Author’s Note: Instead of the total downer of a funeral as the closer of three great seasons. So this is how I would have liked it to end.

Teaspoon’s smile grew as he saw the group assembling outside of the marshal’s office. Pushing himself up out of his chair, he sauntered to the doorway and leaned against the wall surveying the land. “Well, I aughta put y’all in jail for loiterin’.”

“Loitering?” Cody adjusted the cuffs on his fancy knew riding gloves and gave Buck a look. “I’m a workin’ man, I don’t loiter.”

“Workin’ man?” Noah shook his head and let out a whistle that had Cassie alternately laughing along with him and nudging him in the side. “Well, all hail the Cody!”

“Fine… fine,” groused the new Army recruit, “what are you gonna be doin’ while I’m off leading the Union Army?”

Cassie’s expression softened as Noah took hold of her hand and laid it on his chest. “Cassie’s gonna marry me and we’re gonna go start a school.”

“A school?” Rachel’s curiosity was piqued.

Nodding, Cassie explained. “Slaves are headin’ West. Some freed, some wantin’ to be free and havin’ no idea what to away from the plantations.” She looked up at the tall handsome man at her side and smiled. “Noah… he had the idea and I think it’s perfect. We can train folks for work that they can find out here, make it as easy as we can for them.”

“I know you’ll make a great teacher.” That statement from Jimmy, his voice gruff with unspoken emotion. “You kept shovin’ books under my nose whether I wanted it or not.”

Noah elbowed his friend. “Please don’t feel the need to advertise for me, Hickok; we want students to come to us… not run from us.”

“I might run into a few potential students where I’m goin’… but I’ll make sure to be careful how I sing my praises.”

“Oh?” Teaspoon moved a little closer and Polly slipped her arm through his. “Where are you headin’ for, Hickok?”

Jimmy didn’t quite meet Teaspoon’s eyes as he made his own admission. “Thought I’d try my hand at scouting… I figure in the middle of the war there won’t be no one callin’ me out.”

“War ain’t a place to be safe, Jimmy.” Louise placed her hand on his arm, squeezing gently to get him to look at her. “You don’t have to go.”

“They won’t stop comin’ here unless I’m gone and here, I’ve got too many folks that will try to stand up for me…” he looked at the group around him. “I don’t want to see any of you hurt because of me. I figure a few years in the army and folks will forget about Wild Bill.”

Louise nodded her understanding. “Then you’ll come back.”

“Then I’ll come back.” He gave her a grin that sealed the deal. “After I see Emma.”

Rachel turned to Lou. “Her baby should be old enough to travel by then.”

Her expression brightening she grabbed onto Jimmy’s arm again and didn’t notice his wince as her fingers clamped on too tight. “That’s right… or by then… she might have another one on the way.”

Jimmy peeled her fingers off his arm one at a time. “If she’s able to travel, I’ll bring her and the Cain brood with me.”

“Emma’s likely to bring the whole house and end up stayin’.” Buck’s words rang true to those who knew the woman that had won their hearts as a surrogate mother.

“Well,” Teaspoon cleared his throat, “when you do get back… If I’m still the law around here you’ve got a job waitin’ for you.”

“What do you mean ‘if’?” Jimmy looked a little bit shaken at the idea. “You’re gonna be the law forever and a day.”

Teaspoon waved off the round of comments from his ‘family’ of riders. “As hard as it is to accept, I ain’t gonna be young forever.” He grinned at Polly. “I want to spend as much time as I can with my woman. We’ve got a whole lot of time to make up for.”

“I don’t see why,” Cody scoffed, his smile lightening the tone, “you’ve got a whole mess of children right here.”

His eyes widening like saucers, Teaspoon put his hand to his heart. “Heaven help me.”

Polly instinctively reached up and massaged Teaspoon’s shoulders. “Cody’s right, Sugarlips. You and I have a readymade family right here.”

“And I’m not going anywhere.” Rachel gave them all a vivacious smile. “I won’t be teaching much longer,” she saw Louise’s knowing look and nodded, “since they don’t want a married teacher I guess I won’t qualify.”

Louise wrapped her arms around the woman she had come to love as a sister. “I suppose Janus finally got around to asking you?”

“Just last night.” Rachel was beaming. “I thought I’d never find another man as steady and loving as my Henry. Janus has been through so much he says that I’m the reason why he learned to smile again. How can a woman turn down such beautiful words from a wonderful man?”

“Well, we can’t all be smooth when we’re nervous.” Kid stepped up beside Lou and shrugged. “I always got tongue tied when I tried to talk to Lou ‘bout marryin’… it’s not easy to say what’s you’ve got bottled up inside.”

