|17: In His Arms|
|80: In the Cold|
|45: Why Now?|
|5: A Clean Bed and a Good Night's Sleep|
|20: Little Things|
|32: Thunder and Lightning|
Topic: Word List: Quilt, blind, rash, molasses can, tobacco pipe
The yard was quiet. No sign of life beyond the chickens picking at the bug rich ground beneath their feet. The scene too idyllic to be real. Pausing for a moment on the rise above the homestead he pulled his mount to stop as his eyes ate up the view before him. It had been years since he'd hung up his badge and his rig for the life of a homesteader and his instincts may have lost their edge, but there was something wrong. Something horribly wrong.
Sam rushed down the hill with his mount churning up the ground beneath them, hoping all the while that when he made it down to the bottom he'd find nothing wrong. Nothing to fear.
The door of the house gaped open, yawning again and again with each breath of the wind, but something held it back. Kept it from closing fully into the opening. The door was sound he told himself. Or had he done something wrong when he'd hung the door… he hoped that was the case instead of what might be awaiting him inside.
The horse didn't bolt when he slid from the saddle. She paced away but remained at his back as he stumbled for the house.
A foot lay on the runner beneath the door, the sole of a boot lay baking in the sun, the hem of a petticoat barely visible above the top edge of the leather sides.
Emma. She lay in the doorway, her body motionless in the shadows beyond the doorway.
The baby. Muffled cries from beneath the floorboards unarmed him. She'd hidden the child… an attack?
The cries were more lonely than hurt and allowed Sam to focus on the possible hell that lay before him.
"Emma?" She didn't answer. Didn't move. Emma. *Blind* with fear he crawled along her body, hands searching as he moved. Skirts.. .legs… whole, hips and waist... corset beneath… her back.
Her back. Warm… sticky… blood.
He fell back on his haunches, his hand lifted up to the sunlight. Brown… warm… sliding down his skin. Oh God… oh God… it wasn't blood.
She moaned, shifting her body as it lay next to him. A drop touched his shoulder and he looked up at the shelf near the door. A *molasses can* rolled to the edge of the shelf and teetered on the edge. A large hole torn in its side spoke volumes to him. A shot had bored the hole through the tin and covered Emma in its contents.
"Sam?" she rolled to her side and gave him a smile with more than a little wince of pain included. "You home already?"
"Looks like I'm just in time to help you clean up, wife." His growled words were full of fear and relief. He grabbed her outstretched hand and pulled her roughly up against his body, wrapping his arms around her just to make sure she was whole and she was his.
She laughed at the odd feeling of the molasses through the fabric of the back of her dress. "Sam…you're filthy…"
"You're no better yourself," he reminded her as his mouth descended for a hard kiss, "but I ain't complainin'.. you're whole woman… and you need to stay that way or I'm gonna lose my mind."
She touched his face with the side of her hand and laughed at the combination of molasses and dirt she left behind. "I've got to get the baby, Sam..;. I left her downstairs when the stranger came."
There was more to ask, but it would wait until later when he had his daughter safe in his arms. Setting Emma to rest against the door he lifted the rag rug and dropped it to he side before lifting the heavy wooden door to the cellar. The steps weren't needed as he slid down the sides and found his vision in the dark interior of the subterranean room. The soft cries he'd heard above were magnified in the small space and he could hear the anger in his daughter's voice. "You too?" he whispered as he approached the baby left crying in the hastily emptied basket between the potatoes and the flour. The *quilt* wrapped around her had fallen open, no doubt from the flailing arms of his little girl. Her face was round and red, eyes squeezed closed during her latest tirade, but the sound of her father's voice and the gentle way he held her as he lifted her up to his chest… cradling her against the pounding echo chamber of his chest, Sam calmed her with words and wishes…
And praise that she was still alive and his… and that her mother, thank goodness, had survived the attack. There was little to say beyond the fact that tonight after they'd cleaned their home and reloaded the firearms around the house, Sam would gladly get down beside his wife at the edge of their bed and thank the good lord for his help and care.
With Emma's list clutched in her hand she stepped into the near dark of the ice house and caught sight of the lantern left carelessly a few steps in on a stool. With a careful test to the weight of the door, Lou slipped a piece of wood under the door to hold it open, but no sooner than she stepped inside to grab the lantern to light it the door pushed itself free from the wood brace and it slammed shut behind her.
Momentary fear shivered up her back as her fingers crushed the paper clutched in her hand. "Hello?"
"Hello?" Her voice grew in volume and in the ferocity of the vibrations in her tone. "Is there someone out there?" She walked around in front of the door. "Someone?"
Lou leaned against the door, feeling some comfort in the bite of wood against her back. It would be fine. She would be fine. It would all be fine as soon as someone came looking for her. "Kid?" She half expected him to be hovering around on the other side of the door. Normally she'd be ready to yell at him, but now… now she'd be fine with it. If only... "Someone??" She turned and touched her forehead to the door. "Please?"
Cody popped a sugar candy into his mouth and tipped his hat to Susannah Bell the beautiful blonde girl that worked behind the counter. "Got any more of these?" He held out his hand to show the small supply of sugar drops in his hand.
"Nope," she answered as though he'd asked her one too many times, "you've got 'em all, Mr. Cody."
"Mister Cody…" Kid snickered and elbowed Ike who shoved him away, "didn't realize you started teachin' school."
Cody leaned on the counter and gave the young woman a big green. "Awww.. Susannah knows I'm all about her and this is just my ploy to keep me circlin' around her like a… like a…"
Ike hooked his thumbs and wiggled his fingers.
