“What did you say?”
Teaspoon stood in the open doorway and leaned against the side, the move deceptive. The meaning as his hand lingered over the grip of his gun, obvious. “I said git yer suit on… you’re gettin’ married.”
“Married?” Jimmy rolled back in his bunk, his sides aching with sudden laughter. “I think you’ve gone and lost it this time, Teaspoon… Cody smack you in the back of the head or somethin’?”
The older man stalked into the station and gave the young rider a look. “I don’t think I’m makin’ a joke Hickok. I’ve got me a young woman whose round belly says this ain’t no joke and she tells me-”
“Wait!” Jimmy pushed up from the bed and held up two hands in a plea for a moment to think. “She said I’m the father?”
“That’s what she said, son…” the word stuck in his mouth as though it was stuck between his teeth, “and she ain’t lyin’… I can see it in her eyes.”
The somber tone caught Jimmy’s attention. The older man was a jokester for sure, but the way he held himself. The way his voice caught in his throat told Jimmy that he was serious and believed the woman.
“I can count on one hand… hell, two fingers the number of women I’ve … ‘been’ with since ah’ve been in the Express… and I can’t think of who it’d be.”
“Well, the preacher’s rounded up and waitin’ in the church and I’m inclined to take you there and get this straightened out.”
The only think Jimmy was worried about getting’ ‘straightened’ out was his neck. In a noose…
“I… ah, I ain’t got a ring.”
Teaspoon pondered on the words for a moment. “Some marriages have started with less, son… some marriages have started with less.”
Letting out a breath Jimmy reached for the lid of his trunk and lifted it open. Inside, the suit he’d last worn while working for Grace lay there before him. He’d never thought to wear the thing again, but now it didn’t look like he had a choice. “I hope we get this straightened out right quick,” he muttered under his breath, “cause this don’t make a lick ‘o sense.”
The church wasn’t much to look at in the middle of the week. The school children had just run home, stirring up a cloud of dust as they went, calling back a greeting or two for the women even though they were strangers. “Mama… not like this… por favor.”
Delores smoothed her daughter’s nerves with gentle strokes down her back… the age old ritual of mother and child continued in the simple gesture. “I thought you wanted to be here, see him again.”
“Yes!” Rosa’s hands lifted up helplessly in the air and she turned around, facing her mother. For a long moment she regarded the woman she’d admired for her entire life. The woman that had given her so much when life had given them so little, Delores was a miracle and she proved it every day. “Yes… you’re right. I wanted to be with him… but to force him to marry me-” the words froze in her mouth and she couldn’t get them past her lips even with every effort. “It’s too much… he won’t be happy. If he is not happy… how will I be?”
Delores held her daughter’s arms still as she smiled and hummed a few notes of an old lullaby. “Calmate…. Calmate…” she gave her lovely girl a wide smile, “he’ll be happy… so very happy to be with you. Give his baby his name and to know the joy that this baby will bring us.”
Rosa’s expression changed slightly. “To share that joy, right, Mama?”
“Share?” She laughed, looking for the arrival of their guests. “Of course… knowing that you will have his child will make him very happy… very happy indeed.”
“Yes… yes… if that’s what he wants...”
Rachel walked up beside them bringing their conversation to a halt as she offered up a bouquet of wildflowers that grew in abundance near the corral fence. “Lou and I thought you’d need some flowers.”
Rosa took them in her hands and all the women had a little giggle at the way her fingers shook as she took the blossoms.
Lou stepped closer, her eyes skimming the lovely white dress flowing with ruffles that hugged the gentle swell of Rosa’s bosom and flared to hide the growing child beneath her gown. “I think you’re the most beautiful bride I ever saw, Rosa.”
The words brought tears to Rosa’s eyes and a moment later she’d enveloped Lou in an embrace, the young rider grabbing onto the young bride and squeezing back as the bouquet was nearly crushed between them. “Thank you for…,” Rosa stepped back, one hand still gripping Lou’s arm for support, “for your welcome. I… understand that this is… confusing.”
Sharing a smile with the young bride, Louise had to admit. “We were really wondering… the boys didn’t say much… “
Rachel rescued the younger woman. “Well I didn’t come along for awhile after that. All I know what that Teaspoon had been shot in Texas.”
