Please Read the Letter

Caught out running
With just a little too much to hide
Maybe baby
Everything's gonna work out fine
Please read the letter
I pinned it to your door
It's crazy how it all turned out
We needed so much more

Things had been messed up for months. They'd walked around each other as though everything was fine. They laughed at the jokes in the bunkhouse. They elbowed each other at the table and called out 'Ride Safe' like they did for everyone else… but it wasn't the same. It wasn't ever gonna be the same.

It was going to kill him. If not today, then soon.

Noah stomped his feet off on the porch and stepped inside the bunkhouse, closing the door securely after him. "Its a few inches deep and fine like powder."

"What?" Kid looked up and ran his fingers through his hair to push it back off of his face. "What are you talking about?"

Noah pointed at his shoulders and the dots of moisture still clinging to his coat. "Snow. It's been fallin' since the early hours I guess. Nothin's meltin' outside and it's still comin' down."

Ike bumped the side of his fist on the wall to get their attention. He quickly fastened his belt and motioned, 'the horses.'

"Fine. Jimmy and I checked their stalls. They've all got feed and blankets." A stiff wind collided with the side of the bunkhouse and they all felt the push of freezing air that went right through their shirts. "They'll be warmer than we are with all the cracks in the walls that didn't get fixed."

"Hey!" Cody looked back over his shoulder and glared at them. "I wasn't the only one supposed to fix the walls."

"No," agreed Buck, "but you were the only one not to lift a hand to help."

He gave the other rider a knowledgeable look and answered back. "Let's get one thing straight, Buck-"

Kid sat back in his chair and tried to smile through his boredom. Snow. He couldn't see what Lou saw in the snow. She thought it looked like lace or crystals when she held it in her hands. She always saw the little-

"You got somethin' on your mind, Kid?"

He looked down at the paper on the table before him. It was empty except for the words 'Dear Lou.' Shuffling the papers he folded it into the blank pages of the stack and put a book up on top of it. "Guess it's just the weather. We never got this much snow back home."

"How about you, Lou? Did you like the snow this much when you were a little girl?"

She paused, leaning against the tree and staring down into her palm. "Mama caught her last cold comin' home in the snow. It wasn't anything like this." Her finger pushed at the little flakes and held them up for him to see. "They were half melted, soaked into her clothes. She never had a coat like…" she wiped her hand on her barn coat, "this one."

Kid dropped his arm around her shoulders and barely noticed the flinch as he hugged her closer. "That's all behind us, Lou." He stepped back when he saw the quizzical look in her eyes, digging into his own coat pocket for the letter he'd written her. Closing his chilled fingers over the thin brown envelope, Kid held it out to her. "Here."

For a moment he thought she was going to refuse outright. "Uh, Kid…"

The corners of his mouth were tight with his attempt to smile. "Lou, come on…it's not gonna bite you."

She looked as though she doubted those very words. "Kid, we've talked about this before and-"

He shook it at her once. "Not this… not even close." He felt his back teeth grind together as he fought to keep a light tone. "Just, take it… you can read it when you… when you feel like it. It… I can wait."

Reaching out with a hesitant hand she took the envelope and quickly stuffed into her coat pocket. "I've got a ride comin' up."

He nodded. "I know I saw the schedule Teaspoon put up…"

Maybe she knew his next words all too well. Knew that he was going to offer to take it. Offer to leave her in the warmth of the station. Maybe that's why she turned and nearly ran back to the barn.

That had been almost two weeks ago and she hadn't said a word to him about it.

Hadn't even shown any signs that she'd read it.

Hadn't taken the time to read what he'd written her.

It was driving him stark raving mad.

Kid stood up from the table with a barely perceptible sigh and reached over to pick up his letter writing supplies. He barely had the book in his hand when the door opened and a blast of wind scattered the papers around the room. As he bent to pick them up, a boot stepped down on top of the first page.

"Looks like we're in for a big storm." Jimmy stepped off the papers and continued to his bunk shrugging off his coat as he went; if he noticed the papers or the man bent down next to them he didn't give any indication. "I've been watchin' the clouds all morning. There's hardly any blue to look at out there."

Kid stood, staring at Jimmy's back. "What's the news down the line?"

"Not good." He turned and gave Kid a hard look. "Just had Jim Bartles ride in from the next station. He said the trail is nearly gone, barely made his way through the last pass without riding right off into the canyon." Anticipating the next question, Jimmy gave the answer. "No word from further on down the line. We may just have to wait it out."