Kid gave him a grin and smile and nodded. "Like a vulture."
Susannah gave Kid a wink and turned away toward the back wall to stock the shelves.
"It's time for a little lunch boys… let's go." Cody slung an arm over each of his two friends and tried to ignore when Kid made a few squawking noises.
Buck leaned against the post out in front of the store. Tompkins wasn't working that day, but still Buck didn't feel comfortable going in. He didn't need anything. He didn't need to feel like he was 'sneaking' in just because Tompkins wasn't there. "If you want somethin'… go in and get it. I'll stay out here."
Jimmy shrugged. "Don't need nuthin'… it's better out here anyway." He took of his hat and fanned himself. "'sides it's hot in there. Too much stuff… too many people."
Nodding, Buck looked over at the wagon. "Lou better hurry up, the supplies for Emma are ready."
"Lou…" Jimmy's mind wandered to the other rider, "it ain't like her to waste time like this."
"Doesn't seem like her."
"Then 'gain we don't know her that well."
The comment seemed to startle Buck. "What do you mean? Think she ran off with the money for supplies?"
Jimmy scoffed at the thought. "Hell no… 'sides, Russell, Majors and Waddell pays Tompkins through the bank. We don't bring in no money."
"True, then what?" Buck wasn't sure where this was going.
"I dunno, Buck." Jimmy looked at the ground for a long moment as though the answer would 'pop' up at his feet and he could read it plain as day. "I just think it's strange that Lou ain't come back yet. She usually makes quick work of the list."
"Usually?" Buck squinted into the light, but it didn't hide the arch of his questioning brow. "I thought you said we don't know her that well."
Jimmy turned back to look at the Kiowa and opened his mouth to say something but stopped. It was almost as though Buck could see the words rattling around inside Jimmy's head. He could have said something to take a dig at the other rider, but suddenly Jimmy walked away and around the corner.
The store was pretty empty by the time Jimmy stepped inside. "Tompkins?"
"Yeah?" The older man's voice was raspy… almost a shade irritated. "What now, Hickok?"
The young gunman shrugged. "Just lookin' for a friend. Lou been around in the last few minutes?"
The older man was ready with a flippant answer, but to his credit he didn't spit it out. He took a moment to sort through his thoughts and ended up answering with. "You know… it can't have been too long ago that I sent the boy out back to the 'ice room'. Your Emma asked for a block to be sent out."
"Ice room, huh?" Jimmy stepped backward a bit. "Out back?"
Tompkins nodded and waved off the young man. "You just make sure that he don't leave the door open and melt my whole inventory."
"Sure," Jimmy reassured the older man, "I'll do jus' that."
Jimmy circled around the building, looking for Buck, but the other rider wasn't anywhere that he could see. He told himself it didn't matter. That he'd catch up to Buck as soon as they loaded up the rest of Emma's list and got the wagon started off. Then they could have some fun.
The sun was just startin' to curve down in the sky, flaring its rays right into Jimmy's eyes. Sheilding his eyes with his right hand and a narrowed glance he reached for the door. It took him a second to find the heavy wooden handle to the door and lift the bar to pull it open. He could barely see past the end of his nose even with the yawning dark beyond. "Lou?" He stepped into the doorway, trying to spare his eyes, but the earlier flares of light had all but blinded him. "Lou? You in here?"
"Jimmy?" Her voice was light and hopeful. "Thank God you came along." He couldn't see where she was but the sound of her voice put her deep inside the room.
"Hey I can't really see much, let me grab the lantern and-"
"No!" Urgency jumped up in her voice and he squinted his eyes to see into the dark and find the problem.
"What's wrong, Lou, I-" he reached blindly for the lantern, his fingers wiggling into the dark. "Where's that lantern."
"Leave it … wait!"
Jimmy heard the urgency in her voice and let go of the door when he tried to reach in and grab her in the shadows. "Lou?"
WHAM! The door slammed shut and Louise McCloud, Express Rider, uttered a string of colorful curses.
The last few minutes replayed in his head, memories fleeting through his memories. "Is it locked behind me?"
"Do you want me to answer that?" He could now hear the shivering in the tone of her voice. "Great." Her voice seemed smaller by the minute. "Now we're both stuck in here."
He felt the darkness settle on his shoulders like a weight. "I was only tryin' to help."
Buck caught up to Kid and held him back for a moment. "Have you seen Jimmy?"
Whirling around Kid yanked his hands out of his pockets and held them up in the air. "Was I supposed to watch him?"
Leaning back against the wall, Cody gave a little laugh. "We all know what-"
"Or rather who," added Buck.
"You were watchin'," finished Cody. "Can't see how Jimmy would be so easy to lose."
Buck gave them both shrug. "Guess so, but he went to check on something and hasn't been back. I was just wondering…" his words trailed off and a little smile lifted the corner of his mouth. "Never mind."
Cody watched Buck go and pushed away from the wall. "Where do you suppose he's goin'?"
Kid stepped out into the street. "Dunno… don't really care… let's go see what's goin' on in town."
She turned around her face a study in sarcasm, her brow arched over the ineffective glasses she wore. Too bad he couldn't see it. "I guess you could say that."
"Whoa there," he waved off, "I was just askin'… no need to-"
She sighed. "I know… I'm sorry."
Jimmy rubbed his hands together and blew into the space between before rubbing again. It gave him a little burst of warmth but it wasn't enough. "We'll get out of here, soon… one of the boys'll come lookin'."
"You were the one that came lookin'," she reminded him.
