I turn from the stove and can see the letter sitting there on the table next to Kid's arm. As I put a plate of eggs in front of him he touches my hand. I know he's worried about me. I smile even knowing as I do that it doesn't reach my eyes. Without a word he hands me the letter as I sit down. I read it again for what must be the hundredth time since it arrived yesterday. It's the only thing that has been able to break through the pain.
"Read it aloud." Kid says, his eyes full of hope.
"Dear Kid and Louise," I begin. I shut my eyes and can see them at the station house in Rock Creek. I begin to feel like my old self again as I hear Rachel's voice coming through her words. "Well, we're going to do it. Teaspoon and I are getting married. Finally…" I can feel her laughter at this. "We want you to come home for the wedding. I know it's a long trip, but we can't get married without our whole family there. Ike, Emily, and Buck are definitely coming, and Teaspoon is writing to the others. I wanted to write to you though, because I'm going to need a matron of honor. Interested? Teaspoon says to tell Kid that he had better bring you out for this wedding. We haven't gotten to see hardly enough of you since the war ended and he has something important that he needs to talk with him about in person."
"I wonder what he needs to talk about?" Kid said.
"I want to go."
"Lou? Are you sure? Are you strong enough? It's such a long trip." The carefully hidden fears began to resurface and his eyes darkened with the fear. "You were so sick after this last time."
"I think going home is just what I need. I miss spending time with Rachel."
And the others, I say silently to myself. As images of our family rode through my mind, they stopped for just a moment on the one person who I had always turned to when things got difficult with Kid. And they had never been as difficult as they were lately. The thought of being able to once again spend time with him made me feel better than I had in weeks.
A smile began to play on my lips just as the frown began on Kids face. He knows me as well as he knows himself. He could probably see the memories I was thinking of. As I thought of the one memory that Kid had no knowledge of my smile widened and I raised my fingers to my lips trying to cover it a bit. Although it had the opposite effect; it brought Jimmy even clearer into my mind. Jimmy was Kid's best friend, mine as well, but he was also the only other rider who had ever made me smile like this. I had never told Kid anything about the kiss between Jimmy and I, but he had always known something had happened. The way he and Jimmy used to go at each other, it always made me wonder.
"I'll go into town and make the arrangements for us to leave the morning." Kid said. His voice was happy but his eyes were showing his true feelings.
I walked over and kissed him lightly on the cheek. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and thank him but he had been so funny about me touching him ever since I lost this last baby.
Kid: As I sit here listening to Lou read this letter aloud, I realize that I'm still afraid of losing her to him. As much as I want to go and celebrate with Teaspoon and Rachel; I fear that if we go, he'll be there and she'll turn to him for comfort again.
I sigh. My attention is again drawn to her when she reads the part about Teaspoon wanting to talk to me. "I wonder what he needs to talk about?" I say.
Lou doesn't answer me directly, but surprises me with her reply. "I want to go."
"Lou, are you sure? Are you strong enough? It's such a long trip." All the arguments against going begin to form in my mind. They line up waiting their turn to be used to convince her why we shouldn't go. Before I can stop myself I say, "You were so sick after this last time."
She turns her gaze to me and says, "I think going home is just what I need. I miss spending time with Rachel." She smiles slightly and her eyes get a faraway look. I know that she's thinking about not only Rachel, but the others as well. She's thinking about him.
I watch her as she sits remembering something. Whatever it is, it makes her smile. It makes her smile in a way I haven't been able to recently. I hate myself for not being able to make this pain leave her. She tries to pretend it doesn't hurt her, but I see it in her eyes. She still hasn't gotten over this latest loss, and somehow I feel like she blames me.
I think about how nice it would be to see Ike, Emily, Buck, Teaspoon, Rachel, Cody, and yes, even Jimmy. I decide that if Lou really wants to go, we'll have to go. If I don't take her, she'll only try to go on her own. I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to her.
I sigh once more, stand, and move to the door. "I'll go into town and make the arrangements for us to leave in the morning." I smile, hoping to make her think I'm glad we are doing this. I know she sees through me, but I try anyway.
Lou stands and joins me at the door. She kisses my cheek. I sense that she wants more, but I still can't bring myself to allow that kind of contact. If I start, I'm afraid I won't be able to stop and then I could lose her forever.
I pull on my coat and leave the house. As I head into town, I think to myself how I need to tell her what the doctor told me last time - how if we tried again too soon it could kill her. I want to hold her and touch her, and I can't because if I do I could be sentencing her to death. How do I tell her that? How do I keep her from turning to Jimmy for the comfort I can't give her because I'm afraid to touch her? How do I keep her?
I quickly make the needed arrangements and return home. When I get there, she already has everything packed and ready to go. Lunch is sitting on the table. As I sit to eat she suggests, "Let's leave this afternoon. We can stop in Blue Creek for the night. Please."
I start to object, but when I see the need in her eyes, I shrug. "Alright," I say. "We'll leave this afternoon and stop in Blue Creek."
She smiles and starts to eat. "Thank you," she says. "I can't wait to see everyone again." This time the smile reaches her eyes and temporarily replaces the pain that is usually there.
I smile back. This is going to be a long trip, I think to myself. A really long trip.
Hays City, Kansas
The sudden explosion of light as Joey burst into the saloon caused me to shut my eyes in pain.
"Sheriff, Sheriff!" Joey shouted as he ran over to me his excitement as easy to see as a horse alone on a trail.
"What?" I asked a little rougher than was necessary.
"This telegram just came for ya. It's from a U.S. Marshal!"
I smiled. The only U.S. Marshal that'd send me a telegram was Teaspoon. I may be Sheriff but my reputation precedes me and most other lawmen stay as far from me as possible.
"Thanks ,Joey." I say taking the telegram from his hands and stepping away to open it. The bright light hurts my eyes and makes them water. That's been happening more and more lately. As I begin to read the telegram, the words start to swim in front of me. Teaspoon and Rachel are getting married. "Well it's about time." I say with a chuckle and rub at my eyes. I read on and whisper "Lou" my heart in my throat.
Just then, Calamity Jane strides over. "Not quite sheriff. Know your eyes are going but..."
"Jane?" I ask as I pull myself out of the memories that have haunted me for these last ten years.
"Yeah. Let's get a drink, you look like you need one."
As we sidle up to the bar George, the bartender, hands us two glasses and a bottle of whiskey. I pour us each a glass and down mine in a single sip. Jane, not to be undone, downs hers and pours us another glass each. "Thanks."
"A girl I used to know." I suddenly begin to feel guilty as Lou's face drifts across my memory again. I gulp my third whiskey and pour a fourth and drink that in quick succession; hoping once again that I could drink enough to get her out of my heart and my mind. "She married my best friend. I gave her away at their wedding." But she still holds my heart.
"Let's go, Bill." Jane said grabbing the bottle and heading out the door.
"How many times do I gotta tell ya? My name is Jimmy! Sheriff, James, Hickok...anything but not Bill." I yell at her as I drink my fifth glass and follow her out the door.
As we get to the walkway outside she turns around and yells "What climbed up your craw and died?" as she takes a draw from the neck of the bottle and then hands it too me.
"It's nothing," I growl at her taking my own pull from the warm brown bottle.
She looks over to the left, spits and makes the spittoon next to the doorway sing. She turns back and grabs the bottle in one hand and the front of my shirt in the other. She pulls on me forcing me to look her in the eye and says "Cow patties, Bill."
"A friend is getting married. He wants me there but..." I stop myself and take another swig
"But what?" Jane asks as she takes the bottle from me.
"Lou and Kid'll be there. She wouldn't let him not come. Not to mention the others." I take back the bottle and finish it off. "How can I go back? You know what people say about me."
