Rachel turned from the stove and stared at the table, the chairs tucked under the edge and out of the way. Sighing, she moved to the cupboard and pulled a stack of plates from the first shelf. She set the plates out one by one starting at the head of the table, closest to the fireplace.
"Teaspoon." No one in the Express family had ever called Teaspoon 'old man' and meant it, he'd always had that glint in his eye and a lightness in his step that belied his age and greying hair. He’d been the rock that the riders had leaned on and the home they’d returned to again and again. Teaspoon Hunter was the best and he’d held them together, at least in their hearts.
"Cody." Having joined the Army years before, he had been back to visit a few times, but lately the demands of his own family and his Wild West show had kept him away for quite some time. Conflicts related to his time with the military had been another reason to stay away. Tension between Cody and the other riders had been tough for everyone to deal with, especially---
"Buck." Buck Cross had long since left Rock Creek behind. Serving his brother and the other Kiowa Indians had been his sole focus and had on occasion passed through the station, but had never stopped for more than a quick meal and to rest his mount. There was a real sadness in him, a dark cloud that had settled in his heart, but there was also a fighter trapped within him. Rachel knew that Teaspoon had tried to talk with him, make him see reason. What he'd told Jenny Tompkins years before made sense. As a Kiowa and a white man, he could make both sides understood, but hiding away, scraping together a life, was helping no one. Least of all himself.
"Ike." Ike, well Ike had been the first to 'leave'. There wasn't a single day that went by that Rachel didn't see his smile, or imagine him walking toward the bunkhouse from the barn. Sampson had passed on only a year ago and it had always seemed to Rachel that whenever she went into the barn to feed the ornery donkey, he'd always look around her. Maybe, he'd been hoping to see his old friend, just one more time.
"Noah." He’d been the second to die and had left a gaping hole in their hearts. It chafed that the last time their family had been together, it had been at his funeral. Such a noble soul, such a bright mind... such a short life. They’d given his saddle to an orphanage nearby Rock Creek. Jericho Taylor had settled there soon after Noah’s passing and they’d used the money from it’s sale to buy books for their classroom. Rachel choked down a sigh as she thought of how much Noah would have liked that. Noah’s spirit still hung around the station, following Rachel around from time to time, but there were others that far far away, like....
"Jesse." Rachel swallowed around the lump in her throat as she thought of Jesse. In Teaspoon's last days, he'd fretted over the young man's fate. The coldness in the 'boy's' actions had saddened them all. Once full of spit and fire, Jesse had cooled like a piece of metal in water, hard as steel. Word from Missouri during the war had everyone fearing for his life and then fearing for his soul. Quantril's raiders were the scourge of the Union army and the saviors of the common man but there seemed to be nothing left of the brash young man who'd cried out for justice so many years before.
"Hickok." She said it without thinking and then her expression softened, "Jimmy." The name Hickok had never seemed to really fit him, like a young man tryin' to shoulder more than his own lot in life. He'd learned early on to watch his back and these days, he was lucky to have the skill. Jimmy had been in the army during the war and had gone on to serve as the law in many a town, but he had never settled in one place for good. It hurt, knowing that he'd never found a home. Quietly, Rachel had used Teaspoon's contacts to keep track of Jimmy over the years and each time she had word she cried a little more. He'd changed and lost some of his soul at the gaming tables and in countless quick draw challenges. Where had Jimmy gone?
Rachel sighed, ‘Best stop lollygaggin’ around, there were chores that had to be done before supper.’ Rachel set down another plate.
A moment later the door swung open and Louise breezed in, her braid bobbing out behind her with each confident stride, “Sorry so late, I had a dickens of a time unhitching the team.” Seeing the plates in Rachel’s hands, Louise laid them on the table. Her hand brushed up against another cold china plate and Louise looked down at the setting in front of Teaspoon’s chair and then up at Rachel, a quizzical look in her eye. “Rachel?”
The other woman looked as if she wanted to crumble to the floor, but there was a strength down deep inside, one that kept Rachel on her feet. “Lou.. I -”
Louise moved closer, leaning to the side so that she could look beyond the hooded fall of Rachel’s hair, “What’s with all the plates Rachel?”
A wistful look was part of the answer, “I just thought we’d have some company for supper.”
Quietly the two women enfolded each other in an embrace while all around them memories crept through the walls and found their own places at the table.
“That sounds fine Rachel, just fine.”