"Yeah." His tone sank with the heat in his hands. "Sorry 'bout that."
Louise stood, moving first in one direction then the other before she came to stop before Jimmy. "It weren't your fault. I shoulda known to stop up the door 'fore I came in."
Rubbing his upper arms with the opposite hands Jimmy gave her a grimace of a smile knowing full well she hasn't seen it. "I should've but I wasn't thinkin' beyond gettin' to ya. Then, by the time I put some thought into it… WHAM. I guess we learned our lesson didn't we? Next time I'll get a big piece of wood and stop up the door first."
She didn't answer. She just gave a half hearted nod before she started walking again.
"Can't really sit down."
Louise stared down into the dark and knew what was just beyond her fingertips. There'd be layers upon layers of hard blocks of ice, some where nearly clear and some looked to have more than their share of dirt or other things in it, rows atop rows. The very top of the rows were covered with a layer of peat. Kept it cool and relatively clean.
It wasn't at all a mystery to her. Near the end of her stay at the Mission school she'd found their version of an ice house in the root cellar of the building. It was dark and musty like this one, but the door swung open easily on its hinge and it was a good deal easier to maneuver than Mr. Tompkins door.
"Maybe this room doubles as a prison cell." Louise tried to call the room what it was. Then, she shivered with the cold. "Or, the undertaker."
That got a groan from Jimmy. "Come on, Lou… it ain't that bad."
"Ahhh've been the o-one sitt-in' in here a freeeeezin'."
He couldn't argue with that. Not at all. The chill was pretty uncomfortable for him… he could only imagine what it was like for her. "Sorry…"
A couple of thumping noises had him wondering as she volunteered the information. "I'm jumping up and down.. tryin' to keep warm."
That made both of them laugh. "That's one way." Jimmy agreed.
"Yeah, one way," her tone was sour again.
"There's plenty of better ways…"
"I don't think it would be a good idea-"
"How do you know what I'm gonna say?"
Her tone was startled… argumentative, "I got some idea…"
"And what is your idea?" He groused back. It was a minor comfort that being upset made him just a bit warmer.
She was quiet for a moment and then even though he couldn't see her, he could feel the way her shoulders sank. "Pretty much the same idea you had."
He tried not to laugh, but it was pretty near impossible. He managed to keep it down to a chuckle. "Okay."
"Okay what?" She wasn't going to make it easy.
"Okay… I'll do it."
A quirk of a smile caught at his lips. "What fun."
"Keep talking." Her order had a plaintive tone to it. "I don't want to walk into a wall."
"That would be a good story."
"Not that you'd see it." Lou stepped up to Jimmy and landed on his instep.
That got a laugh from her as she grabbed his arms to steady herself. "Sorry."
"Great. I'm stepped on and bumped into…"
"I'm not heavy." She tried to settle her feet without stepping on him again. "Can't hurt 'that' much."
Lou stilled, trying to understand what the change in the room was… where it had come from. She shifted back and wavered a bit, unable to get her bearings in the dark room. Jimmy slid his hand behind her, his palm over her shoulder blade and pulled her closer.
"You're not heavy… just a little cold."
She couldn't argue with him. Didn't dare open her mouth. There was something about the feel of his hand on her back… even though the cotton of her shirt she could feel the warmth of his skin.
Reaching out a hand he set it against his chest, the soft thud of his heart pressing against her palm. "You too."
Jimmy felt for her hand and slid his hand up her arm. "You're small, Lou… barely enough meat on your bones to keep you warm."
How could she tell him that she was doing just fine at the moment? That if he kept up what he was doing she'd be fine for a good long time.
"I'd probably have to bend a bit to-" He slid both arms around her and pulled her tight against him, her head turning to the side to breathe as she slid her arms around him as well, "hold you."
"Hmmm…." It was nice and warm where she was and it was tempting to forget that they were-
"Hey!? Is there anyone in… hello." The door yawned open and a tall familiar figure stepped into the doorway.
Lou blinked into the light, near blinding after time in the dark. "Who's there?"
"Buck… I came lookin' for Jimmy… after he went lookin' for you…" he couldn't help the pause that naturally fell into that moment, the darkness shrouded the interior of the room and so he could only imagine what it was he couldn't see. There was heaviness in the air and the longer the silence was, the higher his brow arched above his eye. "Maybe I should give you two a few minutes… alone."
Lou jumped back and started for the door, her eyes blinking into the sunlight, causing her to stumble over something on the floor. "Thank you, Buck… you found us."
"Yeah, great… you found us." Jimmy glared at the man in the doorway. Partially from the glare of the sun and then again… it hadn't been too bad of a time locked up with Lou… "Thanks."
"What?" Buck could barely hear him over his own laughter. "I can't hear-"
"Buck!" Lou's frantic call was lost as Buck leaned in to hear Jimmy.
They stood there in the dark for a moment before Lou's voice was heard. "Great."
Teaspoon ambled up to the stage platform and gave the large red beast a slap on it’s side. “What’s the matter, Tom? In a hurry?”
“You betcha Teaspoon… I got me a couple of ladies ridin’ up her lookin’ for you. “
“For me?” The marshal looked startled and pleased all at the same time. “Ladies? Why… I don’t believe I’ve had such a great surprise in-”
“Teaspoon? Aye… help me get this door open!”
The marshal looked up at the stage driver and gave him a smile before turning around toward the door. “Delores? Is that you?”
Peeking out of the window, Delores gave Teaspoon an impatient wave of her hand. “Si… si… now get us out of here!”