"Ya mean the Wild Bill stuff? Yeah I know. Why does it bother you? I like being known as Calamity Jane. People respect me."
"People hunt Wild Bill. I used to be the best shot around." I chuckle slightly as I remember the contests Kid and Cody and I used to have.
"So you're afraid to go and see your friends? What are you yellow?"
"Don't push me, Jane." I say and throw the bottle to the ground shards of glass spraying everywhere.
"Push you? This is pushing you." She says as she puts her hands on my chest and shoves me into the wall. The thunk as I make contact sounds like an axe into wood and feels as pleasant. "You're afraid to see your friends. You are nothing more than a yellow bellied, chicken livered, scared little boy. I doubt you'd even get all the way there if you did go. You'd turn around half way with your tail between your legs like a cowering dog."
"Oh really? I'll show you. Get your stuff together. Let's see if you can keep up with me, we're going to Rock Creek and we've only got a few days." I say as I realize that no matter how much i don't want to go, I need to. I've been here for too long, it's time to go back home and work through some things.
"Noah Dixon," said my wife as she wiped her hands on her apron, "don't you sit there and tell me that you don't want to go to this wedding. You know as well as I do that you'd love to see your old friends again. I barely know them, and I'd love to see them again."
I smiled at her as she placed my breakfast plate in front of me. "I'd love to go," I agreed, "but I can't go with school just starting."
"Yes you can," said Cassie as she sat down next to me. "You can let Quinn Ellis cover the classes for the couple of weeks we'll be gone. I'll let Suzanne cover for me here. It will be fun to see them again."
I nodded. "I guess you're right. The beginning of the year is an easy time and Quinn can find out if he's really interested in becoming a teacher if he gets to start things out. I'll tell him the news this afternoon."
Cassie smiled as she stood. She went back to the stove and once more began preparing breakfast for the other boarders. She smiled and hummed a little song as she worked. I couldn't get over the feeling that she was hiding something from me. Maybe she'd share it with me when everyone else was around again.
I went to the schoolhouse to discuss the change in plans with Quinn. He wasn't real surprised when, as he entered the building, Quinn said, "So, she talked you into going."
I nodded. "We're going to leave in a couple of days. We'll be gone for the first two weeks of school. You think you can handle getting the year started?"
Quinn smiled. "You can count on it. I won't let you down, Noah. I promise. I can start right now getting things organized so that you can check it over before you leave. Why don't you go back home and help Cassie pack? You can get an early start tomorrow and then you won't have to rush while you're traveling. I know that…"
I laughed at my over enthusiastic brother-in-law. "Calm down, Quinn. I can't leave if you're going to be rushing so much that you can't go over a few details with me."
Quinn laughed. "I'm just so excited. I know Cassie really wants to make this trip. I've only seen her this excited about something one other time in my life. That was right before your wedding."
I nodded. "I know," I said. "I'm not sure why she's so bent on going to see Teaspoon and Rachel's wedding, but she sure has been pushing me to go. I just decided that I couldn't let her down by not going. So, we have to go over a few items first and then I'll go home and help her pack."
We quickly covered the details that Quinn would need to handle to start the new school year and then I made my way home to surprise Cassie with the good news that we could leave as soon as she was ready.
I pushed open the door to the boarding house and was surprised to find the lobby full of women busy making a baby quilt. Cassie looked up from where she was sitting when the door had opened.
"What are you doing home?" she asked; surprise at seeing me during the middle of the morning filling her words.
"I talked to Quinn," I replied. "We went over some things and he suggested that we get an early start on the trip so we don't have to feel rushed." I glanced around the room at the women gathered there. They were all trying to hide smiles. My eyes came to rest on my wife. "Is there something I should know before we start packing?"
Cassie did her best not to smile, but lost the battle. "I was going to wait and surprise you at the wedding," she said. "I wanted all your friends to be able to share in our news first hand since they are the closest thing you have to family."
I just stared at her a few minutes. "You mean…" I said as what she was saying began to sink in.
Cassie nodded. "You're going to be a daddy," she said.
30 miles outside of Denver, Colorado
The rain had caught us by surprise yesterday and so we took refuge under a Bradford Pear Tree. We stayed there most of the day and all night long. I managed to keep everyone entertained though with my tales of adventure and daring do.
When we woke up, it was to find the ground littered with white petals that covered everything they touched. It looked like we had had a snowstorm in the middle of April. Dr. Issacson and his assistants were beside themselves with excitement over the luck of being caught in such a storm.
While the others began to break camp and get ready to continue on our way I caught site of a rainbow and watched as it curved over the sky the colors seemed so bright next to the white ground. Once again I pulled the telegram from my pocket, it was beginning to wear along the folds from my handling it so often. Teaspoon and Rachel were getting married, and wanted "their boys" home for the wedding. I looked at the names written next to the To: part. Somehow we had all managed to survive; no one's name was missing.
By this time tomorrow, I will have finished delivering the scientists and the reporters to Denver and can be on my way home, well Rock Creek really. Although Rock Creek still feels more like home than St. Louis does or even Fort McPherson, where I'm building a new home for Me, Louisa and the kids.
All of a sudden, I'm hit with memories as an eagle flies over head and I remembered the time in Tompkins Store when I confused a turkey feather with an eagle feather. I smile as I recall how Buck and Jimmy teased me. They were right; I really was a turkey back then.
"Buffalo Bill?" Dr. Issacson called trying yet again to get my attention.
I felt myself turn on and become the charmer the Army hired me to be. "Are we all set Dr.?" I say with a smile on my face. He nods and we set off, once I help him remount his horse. Next time I'm gonna get a wagon for the ones who don't know how to ride.
The Dr. and his associates were happily talking about a plant they had found yesterday which had been the cause of our delay and the reason we had been caught in the rain. The reporters were trying to remember everything they saw and heard since they couldn't write while they were on their horses, although they kept trying. This is a path I'd ridden countless times before with an assortment of dignitaries and my mind began to drift since the others were not in need of my particular charisma at this moment.
I can see them all sitting around the table in the bunkhouse. It makes me wonder how they've changed. I may be famous, but I still wear my buckskins, although now I wear Sioux buckskins. Last time I saw Noah and Cassie they were getting ready to open a school, he's probably gotten fat, sitting around all day teaching. Jimmy, if he's still alive, is probably looking all wild and unkempt, he never paid much attention to how he looked. Kid and Lou must have 5 kids by now. I bet Lulu would like Lou and Rachel. She won't leave St. Louis cause she's gonna have the baby any day now and Arta can't come because she's too little to leave her mama yet, or that's what Lulu tells me.
I should take careful notes on everything that happens on this trip. Ned'll want to write about this he was so interested in my days as a hero for the Pony Express. I'm sure it'll be as big a seller as his last book on me. I'd better be careful though, don't want the others getting mad at me again. I should have brought him along he could have seen me with the other riders and really tell about how amazing I was. It would have been a great story and I couldn't get into trouble for it either. I chuckle silently to myself remembering how upset they all were when that first story about me came out, I thought it was very well written, if I do say so myself.
"Sam, are we going to be able to go to Rock Creek?" I asked as I re-read the letter from Mr. Spoon telling me of his upcoming wedding.
My husband nods. "Sure, Emma, we can go. It will be nice to see the boys again, and I can't wait to meet the woman that convinced Teaspoon to settle down."
I smiled at this comment. My darling husband had been dying to meet this woman ever since the first letter we got describing her. The fact that the letter was written by Cody didn't do anything to dampen his desire. I had to admit that I was a bit curious about her too.
