Mrs. Louise McCloud sat on the edge of the bed in Rachel's guest room,fiddling with the cord on her husband's hat. Mrs. Husband. She still couldn't believe she was actually married. Smiling, she touched the gold band on her finger then brought it to her lips and placed a gentle kiss upon its shining surface. She'd never thought she would be able to trust a man, much less fall in love with and marry the most special man she'd ever come across. She looked up toward the dresser where her husband was busily
searching through the drawers, pulling items out, then hastily packing them in the saddle bag he held in one hand.
Even though it had only been a month since she walked down the aisle of the small Rock Creek church and walked back up it on Kid's arm, she couldn't get over how unbelievably happy she was. She realized now that she hadn't given anything up by marrying Kid, in fact, she'd gained something incredible: a future built on love and promise. And each day was better than the last, bringing with each sunrise new surprises.
She was so lost in thought, she was unaware she'd been staring at Kid. Suddenly feeling eyes watching her, she blinked and shook her head. Looking at her from across the tiny bedroom was a pair of the brightest eyes she'd ever had the privilege of gazing into. One look from those sky blue wonders and she was a goner; it had happened the day she'd reported to the Sweetwater Pony Express station to begin work and accidentally bumped into the stranger called the Kid. In one brief moment she'd forgotten how wary she was of men; his eyes were like the window to his soul. They were like an open book; it was so easy to read his thoughts just by looking into them. At first, it had scared her how much comfort she got from his glances in her direction; now she looked forward to that feeling.
"What?" Kid finally asked her, grinning at the happy expression on her face. He'd been worried about her all morning; she'd slept late, saying she was exhausted, and when she did finally get up, it was to run out of the house, sick to her stomach. It had been the same way for the past five mornings and if it kept up, he was going to drag her to the doctor himself, if she wouldn't go willingly. Looking at her now though, rosy cheeks and peaceful smile evident on her beautiful face, one would think she was in perfect health.
Lou looked down, blushing at having been caught staring at him. She'd done it so many times when they were riding for the Express and each time he had noticed, he never let her get away with it; he would tease her incessantly until she admitted to the staring. But now she was married to him so why was she still not able to take her eyes off him? Because he's everything she ever wanted in a companion, she told herself.
"Nothin'," Lou finally admitted, giggling. "Just thinkin' is all. I still can't get over what you told me last night. I feel like it's all a dream ... and if it is a dream, I don't want to wake up." She looked deep into his eyes.
He crossed the room and knelt in front of her, placing the saddlebag beside her on the bed so he could take hold of both her hands. "It ain't a dream, Lou. I meant every word I said."
"You're really not goin'?" she asked once again, having repeated the question over and over last night.
Smiling, he said, "That's right. I am NOT going to Virginia, Lou." He paused as he reached his hand up to gently caress her silky smooth cheek. "I'm just sorry I caused you to worry for no reason." He looked away, feeling guilty. She'd told him he was forgiven but he still felt bad about it.
Lou placed her finger under his chin to make him look at her again. "Yes, you should have told me, we're in this marriage together, but I also should have been able to see you were hurting and troubled by something."
"It was guilt more than anything," he told her, getting up to sit next to her on the bed. "Whenever I'd see soldiers in town in uniform, and when Cody signed up and left with the Army. Most of the men in town our age are gone, Lou, going off to fight."
"True but think of all the men our age who come through here on a weekly basis. Men like you who feel family is more important than fightin' for a piece of soil or a way of life," she reminded him, then took his hand.
"Kid, you're not takin' the easy way out, just a different trail. You fought so hard to get away from the life you had back east and you found a new one here. Don't regret your decision, just accept it and move on - think of what's in store for us as our own family." She smiled at him.
"I don't regret my decision, in fact, I know now it was made before we even got married," he told her mysteriously.
She looked at him curiously. "It was? When?"
"The moment you said yes," he told her, grinning and holding her hand in much the same fashion he did on that windy day in the Davenport cemetery. "You made my life complete by agreeing to be a part of it - how could I
leave you, when all I've ever wanted since the moment I met the real Louise was to be with you? You make me complete and I don't want to do anything that could jeopardize our future together." He stood up and brought her up with him. "That's why I'm so glad this is the final ride of the Rock Creek Pony Express station. Five days from now, when I get back, we'll never be separated again. I promise you, Lou."