Too late, too late
A fool could read the signs
Maybe baby
You'd better check between the lines
Please read the letter, I
Wrote it in my sleep
With help and consultation from
The angels of the deep

Jimmy watched Kid storm out toward the marshal's office and knew it was going to be a long day. Longer than he'd anticipated when he first got up that morning.

He'd grabbed a towel before heading out back to a little tub they used just for these kinds of occasions.

The water was nearest to freezing than he'd ever seen or felt, but somehow it was a good way to shake him from his stupor, open his eyes to the morning the way it needed to be seen. The towel even seemed have a sharp edge about it, almost as if the chill in the air had taken the water and frozen it into icicles on the outside of the cloth. Wiping it over his brow and shivering with the chill of the morning, he'd missed the door opening… or maybe he hadn't, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was that he nearly swallowed his tongue when he looked up from the cloth into Lou's face.

"You're up early."

They stood there looking at each other for a long moment before Jimmy smiled. "Did you say that or me?"

Lou shrugged. "I don't know."

Leaning over the edge of the porch he wrung out the face cloth and they walked back toward the bunkhouse door. Louise fell more and more behind with each step. "Lou?" Jimmy turned around and took in the view. There was a quiet worry about her, lining her face with cares that he knew she wouldn't tell him about until she was good and ready. "This got somethin' to do with the new folks in town?"

It wasn't necessarily the sharp intake of breath that confirmed the answer for him, or even the slight widening of her eyes. It didn't take much of a man to see he was right. "Jimmy, I-"

She fished a letter out from her pockets and put it in his opened hand. "I want you to hold onto this."

Turning the letter over and over in his hands Jimmy couldn't help but read the carefully printed words on the outside.

LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT

"Now I'm still tryin' to wrap my mind around all the letters and the words, Lou, but ain't this for when you die?"

She looked him right in the eye and nodded. "Last time I caught the stage from Silver Springs I travelled with a widow who was headin' back East with her daughter." There was hitch in her voice, but her eyes remained dry. "Her husband had died and she was left with little to nothin' once the attorney fees had gotten through with it, since he hadn't left a will, and I-"

"You wanted to make sure Jeremiah and Teresa are taken' care of."

Louise nodded, her lips pressed together with a slight quiver.

Jimmy reached into the bunkhouse and pulled on his jacket, slipping the envelope into an inside pocket. "Don't worry, Lou. I'll make sure they're taken care of and-"

She took his hand as he withdrew it empty from his coat. Brushing her fingers over the inside of his palm she seemed to be carefully examining the lines in his hand. "I'm not worried about it now. I know you'll do what you promise." She took a steadying breath. "You've been a big help to me lately, Jimmy and I know sayin' 'thank you' isn't nearly enough to tell you how much it's meant, but 'thank you,' Jimmy for listenin' to me and lettin' me gripe when I needed to."

He could feel the heat spreading over his cheeks as she stood there touching his hand. "Lou,-"

"Anyway, if there's a time when you'll need to 'use' the papers I wanted you to know. There's a note in there for you too." She cleared her throat and nodded toward his pocket.

Jimmy reached into the coat and closed his hand over it, intent on reading the note, but her touch stopped his movement. She lifted her hand from his and touched the side of his face gently. "Not now… it's not anything you need to hear, until," she held her breath for a moment, "until it's time."

"Rider comin'!" Teaspoon toddled out onto the porch and nodded toward the horizon. "Lou! You up?"

"Comin' along, Teaspoon!" She turned back to Jimmy and gave him a grin. "I'll be back in a few days."

He nodded. "I'll be here."

She ran over toward the hitching post where Lightning was waiting.

Watching her mount up Jimmy lifted his hand in farewell. She missed the gesture but it didn't matter.

Once I stood beside a well of many words
My house was full of rings and
Charms and pretty birds
Please understand me, my
Walls come falling down
There's nothing here that's left for you
But check with lost and found

St. Joseph, Main Pony Express Station

Buck stared at the hand held out to him. Stared and couldn't seem to comprehend what it was about.

"Son?"

It snapped Buck out of his thoughts and by the look on the man's face he had a feeling it wasn't the first time he was being addressed. "Sorry, Ken, I-"

"You were just catchin' flies." The older man chuckled, "I was askin' if you wanted me to put that in the box for ya."