"Can we leave this morning?" I asked, deciding to ignore the fact that he seems to be more interested in this unknown woman than our old friends. "I'd like to arrive a few days early in order to help with the arrangements if at all possible."
"I don't see why not," he said. "I just need to tell Jack how long we'll be gone, and swear in a deputy to help him. I'll go do that right now."
I watched Sam leave and began to pack. I too was anxious to meet this mystery woman. The first letter I'd received from Louise after her arrival had been first furious, and then complimentary. It had been written over the course of a week. The letters that followed afterwards were filled with praises of this Rachel. Yes, I most definitely wanted to meet her. What was it about her that made Mr. Spoon want to get married for the seventh time? She must be really special.
Mr. Spoon mentioned that Amanda was going to help them with the ceremony. It will be nice to see her again too. I'm so glad that we were able to help her out of that horrible situation and allow her to get her life straightened out. From the sounds of things she's doing really well with her saloon in Benton.
As I waited for Sam to return, I thought back to the little family I'd left behind when I moved to Omaha with Sam. I had hoped to be able to replace it with a new one, but that wasn't to be. I sighed. I guess it was just as well that Sam and I didn't have any children. His job was dangerous, and I'm not sure I was up to raising a family on my own.
I knew what was happening with Louis and Kid because Louise kept me informed. I hoped that she would be able to make the trip; I really wanted to be able to visit with her. Her last letter had seemed a bit depressed.
I knew about Buck because Ike wrote every so often just to let me know that they were both doing well. He really seemed happy with his new wife and the new business they all three had started. I decided that it would be especially nice to meet the young lady that won Ike's heart. I'm so glad that he found someone willing to accept him and Buck as a team. I don't know what would have happened to either of them without the other.
I'd heard that Cody was still working for the army and that he was married with some children of his own. He was making quite a name for himself. I hoped he would be able to make the journey. It would be interesting to hear his version of all the adventures he'd been having.
This brought my thinking around to Jimmy - poor, sweet, misguided Jimmy. Last time I'd seen him, he had been trying to pretend he didn't have feelings for Louise. I'd heard that he had started to work as a lawman. I hoped this had brought him some satisfaction. I still heard stories of Wild Bill Hicock; each time I heard one I prayed that it wasn't causing Jimmy more grief.
I smiled as I put the last of our belongings in the packs. It was going to be fun seeing everyone again. Now if Sam would just get here so we could be on our way, everything would be perfect.
I read the letter for the third time:
I would be greatly honored if you could find the time to join Rachel, the boys, and me when Rachel and I get married, on the last weekend of June. It won't be right if my "daughter" isn't here. Most respectfully,
I acted like I was having difficulty believing what I was reading. I finally handed the note to Jane who just happened to drop by for some tea and a chat.
"Read it to me," I said. "I want to make sure I understand it."
Jane looked at me a bit puzzled. Then she took the letter and read it aloud.
"It really says Teaspoon and Rachel are getting married?" I asked when she finished.
She nodded as she folded the letter and put it back in its envelope. "Is that crazy old man really your father?" Jane asked as she handed me the note.
"No," I said, "but he's the closest thing I've ever had to one."
She nodded. "So when do you leave?"
"I don't know. It's not that long of a trip, but I'd like to go early and help plan. Teaspoon has never taken any money from the business even though it's half his. I'd like to give Rachel a really special wedding as a gift from him. I've got some dresses all picked out and everything. I just need to get them there in time."
Jane smiled. "It would be fun to plan a fancy wedding for them as a surprise."
"You want to come help?" I asked, hiding the smile that is trying to escape. Rachel had sent a separate letter asking me to bring Jane along to surprise Buck.
I continue speaking to keep the smile from escaping, "You know all those people as well as I do after the incident with Emory Pike. Besides, you might see Buck again." I let the smile escape this time. Teasing Jane about Buck is one of my favorite past times.
Jane nodded and blushed slightly when I mentioned Buck. She'd been sweet on him for years. I know she'd never admit it, but he's the reason she's still single - no one else was good enough.
"Can you leave today?" I asked.
"Sure," she answered with a growing smile.
"Great," I said. "Don't pack too much - just the essentials; we'll buy what we need when we get there. I want to leave this afternoon. We should be there in three days if we're lucky, and that will give us two weeks to get things ready."
Jane nodded. "I'll see you in about an hour," she said, as she left to get ready.
I was so happy when Rachel agreed to marry me. I wrote Amanda right away and asked her to come help plan things. She's the closest thing to a society person I know, and I want Rachel to have a top notch wedding. She deserves the best of everything.
I amaze myself at my cunning sometimes. I managed to get Rachel's dress size so that Amanda could get her a really fancy dress made. I even managed to get Ike to give me Emily's so she could get her a fancy one too. I know she doesn't act like it, but I've seen her eyeing some of the really nice dresses in the town shop.
I hope the letters we sent all reach their destination. I know Buck, Ike, Emily, Amanda and a surprise guest - I wonder if she's found her a fella - Noah and Cassie, and the Cains are going to be here. I still haven't heard from Kid and Lou, Cody, or Jimmy. It sure would be nice to have the whole family together again.
It's hard to believe the big day is only a couple of weeks away. I'll be glad when Amanda gets here tomorrow to help with things. Rachel won't admit it, but it's getting hard to be trying to do all this stuff by herself - especially when the shops in town don't have what she wants.
I just hope she don't change her mind before the ceremony is over. Afterwards it'll be harder for her to get away. I think I hear her coming up the walkway. I best go see if I can be of assistance. I need to keep her happy until tomorrow; then I can hand her over to Amanda and just do my best to stay out of the way.
The sight of her still takes my breath away. As I ride up to our house and see her sitting on the porch. I am amazed at how things turned out. Emily and I got married after Neville was arrested and jailed for trying to kill Buck after he had nearly killed me. Emily was so grateful to Buck for protecting me that when we got married she insisted that he move in with us until we could build him his own house on our land.
Now, I see her sitting there with our three children, and she is more beautiful than the day we met and all I want to do is capture them in this moment. As I turn my head I see Buck smiling at me.
"I was just thinking about everyone coming home. Do you think they'll have changed much?"
"You did a little, but no I think we're the same as we were back then."
"Yeah. I get it."
As we look back over the ranch that we have worked so hard on, Emily notices us and waves. As she stands to come to us, Buck asks, "You didn't tell her about Teaspoon's surprise did you?"
*No, of course not.* The kids start running up the road as soon as they see us. Emily follows closely behind Sara waiting to grab her if she should fall. Her chubby legs still don't always keep her as steady as she'd like.
I jump down and pass my reins to Buck and pick up Jacob. He giggles and wiggles to get free. I catch his eye and raise my eyebrows and he smiles as he begins to curl himself into a ball. Just as I toss him into the air....
"Ike McSwain!" I hear Emily yell. She hates when I do that. "I swear one of these days you are gonna kill that boy." Then she laughs and wraps her arms around my waist. "You didn't tell Buck about Rachel's surprise have you?" she whispers gently in my ear.
*No, of course not.* I say again and smile at her upturned face.
I lean my head against Ike's chest as he wraps his arms tighter around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Buck throw his arm around Laura's stiff ten-year old shoulders and walk with her back towards the house. Ike bends down, and picks up Sara, and places her on his shoulders so she'll stop pulling down on his pants. She grabs onto his ears and squeals in delight at being so high. Jacob goes tearing down the path, throws himself at Buck, who catches him without ever looking away from the picture Laura is showing him.
"Horsie Daddy, Horsie!" Sara yells as she kicks her small two year old heels into Ike's shoulders.