Delores’s hand flew to her chest, her fingers digging into the soft black fabric of her blouse. “It was just like it was twenty years ago. He’d ride out and find himself in the middle of trouble and when he’d come back, I’d have to patch him up all over again. I never knew if the last time I saw him would be…”
“The last?” There was a pause as another joined their little group. “I know that feeling all too well.”
Lou gave the new addition a smile. “Polly… I didn’t know where you were.”
Rachel gave the woman a smile. “I see you got my message.”
Polly smiled and touched the pocket of her apron. “I found it when I opened the door.”
Lou looked over at Rosa. “Polly owns one of the Saloons here in town.”
“The best,” Rachel added.
“My mother’s Cantina is the best in Texas.”
Rosa and Polly turned to smile at each other and a moment later, the air seemed oddly charged with anticipation. Lou slid a glance to Rachel wondering how to alleviate the situation, but before either woman could think of what to do, they heard the door to the church open.
“Ladies?” The preacher stood at the top step of the church. “I know that tradition has the husband –to-be waiting inside for his bride, but with the heat… I think it best if you all come inside and have a seat while Teaspoon brings our groom to the church.”
Teaspoon was wondering if he was going to have to hog tie the young man to the buckboard and drive him over to the church. “Son? Are you tryin’ to try my patience?”
Jimmy struggled with the collar on his shirt, yanking on the string tie as if it was cutting off the flow of blood to his head. “I’m sorry, Teaspoon, it’s just that I’m havin’ a hard time gettin’ used to the idea that I’m ‘bout to get married… and become a father. It’s…”
Teaspoon’s expression softened and he slung an arm around the young man’s shoulders, both comforting and propelling him at the same time. “I know it happenin’ fast son, but things like this can go that way. Just wait til the baby’s born. One minute you’ll be changin’ nappies and then the next they’ll be havin’ babies of their own.”
Jimmy raised a curious brow. “And you’ve had this happen, Teaspoon?”
The older man dropped his hand back to his side and growled at the young man. “Get up… let’s go.”
Rosa reminded Lou of a little bird. She wasn’t one for sitting in one place too long. Every few minutes she’d alternately stand or sit. It was during one of these ‘changes’ that Rosa stepped on Lou’s foot. “Oh, dios mio… I’m so sorry.”
Waving it off Lou lifted her foot and wiggled it. “Thick boots, barely even felt it.”
With a relieved sigh, Rosa looked around the room and giggled a bit. “I’m afraid this is all so… strange… uh, new to me.” She lifted the bouquet up and gently brushed the blossoms beneath her nose to catch their scent. “I wanted to send him a letter… tell him to come and see me if he wanted to… to give him a choice.” She looked over at her mother sitting rigidly on one of the pews. “Mama said no. She said he should ‘see what he has done’ and ‘make things right.’” Rosa’s serious expression had them both shaking silently with laughter. “But for Mama… I wonder why she did not do the same thing with my Papa.”
Louise looked over at the other women and shrugged her shoulders. “My Mama wasn’t married to my Pa either, but I think it’s cause she always thought she’d find somethin’ better along the way. At least a man who wasn’t on the run from the law.” Louise’s wry tone was visibly putting the bride at ease and she was happy about it. “But I think it’s somethin’ about parents and children.” She composed her thoughts from what little experience she had. “I could accept somethin’ less for myself,” she looked up at Rosa, the truth plain in her eyes, “but if it was for my little brother or sister… but especially for my child. I’d want them to have the world. I think that’s what your Mama’s tryin’ to do for you.”
Rosa bit down on one of her knuckles, trying to hold back the tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry… “ she whispered, “I don’t want him to see me cry.”
Teaspoon had Jimmy step to the side when he peeked into the church. Seeing everyone in their place he gave a little wave to Rosa.
She returned his gesture, a wan smile on her face, the nerves really kicking in.
Turning back to the young rider standing glumly behind him he motioned to the door. “You did yer dancin’, Hickok… now it’s time to face the music.”
“Well you look like hell, Buck.”
The Kiowa looked at his friend as though he’d grown a third eye. “What gave you that idea?”
Cody shrugged, his gaze taking in the same sight he’d seen when Buck walked in. The man was covered in trail dust and had the makings of the prize-winning black eye starting. An arm of his shirt was nearly ripped from the seam and when Buck turned Cody barely covered the snort of laughter.
