Life: Sweetwater

Ike liked the rain, but only when he didn’t have to be outside in it. Right now he was caught in the middle of a torrential downpour and he still had a good half-hour until he was home, maybe longer because of the rain. He couldn’t wait to get home and be dry again, though at the moment, he didn’t think it would be possible to ever get dry again.

Ike was so concerned about getting home that he didn’t notice the person in the middle of the road until it was too late to stop. Ike had to pull hard on his horse to leave the road and not to hit the person. Ike fell off from the sharp stop and muddy skid that followed, but was quickly on his feet again. Grabbing one of the reins, Ike hurried to see if the person was alright. Ike didn’t know whether or not the horse had slid into the man.

Marty turned as he felt something whip past him and he slid automatically into a crouch that sent him sliding in the mud. He had his knife out before he had even thought of it. All his time on the road and among his Grandmother’s people had given him quick reflexes and an instinct for protection.

He saw the stranger coming towards him and let himself slide back a bit further. He stood his knife poised ready to attack if needed, wishing that more people knew the sign language the Indians used to communicate with each other, it would be easier than trying to talk in this downpour, and would allow him to keep a safer distance between himself and the stranger.

Ike looked at the young man who was holding a knife towards him. Slowly, Ike held his hands up in front of himself as if to say that he weren’t going to hurt him. *Are you alright?* he asked, not thinking about whether or not the stranger knew Indian sign.

Marty could feel his eyes widen and had to struggle not to let his jaw drop when the man used his hands to talk with him. Had he read his mind? Grandmother had told stories about those who knew what others thoughts were and about guides who crossed the traveler’s paths. Could he be one of them? Could he have been sent to guide and help or possibly even harm and hinder?

*I’m fine. How do you know this language?* Marty asked as he slowly stood up. The man was armed but he hadn’t made a move for the gun by his side. There was something about him that seemed almost familiar, like an image seen briefly in a dream, something fleeting but that stayed with him. Maybe he was like the men from Grandmothers stories.

*A friend taught me. I live not far from here. Why don’t you come with me? That way we can both get out of this weather.* Ike looked at the boy, who didn’t seem to be threatened by him any longer, but Ike could tell that he still wasn’t too sure about him so he added, *My name is Ike McSwain. I ride for the Pony Express*

*I’m Marty,* he said watching the man’s movements and mannerisms very carefully. They were similar and yet different. It was something that Marty had noticed as he’d moved steadily west. The finger language was both the same and different as if people were speaking with different accents, like the Scottish trappers back home spoke English but it sounded funny. *Do you know a pony express rider named Lou McCloud? They told me in St. Joseph that he was stationed out this way.*

*We have the same home station.* Ike wasn’t sure how this Marty knew Lou, but that would come later. *If we double up, we could get out of this rain a whole lot quicker.*

*That’s ok. If you can just tell me which way I go at this fork I’ll walk. I don't mind the rain.* Marty said knowing there was no way he could hide his secrets if he were to double up with this man. Not to mention the idea of getting that close to a man he didn't know scared him, loathe as he was to admit it.

*Why not?* asked Ike. *You’ll only get sick. And if I let you walk, then Emma will kill me for letting you. Come on. I won’t hurt you.*

*Emma?* Marty asked thinking he had misunderstood *Anyway I won’t get sick. I walked here from Maine, in all kinds of weather.* Still he thought it would be nice to be able to finally get there and find out if his quest had been in vain or not. He silently reminded himself that he could always head back to the orphanage in St. Joseph, if he didn’t do anything stupid in the mean time to get himself found out or worse.

Ike had a hard time believing that the boy had walked from Maine. *Then you’ve walked far enough. Let’s ride the rest of the way,* Ike signed with a determined look on his face.

Marty started to argue but the look on Ike’s face said it would be futile and keeping them out in the rain might cause more problems than just going with him. Slowly nodding Marty walked towards Ike, pulling his pack around front as he walked, and let Ike help him up.

Ike smiled slightly, glad that he hadn’t had to resort to walking along with the boy, as the two set off toward the station. He had a million questions, but at the moment lacked the ability to ask them.