Without a second thought, Ike begins to gallop towards the house, as I stand and watch my family for a moment. Jacob, who can never stay still not even in his sleep, is climbing Buck like he was a tree. Laura is quietly talking about the finer points of her drawing, another lake, to Buck and Ike. Ike has put Sara on the ground and she is trying to sneak behind Daddy and snatch his kerchief again. Ike whose face is split into a giant grin as he watches our family looks like a pumpkin on All Hallow's Eve, and Buck, our brother, who is smiling but his eyes look as if they are searching for something that the rest of us can't see.
Hopefully when Amanda arrives tomorrow with the surprise Rachel asked her to bring he'll finally be able to smile the way Ike does.
The wedding is two weeks away and you can tell. I hear Ike and Emily's kids in the yard practicing their parts and wonder what time it is. I look out the window to see a beautiful summer day and realize that I've managed to oversleep. I quickly throw on some clothes and head over to Ike and Emily's house to get something to eat. Amanda is coming in on the stage this morning and Rachel asked me to pick her up in the buckboard and bring her to the house, since she and Emily will be busy with the wedding preparations.
I managed to gulp down some food and hitch up the wagon before Emily realized how late I was and started scolding me for being behind. Not to mention that Ike's been left to tend the ranch himself today, so I really should have gotten up early and done my chores before leaving to get Amanda. He just smiled and told me not to worry about it; he'll save the evening chores for me. As I pulled the wagon to a stop in front of Teaspoon's office, I see the stage coming around the last bend and am grateful that I did manage to get here on time. I smile as the stage pulls to a stop in front of me and hope that Amanda remembers me; it'd be real embarrassing to have to introduce myself to her.
"Buck!" I hear an instant before the door opens and as I look up I see Amanda sticking her head out the window and waving at me. I smile and wave back and step forward to help her from the stage.
"Buck, how are you?" Amanda says as she steps lightly into my arms so I can lift her down. Before I can answer she continues with, "I brought a friend along. I hope that's ok."
"I'm sure it's fine." As I turn back to look at the stage I see Jane in a rose colored dress stepping from the stage coach and onto the hard packed earth. My breath catches as I see her. It's as if I'm looking at a memory or a dream. I quickly force my face back into its neutral state and turn to look at Amanda who has begun talking.
"...remember my friend Jane?"
"Yes." I turn to look at Jane again her hair is still short but just long enough to be pulled back under a hat with little wisps around her face. Her skin is tan and warm and her eyes are like huge saucers of emotion. I look at her eyes and wish that what I thought I was seeing was really there. "How have you been, Jane?"
"I'm much better now that we're out of that stage," she says with a wry smile.
The driver has tossed down several bags and packages near us. I look at the two women and Amanda nods that yes; these are all theirs. Jane looks a bit sheepish about the amount of things they have but also nods. I somehow manage to pick everything up, and carry it across the road to the wagon where I load it all in the back. I turn and help Amanda into the wagon and then as I go to help Jane I can feel my body leaning a bit too close to hers, my hands grasping just a bit tighter than they should be, my fingers lingering a little too long on her arm.
"Mhmmm," Amanda clears her throat and it draws me back to where we are and what I need to be doing. "Are we going straight to the house?"
"Yes. Unless there's something you need to do in town first."
"No. I think we brought everything" she says with a chuckle.
I watch as Buck drives the buckboard up to the house. He smiles when he sees me. I smile back and wave. I'm delighted to see that Amanda was able to convince Jane to come with her. From the way the others talked about her and Buck and if things go well, there may be another wedding in the near future.
I leave the porch and go to meet my first out of town guests. I still can't believe I'm getting married in just two weeks. There is so much to do; I'm not sure I'll ever get it finished.
As I draw near to the wagon, a beautiful, elegant lady smiles and says, "You must be Rachel. I'm Amanda. It's a pleasure to finally get to meet you." She turns and indicates the younger lady sitting next to Buck. "This is my friend, Jane. I hope it's alright that I invited her along."
I smile back at her. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you," I agree with her. "I think it's wonderful that you brought along your friend," I laugh. "I was hoping you would."
"I wasn't sure if they were staying here or not," said Buck, looking at me with a puzzled expression.
"Teaspoon insists that Amanda is to be treated like family - that means no hotel," I said doing my best to sound like Teaspoon.
"That's what I thought I remembered hearing," said Buck. "So, where do I put all their bags?" I look into the back of the wagon. "Oh my," I say. "I'm not sure."
Amanda smiles and says, "Well, this one needs to go to your room. Teaspoon asked me to bring it for you special." She hands me a package as she dismounts the buckboard. "Why don't we go make sure it fits?"
She turns to Jane. "Hand me my bags," she says with a playful smile. "I'll take them in and you can go deliver the other package."
Jane reaches back and picks up two bags. "Here you go, Amanda. I'll wait and bring mine in when we return."
Buck looks first at me, and then Amanda, and finally Jane. "Where do we need to go?" he finally asks.
Jane laughs. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm supposed to deliver this package to Emily. Do you know where I can find her?"
Buck nods. "It's Teaspoon's other surprise, isn't it?" he asks with a smile.
"I can't wait for her to see this," he says. "We'll be back later. If we're not back in time for dinner, don't worry. I'll be sure Jane gets something to eat." He leaves and heads back toward the McSwain place.
I help Amanda gather her bags and we head to the house. Once inside she insists that I open my package before we do anything else.
I quickly remove the wrapping and stand holding the most elegant wedding dress I've ever seen. "But…" I start to say.
"Try it on," Amanda says. "I need to see if it fits or if we need to get it altered. Teaspoon sent me measurements, but he wasn't sure they were completely correct because he wanted it to be a surprise. He described the ones he'd seen you looking at. I hope it's alright."
"It's wonderful," I finally manage to say. "I can't accept this. We can't…"
She cuts me off. "Teaspoon owns half my business. He's never taken a cent. You don't owe me anything. Now, let's go see how it fits." She guides me to my room and helps me change. I stand looking at myself in the mirror. It's as if I've been transformed into a fairy princess. I can't believe it. I'm so happy; I start to cry.
The next few days rush by. Everyone starts to arrive. Sam and Emma Cain, Cody, Noah and Cassie - with the wonderful news that she's expecting, Jimmy and a female companion called Calamity, and finally, a few days ago - Kid and Louise.
I stand on the porch watching the sun sink behind the distant hills. I can't believe that tomorrow I'm getting married. The sounds of the dinner party surround me and make me complete. I think back to all that has happened these past few days. I'm so glad I thought to ask Amanda to bring Jane - she and Buck are certainly growing close. I sigh; I'm so happy to see them all, but especially Louise. I so hope that Teaspoon can talk Kid into accepting his offer. It will make everything perfect if they decide to stay. I smile and turn to go back inside and join the fun.
I'm sitting on the fence post watching the sun rise over the corral; the site of the new colt nuzzled up next to her mother is beautiful. I feel before I see Ike come up behind me. I don't turn around though, I'm not sure if I want to talk yet. The wood rails move slightly as he leans against the railing. Still, I don't turn to him; I'm trying to find the words to explain.
*Jane?* he signs after finally getting my attention
That one simple phrase is all the invitation I need. "That obvious?" he nods and I continue, "When I drove her out here the other day and again when I drove her back to Rachel's, it felt so natural to be sitting with her, talking with her, joking with her, touching her hand, her arm, her waist. I wish things were different. I wish I were different."
"I think I'm falling in love with her. We have spent almost every minute together for the last two weeks and it has been wonderful. She has made me feel alive in a way I didn't even know I could. But, nothing can ever happen between us. I've learned that lesson already."
