There were few truly interesting ‘distractions’ in the town of Rock Creek. If you weren’t one to spend too much of your time watching the never ending stream of people coming and going from the hard-scrabble town, you had little else to do but watch the grass try to survive in the heat and dust of the later summer sun.

Rebecca was a young woman prone to alternating bouts of utter distraction and rapt attention. The fact of it had driven her father to spout bible verse and her mother to take faint at the very mention of Rebecca’s unofficial motto. “I’ve found something new.”

The Garfields had settled into Rock Creek nearly three months before and while Rebecca wasn’t from a family of unlimited means, she was from a family with an unlimited capacity for indulgence. This particular day Rebecca had dressed in a modest smock of dark blue fabric that was more than adequate to protect the finer fabric of her dress and wound her hair into a bun at the nape of her neck.

Her intent was to try her hand at her latest endeavor, teaching. The last church social had garnered her an introduction with Rock Creek’s school teacher and Miss Dunne had mentioned that there was soon to be a need for a replacement.  Much to the children’s disappointment, the town, like many others in the West, had issue with a married school teacher and while Rachel’s joy at marrying was felt by all, her imminent retirement was a cause for worry.

Rebecca’s mother had tried to dissuade her from the idea. Even the thought of sending Rebecca in among the children had caused her father to recite something about ‘the valley of the shadow of death’, but she had found herself up at and early hour and dressed for the occasion.

Picking up her notepad, Rebecca had tucked a few boiled eggs and biscuits into a basket and headed off toward the school.

“Becca?” Her mother had appeared in the doorway, her father close behind in the shadows. “Becca, dear… please reconsider.”

Her father squeezed into the doorframe and held out an imploring hand. “This is not something one just decides to do… there are other things to-”

She’d held up her hand to stave off their comments. “Really, Papa, it’s a day… what harm could come of that?” With that said she nodded her satisfaction. “I’m glad we could clear that up. I’ll be home this evening… farewell!”

*****

By the end of the day, Rebecca had finally come to terms with the reason why the town of Rock Creek had not been able to fill the position of school teacher. The children were a nightmare, each and every one of them. They were tricky little gremlins of the worst kind, all smiles and light when Rachel was talking to them, but anytime Rachel wasn’t looking… or they found Rebecca on her own… they were determined to make her give up and run screaming from the school house.

‘Ha! That’s where they went wrong,’ she thought. 

An hour before the end of the school day, a message came for Rachel, something about the Marshal and a bunion… or was it an onion that was the emergency? Rebecca had shrugged her shoulders when Rachel was walking toward the door and suddenly had found herself alone with twelve children that would have sent her father to the drink.

They taunted, she raised her chin in the air.

They spilled ink on her smock, she blotted the offending liquid and imagined a design that she could salvage from the mess.

They vowed to make her life a living hell; she gave them a wink and told them to give it a try.

That had scared them. It wasn’t as though she’d threatened bodily harm… that would have been too easy.

Somehow they’d come to an understanding. They were monsters and she was going to tame them.

The last two boys left at the school house had used their last five minutes of class whispering to each other in the back of the room, being the oldest of the boys… both sixteen, they were both nearly half a head taller than she was.

When she’d excused the class, they’d stayed behind and waited until she’d gone for the door herself. “Boys, it’s time to go home. I should probably lock up and find out where Miss Dunne went, I-“

“Don’t leave on our account.” Tommy Addison blocked the walkway between the desks and the door.

“Yeah, we got a need to learn something, teacher.”

“Well, that is edifying to hear, but I’m sure I must be heading home.” She stepped to the side to pass between the rows of the desks, but a hand blocked her way.

“We said we wanted to learn more, ain’t that your job?”

She took in a deep breath as she studied their expressions and pondered over their voices. They were not going to leave her alone, not willingly.

Rebecca blinked up at them, one then the other, finishing the plan in her head. “Why I guess it will be if they approve me as a teacher, but really, boys, that’s not your concern.”

“No?” The larger of the two twisted a curl of her hair around his finger and she ignored the sharp pull she felt in her scalp. “Then what is?”

She brought her foot down on the instep of the younger boy. He howled and tumbled into the big boy, arms flailing they fell into the desk and she heard the satisfying crack as the larger boy landed on the floor. Suddenly free from obstacles, Rebecca ran for the desk and found a coal shovel leaned up against the wall. Taking the handle in both hands she raised the tool above her head, the boys made quick work of scrambling across the floor. Apparently, neither one of them wanted to wait and see what she planned to do with the shovel.

With the blood rushing through her ears she couldn’t hear their screams or even the horse heading in her direction.  She stood there screaming at the retreating figures, her hands clenched around the handle of the shovel. “Don’t  you ever do that again!”

“Excuse me, have you seen-”

“Don’t …. You… Touch... Me.” Pulling her hands together she turned and swung the shovel with all her might at her attacker.

He stopped the swing easily, his hands grasping her wrists and holding them up over her head. The sudden shift in balance rocked her right off of her feet and suddenly Rebecca was face to face with a man she’d never seen before… and a man she would never forget.  “Let me go!”

He gave her a measuring look and then shook his head. “Not until you promise not to try to kill me... again.”

“Humph,” she shook her head, “I don’t make deals like this, they are entirely too tricky to be believed, or for a man to completely grasp the concept.” Rebecca tried to step back, to give her some room, but he wasn’t going to budge. “Do you realize how highly inappropriate this is?”

“You trying to kill me?”

She glared at him, this was NOT a time for levity. “For you to be… touching me.”

He leaned in a scant inch closer until she could feel his breath on her cheek. “Self defense, Miss…”

“Miss Garfield,” She struggled to keep her tone professional, even as the stranger’s body pressed even more intimately against hers, “and you?”

He grinned; two straight rows of white teeth greeted her. “A friend of Rachel’s. I came to see her today since I’m moving back to town.” While he spoke, he’d taken the shovel from her and hands and put it back where neither of them would be able to grasp it.

He lowered her hands and she rubbed at her wrists for a moment before turning back to him. “And your name?”

“Did I forget to be polite?” He shook his head in mock amazement. “My apologies. My name is Buck Cross, Miss. Garfield.” His gaze flickered over to the school house and he smiled wider. “And if you’re thinking of becoming the new school teacher let me offer you my condolences.”

She couldn’t help it. She had to smile. There just wasn’t a way to see the pure delight on his face and not want to answer it with a smile of her own. It was a silly impulsive thing, but it happened.

Rebecca refused to let out a sigh. There was no use in giving him the satisfaction of knowing that he got to her, even just a little bit.

Folding her arms over her chest she gave Buck Cross a stern look. He’d crept up on her, trying the scare the life out of her, even after the horrific attack by those two adolescent ruffians she was going to ave to teach. Yes, life in the West sure could be hard on a girl.

for Cindy.... Happy B-day!

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