Marty hadn’t realized how tired he was until he’d actually settled down on the back of the horse. He didn’t even think about trying to talk as they rode, despite his fears he was grateful for the ride. As they approached a farm Marty could see two buildings and a large yard with what might have been a third building inside of a fenced area. Ike began to slow down and a woman with red hair came running up to help them down.

Emma, who had came out to the porch to greet them, came running up to the horse as soon as she saw that there was more than one person on it. “Boys!” she called even though the others were already on their way out of the bunkhouse. “Ike, what happened? Are you ok?” the woman asked as Ike dismounted and then following Ike’s eyes she turned to look at Marty. Marty hopped down and then stopped, for a moment again feeling wary and unsure. His hand slid automatically to his waist where one of his knives was sheathed. Touching the weapon calmed him down enough to talk normally.

“I’m looking for Lou McCloud,” Marty finally said by way of explanation and then added as an after thought, “Ike insisted I ride in with him after he nearly ran me over a few miles away at the crossroads.”

Ike nodded in agreement. As Emma turned and began to lead the two boys towards her house.

“Lou’s out on a run to Miller’s Cross right now, but he should be back two days from now,” said Emma. “Now let’s get you two drenched rats into some dry clothes before you catch your deaths. Jimmy will take care of the horse.” She didn’t wait for an answer, but instead marched the two up to the main house where she sat them down in the kitchen in two chairs before the fire and began to warm water for their baths.

Ike smiled towards Marty who looked a little insecure.

“Ma’am,” Marty began not knowing the woman’s name but assuming this was the Emma that was gonna kill Ike. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble but I think I’m wet enough at the moment. What I could really go for is a very hot cup of coffee if you’ve got it.” Marty rubbed his hands in front of the fireplace grateful for the warmth but fearful of the bath. Looking around surreptitiously Marty added, “If you can tell me where a hotel is I’d like to get a room before the weather gets any worse.”

“Don’t you even think about getting a hotel when there’s a perfectly good room for you here. And you’ll have that bath to get some warmth in you. Same goes for you, Ike.”

*Best not to argue with her,* signed Ike.

Marty turned as he saw Ike’s hands moving and his brows furrowed in confusion. “I’d hate to be a bother.” It was one thing to sign when it was pouring down so heavily on them but why would he be doing it now? Turning back to Emma, Marty said, “I don’t mean to argue with you ma’am.” the confusion still in his voice. He took a sideways glance at Ike again, his mind struggling to come up with a reasonable excuse. “It’s just that, I’m not real fond of baths. I’ve lived wild for a long time now and I’m much more comfortable with ponds, lakes, streams and the like. Tubs seem a bit too small no matter how big they really are.”

“I understand,” said Emma with a small smile. “I just don’t want you getting sick on us, that’s all. I don’t think Lou would like it if he came back and you were sick.” Emma said trying a different approach. She was still unsure why the boy was looking for Lou, but Emma was hopeful that Marty might take a bath for Lou.

Ike looked at Marty in confusion; still not too sure about what could be so wrong with taking a bath. After all, they both needed it, and Ike couldn’t think of anything better to warm up with than a hot bath.

“Yes ma’am.” Marty said his head hanging down thinking fast. Very quietly almost as though he were embarrassed to even ask he said, “Do you have someplace where I can bathe privately so if I get, um, uncomfortable no one sees?”

Looking at Ike he felt his cheeks redden slightly and bit down on his lip. “I guess it's a bit silly to be afraid of a tub isn’t it?”

“Of course not,” said Emma after a few moments of confusion and then sudden clarification. “I keep the tub in the mudroom. So that way the boys can get clean and warm themselves without me tripping over them while I cook. You don’t need to worry about privacy.”

*I don’t think it’s silly to be afraid of a tub,* signed Ike, before Emma motioned for Marty to follow her into the mudroom.

*Thanks* Marty signed back to Ike and gave a little half smile. As she followed Emma into the other room she said, “Why does Ike sign so often? We only use it when we’re talking to people from another tr ... area.”

