inspired by the song of the same title by RASCAL FLATTS

I’ve dealt with my ghosts and I’ve faced all my demons

for once I’m at peace with myself,

I've been burdened with blame,

trapped in the past for too long

I'm movin’ on

I've lived in this place and I know all the faces

each one is different but they’re always the same

they mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it

They’ll never allow me to change

But I never dreamed home would end up where I don’t belong

I'm movin’ on...

...at last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me

and I know there’s no guarantees, but I'm not alone

there comes a time in everyone’s life

when all you can see are the year’s passing by

and I have made up my mind that those days are gone

THE STORY

Orleans was the first to start talkin‘, “You sure you gonna go?”

Lou looked up, “Yeah, it’s ‘bout time.”

From where he sat near the fire, Dakota threw a piece of wood into the blaze. “It’s still winter, you loco or just plain stupid?”

“Dakota, you watch your mouth.” York was the oldest, but had the biggest heart and he never did cotton to someone callin’ names.

The whittlin’ knife nicked Dakota’s finger and he let out a yelp. “Dammit York, she ain’t got the brains God gave a prairie dog. She’s leaving in the middle of winter.”

Lou stopped packing to look up. Settling her hand on her hip she looked straight at Dakota. The boy immediately looked down at his lap and stuffed his injured finger in his mouth. “Don’t make no sense,” he gruffed around his pointer.

Taking a break from folding her clothes, Lou took out her kerchief from her pocket. Stopping by the basin to dip it in cool water, she made her way toward the fireplace.

“You know you’re not supposed to talk with your mouth full,” she admonished him.

“Wha-?” He stared as Lou took his hand and cleaned his finger with the kerchief. Turning the cotton square over, Lou wrapped it around his finger and tied it tight. “Hey,” he protested, “that hurts!”

Orleans laughed, “Just be glad she didn’t try to cow-ter-eyes it like she did York’s bullet wound.”

The older boy turned green at the memory.

Dakota pointed an accusatory finger at York, “You said you’d wanted to kill her, now I understand.”

“It’s only your finger, you big baby.” Orleans was busy pulling out his pipe from its secret hidin’ place that he didn’t see the sour look Dakota threw his way.

Louise went back to packing but looked over to York with a questioning glance, “Kill me? Really?” She said it with a laugh but there was a bit of worry to her tone.

York shook his head, “I was out of my head. Between all the whiskey you‘d dumped down my throat and the feel of that.. that poker..” He couldn‘t bring himself to say the words, choosing instead to look in her eyes one more time. “Did I ever say thank you?“

Laughing, she nodded, “Yeah, lots of times.“ She stopped and leaned closer, touching her arm to his, “I was never so scared as that night. You were bleedin’ so much, I thought you’d die before I got up the nerve to do it... and then when I done it, you yelled so loud I thought I’d killed you for sure.”

She felt the change in his mood and looked down. Settin‘ her last shirt on the top of the pile she set a hand on it to settle the cloth.

Quietly, almost in a whisper he told her, “Well, as painful as it was, you saved my life.”

“You know,” started Orleans before he puffed up a cloud of smoke from his pipe, “I don’ understand the fuss you boys are makin’ over this. Plenty of us have left, why this house is a veritable swinging door o’ people.” He pounded his chest as he took in too much smoke, “So, what’s the big deal, she’s leaving. One day we’ll all leave.”

Dakota felt like his chest would collapse if he let out a breath. “Yeah well, none of the others have been like a sister to me.”

He looked up for a moment and caught the soft look in Lou’s eyes.

“Yeah,” piped in Orleans, “cause they’ve all been boys.” A few nervous laughs broke the silence and Orleans puffed happily on his pipe. “’Sides, a fella can’t be gettin’ too attached to anything.. ‘specially a woman.”

Dakota threw a chunk of wood past Orleans head, “Since when did you become some kind of genius about things.”

Orleans smiled and they could all see the missing tooth just to the side of his pipe stem, “Since Saint Louis there done taught me to read.”

Lou raised her eyes heavenward. The nickname had been the bane of her existence for the better part of the year.