*Kathleen Devlin.* He says the name in such a forceful way. If he could voice it he would be spitting it out like venom.
"Yeah, her. I know that she was the wrong woman but still it taught me that I can't be with her or anyone like her. Jane is white, just like Kathleen, it wouldn't be allowed."
*By who? The town? We've never let them tell us what to do before. Talk to her at the reception, ask her to dance, kiss her. If she's not interested she'll let you know*
"Ike, I'm not creating an excuse. I just couldn't put her through what we went through. You know what they said about you and how they treated you for befriending me. If she were to marry me..."
*It would be hard yes, but we've lived here long enough. Everyone in town is familiar with us, they may not like us but they won't be obvious about it, not anymore. They need us more than we need them and they know it.*
I look back out at the mare and colt and it reminds me of the dream I had about Jane last night.
I step out on the porch and watch Buck. He doesn't even realize how much he wants children. The rest of us have figured it out though. He's sitting on the coral fence with this dreamy look on his face as he watches the newest colt cuddle up to her mother. I know he's dreaming of having a family of his own, but he'll never admit it. Emily was right, as usual, Jane was the perfect surprise, and just what he needed. The wind changes slightly and I remember the talk Teaspoon and I had last night. I need to get Buck to admit his feelings to Jane. He'd hurt her and himself so much more if he tried to protect her. He and I went through this with each other all those years ago when we first got to Sweetwater. He figured I'd be better off if people didn't think we were friends. He only wants to protect, he just goes about it the wrong way.
I begin walking over and the beauty of everything fills me with resolve. Buck deserves this happiness more than anyone I know. He helped create this ranch and he deserves to have children to pass it on to, along with Emily's and mine. I know he hears me coming but he sits frozen, not turning. I lean all my weight onto the fence making him grip it hard to keep his balance and this of course forces him to look at me through the corner of his eye. I keep waiting for him to start but he doesn't say anything.
I ask and before I know what has happened he's begun to pour forth all of his feelings like a torrent of rain on the dry prairie; the words came so fast. Occasionally I ask him something but he just starts talking and when he's done I pass along Teaspoon's advice that he's going to make everything worse by holding it in. He smiles a half - smile that he uses when he doesn't know how to respond and then looks at me and hops down.
I throw my arm around his shoulders and we begin to head back towards the house. We need to keep Teaspoon occupied for the next few hours before the wedding and I got a feeling it's gonna take a lot more than just Buck and I to manage that. He is determined to sneak over and see Rachel. I know how he feels, but I'm not about to get on the wrong side of Emily because we ruined the surprise.
As I rode off this morning I saw Buck headed for the coral and knew that I should try to remember every detail. Jane will be asking me about him while we get Rachel ready for her wedding. She is so in love with him, if only Ike can convince him to let her know he feels the same way. Thinking of Ike and Buck and how they are connected to each other leads me into thoughts of the others.
This is an amazing group of friends, family really. They all met by circumstance and were forced together and time and distance hasn't changed anything for them. Buck and Ike are as they've always been because they've continued to live together. Jimmy and Kid are still fighting over Lou even though she and Kid are married. Lou still turns to Jimmy even though she knows what that does to Kid. Cody is still showing off and trying to get attention but underneath he means well and often can come right to the heart of a problem. Noah is still proud and reserved except when he's around Cody and then the two of them become more real and less like the people in the books Rachel is always reading. Teaspoon is still telling his crazy stories and the "boys" as he calls them still turn to him with problems and questions. Rachel is the mother hen making sure everything and everyone is safe and cared for. And then there's the rest of us, we've come into this family later on. We are as welcome as the others but we don't have the same connections. Me and the kids, Cassie, Amanda and most likely Jane and possibly even Calamity if she and Lou can keep away from each other long enough that we can get to know her. There's also Emma and her husband Sam. They had such a strong impact on everyone but it was very short, less than a year but, they will always be part of the family in their own ways.
"Rider coming," I hear Cassie call as I pull into the yard and it shakes me from my reverie.
"Are the kids ready already?"
"No," I reply and then look over my shoulder from the direction I just came and smile "but that's what Father's are for."
"Hi ,Emily!" Jane says as she comes down the stairs. I think she and I have become closer more easily than she has with the others because we both realize that if Buck ever gets off the pot and talks to her we will be living and working together for the rest of our lives.
"Hi, Jane." I give her a hug as Cassie takes my reins and ties up Stormy. "Are we ready to get started?"
"Definitely!" says an amazingly calm voice. I turn and see Rachel in her dressing gown standing in the doorway. Her eyes look nervous but the rest of her can't stay still as she stands there and fiddles with the sleeve of her gown.
"Let's get started. We only have a few hours left." responds Cassie.
I can't believe it. Today's the day that Rachel becomes my wife. I hope number seven in the lucky one; I don't think I could stand losing her. I was banished from the house last night until the ceremony this afternoon so I spent the evening at the McSwain house. I'm not allowed to see Rachel until she walks down the aisle.
As I step onto the porch I see Buck and Ike talking over by the corral. I hope Ike is able to help Buck make the right decision about what to do. I know he's falling for Jane, and I know she's falling for him. I hope he won't run away from the relationship because he's worried about how folks will react. It would be just like him to sacrifice his happiness in order to spare her some hard times; he does it without realizing that he's punishing her more by not being honest with her.
Ike asked me my opinion last night after the rehearsal. He noticed that Buck kept stealing glances at Jane while we were all just standing around waiting for the preacher to tell us what to do. I told him that Buck needed to give Jane the opportunity to decide for herself. He agreed and said he'd talk to Buck.
From the way they're acting, I'd say it went well. I just hope Buck will follow through tonight. She'll be gone the day after tomorrow and he'll have lost his chance if he don't.
I head over to them. "Well, Boys," I say. "What do we do all day to keep me from going crazy? I'm not sure I can stay away from her until this afternoon. You'd best put me to work."
Ike grins. * I know what you mean,* he signs. * Buck had to threaten to tie me to the bed to keep me from sneaking over to see Emily. It's hard to not see someone when you're used to talking to them everyday.*
Buck laughed. "I guess I could lock you in the feed bin, but Rachel would skin me if you showed up smelling like horse feed. How about we go into town and visit with Sam and the other men? I'll bet they've all been abandoned by their women until later this afternoon."
I nod. "That sounds real good. It will give me a chance to talk to Kid about moving here and helping me out. I need a deputy I can count on, and Rachel could use some help at the school. Let's go."
*You two go ahead, * Ike said. * I need to be sure my children get to Rachel's on time. Emily already left early this morning to help with the decorations. *
"You sure you don't mind us running off and leaving you alone?" asked Buck.
*I won't be alone; I have three kids, remember?* Ike points out. *Emily did suggest that maybe it should be your job to keep Teaspoon busy. I told her I'd trade with you, but she informed me that I couldn't make you responsible for my children. * Ike grinned. * You two go ahead; have fun. I'll see you later today. *
I laugh as Buck heads to the barn to get our horses. I think I might make it through the day after all. I've got such good friends to keep me busy. This day might not be too long after all.
Rachel is a dream. Teaspoon is one lucky man to have convinced her to marry him; I never would have thought it possible. She must see something in him that I don't - as much as I love the man I would never consider spending the rest of my life with him. I smile as I head downstairs. We had a difficult time getting Teaspoon to leave last night. Despite his bravado; he's worried that she's going to change her mind.
Rachel is just as worried that something will happen. I'm going to have my hands full keeping her mind off everything that could go wrong. I'm glad Emily, Cassie, and Jane are here to help me. I'm not sure I would be able to calm her by myself. I don't know her well enough.
"I'm so worried," Rachel said, as I enter the room. "I hope he doesn't do something silly and get hurt."