“Ike lost his ability to speak when he was a child. I don’t know the details, because he doesn’t talk about it that much,” explained Emma as she poured water into the tub for Marty. “Ike went to a mission school where he met Buck, who also rides for the express, and he taught Ike how to sign. The rest of the story is up to Ike.”

“Thank you ma’am,” Marty said as Emma started for the door.

“Call me Emma.” She said as she turned back and smiled “Get on out of those wet things and then pass them out to me so they can dry by the fire.”

Marty was shocked to find that he felt safe inside of this house. He removed his clothing and passed them through the door to Emma as bid. Finally, he settled into the tub and tried to relax. It was easier than he had thought and was beginning to feel some of the tension leave his body when he suddenly thought about what he would put on after the bath. Marty sat up suddenly and water splashed out of the tub.

“DAMN!” He swore aloud and climbed out of the tub to clean up the mess he’d just made as best he could.

Ike still in the kitchen was just getting some hot coffee, while Emma went upstairs to get the guest room ready, and heard water splashing and Marty swear through the mudroom door. It sounded like Marty was in trouble. Ike got up and opened the door to the mudroom. The sight that met him was one that he would never forget. Ike swallowed hard and stood frozen to the ground.

“What?!?” Marty said as he turned and saw the door swing closed and realized that even though Ike had mostly seen her from the back he’d seen enough to know the truth. He knew Marty was a girl.

“Mer.” She muttered then looked around the tiny room only to realize that there was no easy way out. The door was locked with a key lock and she didn’t have a key and there were no windows that she could fit through.

Shaking his head, Ike shut the door behind him and sank down into a chair. Marty wasn’t a man at all. That was the though that ran through Ike’s mind like a herd of wild buffalo.

Seeing a large warm blanket Marty wrapped herself up in it carefully and tightly and made sure it was secured like her Grandmother had taught her so that it would be hard for someone to pull it off, and then decided to face the music and stepped out of the little room and looked anywhere but at Ike. With out looking at Ike’s face she signed *So, I guess you know my secret now.*

*I guess,* signed Ike. *You don’t have to worry, I won’t tell anybody else. I just came into the room because it sounded like you were in trouble.* Ike felt a blush come to his cheek as he started to study Marty and discover all her feminine features. How he could have missed it was beyond him.

*Thanks. I haven’t been very nice to you why would you be worried about me? Come check on me?* Marty looked up at Ike and saw him intently studying her and then quickly looked back away from his face. *Maybe I should let you finish your coffee.*

*I’m pretty much done,* signed Ike even though his cup was untouched. He was about to stand up when he realized that Marty was a woman and he was a man, and he was wearing only long john bottoms that were wet and clingy and his body was still reacting to the earlier sight of Marty. *Could you turn around while I get some pants?* he asked.

*I’ll do you one better.* Marty said as she stood and walked back into the mudroom. She knelt to mop up the floor some more while she waited. It was a just few minutes until she heard Ike knock on the door.

She opened the door it up and much to her surprise, found there was something about the look in Ike’s eyes that made her smile; a real smile and this surprised her even more. When Ike smiled back at her she felt her shoulders shake with silent laughter, he looked just like one of her Mother’s All Hallows Eve pumpkins. Thinking of her mother saddened her and she felt the weight of her life press back down upon her.

*Are you alright?* asked Ike when he noticed the sudden change in Marty. Ike gave her a small smile and touched her arm as a token of friendship. *I know we’ve only just met, but if you want to talk, I’ll listen. If you want, I could get you some of my clothes, Emma’s always making us keep an extra set of clothes here so we won’t have to go to the bunkhouse for clothes after baths and such.*

*That’d be real nice of you thanks.* Marty said and could feel her eyes burning as she struggled to bury the painful memories again. She sat down to wait and was surprised at how quickly Ike was back.

To her surprise it was Emma who knocked on the door. “Why don’t you wrap up in the blanket and I’ll take you up to the guest room so Ike can have his bath and then we can all have a nice talk.”