"I believe you," she assured him, smiling, as he still didn't let her hand go. "Now we better get you outside. I'm sure Buck's got Katy all saddled and ready to go, while we've been in here half the day." She gave a quick
glance in the direction of the mussed bed then started to move toward the door, only to be stopped by him pulling on her hand.
"And whose fault is that?" he inquired, raising his eyebrows in her direction. For someone who slept half the morning and had an upset stomach, she was the first one up the stairs when he suggested she give him a going away present.
"Yours!" she answered. "It was your idea, anyway, I just went along with it." She tried to appear nonchalant but knew it wasn't working.
"Oh, right," he said, pulling her toward him until he could wrap his strong arms around her petite frame. "Well if that's the case, then I'm sure you're looking forward to four, long, lonely nights up here all by yourself in this big, empty bed," he teased, slowly emphasizing each word spoken.
"That's enough!" she playfully scolded, swatting his chest. "Alright, I wanted it as much as you did, are you happy now?" she asked sarcastically.
"Very happy," he said, beaming that he'd made her squirm so easily. Maybe she was losing her touch, he thought, usually it was the other way around. "In fact, I can't wait until I return." He looked at her with a glint in his eye.
She knew that look all too well. It was that look that used to make her knees buckle and cause her endless nights of no sleep. "I think we're gonna wear out the bed soon," she shyly said.
"Well then we'll just have to buy one of our own."
She quickly looked up at him. "Really? I just hope if we do, that you don't plan on bringing it back to Rachel's house," she hinted. Ever since she started feeling uneasy in her stomach and had an idea of what could be the cause of it, she'd felt this urge to get a place of their own.
"That's a possibility," he admitted. "You'll have to wait and see though. And if you're a good girl while I'm gone, I might just have a surprise for you when I get back," he said.
"What kind of surprise?" she asked eagerly. "Something for our future home?"
"Uh uh," he told her, shaking his finger in her direction. "You're not getting a word out of me until I get back." He laughed as she started to pout.
"Fine. Now if you're a good boy while you're gone, I might just have a surprise for you when you get back," she retaliated. Two can play at this game. She just knew that he was much better at waiting than she was, which wasn't fair.
"A surprise for me?" Kid asked in disbelief. "What is it?"
"Uh uh," she answered, imitating him. "You have to wait. I don't want any distractions getting in the way while you're out on those trails. I want you clear minded so you can be careful and come back safe to me." She lovingly put her hands on his chest as he drew her near.
"Til I get back then, for both of us," he said, kissing the top of her head. He looked down at her and was surprised to see a look of discomfort on her face. "Lou, you alright?" he asked, instantly concerned.
She touched her stomach then moved her hands away. "I'm fine, just feelin' a little unsettled. Maybe I'm hungry," she reasoned.
"Maybe, but if it's still bothering you when I get back, you and I are going
into town to see the doc," he told her firmly, making her take note there would be no more arguing on the subject.
She smiled to herself. "It'll be taken care of, I promise." She gave him an innocent look as he looked questioningly at her. "Come on, let's get out of here. The sooner you leave, the sooner you'll be back." She took his hand and led him toward the door.
"Rider coming!" Buck's voice rang across the yard.
"Gotta go," he told her. They walked out of the house arm in arm. He escorted her to his horse then quickly took her in his arms one last time, as he could see the rider almost upon them. "I love you. Take care, I'll
be back before you know it."
"I love you, too, and I'll miss you," she admitted.
He mounted but not before whispering something to Buck, which she couldn't make out. He took the offered pouch then took off, waving to the love of his life.
She waved back. "Ride safe!" she called after him, a worried look on her face. She turned as she heard a snicker from the Indian at her side. "What?"
"It's just funny, is all. You always hated Kid worrying about you when you went on a ride now who's the one worrying?" Buck asked.
"I always worried," Lou admitted. "I was just better at hiding it than Kid was. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a house full of work waiting for me." She walked toward the porch, halting briefly as Buck called after her.
"Well at least with Kid gone, you won't be able to goof off all afternoon so you'll have plenty of time to do work," he teased, knowing full well what they were doing in the room earlier.
Lou blushed at his implication but didn't turn around as she continued toward the house. She slammed the door closed behind her to put a stop to Buck's laughter. It wasn't that funny, they were married afterall. Of
course if they had their own place they could do what they pleased without everyone in the near vicinity finding out. Her mind wandered to what was hopefully around the corner for them.
