screen. “Honey?”

Emma sat at the table, near motionless.

Sam looked around the room and then back at his wife. “Sweetheart… are you feelin’ all right?”

When Emma didn’t answer he set down his coffee and pulled out the chair beside her. He watched as she shuffled the papers in her hand and folded them back into the envelope on the table. Her gaze never left the papers as her fingers traced the edges.

When she unfolded and folded the papers again Sam put his hand over hers and stilled her movements. “Emma…” the only reaction to his touch was in her jaw, the muscles in her lower jaw clenched tight behind her seemingly relaxed lips, “Emma, look at me.”

It took an effort. He could see it in the way she seemed to make the movement as though she were teaching her muscles to carry her head to the right. He was even more worried when she finally met his gaze.

She was lost. He couldn’t see anything of her smile in her eyes.

Sam reached out and gently held her chin in his hand, guiding the turn of her head, until he knew she was looking at him.

“What happened, Honey? Bad news? Did something happen to one of the boys? That last letter said they were all fine… they just needed to find a housekeeper and-”

“It’s more than just being a housekeeper, Sam.”

He didn’t know what to make of the ‘outburst’… it wasn’t so much that she was shouting at him, but her tone matched the fire in her eyes. “What?” He tried to smile and lighten the mood. “I know that, honey… I just… it was just the first thing that came to mind and-”
“Is that all you thought I did out there at the Station?” She snatched her hand away and sat back in her chair. “I have to wonder how much free time you thought I had. How little time did I need to accomplish such a small feat?”

Sam reached up his hand to scratch as his hairline just under the brim of his hat. His mind whirred around and around, looking for a quick way out of this mess. When Emma shoved her chair back so that she could stand up from the table, the resulting ‘scrape’ across the floor made him cringe. “I said no such thing.”

“But I’m sure you thought it, Sam Cain.” She turned away from the table, her hand picking up the coffee cup from the table and taking it to the counter. “You thought it… and now that’s what the boys think too.”

He resisted the urge to snatch up the letter and read it for himself; he’d give anything for a clue as to what set her off on this tirade.

She stopped at the counter, her hands braced on the top of the counter; her head hung low between her shoulders. It was more than a word he’d used. It was more than that. It was easy to see, but still so hard to get at the whole truth.

He shook his head and approached her slowly. Any sudden movements might have her turning on him like a cornered wildcat. She’d done it before and he’d bled for days… from a wounded heart. “Emma?”

When she didn’t react, he slid his arms around her waist and pulled her against him until her head leaned against his chest. He couldn’t see her face, but he felt the subtle tremors of her body. He felt the soft hiccups of breath she managed to take in and knew… Emma was crying.

“What happened?”

“They don’t need me anymore.”

Sam leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her temple. “What makes you say a silly thing like th-“

She turned in his arms, pushing him away, her hands on his chest. “Silly?”

He knew he’d done it then… He knew when he saw the outrage on her face that he’d really stepped in it.

“You don’t understand, Sam. “ Her countenance dropped down into despair again and her fingers worried at one of his shirt buttons. “Teaspoon hired on a housekeeper for the Station… six actually. The first few women where horrible and everyone said that they’d never find someone to replace me… never. “ She looked as though she’d fall down in a heap if he said anything, so he stayed quiet. “Now, they found someone … someone that Lou wrote me about. She’s nice… a good cook… and she doesn’t take any guff from the boys.”

She took one breath. Then another. And another… until finally she was able to look up at him. “She sounds perfect, doesn’t she?” She didn’t need an answer; she knew it when she read the letter. “She is… and they don’t need me anymore.”

Sam held her gently in his arms as she cried, tucked her head beneath his chin and softly told her the truth… even though she wouldn’t believe it… even though she didn’t want to hear it. “They love you, Emma… that’s all that matters. They love you.” She clung to him her eyes bleeding tears. “And you love them right back.”


What Do I Care



“Did I hear you correctly, Muriel?”

“Oh, I think you did, Harriet.”

Tompkins turned back to his shelves, stacking up the new shipment of canned peaches he’d received from Saint Joseph. The two ladies were old friends and even older enemies. There was no way to know what they were going to argue about, but the day had been slow and Tompkins was hoping it would be fun.