Marty still in the blanket followed Emma upstairs and was at the first landing when she heard the door of the mudroom shut.

“This will be your room.” Emma said as if it were a fact that she was going to be staying. “Ike offered to let you borrow a set of clothes while yours dry. I suspect they’ll be a bit big but…” Emma left the sentence off there as she saw a smile appear in Marty’s eyes and she knew her suspicions were right. Emma left to see how Ike was doing and get dinner started.

*Can we talk?* Marty signed. She had dressed and come back downstairs and saw Ike sitting in the front room. Signing with Ike seemed natural and even though she knew he could hear, for some reason she didn’t want to talk aloud when she was with Ike and he didn’t seem to mind.

*Sure,* signed Ike, and she sat down with him on the sofa in front of the fire. Ike stood again to pour a cup of coffee for Marty. He forgot to ask if she wanted it, but just handed the cup to her as if she had asked.

*Thanks,* Marty said then wrapped her hands around the mug and savored the warmth and smell. She let her fingers explore the mug’s craftsmanship and liked what she felt.

Putting her mug on the table between them next to his she began again *I guess you’re probably wondering about a few things. I’m wondering about a few things myself. Why are you being so nice to me? Most white men aren’t like that. I’ve lied to you, kept you outside in the rain, and been a general pain in the backside since you met me all of a few hours ago*

*I’m just doing what any man should,* signed Ike. *Helping a person who needs it. Besides, I figure you probably have a reason to pretend like you’re a boy, otherwise you wouldn’t do it.* He shrugged slightly. *It isn’t any of my business to prod into your life.*

Marty shook her head, *You’re different than other white men. That’s what's confusing me about you. Thanks for keeping my secret. It means a lot to me.*

Just then Emma walked in and Marty turned to her and said “I’m sorry about the mess I tried to clean it best I could but, I’m not that good at house living. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Emma with a smile. “It could happen to the best of us. Marty, why don’t you tell us about why you’re here.”

“I’m here looking for Lou McCloud. I told you that.” Marty said feeling defensive.

“Yes, but why? My boys are all orphans so strangers rarely come looking for them.” Emma said soothingly in a way that reminded Marty of applying aloe to a sunburn.

“It’s complicated and personal and I’d be more comfortable talking to Lou about it first and then letting him decide what needs to be told and what doesn’t,” Marty said, her voice was calm though her eyes were terrified.

“That’s fair,” decided Emma. “Are you up to dinner or would you rather go to bed early.”

“Honestly.” Marty began but had to stop to yawn, “I think I may be more tired than hungry.” She finally said with a small laugh.

Ike grinned at her, his shoulders shaking in silent laughter.

“That’s fine,” Emma said. “Get some sleep and in the morning you’ll get to meet the rest of the residents here at the station.”

“Thanks. You both have been nicer than nearly anyone I’ve met in the last year or more.” Marty said.

Ike looked as if he wanted to say something but Emma put a hand on his shoulder and led him out of the room while Marty made her way up to her room.

*~*

The next morning, Ike woke up feeling strange, all night long he had dreamed of Marty and how he had walked in or her. Marty, even though she was thin and lean from having walked so much, was so beautiful and Ike couldn’t stop thinking about her. He knew he had a grin on his face and Buck kept looking at him like he had lost his mind, but it didn’t bother Ike at all. He was just too happy.

Ike decided that he would go up to the house to check on Marty and see if Emma needed any help. Opening the door to the kitchen, Ike saw that Emma was already starting breakfast.

*Where’s Marty?* asked Ike.

“He came down a little while ago and asked where the outhouse was. I assume he’ll be on his way back soon enough. But as long as you’re here...” Emma said and handed him an apron, a bowl of batter and a spoon and Ike automatically began stirring.

Marty walked back into the house still wearing Ike’s clothing and smiled at the sight of Ike, wearing and apron with his sleeves rolled up stirring something and Emma pulling pieces of toast out of the oven on tongs. It seemed like such a natural thing for a family to do in the morning, well maybe without the apron. “Good Morning. Can I be of any help?”