Lou stirred, trying to bring her body out of the deep sleep it was engaged in. She stretched her right arm out, letting it rest on the empty pillow alongside her own. Glancing at the spot her husband usually occupied, she
said, "Well, that's two nights gone without him, only another two to go."
She realized she'd overslept again and felt guilty about it for the hundredth time because of the extra work it caused Rachel. She quickly sat up and that's when it hit her. She clutched her stomach, immediately
regretting the sudden movement as her stomach began to churn and the same nausea that hit her the previous seven mornings struck again.
She covered her mouth as the contents of her nearly empty stomach demanded to be released. She glanced at the dresser and silently cursed as she noticed the wash basin was not there. Having no choice, she ran for the
door then carefully made a mad dash down the stairs and out the closest exit, which was the front door, all the while praying she made it in time. Since the front of the house faced the direction of town, she bolted down
the couple steps and around the side of the structure to get out of sight.
* * * * * * * *
Buck walked out of the barn, leading his and Lou's horses behind him. Since Kid was on the last run for the station, that left Buck to do all the chores around the barn. He had accepted that responsibility and Lou took care of the house and the meals, well, she attempted to take care of the meals. It usually meant she heated something up or served it cold. Buck smiled and shook his head, feeling sorry for the Kid once they got a place of their own; his friend was bound to starve to death if she didn't learn how to get around a kitchen.
He put the two horses in the corral for the day to get some exercise since they wouldn't be going out on any more Express runs. As Buck turned to head back to the barn, he noticed a blur of white making its way around the corner of the house. This was not the first time he had observed such a sight. He made his way to the figure in white's destination, not surprised at what he saw when he got there.
Lou was so intent on emptying her stomach that she was unaware of anything else around her so she jumped when she heard Buck speak directly behind her.
"You alright, Lou?"
She whirled around and almost bumped into him, he was that close. "Jeez, Buck, will you quit sneakin' up on me?" she asked in annoyance. A person couldn't even get sick in private with Mr. Keen Eyes and Ears around, she thought sarcastically as she tried to wipe her mouth with her sleeve then realized her nightgown didn't have any. In fact, her garment didn't have too much fabric up top either - a fact that Kid found very exciting to see
but which now was causing her to feel slightly indecent. Instinctively, she crossed her arms over her chest.
"I wasn't sneakin', Lou, I was walking," Buck replied, matter-of-factly.
"Well, don't," she told him crossly.
He got an amused grin on his face. "Don't walk?" he asked, trying to appear confused.
"Oh, you know what I mean!" she cried in frustration. "How come everytime I turn around you're right there watchin' me? Whatever I do ain't none of your business."
"I'm not watching you, Lou, but I can't help seein' what's going on right in front of me. You've been running out of the house getting sick for about a week now. What am I supposed to do - not be concerned? It's not normal behavior on your part and you know it." He crossed his arms in front of his chest, mimicking her stance. He knew it would annoy her but this conversation was annoying. This wasn't the first time he'd tried to get an explanation out of her only to be given the runaround. When it didn't seem to be working, he tried another approach - teasing. "Besides, it's not everyday I see a woman run practically into the middle of town wearing a nightgown that only her husband should see her in." He grinned as he indicated the area under her chin with his eyes, which made her even more self conscious.
"Well then quit lookin'," she ordered. "Why do you feel like you gotta keep an eye on me anyway? What, did Kid put you up to it before he left? I saw him talkin' to you about something." She knew she had an edge to her voice but she couldn't help it; she never liked it when Kid had been obviously worried about her safety and tried to smother her when they were first together. But she thought he'd learned his lesson and stopped.
Actually, Lou did like the feeling it caused inside her, only she would never admit to it, especially to any of the boys.
"What he said had nothing to do with me keeping an eye on you." It was the truth, but he couldn't tell her what their brief conversation had really been about, Kid wanted it to be a surprise for her. Buck knew she wouldn't
be satisfied with that answer but also didn't want to get Kid in trouble. He knew how touchy Lou was with this subject so he answered carefully, "He mentioned he was worried about your health and he wished he could stay around to take care of you." He took a step back, waiting for the fireworks to start. Buck breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't see her becoming angry, instead what he saw caught him totally off guard.
Lou's face softened as she brought her fingers up to her lips, as if she was feeling Kid's last kiss on them. "He did? That was so sweet of him," she sighed.