“I still don’t believe it.” Harriet Commons tapped her foot, impatience in her every gesture. “In fact, I won’t believe it until I see it.”

Tompkins could see the two ladies in the reflection of the glass windows and so he continued to stack as he enjoyed the show.

Muriel Hawkins swung her purse from its ribbons. “See it? Then just take a look in here.”

With a look of triumph, Muriel loosened the ribbons at the ‘mouth’ of the purse and reached in her stubby little fingers. A moment later she lifted out a folded white note card.

Harriet’s face dropped. “You got one?”

Muriel nodded and wiggled the paper in the air. “Would you like to read it?”

Tompkins saw the effort that it cost Harriet not to grab at the paper and read it right then and there. She was fairly hyperventilating from the need, but she held her composure together and managed to only shrug.

“Of course, I’d like to see it.” She sniffed, lifting her nose high in the air, “it’s more of a morbid curiosity, dear.”

“Morbid curiosity?” Muriel gave a little sniff of her own to match Harriet’s, and started to drop the paper back in her bag.“Then I’ll just put it right back-”

Harriet ran up and snatched the paper from her fingers, trying to ignore the shocked look and smug smile of her rival. “Don’t be silly, Muriel.” She grasped the ends in her fingers and prepared to open it. “There’s no sense in bringing the thing out and not reading it. Common sense, dear girl.”

Tompkins scoffed at the superior tone. ‘Common sense… ha!’ Both women had been customers of his since they came to town and if there was one thing that he could be sure of when it came to Harriet and Muriel, common sense was not something that either woman was plagued with.

Finished with his canned peaches he moved onto to the ready-made shirts he sold. They were forever falling from their stacks when folks shopped around. Tompkins never understood why everyone had to touch and undo all the shirts he had on display. They came in four colors and three sizes. Each had a tag pinned on. What was the reason they had to touch everything?

“Am I reading this correctly?”

“That’s what I thought too,” answered Muriel, leaning in to reread the words herself. “Scandalous, isn’t it?”

“Scandalous?” Harriet sounded as though she was near hysterics. “Preposterous is more like it! You can’t say… they can’t expect us to believe…” she gasped in some air to continue her tirade, “that she’s been hiding under our noses all this time?”

Muriel pointed out the line they’d just read over. “It says it right there.” Her finger pushed into the paper again and again to illustrate her point. “Why would they send out such a thing?”

Harriet shrugged. “I’ll never understand it, but that man, Hunter-”

“Teaspoon,” Muriel continued, “as if that were a name for man of his age. Silly.”

Now, Tompkins wasn’t even pretending that he wasn’t listening. The conversation was impossible to ignore.

“Yes, yes,” Harriet agreed, “ridiculous, really.” She folded the paper and opened her reticule, but Muriel saw the action and rescued the paper from her friend’s grasp.

“You’ll have to wait for yours to arrive, Harriet. This little wedding invitation is mine.”

“Wedding… humph.” The two women walked toward the front of the store, continuing on.

“It makes no sense,” Muriel scoffed, “that little boy… Lou? You can’t get me to believe that he’s really… a girl. Really, what kind of simpletons do they take us for?”

Nodding like a hen searching for feed in the pan, Harriet agreed. “Don’t they realize that we would know the truth at a glance? We, my dear are perceptive women… nothing gets by us.”

“Quite right, Harriet, but when you get your invitation the two of us will go to this farce of a wedding and we’ll know... we’ll know.”

Tompkins watched them leave, disbelief written on his features. He watched them go, his ears focused on their voices fading away behind them, his mind whirling with confusion and shock.

Lou… Lou wasn’t a boy… and he… uh, she was getting married? It was all too horrible to believe. After all, a puny little girl wouldn’t be able to knock him out, even ‘with’ a skillet.

He scoffed at the notion and moved back toward his main counter, his hands waving off the odd thoughts in his head. “What a hoax, Teaspoon.” He didn’t even look around to see if there were any other customers in the store; his mind had better things to occupy its time.

“Why didn’t I get an invitation?”


Almost Persuaded



"You're doin' it again."

"What?" Kid sat up a little straighter, his back nearly up against the wall. "Doin' what?"