Orleans set his pipe down on the table, careful to balance it so he wouldn’t start a fire like he had done the month before. “Seems to me, you boys are gettin’ all crabby ‘cause you’re both sweet on the girl.”

“The deuce you say!” Dakota swore an oath that would’ve made a sailor blush and then he tossed his work and knife down on the rug and leapt out of his chair.

York and Dakota, bein’ teenage boys like they were, took Orleans down to the floor and wrestled an apology out of him.

Silently, Lou leaned back against her bunk to watch them. Like overgrown bear cubs the three rolled back and forth in front of the fire, each tryin’ to get the upper hand. ‘If they aren’t careful they’ll roll themselves right into the fire.’ Smiling at the thought, Lou turned back to her packing. It was just a portion of the things she owned, but she’d already given each of her friends items that she felt they’d want or could use. It had been awkward, parceling out her belongings, but she was looking forward to what lay ahead. She pulled the straps of the bag together and felt the items inside settle.

“Hey, wait.” York had extracted himself from the pile and was standing behind her, “There’s something else you have to put in there.”

“I’ve already got everything I need.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He went to his trunk and pulled out a paper wrapped book. Takin’ it over to Lou’s bag, he tucked it under her clothes.

When he was done, she looked up at him. “What’s that?”

“A birthday present.”

“Silly,” she slugged his shoulder, “it ain’t my birthday.”

“Yeah well,” he choked on the answer, “When it is, you won’t be here.”

Lou set her lips together as an unexpected sob welled up in her chest. “York-”

He set a hand on her shoulder, “You’d better head out... you still have to see the Colonel before you go.”

The uncomfortable feeling fell away and Louise nodded. Settin’ her hand on York’s arm she said a quiet “Good bye.”

Dakota and Orleans looked up from their games on the floor and waved their goodbyes.

It only took a moment to close the door behind her.

She stood on the porch for a moment, taking in the lay of the farm. Four years had seen a lot of changes, new fields, new crops... new ideas. When she’d first come here, she’d been full of spit and vinegar, lashing out at anyone that tried to help her. It had taken time, but she’d seen that all they asked was a good days work and a helping hand when they’d needed it.

The Colonel proved he was more than a boss, he was a teacher, and she learned everything she could. Writing, reading, mathematics and how to handle everything from a pocket gun to a rifle. Feeling more at home here than the orphanage, she’d stayed on for four years, but the last two had gone by with amazing speed.

It got to the point that Louise felt like life was passing by without her and that didn’t set well inside. She liked to feel like she was accomplishing something and while life went on day by day she knew that there was something else out there, another place that she’d find and make a life for herself. Something that was her own... and someday it would be for her brother and sister as well.

She placed a hand over her pocket and felt the give of paper beneath her hand. She’d seen the poster nailed to a tree on one of their infrequent visits to town.

She’d taken and hid it away inside her trunk while her heart and head had warred over what to do. It was the Colonel who’d found it and after callin’ her into the house and asking he about it, he’d written to Russell, Majors & Waddell and asked for them to hold a job for her.

Louise paused outside the door to the main house and smiled, the Colonel had saved her from a life on the streets and had given her the chance of a lifetime, now.. he was giving her, her freedom.




“Come in.”

“Colonel?”

“Are you packed up?”

“Yes sir.”

He looked at the bag in her hands, “That’s all you’re taking?”

She nodded and tilted her head to the side, “Travel light... you taught me that. I gave everything else to the other boys. Only thing I wish I could’ve taken more of... were my books.”

Nodding, the Colonel dipped his pen again and finished his signature. After setting the pen back in the ink pot, he blew on the paper to dry it.

“Sir?”

He held the paper out and nodded, “Take it.”

She took the paper between her fingers and stared at the neat rows of letters, “I can’t... I can’t take this..”

His tone brooked no argument, “You will. It’s not just for you, I get the feeling you’ve got family somewhere even though you won‘t talk about them. Besides, you never know what will happen, hold onto it, just in case.”

She choked out a thank you and folded the paper draft away into her vest pocket.