Buck stared at her, his mouth hanging open. Was this the same Louise McCloud that he knew standing in front of him? The one he had ridden with for the Express, the one who would chew a man's head off for saying anything about her not being able to take care of herself?
"That is the LAST thing I expected to hear you say," he admitted. "You're usually jumping down our throats after a comment like that. What happened to the Lou I know?"
"I'm still the same Lou," she defended. She couldn't help feeling this swept up in emotions; she felt like her feelings were out of her control all of a sudden. "Why? Do I appear different to you?" she asked curiously. But before he could answer, she quickly defended herself. "Besides, what is so wrong with knowing my husband just wants to look out for me?" She stared at him, waiting for an answer.
"Nothing, I guess," Buck admitted. "You just took me off guard. This is just a new side of you I'm seein'."
"There's a lot more sides of me you're gonna be seein' ... especially my front," Lou admitted with a silly grin on her face. Instinctively her hands started making their way down the front of her nightgown, until she realized she was exposing herself once more to Buck so she brought them up to her throat once again.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Buck was staring at her curiously. Everything she'd said and done has made absolutely no sense to him.
Realizing she'd said more than she'd planned on, Lou quickly answered, "You'll find out soon enough but not before the Kid does. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a house full of chores awaiting me." She walked past
Buck, acting like it was perfectly normal for her to have been out there dressed as she was.
He stared after her and found himself shaking his head. He thought he had her all figured out but now felt like he was just meeting her for the first time. What in the world was going on with her? He'd have to keep a closer
eye on her or the curiosity would kill him!
Kid rode into Lincoln with a smile on his face. He'd made good time getting there and if things kept going in that direction, he could deliver his mail, see if anything was heading back, then get a few miles underway before
nightfall. He missed being with Lou so much; the nights were the hardest, sleeping on the hard ground, all alone, knowing she was in that big fluffy bed wearing that new nightgown of hers. The thought drove him so crazy because he couldn't take it off her like he usually did. He had a lot of nights to make up for once he got back.
Riding down the street, he noticed a commotion going on in front of the bank so figured he'd better stay clear of that area when he left. He entered the Express office and got a big greeting from the young man behind the counter. "Hey, Kid, it's good to see you."
"Hey, Phillip. How ya been?" Kid asked as he handed the pouch over.
"Not bad," Phillip answered as he took out the letters. "Especially now that I know I'll be working the telegraph starting next week." He paused to indicate the machine in the room behind him then came around the counter. "I was sure worried what I'd be doing to bring some money in for my family. My wife just found out she's expecting our first." He smiled proudly at Kid
"Congratulations," Kid smiled and offered his hand. He couldn't imagine what it would feel like the day Lou told him he was going to be a father. He'd probably go around with a goofy grin on his face, telling everyone, just like Phillip was.
"Thanks. So what are you going to be doing with yourself?"
Since the riders were not allowed to be married, Kid hadn't revealed to anyone outside of Rock Creek that he wasn't single anymore, so he didn't want to let the news out now. At least not until he got his last paycheck.
If the company even had enough money left to pay the riders, that is.
Smiling at Phillip, Kid admitted, "Oh, I got some plans back in Rock Creek. Nothing's set yet but they will be once I get back." His mind started drifting off to all the ideas he's been trying to work out. This ride put a delay in what he wanted but it would all be worth it in the end. He suddenly realized the other young man was asking him a question. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I said, I guess that means you're not getting involved in the war either."
Kid shook his head. "Not a chance. I've waited too long to get what I have now - there's no way I'd jeopardize it. Besides, this is my home now and if I'm gonna fight anything, it's gonna be a horse's spirit as I try to break
it to saddle." He grinned as he tried to imagine what that day would be like. Was it possible that he could have his own horse ranch and make money doing what he loves more than anything? Well, anything except Lou, that is.
The two young men had made their way to the open door and now stood just inside the building. "Well, Kid, as I'm sure you guessed by me not handing a pouch to you, there's no more mail going out of here. You made the last delivery." Phillip held out his hand to Kid. "It's been a pleasure knowing you. You take care."
"I will and good luck to you and your wife," Kid told him. He smiled inwardly, thinking of his own wife waiting for him back home.
Kid was about to step off the sidewalk toward Katy when he remembered something. "Hey, Phillip," he called out, causing the young man to return to his side. "What's going on by the bank? I saw a lot of people hanging
around there when I rode in."