Lou put her book down. "Watchin' me."

"Wasn't doin' anything of the kind, Lou..." Kid looked around the bunkhouse at the others, "must be your eyes playin' tricks on you."

Cody scoffed at the words. "Just admit it, Kid. It's so much easier if you do."

Kid lifted up his bible to show the others. "I was reading."

Jimmy looked up from his whittling and arched a brow in the Kid's direction. "Huh, didn't know you could read upside down."

Kid's face turned red as the others joined in the laughter and he grumbled under his breath. "Least I can read."

Ike lifted a hand to still the brewing argument. *if kid wants to play like he wasn't then let him*

"It's annoyin' to me." Lou countered.

Kid put the 'good book' down and stood up from the table. "Then let's go for a walk. I need a little exercise 'fore supper."

Cody coughed at the thought. "He means he wants to go sparkin' in the hay."

"Oh, great." Lou slapped her book back on the table. "Is there anyone that doesn't know?"

''That you an 'no name' over there have a little 'thing goin'?'' Noah was just having a grand ol' time.

"Well," Cody stroked his chin thoughtfully as they'd seen Teaspoon do many a time, "I think a new family rolled into town a few days ago. Perhaps they don't yet have some inkling that two particular riders for the Express have a rather..."

"Questionable relationship?"

Jimmy gave Buck a wolfish grin. "That's one way to put it."

Noah leaned back in his chair. "That's probably the only way to put it that won't get all of us run out of town."

"That's always a possibility the way that Tompkins hates us. He's been tryin' to get rid of us from the start."

"So, ah... You-"

"No, I don't want to go outside for a 'walk.'" Lou hissed under her breath.

"Then, later?" Kid gave her a winning smile. "I could use some help grooming Katy."

Cody made a face. "Is that what he's calling it now?"

*poor horses*

"Yeah," Buck agreed, "forced to watch."

Lou bowed her head, but they could see the tips of her ears turning pink. "I'm going to kill you."

"That's not me she's talkin' about, is she?"

"I dunno, Jimmy. Lou?" Cody leaned forward and shook her shoulder until she dragged her forehead off of her forearm and looked up at him with a desperate glare.

"Yes?"

"You're not thinkin' of killin' us, are ya?" Cody’s giddy grin wasn’t helping matters and Ike tossed a pillow at his head, causing the blond rider to gripe at his friend. “What’s your problem?”

*enough* *leave her alone*

Lou gave Ike a grateful smile.

Cody leaned against the table, baring his teeth in a smile. “If she can’t take a little joshin’ then-”

“You know, I’m goin’ for a walk,” Lou stood up and set her book down on the table.

“Great, I’ll go-”

“You... will stay here.” Her eyes were filled with warning when she turned to Kid, “I need to walk alone.”

Noah tried to cover over his snort of laughter with a cough and Buck shook his head at the pitiful effort.

Pausing at the door to give them all a murderous look, Lou put her hand on the door. “I don’t give you boys hell over your ‘girls’… and I don’t think it’s fair for you to make me a joke.”

They looked back at her with serious consideration written over their features. That lasted all of thirty seconds for Cody… who fell off his chair laughing before the door even closed behind her.
As she stalked off toward the barn she wondered if Teaspoon would mind looking for a few new riders… and if he’d mind recommending something less than a noose for her when she confessed to multiple murders.

It was a tempting thought.

It was.


Have a Little Faith



‘No matter how many times they tell me not to… I have to.” That was his mantra as he readied himself for the confrontation.

A man couldn’t call himself a man in the West if he didn’t own up to his responsibilities. He’d stood toe to toe with John Longley and accepted his challenge and by God he was going to face up to it -

He froze, just short of the last five words, ‘even if it killed me.’

They were the truth and even though he never said them out loud, they were still more than real to him. They were the truth and probably his destiny.

Jimmy knew he was fast. He knew he was a match for most any man in the territory for speed an accuracy, the Judge had seen to that… but what he knew he lacked was the killer instinct.

It was one thing to face down a can of beans or an empty bottle once filled with sarsaparilla or whiskey, but facing a man... that was different.