He stepped up to the side of the stage and yanked the door open to rescue the fair maiden in distress. He reached in and took hold of Delores’s hand and pulled her free of the dark interior of the stage. She gave him a quick hug before reaching back into the stage for her companion. Teaspoon stepped up beside his old love and offered his own hand to help.
Blinking into the sun, Delores’s daughter, Rosa tried to steady herself. Even with one hand on each of her elbows it was an unwieldy task for it seemed that before his very eyes, Rosa had grown… ‘rounder’ since the last time he saw her. “Well my dear… you look… lovely,” he insisted when he saw her questioning look, “radiant.”
Smoothing her delicate hand over the rounded curve of her belly Rosa gave him a smile. “Gracias, Senor Hunter.”
“Welcome to Rock Creek, ladies… the Express Station is just a quick walk over in that direction.” Lou stepped out of the Stage office and Teaspoon flagged her over to walk Rosa to the station and get her settled. He offered up his elbow and walked beside Delores just a few steps behind Rosa and Lou. “Well, I wish you’d sent word, Delores… I could have made plans for you and Rosa to have a room at the hotel. I could have planned a party… some sort of celebration… I could have-”
She stopped abruptly and held up her hand to still his words. Up ahead, Louise and Rosa were laughing over something; both girls had their hands on Rosa’s pregnant middle. “There is no need to make plans for our stay… we will be gone as soon as we have finished.”
Delores gave her daughter a smile and then turned back to the man that had swept her off her feet so many years ago. “Rosa’s wedding of course.”
“Her… what? Her wedding? Why… but she’s … why did she wait so long? I mean… what is she doing here?”
“She is here because ‘he’ is here.” Delores had her mind on her child and that was all she was going to do is focus on her child. “We are here also, because I expect you to help.”
Teaspoon shrugged. “Delores… I’ll do anything I can to help you… we’re old friends and it’s the least I can do-”
She nodded. “It is the ‘least’ you can do, because, mi amor… ‘you’ are her father.”
Teaspoon’s ears seemed to pop loudly in his head. “I’m her what?”
The heat rose from the ground in waves, visible all around them as they rode through the now familiar territory.
"You boys sure you know the way to go?"
Jimmy and Buck looked at each other and gave a sardonic smile. "Yes, Teaspoon. We know how to get there."
"There's a way that's shorter…" there was a hopeful note to Teaspoon's voice and partially they didn't blame him, he was strapped down to a travois with the only view available behind them. "It might be a help to get there faster…. This heat-"
"Yes, Teaspoon,' Jimmy started, sounding like a sympathetic parent, "it would be faster, but that contraption Buck fixed up for ya wouldn't make it down the side of the hill real well."
He looked to Buck who picked up the explanation with a smile. "Right, but I guess if you want. We could dangle you off the side and see if the bindings hold all the way down."
They heard the harrumph in the passing wind and turned back to the path, watching for any signs of a water supply or shade.
"But if you're that hot, Teaspoon you could pull your hat down over your face and get a little shut eye."
"Yeah, and we could get some quiet," mumbled Jimmy.
"I heard that." Teaspoon's voice cut through the air.
"Right, he would." Buck grumbled back.
The trail was mercifully quiet for a few minutes before it started up again. "How far do you boys reckon we are from the Cantina?"
Buck looked up at the sun and back at Teaspoon, "'bout a half a minute since the last time you asked and the trail didn't get any shorter."
"Well, fine." They looked back as the travois shook a bit, the two snakelike trails winding out behind them curved wildly to the side. "I guess I'll just have to be patient."
"You guess, huh?"
Jimmy gave Buck a grin. "That'll be the day."
"If it was one of us back there…"
"Not that we'd get in a mess like this…' "Yeah, but if it was one of us back there, he'd be tellin' us to-"
"Why don't you boy's stop jawing and start ridin' so I can get this wound all healed up 'fore I pass on to the Pearly Gates."
Jimmy shrugged at Buck. "That almost made sense."
"Almost," agreed the Kiowa, "I guess we should give him more whiskey."
"Well now," sing-songed Teaspoon, "now that is a good idea."
Jimmy reached into the saddle bags and took out the bottle. He swished the contents around in it. "I dunno," he began, his voice lifting in volume as he looked back, "there ain't much left and if we want to make it to the Cantina with him alive… we may have to ration this out tighter."
"What?" The travois swung again as Teaspoon tried to turn around and see them. "What did you say?"
Jimmy eased his mount back as Buck rode ahead, bringing him up alongside the station master. He held the bottle aloft and shook it so his mentor could see the amber colored liquid sloshing around inside. "We're almost out and this is the last bottle the Doc gave us for the trip, so I think we need to hold off givin' you too much while we go."
"Right," Buck called back, "'sides, wasn't it you that said that alcohol dries a body out faster than anything else in the desert? We wouldn't want you to get dried up."
"No," agreed Jimmy, his expression solemn, "then we'd have to bury you out here with only a simple marker and I dunno about Buck but my writin' still ain't so good and Lord knows what you'd end up with on the cross."
"And I've had enough of diggin' graves." Buck's expression and voice were perfectly solemn. "I'd rather we get you to-" the sudden cessation of sound had Jimmy looking up at him. Buck pointed to the east and Jimmy fought the sudden smile that wanted to pull at his lips. "There in the next week or so."
"Week??" Teaspoon's voice was near full of panic. "A week??? Son, you've got us goin' the wrong way if you think it'll take a week! I'll be dead by then. Dead! Buzzard meat. You've got to go the other way…. Find some way to tack me down and-"
The horses came to a halt and Teaspoon grabbed the sides of the travois and nearly turned himself over trying to see around the edge. "What… why? Why did we stop? When are we going to-"
Buck and Jimmy stood beside their mounts and smiled at the older man. "We're here."
