Chapter One: The Letters

Her vantage point on the high hill afforded a clear view of the town in the distance. The bright blue of the spring sky contrasted sharply with the muddy churning of the Missouri River. It roared with vengeance, giving heed to its name “The Big Muddy”. The silt filled waters weighed down the green grass along the Plattsmouth bank. She knew it would immerse the town’s boardwalks, porches, and gang planks in dark sludge. She imagined the denizens of the small town partaking in the crisp air of early spring, pictured them going about their daily business with lively energy. Shop owners would be unloading freight shipments in anticipation of the soon arriving paddle steamers making their way north along the wide river.

She turned away from the view and focused on the colt nuzzling its mother in the outer corral, their first baby this season. Not to be out done chicks chirped nosily from the hen house as the morning sun roused them from their roost. Two men stood outside the corral watching the determined colt. She smiled at the familiar tightening in her chest as she watched her husband, a feeling that hadn’t lessened in the 6 years they’d been married.

Turning from the fence, Louise McCloud scanned the northern horizon. “Rider comin’.” The two men turned toward the sound of hooves pounding the sloppy ground.

Paul quickly turned the bend to the horse farm, eager to finish his task. He didn’t mind the occasional errands his father sent him on, in fact he liked the trust it bestowed, but today, the thought of riding the ferry with his friends eclipsed his enjoyment of charging up to the farm owned by the fascinating couple.

Since moving to Plattsmouth, Kid and Louise set the town’s rumor mill running. Mr. Parker, the freight manager, told the boy about the first time he’d met the man called Kid. He worked down south in Rock Creek and Kid rode for the Pony Express until he left to fight for the South. Parker insisted that Kid, likely a gunfighter himself, knew Wild Bill Hickok. On more than one occasion, he implied that his wife rode for the Express and that she joined the army with her husband. Mr. Parker believed they were confederate spies. Paul didn’t know about that but he knew from his father that Mrs. McCloud carried out the banking and the business management of their farm. His mother didn’t think it appropriate for a lady to go about conducting men’s business. Mr. Donnelly, who’d recently been hired on as their new wrangler, commented that he’d never seen a woman handle a horse as well as Mrs. McCloud did.

“Got a letter for ya.” The boy handed the missive out to Kid who leaned against the corral fence, bypassing Lou who stood near the boy, anticipating delivery.

“Thank you, Paul. It’s Paul isn’t it?” Lou took the letter from the boy’s outstretched hand.

“Yes, ma’am, Paul Dodger. I’d best get off; it’s the first Ferry ride today. Y’all comin’?”

“We’d thought about it.” Kid watched the excited boy turn his mount.

Paul bounded off, his voice trailing after him like dust. “Whelp, see ya there then.”

“Someone’s in a hurry.” Mr. Donnelly chuckled.

Kid and Lou laughed.

“Who’s it from, Lou?”

“I think it’s from Emma. Who else do we know from Lincoln?”

“Mrs. McCloud, Kid, I best be gettin’ ta work. Thanks for the coffee, Ma’am.” Mr. Donnelly set his cup on a nearby stump.

“Emma?” Kid looked over Lou’s shoulder at the crisp white envelope with the strong black print.

The Kid and Mrs. Louise McCloud
Riders Horse Farm
Plattsmouth, Nebraska

~ ~ ~

The stained envelope passed from the young officer’s gold, gloved hand to the large tanned hand of the man at the door. In bold letters the envelope read:

William F. Cody
St. Louis, Missouri

“Billy, what is it?” A young woman with soft brown curls came down the stairs as Cody shut the door.

“A letter from Lincoln.” He frowned slightly at the parchment.

“Who?” Louisa crinkled her nose.

“Nebraska. I have some friends there from before the war.” Opening the letter, his smile faded.

“What is it?”

Cody looked at his wife, “I have to go”.

“Go where?” She frowned.

“To Nebraska.”

“Nebraska?”

“A friend’s in trouble. I’ll have ta leave right away.”

“What!?” Thinly veiled frustration clouded her voice.

“Louisa, I’m sorry, but it’s going to take me four days to get there, and they need my help.”

“What is so urgent that you have to leave me now?” Louisa held her hands protectively over her slightly protruding stomach, clutching her dress.

“Someone I owe a whole lot to is in trouble. I’m sorry. I’ll be back to pack.” Cody wouldn’t meet the questioning green eyes that looked his way.

“Billy!” The front door closed on their conversation, cutting off Louisa’s protest.

Cody’s bright blond hair gleamed in the dazzling Missouri sunlight as he made his way through the crowded St. Louis streets. Soldiers were everywhere. A year after the war’s conclusion, the aftereffects sent Missouri into political turmoil, increasing unrest, and necessitating continued military presence. Making his way to the teeming train station to obtain passage to St. Joe, Cody realized he welcomed the chance to get away from the city and the constant reminder of the long fought war.