A man stood there, starin’ back at you, lookin’ deep into your soul… makin’ you think that maybe... just maybe, you’d been a bit too rash in sayin’ “Sure, I’ll draw on you.”

A man would never let you forget that you backed down… it was too much of a prized plum not to show off around town. So, no… Jimmy Hickok was not goin’ to let some two-bit gunfighter call him a coward.

Even if it killed him.

Damn that echo.

Longley was a man… just like he was… men get distracted… men mess up the shot… in those old fashioned duels things went wrong all the time… all he had to do with be more concentrated… more focused than the man he was facin’… than the man… that scared Emma.

That thought sat like a rock in his stomach, a big… huge… pumpkin sized rock.

Longley scared Emma. That was plain to see in the expression of her eyes. Sure, she’d laid into Jimmy with her voice… the volume alone enough to blister his ears, but it was the look in her eyes that struck fear into his heart… and he never told her… Never told her that he saw it… and understood it…

And shared it. Shared that fear that began to fever her thoughts… distract her from her words.

“You can’t ask a man to stand down like that.” He argued to himself, but the other side remained silent… Either it agreed or thought him too stupid for words. Maybe his mind wanted him to think up the answer himself… or maybe either way it didn’t matter. Trouble was… Jimmy didn’t know either.

“You can’t cut a man off at the legs and expect him to walk the straight and narrow the next time… You just can’t.”

The chickens in the coop stared back out at him, no one thought it was a strange change of pace that Jimmy Hickok was wandering around and around instead of heading off, headfirst into the future.

Then again, up until now, he's only imagined the reality of it. Seeing a man face you in the street and know that at any time he'd draw and you'd have to beat him.
Beat him to the draw... The trigger and watch for the tell tale signs that you'd hit him.

The explosion of flesh and clothing, the way a well placed shot could jerk a man off his feet and throw him to the ground like a rag doll. Where was the blood lust that he saw in Longley's eyes?

That morning, Jimmy'd gone to the mirror to shave, lifted up his razor and seen the look in his own eyes as he thought of facing Longley in the street.

There was nothing there. No hot need to kill... No desperation to protect a reputation. To Jimmy his own eyes were empty.

His were empty... And all the gunfightin' duels in the world would never fill him up.

But he was a man. And he was going to face up to what he'd done and put an end to this.

When he walked past Emma's house on the way to get his mount he stared at her window and wondered if she was awake or asleep.

The wind must have been blowin' high that night, because Emma's curtain fluttered at her window.

He knew that wasn't the cause. Knew it was Emma, up ...watchin' him go and knew how much she wanted to shoot him dead herself to keep him away from Longley, but knowing that she'd let him go and she'd wait ... She'd wait up and send him her prayers.

He knew and it meant everything to him.

Trouble was... Would it be enough to keep him alive?

Jimmy swallowed what was left of his pride and hope that from the depths of his gut it wouldn’t get him into any more trouble. He had more than a reputation to worry about… reputations were made and broken every hour on the hour in a place like the West. He had to worry about comin’ back to the bunkhouse in one piece… ‘cause if he didn’t, Emma was going to wring his neck. Then again, even if he didn’t get hurt she was still going to wring his neck.

Jimmy felt the smile lift the corners of his mouth. That was worth stayin’ alive for.


You'll Be Back Every Night
(In My Dreams)


The chains didn’t make a sound at night. They didn’t manage to draw any unwanted attention from the random cactus or prairie dog sniffing around and so she could get some sleep. If she really thought about it, the cuff didn’t pinch as much either.

It could just be her luck. That for a few hours she wasn’t marked for death, she wasn’t on the run. If for a few hours she didn’t have to think about getting away from Thad’s family, she could remember what it was to be warm and safe at night.

Remember what it was like to be loved and cherished.

Remember what it was like to be Mrs. Henry Dunne and not Rachel Dunne wanted murderer.

No one seemed to care that a good man had lost his life because of Thad’s jealousy. It didn’t matter that Henry had given her a life to look forward to, laundry and cleaning wasn’t so much of a chore if it was her house.

Their house.

A family.

Tears rained on a pillow made of dirt and Rachel struggled to catch her breath. The empty hole in her middle had grown during the day. Grown and she hadn’t noticed. Maybe, she’d thought… Maybe it was just the empty hole of her stomach, hungry and gaping for lack of food. Even before the trial you were guilty. There was no need for a legal decision. You just were.