Ike’s face lit up when he saw Marty. She looked really cute in his clothes with the sleeves and cuffs all rolled up. *Hi,* he signed. *Sleep well?*

“I think we’re almost done, but you could help me carry the biscuits over to the bunkhouse,” said Emma.

*Fine thanks. You?* Marty reached over and picked up the basket with the still warm biscuits in it. “Is the bunkhouse one of the other buildings I saw when we came in last night? I’m afraid I don’t know much about the workings of a Pony Express Station.”

Marty followed Ike and Emma out of the house all of their arms laden with food. The smells emanating from their arms had all three of their stomachs grumbling about the wait as they walked the 50 feet to the bunkhouse.

Emma pushed the door open in a well practiced way and Ike walked in followed a bit hesitantly by Marty.

Every head in the bunkhouse turned to look at the newcomer. Ike smiled to offer some support to her. It must be hard for her to hide who she is.

“He the one you told us about?” asked Cody and Ike nodded. “By the way nice apron”

Ike ripped the apron off and then sat down at the table. He made room for Marty next to him, mostly because he didn’t want Marty to feel left out.

Marty took the seat Ike indicated and then looking at Cody said with a slight air of defiance in her voice “What’ve you heard?”

Kicking Ike’s leg she added *Do they speak like us as well?* her hands under the table.

*They know sign, yes,* signed Ike. He was about to continue, but was interrupted by Cody.

“Where’d ya learn sign? You know a lot of Indians?” Jimmy smacked Cody on the back of the head and gave him a shut up look.

“Yeah I do.” A flash of anger passed through Marty’s eyes but disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Where I grew up it was common enough. How’d you learn sign?”

As Marty’s anger abated she couldn’t help but smile at the smack the one had given the other. “I’m Marty by the way. Though I guess Ike told you that already. What else did he tell you?”

”Nothing much,” said Jimmy. “Only that you’re lookin’ for Lou, but not why.” said Jimmy.

“It’s complicated,” Marty said refusing to explain her search.

Jimmy nodded and then said, “I’m Jimmy by the way.” He then proceeded to introduce Marty to everybody else at the table. Marty shook hands with everyone, and Ike smiled slightly, hoping they could get to eating soon.

Marty was surprised by how friendly and welcoming they were. Though since none of them knew the truth about her, there was no reason for them to be hostile yet.

The group soon set to eating and before long all that was left was the bowls and plates and a few crumbs, which Jimmy teased Cody he had forgotten to eat. Apparently Cody really like to eat although he didn’t look at all fat.. Soon after the meal the boys all stood and began heading out the door. Marty looked confused and asked Emma what was going on.

“They’ve got to get started on their morning chores and Kid’s got a run this afternoon so he’s gonna have to get ready for that as well." Emma explained.

“What can I do to help,” Marty said as she piled all of the plates and flatware together and began sweeping the crumbs into her hand.

*If you want,* signed Ike, with a glance at Emma who nodded. *You could help me take care of the horses.* Ike wanted to spend more time with Marty so he figured that he’d offer before anyone else did.

*That sounds good. I’ve always had a soft spot for animals.* Marty signed back. As they walked past the chickens Marty threw the crumbs down for them. She was intrigued by Ike, there was something about him that made her want to smile and he was glad for the excuse to spend some more time with her.

Ike smiled at Marty as the two went about feeding and caring for the animals. *This is Sampson,* signed Ike and pointed to the donkey. *He comes from a wild herd not far from here. His mother died when he was born so we took him in. He’ll love you if you give him a carrot.* Ike grinned as he gave Marty a carrot.

Marty laughed aloud and reached out to take the carrot. Her fingers lightly brushed Ike’s and she felt a tingle race up her arm and straight to her chest, causing her heart to be fast. Suddenly it was as if the world around them had slowed down and existed only for them. Marty felt like she couldn't breathe through the tightness in her chest and wondered if Ike felt the same.

Marty lightly licked her lips and felt her eyes lock with Ike’s.