Buck looked at the envelope in his hands and turned it over so he could read the name he printed on it just an hour ago. Camille… He hadn't put a last name on there. Hadn't and didn't know which one to. She wasn't married… yet. They were about to have their ceremony and she'd asked him to come. Asked him to sit in the church and watch her pledge herself to another man.

He was fine with it.

He was.

He was.

Nope, he still didn't believe it.

Still couldn't make it real. Last night, he'd holed himself up in a corner of the bunkhouse in St. Jo and written out everything inside of him that he thought she wanted to hear. The guilt over losing her, the sweetness of seeing her again… seeing her happy… how much 'saving her' during her visit to Rock Creek had given him back a little bit of his confidence.

He'd lied and told her that she was doing the right thing. That he was happy for her. He even told her he had to get back to the Station. That he'd been called back early from his time off. He didn't want to burden her with the truth. Couldn't do it.

"Here, Ken… give this to Camille when you see her. She'll probably be by tomorrow."

"You could stay, you know. You could stay a few days like you was plannin' and go on home afterwards."

"I could." Camille would be by tomorrow, his mind brought it up again, torturing him. "I could, but then I'd make a big mess outta everything."

Thundering hooves came from the West, Tommy Cullen hanging tight onto the reins. "Hey Ken! You gotta get to the offices."

"Offices?" Ken ran up to the horse, Buck forgotten behind him. "What do you mean?"

Tommy jumped off the back of his horse and tossed the mochilla to a waiting rider who unlocked it to begin the sorting process. Another rider took Tommy's mount away as the young man tried to catch his breath. "Snow storm blocked the pass. 'Heard tell we have a couple riders lost in it."

"Couple of riders… who?"

Shrugging, Tommy looked at Ken. "Word from our end is Erastus Morgan was in that direction. The other one… I dunno… the schedule says-"

Ken turned and looked at Buck. "Who's on schedule from out your way?"

"Our schedule?" It would have been him. He was scheduled to take circuit through the pass for the next few weeks. He'd been given the route because of the territory it went through. He'd been given the route and since he was here for the wedding… "No… no."

Ken saw the angry look on the young man's face. "What's wrong, Buck? A friend of yours?"

"I need to go." The worry on his face answered the question for the Station Master.

"Sure… sure… take your pick of the mounts in the stable. They're all company horses."

Buck shoved the envelope in the man's hands. "Give that to Camille… it'll make her happy."

Ken nodded and ran off toward the R, M & W offices in Saint Jo. They'll be wanting to know that two riders are lost in the snow… but they'll probably be more concerned about the lost mail.

To Buck, he had only two things on his mind at the moment. Lou stuck out in the snow in the middle of hostile Indian territory and that he was walking away from the first woman he'd ever loved.

The only thing left to worry about was finding a horse he could trust… he was about to ride off into hell.

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

One more song just before we go
Remember baby
All the things
We used to know
Please read my letter
And promise you'll keep
The secrets and the memories and
Cherish in the deep

It had somehow become a habit. Too many trips when things were out of her control. Left to camp in the middle of nowhere with nothing to keep her company but her horse and the sounds of the night. A book was too thick to keep in the saddlebags and clothes. There was also the bible they'd been given by the R, M & W office, but she didn't feel comfortable writing in it. No way.

So she'd taken to the habit of bringing along paper from the station and writing on it when the inspiration struck. It was always the last few minutes when the fire was warm on her face and the night cold around her that ideas popped into her head unbidden. Ideas that she knew if she didn't put down on paper she'd never remember in the morning.

So here, huddled in the snow, her eyes drifting over her shivering horse she barely met her pencil with the paper clutched in her hands.

If you're reading this. I'm gone.

She gave a little chuckle reading over the last two words. How simple. How sad.

I'm gone. Frozen in the snow and all I can think about is how this never should have happened. How I've done rides like this more than a score of times and why now? Why now does this have to happen? We hear about other riders dying on the trail through no fault of their own. Still it was always someone else. Always another station losing a man. I hope I'm not the next one. Louise McCloud

She paused to look at the tight scrawl of her lettering and wondered if she should scratch out the 'ise' at the end of her name. She decided against it.

'If I'm gonna die, at least I'll die with my own name.'

Please read the letter that I wrote
Please read the letter that I wrote

Notes: The Lyrics are from the Song "Please Read the Letter" from the CD - Raising Sand

Love Letters Prompt: Hesitation

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