Innocent until proven guilty didn’t matter in a town when you were guilty in the eyes of the family that owned everything in sight.

The cot in the jail hadn’t made it easy to fall asleep, the rope bracing the straw-stuffed mattress barely kept a body from dragging on the floor. The mites made it harder for their incessant munching on her skin when she wasn’t moving.

The jailor’s wife had been one with the others. She saw Rachel as a beautiful woman and in the hard scrabble life of the West. Beautiful meant temptation. Didn’t matter that you weren’t after a woman’s husband or that he weren’t after you, being alive and beautiful was enough to hang you in the court of public opinion.

It wasn’t easy to make friends in this town, and it certainly wasn’t easy to keep them. Folks pretty much looked out for number one and you weren’t that for someone else… no you had to fend for yourself.

The low note of an owl’s hoot echoed through her middle, echoing from the hollow walls of her body and the muscles around her heart clenched tight, squeezing out the last few tears she held.

Baby.

Her baby.

Their baby.

“Oh, Henry…” nearly an hour later, when the moon slipped across the midpoint of the sky she fell.

Fell into the soft green grass in the yard, her body cushioned by Henry’s strong arms, his face hovering above her.

“Beautiful,” he breathed, “jus’ like I remembered you, girl.”

She fought the line between laughter and tears as her hand reached out to stroke his cheek, the day’s growth of whiskers touching her palm. “I always loved your smile.”

“Loved?” He ‘tsk-ed’ and gave her a reproachful look. “Is it over so soon, love? Have you cast me from your heart so soon?”

“Over? No…” Her voice cracked with emotion as she slipped her hand around to the back of his neck and pulled him down for a kiss. “I love you, Henry Dunne… now and forever.”

He sighed against her lips and drew back an inch to look down at her. “I’d worried there for a moment, love, worried that my bride had given her heart away to another. Perhaps,” he drew the word out as he measured her expression, “you’ve decided that you’ve no love left for me after our babe is born. Is that it, then? Will I have no place in your heart once our child is born?”

Tears welled up inside of her like the levees, threatening to overflow their banks. “If we had a thousand children, Henry Dunne, you’d always have a place in my heart. You’re in my soul. You always will be.”

He slid down to lie in the grass at her side, snaking his arm around her and drawing her tight against his body, fitting her swollen middle in the gentle cradle of his embrace. “Aye, Rachel. You, my love, will be the queen of my heart forever and a day and our children… they will bask in our love and grow… and grow…”

The sun rose over the horizon, its rays slowly crawled over the landscape and warmed her face just as Henry’s words of love echoed in her ears. “Take my love with you, woman of my heart, and wife of my soul, take my love with you where ever you go and I’ll not be far behind. I’ll never be far behind.”

She sat up, the cuff and chains chilled against her skin, a sudden shock to wake her from her dreams.

Even as she reached down to ease the pull and pinch of the cold metal she smiled… smiled because in her memories, in her dreams… she was loved and cherished… and what she’d done, she’d done for that love. Now, she’d continue to run and hope that she’d find someone that could understand and perhaps help, but no matter what she’d always have her Henry in her dreams… never too far behind.



It Should Have Been Me



“Oh God… Oh God…” Cody sank to the boarded walk outside the Doctor’s office as he felt the bile rise in his throat. The world seemed to tilt on its horizon and if it wasn’t for the hand on Cody’s shoulder he would have fallen to the ground, “he’s gone.”

Lou knelt at his side and threw her arms around him, her cheek pressed to his shoulder. “Cody… it’s going to be alright.”

“How can…” he covered his face with his hand and raked his fingers down his cheeks, “how can it ever be right anymore?”

“I…” Lou sat back, her face lined with tears, and looked at him, searching for the answers, “I don’t know… but-”

“Son… I have something for you.”

Cody looked up at the Doctor’s face and stared. There wasn’t much to read in the man’s expression. Come to think of it, even when Ike died, there was little to see in the man’s face. He’d barely even blinked when the rest of them had fallen apart.