"You didn't hear?" Phillip asked eagerly. Anxious to share the news he had come across, he stepped next to Kid so his voice wouldn't carry. He didn't know if everything he was about to tell was public knowledge or not so he didn't want to be overheard. Besides, he only knew what he was about to say because he was visited by one of the town's deputies and told to send an important telegram to the territorial marshal.
"The bank was robbed at opening time this morning. It was the Flemington gang and not only did they take everything in the safe, they killed the bank president, Mr. Caplan, and shot another employee," Phillip announced. "It's the first time they ever killed anyone, that's why I had to send an urgent telegram to the territorial marshal."
This caught Kid's attention. "The territorial marshal? Is he coming here?"
"More than likely will, now that the gang is wanted for murder as well as robbery. It's a shame," Phillip remarked. "We haven't had this kind of trouble here in years. That gang needs to be stopped before they do it
again. Mr. Caplan was a fine man, he didn't deserve what happened to him." He looked in the direction of the bank and sighed. Most of the people in town knew one another and this was hard on all of the citizens.
"Well, if Marshal Cain's involved, he'll take care of it. He's a good man, he'll know what to do," Kid assured Phillip. He could sense how upset his companion was now that the subject was brought up. Kid didn't like knowing that the gang was in the vicinity of Rock Creek; he hadn't had to worry about them when they were doing their robbing on the other side of the territory. Hopefully Sam got to the gang before they could cause any more harm.
Kid glanced down the street then walked toward Katy. "I better start heading out. Maybe we'll meet again, Phillip." He climbed into the saddle, waved then rode out of town in the direction he'd entered from. Home, that was all that was on his mind. He knew the image of a certain petite dark haired woman with large brown eyes would make him travel as fast as he could.
Jimmy rode down the main street of Omaha, still in shock over the size of the city. There were so many side streets off the one he was travelling that he still wasn't used to where things were. It amazed him. He never liked the busy atmosphere of cities so he avoided them when he could. He chuckled at the idea of actually working out of such a place.
He'd only been in the town for two weeks but a lot had happened in that short amount of time. When Kid accused Rosemary Burke of being responsible for Noah's death, Jimmy realized that distance was needed between the two men before one of them said something he would regret and not be able to take back. Plus he was tired of hearing Kid's 'expert' advice on matters that didn't even concern him; and it always seemed to be the southerner telling him he was making a mistake, no one else. Jimmy ended up leaving town with Rosemary, who was determined to carry on her late husband's work. He knew he was developing feelings for the woman and thought that she reciprocated them but it turned out that Rosemary had a one track mind and she was interested in Jimmy but only because of who his father was.
So Jimmy left her, too. He knew he needed money and a place to stay and for some reason had wound up near Omaha so he decided to stop in and see Sam and Emma. They were so happy to have him visit that they convinced him not to leave. Emma loved finding out all about the 'boys', as she still called them, especially about Lou. Sam offered Jimmy a job working for him as a deputy. At first Jimmy just laughed the offer aside but the two of them finally wore him down so he accepted.
Sam's property was at the end of a long side street but he had the biggest plot of land in town. It consisted of a house, barn and bunkhouse, much like Emma's place did back in Sweetwater. Jimmy stayed in the bunkhouse with the other deputies and got to enjoy Emma's cooking once again on a daily basis.
He glanced over at the eager young man riding next to him. Every time he was in Charlie Willis' company, Jimmy got flashbacks of time spent with Cody. Charlie was too cocky, quick with a gun and he knew it. He needed to grow up some and take things more seriously. Anytime a report came in of trouble in the territory, Charlie wanted to rush right out and take the gang out single-handedly. Jimmy hoped he wasn't like that when he first signed on for the Express, though he was sure he knew what the answer to that question would be. Charlie was definitely young but Sam must have seen something in the man or he wouldn't have hired him. Jimmy felt old being with this kid all the time, since the two of them always seemed to wind up working the same shifts together.
As the two riders approached the territorial marshal's office, Jimmy noticed one of the employees from the telegraph office rush into the building. He knew what that meant without reading what was written on the paper in the man's hand: trouble. He should be used to going off after a gang at a moments notice; he and the other Express riders had done it often enough whenever Sam and then Teaspoon would deputize them. The only difference this time was that he was working for the territorial marshal now so the criminals were of a higher profile and more dangerous nature than the ones a typical town marshal or sheriff would go after.