Delores appeared in the doorway, her face a mask of concern. "Oh dios mio… Teaspoon!" She ran from the doorway toward the travois, her hair blown back in the wind, her hands reaching out to the injured man as he reached for her.
The two riders turned their backs so that the two former and possibly current lovers could have some privacy. "What did she say?" Jimmy looked sideways at his friend.
"'Oh my God'," Buck answered back.
"How come you know… well you know…"
"Yeah. Like when we left the first time you said that thing… that word."
"Yeah… you were sweet on that Rosa."
"So were you," Buck gave Jimmy a smile, but there was a look in his eyes that held more meaning. "You just didn't know her language."
Jimmy shrugged. "She spoke fine in English… didn't feel the need to muddy things."
"Muddy?" Buck turned away at Delores's call and Jimmy followed him to the travois. They both helped carry him in, even though Teaspoon protested loudly. Thanks to Delores's insistence that they put him in her room he stopped arguing.
They tried to get out of the bedroom as quickly as possible, leaving Delores to get Teaspoon settled in, especially when she reached for the buttons on his shirt and Teaspoon gave a sigh of appreciation.
Buck barely edged Jimmy out of the door when they looked at the yard they saw Rosa standing between their horses, her hands sliding down the bay's neck over and over as she cooed to the beast.
Jimmy smacked Buck's arm. "Wish she'd touch me like that."
It took Buck a moment to come back to his senses and then he was moving, trying to catch up to Jimmy's larger strides without seeming as though he was about to run. The distance was short enough that they could make it to the horses in less than twenty strides, but Jimmy seemed to cover the ground faster than Buck could, but then… it didn't matter.
Leaning against Buck's horse Jimmy looked down at Rosa with a smooth smile. "Adios," he said in greeting
It took a moment for the young woman to register a reaction other than widened eyes. She looked down for a moment and then back up at the rider. "Adios?"
He saw the confusion and turned to Buck. "I said it right, didn't I?"
"Oh, you said it right," Buck confirmed, "only you said… 'good bye'."
Jimmy gave Buck a slug on the arm. "Why didn't you say something?" "You didn't ask." Buck gave Rosa a smile and the young girl blushed in return. "Hola."
She looked back at the house. "Thank you, for bringing him back here. Mama was so very worried about him. She was hoping that you would travel through on the way back…" she looked at Buck, "back to-"
"Sweetwater." Buck offered the name and was rewarded with a smile.
"I knew 'that' one." Jimmy grumped from her other side. "I knew that one."
"Did you go to the Alamo?"
Buck nodded. "That's where they went, we just followed."
"It was," Jimmy edged in, his smile back on his lips, "quite the adventure. I could tell you about it and-"
A loud 'whoop' was heard from inside the cantina and Rosa quickly backed away from them and headed for the door. "While my mother is with Senor 'Spoon I need to go…"
Buck nodded and watched as she moved toward the doorway, her skirts swishing around her knees with a gentle movement of color, and when he turned to Jimmy he was staring at the air. A quick look told him that Jimmy was halfway to the Cantina and now he was standing alone.
Jimmy was sitting at a table near the bar and he had pushed his hat back on his head to see in the darkened interior. He lifted his mug to Buck as the Kiowa pulled out a chair and joined him. "Rosa said I can go 'round back of the bar and get you what you want…" he leaned on the arm of his chair and smiled at the young woman taking the orders at a nearby table, "she said she trusts me to get it for ya."
Buck pushed his hat back and gave her a nod when she smiled at him before turning back to Jimmy. "Did you tell her you couldn't 'read' the bottles?"
Jimmy's eyes narrowed to a glare. "That was low…"
"So was takin' off and leaving me outside."
"What?" Jimmy gave him a smirk, "I have to hold your hand?"
Rosa stopped short at their table and gave each rider a questioning look. "Pardon… Sorry," she sputtered, "I did not mean to… interrupt." She walked away and Buck stomped on Jimmy's foot beneath the table.
"Ow!" Jimmy reached down to massage his injured foot with his hand. "What'd you do that for?"
"Now she thinks… well she probably thinks that you're… that we're…" the young man leaned back in his chair and glared over the table top. "Just get me a beer."
"Beer?" Jimmy smiled. "Sure…" he got up from the table and made his way behind the bar and reached for a mug.
Rosa stepped up beside him and gave him a smile. "Need help?"
"No…" Jimmy leaned in closer, looking down at her with a wolfish grin, "I'm doin' just fine…with you here."
She rolled her eyes and slapped a couple of glasses on the table and poured them with a generous slosh of whiskey. "Silly man…" She put them on a tray and swept them away, "but cute."
"Cute??" Jimmy opened the spigot on the keg and nearly poured over the edge of the mug. "You hear that Buck?"
Buck looked up and raised a brow. "What?" He bit the word out and stared at his sort-of-friend.
"She called me 'cute.'"
Topic: The Things We Do For Love
The early morning sunshine slid across the clearing and pricked at Buck's face warming him all too quickly to be a comfort. "Jimmy, why didn't you…" The silence of the surrounding area cut through the fog of sleep and he sat up throwing his bedroll open. "Jimmy?"
There wasn't an immediate answer, but when he closed his eyes and let his other senses search the surrounding area he heard it. A sound just repetitive enough and odd enough to be human. No animal would make a sound like that… rubbing at his eyes Buck got to his feet and stored his bed roll before following the noise. Whatever Jimmy was doing he wasn't in any trouble.