It occurred to Cody that he should have railed at the man, knocked him down and made him bleed… made him cry a tear or two.

How little was there of the man’s soul left?

How could he stand there with a man… two men had lost their lives… lives cut short because other people felt an indecent need for power?

He wanted the doctor to think about what it meant to loose a friend… a brother.

Still, Cody couldn’t summon up the strength to do anything more than nod and reach out his hands.

The doctor put a box in his hands, a small box that you’d see in the hands of a delivery man. Lowering the box into his lap, Cody stared at the contents. Gun, holster, whip… there was no use looking any further. He knew what this was.

“This is his, doctor… Noah’s.”

Beside him, Lou gasped and covered her mouth with trembling fingers. Her other hand lay on his leg, fingers biting into his thigh. He didn’t mind… the pain kept him from fainting dead away on the walk.

“I don’t have anywhere to store it and the undertaker will be by in a few minutes for the body. I thought you’d know who he wanted to… to have them.”

Cody shook his head. “They’re his; you should keep them with him for later and…”

“Where your friend is going, he won’t have any need of them.”

“Where he’s going…”

“Cody, you want me to take it?”

He saw the pain in Hickok’s eyes. Knew, how much it hurt him too. New how much it hurt… but it didn’t match the way he felt. On top of his own sadness he was drowning in guilt.

Cody almost welcomed it. Almost. He knew Jimmy, knew how this would work on him if it was his… knew that he wouldn’t be able to deal with the thought of another life on his conscience. Another death weighing on his soul.

“It should have been me.”

“Let Jimmy take the box, Cody… you don’t have to do this alone… we’re family.”

Cody shrugged away from Lou, her words striking an odd chord in his heart. “It’s my fault…”

“Don’t talk crazy, Cody, its not-”

“I watched him die, Hickok.” His gaze was wild… angry.

Jimmy didn’t take any offense at the anger in Cody’s voice or the cold way his friend looked at him. Jimmy understood the anger… he’d lived with it before and would again.  “You helped, Cody… it wasn’t like he died alone.”

“Cold comfort.” He tried not to use the snide tone, but found he couldn’t help himself. Couldn’t shut down the flood of emotions, not this time… maybe not ever again.

Jimmy pushed the brim of his hat back and crouched down in front of Cody, his eyes full of concern along with the anguish of loss. “Sometimes it all you have to work with…”

Cody’s hiss of breath didn’t do much to anger his friend. In fact it would take so much more than that to get him to turn his back.

“… sometimes it’s all we’re gonna get.”

“That ain’t good enough… not hardly good enough, can’t you see?”

“He was a good man. We’re gonna miss him more since he’s not the first to leave.”

“That’s not it, Jimmy…” the dam was breaking and it was all rushing out at once, “it should have been me… should have been me lyin’ in there.” He didn’t wait for anyone to deny him the idea… he plunged on ahead. “I’m the one always crackin’ jokes or runnin’ off at the mouth. I’m the one that’s got my head in the clouds half the time. If anyone should have died out there, bullet holes in the gut… it should have been me!”

“Fine.” Jimmy decided to throw caution to the wind… if Cody was going to get it out of his system… he needed to get it out. “You can’t undo it… so what are you going to do? Go out and get someone to finish the job? Get someone to put a bullet or two in you… just so you can feel like you got what was comin’ to you?”

Cody sat silent for a moment, his gaze dropping into the box that lay across his lap. It was a long ponderous moment before he let them into his thoughts.  “I’m gonna stop dreamin’ so much-”

He saw Lou’s objection coming so he beat her to the pass.

“I’m gonna ‘do’ something.” He gave her a little smile, but the light didn’t touch all of his face. “I’ve been talkin’ about my ideas and how I’m going to make the Express famous… I’m just gonna do it. I’ll do my show, make it a ‘wild West’ show and tell folks all about our friends and the adventure we’ve all created out here… and they’ll listen… they’ll listen and they’ll remember. They’ll know our stories so well that years later folks’ll write stories about us and then some.”

He knew what they were thinking… Knew they doubted his word, but he didn’t care. He was going to do this for Noah… he was going to make sure that his friend’s life just didn’t disappear. He was going to do something with his life. Make the sacrifice worth it.

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