Charlie and Jimmy dismounted and tied their horses to the post outside the jail then entered.
"That good, huh?" Jimmy joked as he witnessed Sam throw the note on his desk.
"Worse, I was just being polite," Sam explained as he sat down. He scribbled something on a scrap of paper then handed it to the messenger, who nodded as he took it and left.
"So what's goin' on?" Charlie asked eagerly. He straddled a chair facing the marshal's desk.
Sam leaned back in his chair and ran his hands down the length of his face. As he dropped them to his lap, he answered, "The Flemington gang."
"What'd they do this time and why is it coming to us?" Jimmy asked, standing with feet apart and his arms crossed against his chest.
"They crossed the line," Sam answered, getting up to pour a cup of coffee. "They killed someone this time. The gang robbed the bank in Lincoln, killing the bank president."
"They sure it was Flemington's gang?" Charlie asked. He got a thrill going after the 'bad guys' but he wasn't stupid, he did want to be sure it was the right person they were going to bring in, dead or alive.
"Yeah, no one's been willing to testify against them before," Jimmy spoke up. "Why is this any different?"
"Simple," Sam said as he sat back down. "Not only did they kill the bank president, they also shot one of the tellers and didn't wait around to see if the poor man lived or died." He slowly smiled.
"Let me guess, the teller lived," Jimmy said.
Sam nodded. "I'm going there now, talk with the man. The territorial governor wants me to go after them. I sent a wire for the circuit judge to meet me there to offer a warrant for their capture. This is all the proof we need, no more trying to catch them in the act, that wasn't working."
Jimmy watched as Sam prepared to leave the office. "So who's going?" he asked.
"You two plus the usual men. The normal group will stay here in Omaha and keep the peace."
"Uh, Sam," Jimmy started, shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. "This gang's got a lot of members, maybe we could use a couple extra men. You know, another good gun and perhaps a tracker. I ain't saying anything against Mitchell but you and I both know the best tracker around." He looked at Sam, hoping his meaning was coming across. He'd been itching to get back to Rock Creek, try to smooth things over with Kid, maybe this was how he could do it - show he still had confidence in the man and would ride side by side with him anytime.
Sam saw the look on Jimmy's face. There was no doubt which two men he was talking about. "They still in Rock Creek?"
"I don't know. Buck never said what he planned on doing once the Express shut down and Kid never gave any hint if he was gonna sign up or not. Of course I wasn't exactly listening to what they had to say before I left. And I didn't give them the opportunity to keep in touch with me. I can't see him leavin' her, though," he said more to himself than to Sam.
"I guess you're just gonna have to go see for yourself," Sam agreed, as he tried to get his desk in order before taking off. "Fine, take Charlie with you and head to Rock Creek. Tell them there'll be a big reward waiting for them if they join us. I'll send you a telegram there letting you know what I find out then we'll meet somewhere in the middle. Now get going," he ordered.
"Yes, sir," Charlie said and jumped out of his seat. He ran out the door, anxious to be off.
Jimmy followed slower.
"Jimmy." As he turned around, Sam asked, "You think Buck and Kid will join you?" He and Emma were both sure they'd only gotten the shortened version of what had transpired between the friends at the Rock Creek way station. So he had been surprised by Jimmy's suggestion.
"Buck will listen to what I have to say and not hold anything against me but Kid, I ain't so sure about him. Most of what went on was between me and Kid - as for the others, I figured they wouldn't be far behind with their comments either so I didn't give them the chance to say anything. I just up and left without saying good-bye ... to anyone," he admitted. "So, there's only one way to find out," Jimmy replied. "All I'm hoping for, to start with, is not getting the door slammed in my face." He left it at that and walked out. He knew it would be hard to tell Kid how tormented he's felt ever since leaving the way he did. This wasn't much but it was a start.
Emma knocked on the door of the bunkhouse then entered upon hearing the all clear from someone within. She set a basket on the table and said, "Here are some provisions for your trip. Divvy it up amongst yourselves, you'll be needing it."
"Thanks, Mrs. Cain," Charlie told her and some of the other deputies nodded their thanks as well.