“HEE HAW,” brayed Sampson suddenly breaking the spell around them and Marty jerked slightly and took the carrot from Ike. Turning to Sampson she said, “Is this what you want?” and stroked the rough neck as she let him eat his carrot.

Damn Donkey Ike thought as he grinned at Sampson, he was angry with the donkey for ruining the moment. Ike felt so warm inside his chest when he and Marty looked at each other like that.

*Come on,* he signed.*Let’s go feed the horses.* Looking around, he realized the supplies were low, *But first we have to go get the hay from the loft.* Ike said with a sheepish smile.

Marty grinned back at Ike said a quick goodbye to Sampson and followed him up into the loft. When they got there she could see how well they cared for the place, all of the hay was stacked neatly and it looked like there were extra’s of everything someone working a farm might need. She couldn’t help but smile. Slowly she made her way towards the loft door and looked out over the farm, land, and people.

*It’s beautiful. If I could draw I think I’d never leave this spot.* Marty said to Ike.

*I’ve tried drawing, but I’m not any good at it. I just don’t know how to make my hands draw what my eyes see.* Ike shrugged and moved to stand a little closer to Marty. He didn’t feel like feeding the horses right now, when it was so tempting to just stand there next to Marty and enjoy the morning. Ike stole a peek at Marty and smiled. He could tell that she was looking at him as well. Ike swallowed hard and every thought in his head went into hiding.

*How can you like to draw but not know how? Doesn’t everybody know how? I'm no good at it but I know how to.* Marty laughed at the image that popped into her head of a drawing she had done when she was still living at home. She turned and felt Ike capture her gaze. The world once again slowed down around them. She would swear she heard each of their heart beats in that moment.

Leaning slightly forward, Ike pushed his lips to Marty’s.

Marty felt her breath catch and her pulse quicken. Her head moved slightly to the side to make room for their noses. She had never been kissed before but her body just seemed to know what to do. She slid her hands to his and felt their fingers clasp. The sun was warm on her face and Marty thought she had never felt more alive than she did just then.

Ike stepped closer to Marty and slid his arms around her, her fingers were still clasped in his. He didn’t want to let go of her, but he had to breathe. Pulling back slightly, Ike smiled down at Marty. He felt amazing, and he didn’t want to ever let her out of his sight. Ike had never really liked a woman before Marty and he decided it was a great feeling to like someone.

Suddenly Marty remembered they were in a large opening. She looked down and saw people around the yard hard at work. *Do you think anyone saw?* Marty asked worried about what might happen if that occurred.

Even though her eyes flashed with fear and she was clearly scared she couldn't seem to move away from Ike. In fact it was taking all her strength not to step closer to him and kiss him again. As soon as she had finished talking she felt her hands slide back into his, as if by instinct, to gather her strength and nerve. She looked up at him and then grinned foolishly. Stepping back from him she signed *I’ve never done that before.*

Ike took her hand and led them away from the opening, and into the shadows. *I’ve never done that either.* Ike grinned like a fool. *I liked how it felt.* All thoughts of feeding the horses were forgotten.

Standing in the shadows Marty felt much safer. The shadows were where she had been living for a long time. She looked up into Ike’s face and studied him carefully. There was a brightness in his eyes but she could tell he had seen something that had hardened a piece of him, but he had obviously not let it devour him. There was his ear splitting grin that always made her feel happy.

*I liked it too.* Marty said and then stepped forward and let her hands slide around his back and lifted her head to watch his eyes. She felt him lean down before he actually moved.

Ike didn’t know what was happening, his body was acting and reacting on it’s own and his mind couldn’t seem to keep up. Suddenly, the two had fallen into the hay, kissing. Ike was almost on top of Marty and his fingers played with her short hair as he kissed her. Marty’s breathing became ragged as they continued kissing. She felt like she was floating. His hands were slowly to moving through her hair and her whole body tingled at the simple touch. She felt herself moan as their tongues began to play with each other. As Ike’s hands began to explore beyond her hair and neck she shifted in the hay and gasped when a stray piece lodged itself painfully in her side.