"He won't," said Emily. "Ike and Buck won't let him. They have strict instructions to be sure that he gets here in one piece. I trust them completely."
Jane nods her agreement. "They are so happy for the two of you. They won't let anything happen to him."
Cassie chimes in, "If Noah knows what's good for him, he'll be extra careful today."
I sit down next to Rachel. "I agree. Ike, Buck and Noah will keep Teaspoon safe and get him here on time. Now, what do you want to do this morning before we have to start getting ready?"
Rachel smiles at us all. "I don't know. I've never had a day where I wasn't getting breakfast ready, and then hurrying off to school. What does one do with a free morning?"
I laugh. "I always find a way to pamper myself. I start with a nice, long, hot bath - lots and lots of bubbles. Then, I find a good book to read and relax in the tub. After that, I get me something nice and cool to drink and I sit and sip it while I continue to read."
"That sounds wonderful," said Rachel with a sigh.
"Good," I said. "That's what we'll do. You sit here and relax; enjoy your coffee. Emily and Cassie can stay and keep you company. I'm going to get a bubble bath ready." I glanced at Jane - "Why don't you run into town and see how things are going? You can check and see if the men need something to eat, and see if Louise and Emma wish to join us here." Soon we are all busy pampering Rachel and enjoying a wonderful morning catching up and making new friends. All too soon it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Rachel makes a beautiful bride - Teaspoon sure is one lucky man.
I'm so glad that Sam and I came to Rock Creek early. Rachel is a wonderful person, and it's been a pleasure to get to know her and help her plan her wedding. The best part of this whole trip though has been getting to catch up with the members of my "family". I was so glad that Mr. Spoon asked Amanda to come and help plan the ceremony because that left me time to visit. I was kind of glad that there wasn't room at the house for all of us. It's given me a chance to catch up with everyone.
I've really enjoyed the time I've gotten to spend with Emily, Ike, and their kids. Ike is just a natural born father, and Buck is a great "uncle". He's going to make some lucky lady and wonderful husband one of these days. From the amount of time he's been spending with Amanda's friend, Jane, this may happen sooner than a lot of people think.
It was entertaining to see Cody once more. He hasn't lost his storytelling touch, and is still quite a charmer. I'm sorry his wife and family couldn't make the trip. I know he wishes they were here much more than he's showing. He always was good at hiding his disappointment behind his good- natured whining and teasing.
I'm a bit worried about Jimmy. He doesn't look good, and I'm afraid he drinks a bit more than he should. I know it hasn't been easy for him; trying to live up to a reputation that he didn't really earn or even want. His traveling companion is an interesting person; I'm not sure about her - she does remind me of Louise with her strong personality and stubbornness. That's probably why Louise doesn't like her - they're too much alike.
I was greatly relieved when Kid and Louise showed up late last week. It has been so nice to spend time with her. It's been hard on her what with losing her baby and worrying about how Kid is dealing with it. She's worried that he's upset with her. I tried telling her that he is probably just worried about her, but she insists that he's upset with her for not giving him the family he wants.
Last night I saw her talking to Jimmy about it, and I noticed Kid trying not to show how much it still bothers him that she turns to Jimmy for comfort. I tried talking to her. "Lullabell, you need to be talking to Kid, not Jimmy. It's not Jimmy who's lost his child."
She replied, "I know, but Kid doesn't want to talk."
"Don't give him a choice. Tell him the two of you need to discuss this, and that if he doesn't want to talk he can at least listen. Then you tell him how you feel, and give him a chance to respond. Promise me you'll do this before you make any other decisions. Please."
She nodded and said, "I promise." Then she went and found Kid. Later that evening, I saw them sitting quietly on the corner of the porch away from all the other partygoers. I think things are going to work out just fine for them. I certainly hope so."
I was just going to go ask her when Jane arrived and invited us to join Rachel and the other women at Rachel's house. They are putting on the final touches for the ceremony and were wondering if we wanted to help. "Of course," I said with a smile. "I'd love to help. You ready, Lullabell?"
Lou smiled at me and nodded. "I'm ready, and you were right. Things are much better. Thanks," she said as she climbed into the wagon next to me. She turned to Jane, "Let's go. I can't wait to see Rachel this morning. I have some good news for her."
Well, I guess I should get up and go see what I can do to keep Teaspoon calm until the wedding. I know the others are going to need my help. They just don't have the smarts to keep him from worrying. I pull myself out of bed and head to the dining room. Everyone is sitting around the table enjoying their breakfast. "Morning, Sleepy Head," said Emma with a smile as I walk toward the table.
"Morning, Emma," I say as I sat down next to her. "How's Sam feeling this morning? He was enjoying himself pretty well last night."
"He's fine," said Emma, with a laugh. "He just went to see about renting a buckboard for Louise and me to use so we can go out to Rachel's house and help with the final touches. He should be back soon. How are you feeling? You were enjoying yourself last night also?"
I smile at her. "I'm fine," I say. "I spent most of the night entertaining everyone with tales of my many adventures."
Everyone laughed. I turned to face Jimmy. "So, how's it going? You get Lou to talk to Kid yet?" I asked quietly as I started to eat.
"I think so," he said with a sigh. "Man, I hate being stuck in the middle of them. I wish they'd both just leave me alone." He shook his head and started to leave. After a few steps, he turned back around, came and sat down, looked me in the eye. "Calamity says you're trying to talk her into working in some Wild West Show and you want me to join you. Are you crazier than you used to be?"
"Nope," I reply. "I know this idea would work - the people back east are dying for entertainment, and The West is what they want to hear about. You should see how excited people get when I tell them about riding for the Pony Express. You could get rich."
He shakes his head and leaves. I sit and eat as I watch the others visit and wait for Teaspoon to arrive. Buck and Ike are supposed to bring him into town this morning so we can all take turns keeping him busy and away from the house until 3 this afternoon. As I eat, I think about how nice it is to see that I was right in at least one of my predictions - Noah hasn't gotten fat, Lou and Kid aren't the parents of an ungodly number of children, but Jimmy sure has let himself go. Not only that, his choice of female companionship has changed greatly too. Well, maybe not that much - this Calamity Jane person does sort of remind me of Lou.
It has been pretty fun watching Kid while he's watching Lou trying to save Jimmy from Calamity. If Kid and Lou weren't having trouble, or Calamity wasn't with Jimmy, I really think the two of them would get along. I've been thinking about quitting the army and starting a show of some sort - maybe I can talk Calamity into joining me. It would be great if she could convince Jimmy to come along too.
It's too bad Lulu and Arta couldn't make this trip. I know Lulu would really have enjoyed spending time with Emma and Rachel. As long as she didn't know too much about what they did before I met them - she can be really judgmental of people at times.
It's been an enjoyable time getting to catch up. Of course, I've been the most active of the group. My travels with the army have given me much more impressive stories than any of the ones the other guys have to tell.
I walked out to the barn to find Cassie putting Emily's horse into the stable. She looked so beautiful with her hair in braids waiting to be twisted up at the last second and her pale yellow dress made her skin glow.
"Have a fun day," I said as I gently nuzzled her neck and slid my arms around her waist.
"Noah," she squealed and turned in my arms to push me away "What if someone sees?"
"We're married already. I think we're allowed to kiss."
"Noah," she said getting the same tone in her voice when her brother is sneaking treats out of her kitchen.
I let go and began to saddle my horse. "I've got to get into town soon. I'm meeting the others at the hotel and we're going to keep Teaspoon busy."
"I've seen him and Rachel together. Good luck keeping them apart." She said with a chuckle. Then she kissed me lightly and walked back towards the house.