Following the noise, Buck wasn't too surprised to find that it led to the back of the Cantina. Jimmy's fascination with Delores' daughter, Rosa, was easy to see. Too bad Buck's fascination with the young lady was… well, it was.
Jimmy was chopping firewood and if the pile was any indication, he'd been at work for awhile.
That wasn't the problem, Buck figured, at least not to him. Let Jimmy chop all the wood he wanted. It was something that could help the two women that had taken them in and took care of Teaspoon, that was a real good turn. The problem was Jimmy.
Buck tried to keep his tone light. It didn't quite work. "Where's your shirt?"
Thunk. The axe split through a section of wood and Jimmy knocked the pieces down to the ground before turning to Buck. His face and chest were coated in sweat and a little dust blown around by the wind, but he still gave his friend a broad smile. "My shirt, like you care… is over there on the bench." They both looked over at the bench where Rosa was doing a bit of sewing. Jimmy's shirt was in her lap, a sleeve in her hand. "She insisted on mending it for me since I'm bein' a help to her."
"A help," Buck mumbled, "that's one way to put it."
Jimmy set the axe down and leaned on the handle. "What would you call it, Buck?" He threw a meaningful look at Rosa who gave them both a spare glance before turning back to her sewing. "I don't see you helpin' with the cuttin'."
"I think I'll go check on Teaspoon." Buck turned away and left them both behind.
Delores ended up chasing Buck out, but he didn't really leave until she brought out a basin and informed him she was going to give Teaspoon a bath. He nearly tripped over his feet to get out the door when Teaspoon chuckled in anticipation.
The back door of the Cantina was open and Buck stepped through, nearly into Rosa's path as she hefted a few plates of food.
Rosa looked up and smiled at him, her eyes wide in surprise. "Bien… gracias…" Buck took the uppermost plates from her arms and nodded to the doorway. With a quick glance back at him, she stepped through the doorway.
Buck followed her and set down the plates where she indicated and gave a look or two to men whose appreciative glances were a little less than polite. As they moved away from the table and back to the kitchen Rosa stopped in the doorway, her hand poised on the wall as though blocking the entrance to the room. She fixed him with a look. "Como se habla-" she gave a little giggle and shook her head. "How do you say… speak Spanish?"
He shrugged and gave her a shy smile. "Mission school." When she smiled at him he continued. "My friend Ike and I… we went there for a few years and one of the nuns there had worked in Mexico for a time. She thought it fun to teach us enough to carry on a conversation… if the need arose."
She dropped her hand, inch by inch, her fingers trailing along the aged adobe as though she was caressing it. "Bien… mui bien…" She stepped to the side and opened up just enough space for him to walk through the doorway beside her, "I like the way it sounds… the way you say the words… it's warm." She fluttered her hand to the brown expanse of skin visible over her scooped neckline. "Soothing."
"I'm done with the wood chopping!" Jimmy filled the outer doorway and gave them both a huge grin. "Won't have to chop wood for weeks with the pile I just put together outside."
"Thank you, Jimmy." Rosa's gaze flickered to Buck for a moment, but he wasn't sure if she knew she'd done it. "We're very grateful. Why don't you take a break and-"
"Nope." Jimmy's grin grew wider. "I've a mind to start fixin' that fence out back that you said was a problem. You got any tools?"
Rosa moved into the center of the room, her face turning toward the store room. "Whatever we have is back there, but-"
Jimmy held up a hand to stave off her protest. "No need to thank me more… I'm happy to help out… I'll get the tools and head out to the fence."
"You need help, Jimmy?" Buck's laughing tone made Jimmy grimace for a fleeting moment.
"No, Buck." The tone was a little harsh, but Jimmy didn't stop or apologize, he didn't feel too brotherly toward Buck at the moment. "I've got this all by myself. You're doin' a fine job of 'hangin' around' don't let me interrupt."
With one last teeth-baring grin, Jimmy was gone into the dark of the store room.
The steam from stove seemed to fill the room and try as Buck could he couldn't help but feel the heat that made his shirt stick to his skin. A quick look across the room convinced him that it was affecting both of them; Rosa's delicate white blouse seemed nearly translucent in the late afternoon sunlight. It was… or rather she was… so tempting. "You could take it off."
He looked up, startled as he looked around the room, praying that it hadn't been his own voice that he'd heard. "I'm sorry?" He swallowed hard as his voice seemed to reach the rafters in one unmanly squeak. "What did you say?"
Rosa turned from the stove, on hand settling on her hip as she fanned at her face. "I said you could take it off… your shirt."
He looked down, following the direction of her finger and he half choked out a laugh. "Oh… yes, well… I'm not sure that would be such a good idea," he saw her raised eyebrow and quickly tried to explain, "I'm sure your mother wouldn't like the idea of me.. .in here.. with you… with my shirt off."
"Oh?" Rosa fluttered her fan before her face. "I should like to think you'd be more concerned with what I think, Senor Cross, and not my mother."
Buck gave her a smile. "I've seen your mother use a gun… it would make any man think twice about how he treats you."
"But you haven't seen what I can do…" the lid of the metal pot rattled as the water started to heat, "but maybe this is the best time." She snapped her fan closed and set it down on the counter before removing the lid from the pot. "Come," her tone was inviting, the enticing curve of her hips a danger of their own as she began to remove corn husks from the pot, "bring the platter."