Turning around from his trunk, Buck gave Cody a look that ‘dared’ him to make fun of his appearance.
“Must’ve been some ride.”
Buck shook his head. “You don’t know the half of-“ he finally took a good look at what Cody was doing. “What are you wearin’?”
Cody stood and reached for his belt. He gave a little circle to have Buck appreciate his clothes. “You like it? It’s my best suit.”
“Why are you wearin’ it?”
Swinging around Cody crowed. “That’s right, you weren’t here when the news came in.”
“News?” Buck was losing his patience faster than Cody lost his money at poker. “What-”
“Jimmy’s gettin’ married! That’s why I’m wearin’ my fancy duds. Rachel said ifn’ we didn’t wear our suits we won’t get no cake later.”
“Married? Jimmy?” Buck was rubbing at his temples. “When did he find a girl to-”
“I dunno, who am I to keep track of how many women Jimmy romances on his time off.” Cody finished buckling his belt and whirled back around to Buck. “You know, come to think of it… Teaspoon said the girl was from Texas.” “Tex-“ Buck didn’t bother finishing his thought, he shouldered past Cody, leaving the younger man fuming in his wake.
“Hey, I just cleaned my suit!”
Just before he stepped into the church, Jimmy felt as though the wooden planks beneath his feet were about to give way, but it didn’t matter to Teaspoon. With a hand placed firmly on Jimmy’s lower back he shoved and in Jimmy went. Stumbling and struggling to keep his balance, Jimmy finally righted himself in time to see his intended bride turn to greet him… and her smile falter.
They stood there looking at each other for a long moment before they both broke into fits of nervous laughter.
Teaspoon folded his arms over his chest. “This ain’t funny, Hickok.”
Rachel gave everyone a curious look and leaned toward Polly. “What’s going on?”
“Darned if I know,” Polly sighed and shook her head with a motherly cluck beneath her breath.
“Jimmy-” Teaspoon moved closer to the young man who may just have lost his mind, “what is goin’ on?”
He didn’t get an answer. Rosa stepped forward to wrap her arms around him. “Jimmy, it’s good to see-”
Jimmy’s shoulders shook again as he looked down at the young woman in his arms. “Uh oh.”
Buck started into the room, only to be brought up short by Teaspoon.
“Son, while I’m happy you wanted to come and be a witness to the weddin’… I think you oughta get cleaned up first, we’ll save you some cake. “
Narrowing an angry glance at Jimmy, Buck lifted a hand to point at his ‘friend.’ “I don’t care about the cake, I wanna know why he’s marryin’… her!”
Cody was only a step behind. “Well if you don’t care ‘bout the cake, I-”
“Now wait a minute, Buck,” Jimmy took a step to the side of Rosa, holding up his hands. He didn’t want to get Buck any angrier than he already was, “this isn’t what you think it is.”
Buck’s expression didn’t change. He turned to Teaspoon and barely managed to get the words out around the lump in his throat. “Is he here to marry her?”
“That’s the idea son, but-”
“Jimmy!” Buck lunged at Jimmy and would have escaped Teaspoon’s hold if it wasn’t for Cody’s intervening hands.
Rosa couldn’t take it anymore. “Trust the men to over complicate things,” she whispered as she moved closer to Buck.
“Ai, Rosa!” Delores surged forward, concerned for her child.
The younger woman raised a hand to stop her mother. “He doesn’t understand,” she looked back and forth from one parent to the other and sighed, “neither of you do either!”
She reached out, now close enough to touch Buck’s shoulder. He froze beneath her hand. She knew no matter how angry and confused he was, he’d never come anywhere near hurting her.
His eyes melted into sorrow as he looked down into her eyes. “Why?”
“They didn’t understand,” Rosa began. “All I said was that the man I loved was from the Express.” She looked over at her mother and then at Teaspoon. “And they thought Diego… Jimmy.” She reached up a hand to caress his swelling cheek. “They didn’t think you were the one in my heart.”
“Then why the wedding? I sent you a letter… told you I was going to come and see you.”
“I didn’t get one,” Rosa sighed, her own eyes brimming with tears. “I worried that you had forgotten me… that you weren’t coming back.”