"Charlie, where's Jimmy?" she asked as she watched the men before her. This was very different from the last bunkhouse she'd set foot in. These men were older, some even had families so the bunkhouse wasn't full all the time. It was mainly used if someone had a long night in town and was too tired to head home. Other than that, Jimmy, Charlie and only three other deputies occupied the room on a regular basis.
"He already went out to the barn to get his horse ready," Charlie answered as he took cans and wrapped pieces of jerky and biscuits and put them in his saddlebag.
"Well, I'll go check on him. You make sure he gets some of that food," she said in a warning tone as she headed toward the door.
"Yes, ma'am," Charlie assured her. It felt good being in a place where there was someone around to mother him. He'd been alone for so long that he never thought he would want that and he hadn't at first, but he welcomed it now.
Emma made her way to the barn, stopping in the doorway to observe the scene before her. It felt like it was almost two years ago and she was back in Sweetwater. Jimmy was carefully saddling his horse, taking the time to double check each strap and making sure all the items he would need were on hand.
"Looks like you're heading out on an Express run," she commented, walking inside.
Jimmy looked up at her and grinned. "Feels like it sometimes. Not much has changed, just don't have a mochilla hanging off my saddle anymore."
"Do you miss it?" she asked. He hadn't said much about why he'd made it through the Express as long as he did, only to stop when it had just a month left to go. She understood Louise quitting, but Jimmy? She and Sam had tried to get it out of him but he was tight lipped about the whole subject.
Jimmy shrugged. "Sometimes, I guess. It was fun while it lasted but everyone's got to move on. We're not kids anymore."
"I can see that," she said, stepping closer to him. He'd always held a special place in her heart and it hurt her that he wasn't the same Jimmy she used to know. Oh, he was older and definitely wiser, not the hot head that showed up at her place all those months ago. "Sam tells me you and Charlie are off to get some new men for the posse. And it seems that I know these two."
"Yeah, you do," Jimmy answered. "Just thought it would be better working with some guys I know on this one." He tried to appear casual but didn't think it was working. Emma was too smart and would figure out his problem eventually.
"That's always a good thing, having someone you're comfortable with around. I'm glad you're going, Jimmy, and I hope things work out with the two of you."
He looked at her. She did know. He shook his, grinning, why wasn't he surprised?
"Can't guarantee anything but I've got to try." Jimmy paused and moved to a hay bale. He took a seat then continued, not looking at her. "I didn't leave on very good terms, Emma," he admitted. "I miss them, all of them. But I miss Kid and Lou the most. Kid is - or was, my best friend. Instead of realizing he was just trying to keep me from getting hurt, I turned it around so it looked like he was trying to tell me how to run my life. We got into some heated arguments and I said some horrible things to him, deliberately trying to hurt him but in the process, I hurt Lou as well. I never meant to do that."
He got up and started pacing. "I didn't want to hear what he had to say, didn't want to face the possibility that he might be seein' something I wasn't, so I kept to myself until I left. I even figured it was just a matter of time until the others voiced their opinions as well so I shut them out too. I couldn't even bring myself to say good-bye to them, any of them, not even to Lou. I didn't even say anything nice to them when I went back to get the rest of my things - I just got what I needed then took off. I didn't even tell them to have a good life together and wish them well." He stopped right in front of her and asked, "How could a friend do that to another friend? I was so sure I was right and he was wrong that I told not only myself but Kid I didn't need any of them in my life any more. And I believed it." Frustrated, he took off his hat, toyed with it for a minute then put it back on.
Emma got the impression that the young man in front of her was waiting for her opinion so she thought carefully before speaking, not wanting to let him down. "Jimmy, you and Kid are so different yet so much alike. That's why you were drawn to each other, right from the first. I bet he's hurting just as much as you are. To be alone for so long then to finally find people you consider to be family, that's special - not every one gets that chance. Just 'cause Kid and Louise have gotten married and are their own family now, doesn't mean he wouldn't want the rest of his family around."
She went up to him and gently touched his arm. "You're doing a good thing going back and he'll appreciate it or he's not the Kid I remember." She smiled at him. "You finish up and be on your way and don't get stubborn and not say anything. You may not ever again find the kind of friendship the two of you have so don't ever take it for granted. Respect his feelings and he'll respect yours, whether it's on the war or family or anything."
He gave her a small smile as she affectionately rubbed his arm and bid him to ride safe. As she walked away he whispered, "I hope you're right, Emma ... I need you to be right. I ain't ready to have them out of my life yet."