“Son,” Teaspoon gave Kid a sympathetic look, “there’s also the issue of location… I don’t know how you managed to turn a graveyard of all things into a marriage proposal.” He let out a sigh. “You must have a very understandin’ woman on your hands.”

“Don’t I know it.” Kid pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure she’s safe and happy here in Rock Creek.” He looked at Teaspoon. “We’ve got a lot to get settled before the kids get here.”

Louise nodded. “They’re taking the train together. Jeremiah insisted that they could do it on their own.” She pressed her hand to her heart. “It’s going to be hard to see for myself how much they’ve grown since the last time I saw them.” She looked over at Rachel. “Jeremiah was hoping there might be a possibility of becoming an apprentice at the Blacksmith.”

Rachel’s expression wavered a bit. “Janus will be looking for more help,” she let out a breath, “since Jesse disappeared.”

A momentary pall descended over the group and Jimmy spoke first. “He can make his own choices… we just don’t have to agree with him.”

“But we’ll be prayin’ for him.” Teaspoon statement was final and no one, but no one was going to argue with the man that had become patriarch to an unruly bunch of folks. Determined to draw everyone away from the thought of their missing young man, Teaspoon’s eyes settled on a rather quiet member of the group. “What about you, Buck? You haven’t turned in your deputy badge, dare I hope you’ll stay around and give me a hand?”

“What about your brother?” Lou’s voice was curious but quiet, unsure of Buck’s reaction. “Will you go and visit him?”

“My brother has moved on, I don’t know where they’ve gone and I’m no longer a part of their lives.” His voice sounded foreign to their ears as though it had traveled a long distance to reach his lips. “I’ll be there to help you anytime I’m in town, Teaspoon, you know that. You don’t even have to ask. I just don’t know what I’m going to do beyond today.”

Rachel gave him an encouraging look. “There is an open teaching job, besides Lou, you’ve probably had the most formal schooling of most folks in the town.”

“You’re good with children.” This from Lou who had caught onto the excitement of the idea.

“I think you ladies have forgotten the kind of town this is.” Noah stepped up beside Buck and gave his friend a nod. “They don’t mind us delivering the mail and savin’ the town when it needs it, but teachin’ their children?”

“People will learn, Noah.” Rachel’s voice was full of concern and just a hint of a mother’s displeasure. “Folks will have to learn sooner or later.”

“They’ll learn,” Lou agreed, “but does it have to fall on Buck’s shoulders to take the taunts and looks… does he have to fight to get a job that they’ll just try to take away from him as soon as they can?”

“You can always come with us.” Cassie’s offer was unexpected, but made sense to everyone the moment she’d said the words. “You won’t find those kinds of problems with us… with our students.”

“It’ll be awhile before we see any kind of money,” Noah’s words were full of caution but not a warning, “but we’d be glad to have you.”

Buck’s smile was soft but heartfelt. “I’ll think about it.”

“Teaspoon!” William Tompkins called over to the Express family from two store fronts away. “You oughta come and see this!”

Teaspoon looked at Polly and she shrugged. “I’ve never seen Bill Tompkins that excited about anything.”

“Except maybe us leavin’ town,” Noah’s muttered words got him a sharp look from Cassie.

Led by Teaspoon, the group moved down the street and then up to a window at the Telegraph Office.

There was a flurry of motion inside as a few people made the finishing touches on the office, supplying shelves and the desk for the telegrapher. A thin man in his shirtsleeves and vest pulled a watch from his pocket, deftly capturing it so that he could read the time.

The telegrapher sat down at the desk with a flourish of movement and reached for the pen behind his ear. The next moment seemed almost surreal to the group gathered there. The telegraph started a short staccato dance in its holder and the operator would send a return. They all watched for a moment before Teaspoon took in a deep breath and looked at Polly with a resigned smile. “Looks like we’re officially out of a job folks.”

“That’s fine, Teaspoon,” Cody smiled his wide grin lightening the mood, “we’ve got a lot of things we’re lookin’ forward to… “

“That’s right, son.”

“And besides,” added Lou, “one of us will get in trouble and need help.”

“Like we always do.” Kid slid his arm around Lou’s waist as they stepped down into the street.

Buck nodded, knowing where this was heading. “And we’ll all come runnin’.”

Jimmy tugged his hat brim down but nothing could hide his smile. “Like we always do.”

“Oh good,” finished Teaspoon, “at least some things never change.”

Polly leaned against Teaspoon’s shoulder and looked at him with adoring eyes as they walked down the center of the street alongside the others. Whatever brought together such a ragtag bunch of people and made them a family? Onions? Bear grease?

Nope. One man with a bag of tricks to teach.

At least some things never change.

Email Miss Raye