“You know where you’re goin’ right?”

Lou nodded, “Sweetwater, Wyoming Territory.” She worried her bottom lip as her mouth when dry, “I’ll do you proud sir.”

He smiled back, “That wasn’t my concern. I had no reservations when I wrote to Mr. Russell about giving you a position with the Express. If you’re not careful, you’re bound to be running the Express before long.”

She looked down at her toes as fought the satisfied little smile that played on her lips.

“You know that if this job doesn’t work out... or if they don’t treat you right-”

“I’ll be fine, you know me...”

He held up his hand to quiet her, “I know you’ll never let me finish, cause you always talk a blue streak when you’re nervous.”

The shared a smile and then Lou pressed her lips together. “Sorry.”

Shaking his head with a good natured laugh he looked up at her over his glasses, “I don’t think you’ll ever grow out of that habit, no matter how much you try.”

Rockin’ back on her heels she offered up a chagrined smile, “Dare say you’re right Colonel.”

“Yes well, like I was sayin’. If the job doesn’t work out, or if you just... just want to come back. There will always be a place for you here.”

Her cheeks colored a pretty shade of pink and she surprised them both by wrapping her arms around his shoulders and giving him a hug.

Slowly, with a tentative breath he put his arms around her as well.

“I know,” she whispered, “and I thank you for .. everything.”

The Colonel was having a bit of difficulty fighting tears, this was the first time she’d touched a man in the four years she’d been on the farm. The first time she’d let herself be touched.

When she stood back up, she took a step or two back and tucked her head down. “Well sir, I guess I ought to be headin’ out now. At least while there’s plenty of good light left. ‘Figure I’ll make town by nightfall.”

He sighed and set a hand down on the desk, “Always the practical one eh Louis? I guess you’re right. Time for you to be headin’ on.” His tone was flat and final, but the pain in his eyes belied his true feelings.

Lou picked up her bag and cleared her throat. “I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me, never. There ain’t many men that would help a girl that not only tried to steal from him, but tried to.. tried to...”

He held up a dismissive hand, “You were cold, hungry and alone, I’d say I’m lucky that you didn’t know how to use a knife, otherwise...well, I’m glad you didn’t.” He sighed and pushed his chair away from the desk. Setting his hands on the backs of the wheels he pushed himself a good half turn forward. “It’s a hard life on a farm, but you’ve done it... I dare say you’ve excelled. Take that knowledge with you and you’ll never let any man bowl you over and make you bend to his will.”

She laughed and answered back with unfelt bravado, “Don’t think any man could do that now.”

“Good, good.” He nodded and then motioned for her to come closer. “There’s just one more thing before you go.”

“Yes sir,” she stepped forward and stood before his knees, careful not to nudge his feet even though he couldn’t feel them.

Reaching into his pocket he took out his glasses. With motions that belonged more to an official ceremony than a simple goodbye, he opened up each side of the ear wires. Turning them around he reached forward and set the lenses against her nose and then one at a time, hooked the curved wires around her ears. “There.”

“Sir?”

“They won’t hurt your eyes. They’re just plain old glass.”

“I though you needed them to read,” she questioned.

His half smile was born of chagrin. “It’s just a vanity of mine Louis. I think they make me look dignified, so I bought a pair just to wear. Now, I’m giving them to you. You need something to hide those big eyes of yours, or they’re gonna know you’re not Louis, you’re Louise.” The name sounded so foreign on his lips. In fact, he’d never said her given name, ever.

He set his hands in his lap and nodded toward the door, “There now, you’re all set.”

She reached out and turned the knob with a steady hand, “I’ll see you again, someday.”

He shook his head, “You just have yourself a good life Lou. You be happy.”

Without another word, she stepped out the door and closed it behind her. The solid click sounded and she took in a breath and let it out in a rush. One at a time she put one foot in front of the other, each stride putting another foot or so between her and her past. At the barn, she swung up into her saddle and set her boots in the stirrups. “Let’s go girl.” Lightning didn’t need the touch of her spurs, she never did. Instead, she bounced into a gallop and the two headed off to the future together, never looking back.

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