Rosa was about to fling herself into Buck’s arms. Everyone in the room knew it just by looking at them and the burgeoning joy in their faces, but Delores’ concern bubbled up before they could embrace. “Careful, Rosa… the baby.”
“Babe… Baby?” Buck’s jaw was slack with shock. “You… I… I mean… me-“
Polly heard Lou giggle. “He’ll come around in a month or two.”
Teaspoon nodded. “I know it’s a lot to take in at once, son… but I think you’ll warm up to the idea soon enough.”
The preacher standing at the door cleared his throat to get Teaspoon’s attention.
“What is it, Hiram?”
The elderly man looked at his pocket watch. “I have a christenin’ to get to… in someone’s barn for gosh-sakes. Can we hurry it up in here?”
Teaspoon looked at Buck. “What do you say, son?” Teaspoon paused for a moment, a little swept up in the new meaning of the word. “You ready?”
Buck looked down at the sorrowful condition of his clothes. “I’m not really dressed for-”
“You’re just fine…” Rosa beamed up at him, her eyes full of love.
“All right then,” the preacher nodded, “if you’ll take her hand and come stand over-” the preacher paused as Buck awkwardly took Rosa’s hand. “Son… it’s the other hand you’ll be needin’.”
Buck shrugged and continued to walk to the front of the room. “I’m sorry… we’ll just have to make do with-”
“Whats the harm,” huffed the preacher, “to hold her hand with the hand I want you to hold it with!?” The man let out a whoosh of air after the tirade.
Looking over his shoulder, Buck winced. “I’ve got a problem that I need to keep a hand on, I told you I wasn’t quite dressed.
Sure enough, Jimmy, finally getting around to seeing Buck’s meaning, snorted where a laugh should have been. “Got your britches caught on something, Buck?” Grimacing at his friend he answered. “You could say that Jimmy, now if we could just get on with-”
“I got it,” Cody perked up at his own thoughts, “I’ll help ya hold together ‘til the end of-”
Buck nearly swallowed his own words. “No!” He gripped at the back of his pants. “You’re not gonna touch me… anywhere… never mind.” He turned back to the preacher. “Let’s continue.”
“All’s I was doin’ was tryin’ to get us to the cake,” Cody grumbled and flopped down on a pew.
Hiram Coates looked at one page of his book and then the other.
Teaspoon waited a moment before leaning in. “Somethin’ wrong, Hiram?”
The man peered at the old fading type over the rims of his glasses. “Seem to have lost my place.”
Teaspoon’s hat toppled off his head and hit the floor as he raked his fingers through his hair. “Never mind, Hiram, I’ll take care of this.”
Looking at Buck he set a hand on the rider’s shoulder. “Buck, do you take Rosa,” Teaspoon grinned, his voice softening as he said his daughter’s name, “now and forever? Promise to treat her right and make her happy? Promise that you won’t take her too far from her father who wants to get to know his grandchild?”
Buck paled at the mention of a ‘grandchild’, but he nodded. “I do.”
“And do you Rosa,” he gave her a soft and sappy grin, “take Buck now and forever? Do ya promise to make him a happy husband, but not too fat on yer cookin’? Promise to let me borrow him as a deputy anytime I need him? And,” he leaned in toward his daughter to whisper in her ear, “not to let him touch you ever again or I might kill ‘im?”
Rosa raised an eyebrow over the last part but with a mischievous grin in Buck’s direction she nodded and kissed her Papa on the cheek. “I do.”
Teaspoon looked at the rag-tag bunch of his family gathered in the church, clapped his hands together and let out a big whoosh of air. “Phew, that’s over… let’s eat.”
He started for the door and nearly toppled over Jimmy’s feet in the process. “What’s the matter, Hickok? Havin’ second thoughts about Buck gettin’ the girl?”
Jimmy shook his head and looked over at the front of the church. “Never mind, they figured it out without you.”
Teaspoon turned and gave a start. Standing before the soft stained glass windows of the church, Buck had Rosa held gently in his arms, his lips pressed to hers in a deep passionate kiss.
Dropping his arm over Teaspoon’s shoulders, Jimmy gave the older man a smile. “Come on, Teaspoon… let’s get the party goin’.”
As they walked into the sunlight of Sweetwater, Teaspoon heard the dulcet tones of Delores’ voice. “Oh dios mio, he got dust on her dress.”