Buck stood nearby and held the platter for her, the handle of the lid in one hand and the flat bottom of the cool ceramic in the other. She moved deftly, sure of each flourish of her hand and soon the platter held a tall pile of husks. With her approving look Buck set the lid in place and followed her to the table.
The clean wood surface of the table seemed to beg for her touch as she slid one husk from its ceramic confines and laid it out on the table. Buck removed another husk on his own but the lid clattered down from his fingers as he felt her arm brush against his.
She looked up at him with a curious glance. "Are you too hot… Buck?"
He knew he was standing there with his lips parted… ready but unable to say something and from her coquettish smile she knew it too. "N- Y- fine… I'm fine."
"I think you're suffering from the heat, Buck, maybe you should let me show you how… first." She reached out a hand and closed her fingers around his wrist, her finger tips pressing into his flesh in a gentle pattern that had his pulse quickening in seconds. "Come… put your arms around me. I will show you what to do."
Buck had no thought beyond the fact that he would surely make a fool of himself over this woman. It could be in a minute or an hour… a day or a week, but she would be the death of him.
He moved behind her and when she lifted one arm he followed suit with the other. She shifted in his half embrace and he saw the sly smile on her lips and felt the subtle tremor of laughter in her body. Maybe she was trying to kill him? He didn't seem to mind, or at least he couldn't seem to muster up the energy to break free. She fitted her hands to the backs of his and if he allowed her his control she could move his hands for them both.
She set one hand down on the wide end of the husk and the other hand beside it, smoothing the rough textured sheet down on the table. A spoon found its way into Buck's hand and he counted for her the two tablespoons of dough before following her gently lead to smooth it out along the husk, leaving a cradle within.
Her fingers soothed his worries and showed him how to separate and pinch just the right amount of filling and sliding it gently into the gap left behind by the bowl of the spoon. The same process was repeated with a second husk and while he struggled to keep his mind on the cooking lesson, he couldn't help the blissful feeling that slid shut his eye lids and left him a slave to his senses… his body moving along with the sure knowledge of hers.
He could feel the heat of his skin, every nerve burning with awareness… of her. He should walk away, he should move his hands somewhere where she couldn't touch them.
Then again, he mused, maybe he should keep his hands right where they were… it was safer that way.
He nearly groaned as her thumb slid over the back of his hands sending shivers through his body. His teeth ground together and his eyes squeezed shut as he waited for her to push him away… to throw something at him once she figured out how much he wanted to keep touching her, but she didn't.
Instead she started to turn in his arms and he had to grab the edge of the table to keep from wrapping his arms around her and-
"Boy am I starving!!!" Jimmy nearly barreled through the door and leaned against the wall just inside. "Is that tomahawk thing ready to eat?"
Buck dropped a hand down to Rosa could step away, her voice incredibly light when Buck wasn't sure he could talk at all. "Tamales… just be patient, Jimmy… the kitchen was just getting hot."
Buck opened his eyes as she turned back to him a sultry half smile on her lips.
He forced a breath into his lungs to avoid falling bonelessly to the floor and embarrassing himself and if he'd had a voice he would have wholeheartedly agreed with her.
Topic: "He who hesitates is a Damned Fool" Mae West
Rosa gave him a pretty smile. "I'm sure your woman won't mind that I fed you while you were here."
"My wo- wait…" Jimmy couldn't seem to decide whether to laugh or looked shocked so somehow he did both, "Emma ain't my… she's the woman that cooks for us… all of us, you know back at the Station." His cheeks went a bit red as the thought of what Rosa had implied finally settled in. "I mean, she works for us… but she ain't 'my' woman…"
"Oh…" Rosa gave him a wink as though she didn't quite believe him, "I understand."
Buck gave Rosa a grin and ignored Jimmy's protests. "Emma's like a mother to us."
Jimmy huffed at his friend and dove into his meal, mumbling under his breath. "Thanks a lot, friend." A stiff wind blew through the outer doorway and Jimmy took a deep breath into his lungs. "Smells like rain."
"I hope not," Rosa began her eyes directed to her plate, "we have a leak in the roof."
"Too bad we ain't stayin' huh, Buck?" Jimmy gave his friend a look, "We could fix it for 'em."
"We have to get back to Sweetwater." Buck heard the disappointment in his voice and he looked at Rosa, wondering if she heard it too.
"Then we'll be happy for the time we have." Her eyes shifted to Buck but Jimmy didn't seem to see it.
"I hope you and your Ma will come and visit us in Sweetwater sometime, Rosa." He gave her a wide grin and waited for her answer.
She shook her head slowly. "It would be a fine adventure, Diego, but I do not see that it would be possible."
Jimmy covered a yawn with his hand and stretched in his seat. "I think Teaspoon'd really enjoy it, I know I'd love to see y'all again."
With his gaze cast down on the table, Buck could only lift his head a fraction of an inch to catch her glance. "We all would."
It was a moment, when the weight of the rain could nearly be felt in the air, the heavy expectant pause that descended on the gathering. Buck took in a breath, his eyes focused on Rosa's hands, the way they seemed to tremble on the table top. He wanted to touch her and tell her that he was sorry they couldn't stay, that he couldn't-
Rosa slid her plate away and stood. "I do not think so… no, who would work here when we are gone? Who will make sure the banditos do not rob us blind?" She picked up the pitcher of water from the table and stepped back toward the kitchen. "When you are full, get your rest." She drew in a breath that couldn't have filled a cup with air let alone her lungs, "I will put things to right," she turned her gaze from the sleepy Hickok to the contemplative Buck, "tomorrow."