I couldn't help remembering my own wedding to Cassie. It was a beautiful day and we were both going crazy with not being able to see each other. I remembered some of the stunts I tried and knew we were going to have a very long day. I reined up to the hotel just as Buck arrived with Teaspoon and had this sudden feeling like I had done this all before and then I remembered our first week in Rock Creek. Buck and I had tried to go into the Hotel for a meal and been kicked out. We took care of that soon enough. Only that day it was Kid instead of Teaspoon.
"Well, boys," Teaspoon began, "What are we waiting for? Let's get some food and then get me married. Again."
We all laughed as we walked into the restaurant and saw the others still sitting around the table.
"We might even be able to get something to eat." I began and then looked over to Cody's three empty plates "if there's any food left that is."
As we sit down, I look over and see Kid and Lou standing near the front of the hotel talking. I know that they've been having a rough time, losing this baby was just too much for them. Then they got here and Lou turned to Jimmy for the comfort she never allowed Kid to give her. It must have been making things worse for them, but right now they seem almost like they did when they first got married - completely wrapped up in each other. Cassie told me last night how awful she felt about what happened last night at Rachel's shower. Amanda was teasing Rachel and asked her when she was going to be getting a brother or sister and Rachel said she didn't know about that but she'd be having a niece or nephew in a few months. Apparently, Lou's face fell and she had to leave the room. Cassie felt so guilty about being excited about the baby. I tried to tell her it was ok to be excited. I am I feel like I'm counting the days until she arrives. Everything will be so much more important when she comes. I know it's a girl; I want to call her Sally. Cassie likes the name too and she knows how important Sally was to me.
I am so glad that the wedding is finally going to happen. We've been here a little over a week. I didn't want to travel too fast; Lou still gets tired easily. The whole time we were traveling she would talk about how good it was going to be to see everyone again, and I knew she really meant Jimmy - how good it would be to see Jimmy again.
It drives me crazy the way she can talk to him when she can't talk to me. She won't talk to me about what has happened. I've tried to get her to open up with me, but she insists everything is fine. I don't want to be mean, but I really need to talk to her. I need to let her know that she is more important to me than anything else.
Sure enough, the first evening we're in town I notice her talking to Jimmy. She really doesn't like his lady companion - funny, because this Calamity Jane person is a lot like Lou. They are both headstrong and independent. They both know how to handle themselves well, and they sure as heck both adore Jimmy. I guess that's the problem - Lou sees her as a threat. Lou thinks this Calamity Jane could possibly make Jimmy think of someone other than her, and she doesn't like it.
Not too long after Lou moved away from Jimmy to keep from getting in another argument with Calamity, I went over to him. "Mind if we talk?" I asked.
He shook his head. "What?" he asked.
"I just wanted to let you know that …"
"I know," he said with a sigh. "You need me to not take advantage of her, she's upset and not thinking straight, please give you some time. I'm not a total cad." He stands. I can tell he is angry with me.
"That's not what I was going to say. I wanted to let you know that I'm glad she's talking to you; at least she's talking to someone. She won't talk to me about it."
"She's afraid you're angry with her," Jimmy said, as he sat back down.
"I know," I tell him. "I can't seem to convince her that I'm not. Any ideas?"
Jimmy shrugged. "I'll try to convince her to talk to you."
"Thanks," I said and I went to find Teaspoon to see what it was he wanted to talk to me about. That's when he offered me the job as his deputy. I told him I'd have to discuss it with Lou first, but that if she was willing, I'd be delighted.
It took a couple of days. I finally managed to get her alone during the rehearsal dinner. "Lou," I said, "I need to talk to you. Teaspoon offered me a job, and I need to let him know tomorrow morning if I'm going to accept."
She took my hands in hers. "I love you," I said, "but if you want me to leave…"
She leans in and kisses me. "No," she said. "I don't want you to leave. I want you to stay with me forever. I'm sorry I haven't been able to share my feelings with you; I've been so afraid you were upset with me for letting you down."
I kiss her and pull her into my arms. "You can never let me down," I say. As I sit and hold her, I ask, "So what do I tell Teaspoon?"
"Ask him if we can have a month or two before you have to start work. We're going to need that much time to move and get Jeremiah and Teresa all settled in here."
I smile as I sit and hold her in my arms watching the others dance and have a good time. "I'll ask him in the morning," I said.
Jane, no not Jane (it got too confusing having two Janes around), Calamity wasn't invited to go with the Lou and the girls to help get Rachel ready for the wedding. Just as well, she and Lou haven't been able to be in the same room together without trying to kill each other for nearly two weeks. I thought they'd get along great. I mean Lou used to be just like Calamity. Well ok, not just like Calamity but, a lot like her. They both spend most of their time with men and dress and act like men. Lou never cursed or drank or could spit like Calamity does.
Lou's much softer and sweeter. Her lips are always begging to be kissed it's been so hard trying to keep from touching her. I finally convinced her to talk with Kid though. If she decides to leave him I want it to come from her and not because of something I said or did. I love her too much to play with her like that. Anyhow, that's how Calamity came to be in the jail with us while we tried to keep Teaspoon from sneaking off to see Rachel.
It wasn't long after we got to the jail and had Teaspoon sitting in his chair that everything began to get crazed. First Franklin came in from the telegraph office with a dispatch for Cody. And a few minutes later his wife came in with a dispatch for Calamity. At the same time this beautiful woman came in looking for directions to the hotel. I walked over to the woman and led her out to the street while Calamity and Cody compared dispatches.
When I came back in, 30 minutes later, the others were looking at me waiting for the details. "Her name is Agnes," I said. "Agnes Lake she's a widow from Wyoming and she's moving to Abilene to be closer to her sister."
"Maybe I should go introduce myself," said Cody
"Don't you dare," I responded stronger than I meant to. Several sets of eyebrows went up and I realized what I had just revealed.
"You should invite her to the wedding, son." Teaspoon interjected
"Ahem," I cleared my throat self-consciously "I already did."
The laughter was enough to knock down a wall or two. I should have felt self-conscious but there was something about Agnes that had me so captivated that I didn't even care that the others saw how she made me feel. I wish she were moving to Hays City or even that I were living in Abilene near Celina, then I could have more time with her.
Just then Ike arrived with the kids. *What's going on?*
"Hickok's in love" Cody teased.
"Do I get to be a flower girl again?" asked Little Sara with great solemnity.
"Let me at least talk with her before you start planning the wedding." I teased Ike's littlest girl.
Then I took her hand and led her outside. It was time to get Teaspoon married.
I am standing outside of the church where almost ten years ago I had married Kid. I can still see him that day standing there beaming as I appeared in the church door. I choose to forget everything else that occurred on that day. He still smiles at me like that. When I come into the room he'll often look up, and that same lightness comes into his eyes and all of the trouble and fights and everything else seems to melt away.
Had this wedding not occurred when it did I don't know what would have happened between me and Kid. Losing this baby nearly destroyed us. Jimmy is the one who saved us, again. I know how Kid feels about my relationship with Jimmy but, I can't talk to Kid about some things and I can talk to Jimmy about everything. Luckily, Jimmy forced Kid and me to talk to each other. Then Teaspoon offered Kid a job here with him. We will finally be home, we will be living within reach of Teaspoon and Rachel, Ike and Emily, and Buck, and if things continue between Buck and Jane she'll be living here too. It will be almost like the old days with so many of us together again. Being close to the others will help things with Kid and I a lot. We were alone in Virginia with out our family, with out people who know us as well as we know ourselves and I think that it began to wear us down.