Ike shot up and away from Marty when he heard her gasp in pain. *Are you alright? Did I hurt you?* Ike looked at her with worried eyes and bit his swollen lips in nervousness.

Marty felt herself blush as Ike jumped away from her, especially when she noticed that the first few buttons on her shirt were undone and so were several on his.

*I’m fine, and no you didn't hurt me. I was enjoying it a lot in fact.* She said with a little giggle that lifted her shoulders slightly. “ Maybe a little too much.” Then she reached back and pulled out the rather annoying piece of hay from her shirt and rubbed her side. *This hurt me,* she said and began to laugh at the look on Ike’s face.

Ike was so happy and relieved that he hadn’t hurt her. Moving closer to her, Ike laid one hand on her cheek and leaned in to kiss her. He wasn’t sure whether or not to deepen the kiss. These feelings were all new to him.

Marty dropped her head into his hand and let herself begin to fall into the kiss when suddenly she heard a voice call, “IKE? You up there?”

Ike felt his breath stop in his throat and had to gulp to get moving again. Marty gasped and jumped away from Ike. She quickly tidied herself and was just pulling a stray piece of hay from her hair when Cody’s head popped up through the stairwell hole.

“Ike, what’s going on? The horses are getting anxious because they want food!” Cody said. It struck Ike as odd that he’d be acting this way when he saw Teaspoon walking across the field towards the barn.

Ike grinned in understanding and looked at Marty. *We’re coming.* He said, *Why don’t you get back to your chores and Marty and me will get back to feeding the horses.*

Marty smiled at Ike as Cody disappeared back down the stairs and said *Guess we should take care of the horses. Not nice to torture them like that.*

*Maybe we can take a walk or something later?* Ike asked his face a glow with hope, desire, and embarrassment.

*I’d like that,* signed Marty with a big smile.

Ike was looking forward to spending time with Marty without anybody interrupting them. * I need to feed the horses. I don’t have a run today so once I’m done with my chores I have the rest of the day off. We’ll have to come up with some reason for our walk, unless you don’t care if the others know you’re a girl.*

*I really don’t want that to happen. I need to stay in hiding, it’s safest for everyone. At least for now.* Marty looked around as she handed down the last bale to Ike and then followed it down. *Maybe you could just say you’re going to show me around? I’ve never been out this far west and I’ve got a day and a half to kill until Lou gets back.*

Ike grinned. *That’s a good idea. And if we hurry to feed the horses we could spend more time together before lunch. We shouldn’t bring one with us because it would seem a bit odd and maybe reveal that you’re a girl.*

*I don’t understand. How would bringing the horses seem odd?* Marty asked her brows furrowed.

*No, I mean we shouldn’t bring lunch because it would seem like we’re going on a picnic and that would seem odd because you’re a boy.* Ike tried to explain. He felt really stupid and blushed. *Will you tell me later why you need to pretend you’re a boy?*

Marty laughed aloud and said *Oh. That makes much more sense. Sometimes I think I left my brain back in Maine.* Marty turned to Ike and smiled and said *Ok, so now you know two things about me that are embarrassing, you're going to have to tell me something about you.* She laughed and pushed him gently in the arm.

Ike smiled, *I like to draw, but I don’t know how to do it, and….*He paused and then without thinking about what he was saying *I didn’t cry when my parents and sister died.* He suddenly shrugged as if it weren’t a big deal. There was something about Marty that made him want to tell her everything about him.

*I didn’t cry when my parents died but when Joseph did I felt like half of me had died along with him and as much as I wanted to cry there was no time, I went into hiding that night.* Marty felt the darkness beginning to envelope her and she shook her head. *Look why don’t we talk about other things for right now. We can talk of these things when we’re alone, if you want that is.* Marty said and scuffed her foot in the dirt, *and yeah, I’ll tell you about why I had to go into hiding*

Ike didn’t know who Joseph was, but he could tell that he and Marty were close. He nodded, he would like to talk about it later and that surprised him. Hearing noises coming from the horses, Ike smiled. *We best get a move on before the horse decides to break loose because we didn’t feed them.*

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