Buck turned back to the table after the curtain slid back into place, the soft sounds of Rosa's feet on the dusty floor mimicked the rain that was sure to come. It was hesitant, light as a brush, almost as though she was nearly hovering above the ground.
"You gonna eat som'ore, Buck?" Jimmy gave into another back bending yawn as he leaned back in his chair, fingers splayed over his belly. When his question went unanswered, Jimmy peered across the table managing to crack open and I with great effort. "Buck?"
His Kiowa friend was nearly turned around in his seat, his eyes still fixed on the curtain. "Eat it if you want, I'm going to help with the dishes."
Jimmy waved off the suggestion. Slowly he picked up another morsel between his fingers he dropped it onto his tongue. "Naw, I've had more than I should've, we'd both be gettin' to sleep if'n we want to be ready to wanna be ready when Teaspoon wakes up." He leaned his head down on his forearm his eyes drifting closed. "I'll just sit here until you're ready to go."
Buck took his time turning back around to the table, his eyes remaining on the curtain as long as he could. "I don't know Jimmy," Buck gathered his thoughts and came to the conclusion that it was now or never to take his chance, "why don't you go-"
Jimmy's lips were slightly parted, his eyes closed by sleep. He'd most likely worn himself out in the last few days trying to outdo Buck with the chores.
A low rumble of thunder trembled through the air and a clatter was heard from beyond the curtain. Buck didn't spare a glance to see if the noise had shaken Jimmy from his sleep. He paused before the curtain his hand slipping into the darkness beyond, giving him enough room to see into the kitchen. "Rosa?"
The young woman didn't answer him. She didn't even turn around to look at him. Her eyes were focused through the pane of glass at the darkening sky beyond.
He moved across the floor silently, determined not to startle her. It didn't matter, her mind had hidden away behind her eyes, protecting her from the fear she'd held since childhood. A canon could have gone off in the same room and she would have stood there stones still.
Buck paused beside her; his concern for her was only overshadowed by her beauty. The last rays of the sun crowned her cheeks with the golden light, warming her skin to a burnished bronze. It wasn't until a single silver tear slid from the corner of her eye that he dared touch her. He swept away her sadness with a brush of his thumb.
He waited for her to pull away, to tell him he had gone too far. He waited for her to strike him for taking the liberty. He waited and a moment later she turned her head, her eyes searching his face as though she were looking for an answer.
He wanted to tell her how much he'd come to admire her. He wanted to tell her that when he left he think of her every day. He wanted to tell her so many things but knew there wasn't enough time or enough courage for a single syllable.
Topic: Word List - ale, eight, intelligence, plate, tonight
"Son," Hammond paused as he lifted up his mug to the light and squinted at it as if trying to read the waning bubbles in it, "You've taught me a number of wonderful and interesting things about the West. I hope you know how grateful I am for your tutelage."
Buck sat back against the wall and smiled in the shadows, it was always more fun to watch Hammond drink than to participate.
Hammond continued on as if he hadn't noticed the silence from his guide. "I've come to the conclusion that the pittance that my publisher is paying for your services isn't nearly enough."
The serving girl walked by and Hammond gave her a sound pat on her bottom. After she gave a little yelp she turned and gave the older man a pointed look. "Need somethin'?"
Leaning closer to get a better look at her generous bosom he gave her a smile. "Another one of these, sweet angel." He held his beer aloft and then set it down with a clunk as if it was suddenly too heavy to lift. Turning back to Buck he grinned. "So, guess what I plan to do starting tonight?"
Shifting slightly in his chair, Buck gave a little shrug. "Pay me more?"
Hammond chuckled as though the thought was a grand joke. "Somethin' better, lad." The serving girl handed him another full mug and he took a long swig of the brew. "I'm gonna teach you the ways of a gentleman." He punctuated the remark with a long drink from his mug, the white bubbly froth spilling from the corner of his mouth to trail down the side of his half-beard to dibble onto his shirtfront. "I think it'll be a grand project for the both of us. I could even write about it."
"Write about it." Buck seemed to mull over the idea but inside he was pondering the implications of breaking his contract with the man and his publishers. "Why, it could be a series? Seven or *eight* segments at least… think about it," he swung his hand through the air as if he was reading three-inch high headlines on an invisible newspaper, "How the Gentleman Taught the Savage."
Looking into the near empty cup of coffee on the table before him Buck sighed. "It has a certain 'ring' to it."
"It sounds like gold," Hammond whispered, his mind already whirring with the possibilities. "After all, the savage natives of this land have been held by some, including me you know, to have an innate intelligence… one that proves they can be turned to civilization as a way to … 'gentle their souls'." He looked into the near empty mug of beer and sighed. "What a wonder it would be to show them… how much I've helped you become one of us."
"Astounding." Buck stood as Hammond tried to turn halfway around in his seat.
"Excuse me!" Hammond teetered to his feet as Buck picked up their coats from the hooks on the wall beside their table. "I'll have a word with you young lady." The serving girl came to the table, her body full of promise beneath her bored expression and the older man held out his mug. "Bring us another round of *ale*, my good wench and we'll have a dance later if you're amenable."
"Amena-what?" She turned to Buck, more than on e question in her eyes. "What did he call me?"
"We should be going, thank you for your service." Buck set a few coins on her tray which would more than cover the cost of their bill before he reached for Hammond to steer him toward the door. "Good night."
She watched the two men make their way to the door, the older man leaning heavily on the half-breed beside him. As they disappeared into the *night* she tapped the coins against the flat of her tray and wondered to herself which of the two was the savage and which was the gentleman.