Kid touches my arm and I look in his eyes and see the love and hope. I smile and wrap my arm around his waist and lean into his kiss. He holds me for just a moment after the kiss and then goes inside to his seat with the other boys as Teaspoon gets into place at the front of the church.
As I begin to walk down the aisle to stand beside Rachel as she marries Teaspoon, I can't help thinking back on everything that led us all back here. The marriage of these two has been a long time coming. At the same time it's almost humorous that they are actually having a wedding ceremony after all these years. Most people assume they were already married and had been for years. That was true even when we first met Rachel when she was running for her life. The two of them have that special connection that allowed them to be friends immediately and that just grew into this day, this moment. Then the piano starts and we all turn to see Rachel at the door.
I can't believe it's finally time. I stand at the back of the church and watch as Lou walks down the aisle ahead of me. I feel so beautiful. I still remember how I felt when I first saw myself in the mirror after Amanda finished with my hair - I felt even more like a fairy princess than I had when I'd tried on the dress.
The music starts and I move to the door. I wait for Noah to take my arm and escort me down the aisle. When I see the look on Teaspoon's face, I know I really am as beautiful as I feel. I've never felt so special. I hope I can keep him as happy as he seems to be at this moment.
The service goes by so quickly. I'm sitting here visiting with my 'family' and wondering how things could possibly get any better when Teaspoon informs me that Kid has accepted his job offer. They are moving home in the next couple of months. "The only thing that could make this day any better would be for Buck to decide it's worth the risk to talk to Jane about his feelings," I whisper as I kiss my new husband.
"I think that just might happen," he whispers back. When he pulls out of our kiss, he nods his head toward a nearby table. There are only two people sitting at it. Their heads are close together, they are holding hands, and the way they are looking at each other it's obvious how they feel. As I watch, Buck leans in and quickly kisses Jane. When she drops his hands in order to put her arms around his neck, I turn my eyes away from them.
And as I look away, my eyes lock with Teaspoon's. Without a word spoken I stand as he takes my hand and leads me onto the dance floor. Slowly he places his hand on my waist and twirls me around. As I slide under his arm my skirt flares slightly and those standing closest to us step back a little giving us room. His strong arms pull me close and I smell his distinctive aroma. He leads me gently into a reel that has us traveling around the floor.
I spin quickly as the dance progresses and can see their faces blurring together. We make our way to left side of the floor and pass by Noah and Cassie. Although they are dancing his hand is on her stomach rather than her waist.
"....boy or a girl?" I hear Cassie ask.
"A beautiful girl, that looks just like you." He says with a smile in his eyes.
We spin again and pass Kid and Louise.
"I'm sorry," Louise says the love she feels shining in her eyes
"I was just so scared that if I touched you, I would lose you…" Kid begins
Now we near the right side of the dance floor. Ike is dancing with Laura; her feet on Ike's so she moves with him. Her whole face is lit up as, for just a moment; she has her Daddy all to herself. Jacob and Sara are skipping around Emily as she smiles and pretends to try to capture them. As I watch Emily and Ike's eyes meet and a thousand words are spoken.
The song changes and now we're doing a waltz. Jimmy is dancing with Miss Lake.
"My sister lives in Abilene."
"You should call on me next time you visit her."
"I was planning a trip there on my way back to Hays City."
I nudge Teaspoon and he raises his eyebrows as we watch the unlikely pair. Could there be something going on there as well?
When the song ends we go over to the punch bowl to refresh ourselves and walk into Cody telling another of his famous yarns. Calamity not to be outdone, is clearly gearing up for some tall tales of her own. Emma and Sam walk over to us.
Emma says under her breath, "Well, in the some things never change department...." as we listen to Cody and Calamity happily banter back and forth in a game of one-ups-manship.
After a few more minutes, we take our drinks and go sit down with Amanda and Jane, who has managed to free herself from Buck for a few minutes to discuss her plans with Amanda.
"Are you sure you wouldn't mind?" Jane asks hopefully, as Buck walks over to us with Ike and Emily.
"I'm sure," Amanda answers with a smile. "That's partly why I asked you to come; I was hoping something like this would happen."
"Well?" Buck asks nervously, as he stops beside Jane's chair.
She smiles up at him. "She doesn't mind," Jane says.
Buck's face brightens. "That's great!" He turns to Amanda. "Thanks," he says.
She simply smiles at him. "Just be sure you take really good care of her," she warns, "or I'll have to come back here and make you wish you had."
Buck takes Jane's hand in his. "I will," he says. "I promise."
The two of them leave to enjoy holding each other close while dancing to the newest waltz.
"I do believe they make a really nice looking couple," said Teaspoon as he nuzzled my neck. "I'm glad you thought of inviting her. She's just what he's needed in his life."
I smile at my husband. "You know what I think?" I ask him.
He shakes his head.
"I think we need to be sure the two of them end up with the bouquet and garter. We want that wedding idea to stay in their heads, as well as the heads of the other people in town."
He shakes his head and laughs aloud at this thought and then looks at me suddenly and asks "Where is Jane going to be stayin'?"
"I don't know. I assume with Ike and Emily."
"That might not be the best plan since Buck lives there as well. We don't want to add to the problems they're gonna have."
"But, Buck has his own house," I argue.
"Think about the things that were said about us until I moved into town and started living at the jail. It'll be a whole lot worse for them."
"She could move in with us, I guess." I begin hesitantly. I had been hoping for some time alone with my new husband.
"What if I offer Buck the room at the jail and Jane could stay in his house."
"That would be wonderful. Then she would feel as if Buck's house were her house already. And that way Louise could stay in Ike and Emily's guest room while she begins looking for a home for them and Kid goes back to Virginia to get Jeremiah and Theresa and sell their home there and move everything back here."
"That way," Teaspoon began, pulling me close "You and I can have some time to ourselves as well." and he places a kiss on my neck.
"You go talk to Kid, Buck and Ike and I'll talk to Emily, Jane, and Louise and then maybe we should think about leaving the party and going home. I don't know about you but it's been a long few weeks and I'm tired."
I can't believe she's staying. Jane had agreed to stay and allow me to court her. She's moving into the house we built for me at Ike and Emily's place. In fact, we're moving the things she brought with her in now. Next week, we're going to her place to get whatever else she needs.
We're doing this in order to keep people from talking; Teaspoon suggested that I move into his old room at the jail and Jane stay here. I smile as I remember him telling me. "Hopefully, I won't be staying there much anymore. I've got me a real nice bed back at the house…" he winked at me and smiled real big.
"Thanks," I said. "I was worried about what we were going to do. It would be a shame for her to have to live at the hotel."
"It sure would," he chuckled. "Especially since she'd really just have gotten settled in before she'd be having to move again."
I felt myself blush. I know he's right, but it still feels so strange to be this happy.
I put the last trunk down and turn to her. "Anything else I can do before I take my things over to the jail?"
Jane comes and stands beside me. She takes my hand in hers. "I think I can handle it from here. Why don't you go get settled in, and then come back for dinner? I'd love to have you share my first meal in my new home with me."
I pull her to me and kiss her on the forehead. "I'll be happy to join you for dinner, but you don't have to feel that you have to cook something for me your first night here. We could go eat at the hotel."
She shakes her head. "It's not a bother. I want to do this." She kisses me on my cheek, and turns to her unpacking.
As I turn to my bags to begin unpacking, I hear Buck quietly shut the door as he leaves. As soon as he does I feel myself slide down and sit on the ground. A smile begins to spread across my face as I realize that I am living in Buck's house, and that if everything goes well in a few months all my dreams will come true - I will be Mrs. Buck Cross. Slowly I pull myself back up and begin to get ready for tonight while dreams of tomorrow play in my head.