Arranging passage on the next train, scheduled to leave early the following morning, he made his way back to the townhouse he shared with Louisa. A frown creased his forehead. He’d have to make this up to her somehow.

~ ~ ~

The loud stomping of the lieutenant’s boots as he crashed through the outer door into the colonel’s office didn’t cause much of a stir. At Medicine Lodge they were used to loud sounds and bad manners. In fact, the colonel didn’t look up until the lieutenant stuck a piece of paper under his nose.

“This came, Sir.” He dropped the letter onto the cluttered desk.

“So I see.” He looked up at the brash man with annoyance.

“Well, Sir, what would you like me to do with it?” He stood at attention.

The colonel picked up the offending paper with a sigh. He removed his glasses briefly to wipe his tired eyes before replacing them to read the deep scrawl:

Mr. Buck Cross
Medicine Lodge, Kansas

Of course. Why else would he be so adamant about a piece of mail. He could see the resentment running under the Lieutenant’s surface. Knowing he had to appease his frustration but not ignite the man’s temper, the colonel tossed the letter into the waste basket beside him. “Seein’ as how the half breed deserted us, I don’t see why we should play court to deliverin’ his mail.”

The Lieutenant smirked in satisfaction. “Is there anything else, Sir?”

“No, Lieutenant, you’re dismissed.”

~ ~ ~

“Mail!” The deputy tossed a bundle of paper at the Sheriff.

“Hope there’s no breakables in there.” He sipped his coffee casually, while flipping through the envelopes and wanted posters.

A bright white envelope caught his eye. He pulled it from the bottom of the pile. Shaking his head, he set it aside and took a seat outside the office.

His deputy watched him leave and glanced over at the mail. “Nothin’ interestin’ then, Sheriff?”

“Oh, no not too interestin’. Hey, have you seen that Indian fella hangin’ round lately?”

“You mean the one’s friends with Hickok?”

“Yep.”

“Not lately, why?”

“Oh, nothin’.”

“You know though,” the deputy stood in the doorway of the office, “the Injun’s friends with the teacher, Mrs. Reynolds. She might know where he’s holed up.”

“You don’t say. How’s about you take that letter from my desk and deliver it to Mrs. Reynolds?” The Sheriff leaned back indicating his desk with a slight nod of his head.

“You got a letter fer Mrs. Reynolds?”

“Nope.” The Sheriff moved his hat to cover his eyes.

“You got a letter fer the Injun?”

He laughed, visualizing the confused look on the deputy’s face. “Nope.”

“Damn it, Meeks, I hate it when ya don’t tell me whatch yer thinkin’.” Back in the office he quickly pulled the letter off the desk, causing the stack of wanted posters to fall to the floor. Ignoring the mess, he read:

James Butler Hickok
Springfield, MO

“What’s he doin’ gettin’ mail here?”

“I dunno, but if ya take it ta Mrs. Reynolds, to give to that Cross fella, I’ll bet he’ll be able to take it ta Hickok.”

The Deputy’s eyes widened in understanding. The dim, but good hearted, deputy set off for the school house.

A mile or so outside of town, Buck came to a halt near a canvas tent strung between two trees.

With his gun at the ready, Jimmy came out of the tent. Noticing Buck, he casually put the gun back in its holster. “What are you in an all fired hurry about?” He grumped.

“This came for you.” Buck held out the envelope.

Nearly two years ago in the town square of Springfield, Jimmy shot Davis K. Tutt, Jr. A recently published “interview” caused Jimmy to relive the incident, while adding fuel to the already out of control “Wild Bill” fire. Since then, he’d been laying low, traveling around the area, trying to stay away from people and populations. In doing so, he’d come across Buck ostensibly doing the same thing. Neither one of them knew where they were going next, so they traveled together.

“You read it.” Jimmy tossed the letter back at Buck.

Opening the envelope and reading the signature Buck looked surprised. “It’s from Emma.”

“Emma Cain?” A smile played on his lips at the thought of the lady he once knew. Quickly, the smile faded, assuming she’d heard about the shootout in Springfield.

“Yeah.”

“Well, Buck, don’t just stand there grinnin’, read the damn thing.”

“Dear Jimmy. I hope this letter finds you alive and well. Sam and I think of you often and miss you dearly. My family is doin’ fine, settlin’ in Lincoln, the newly named capital of the State of Nebraska. I wish I could say I was writin’ just to give you news of our goin’ ons, but I’m actually writin’ to ask for your help.”

Buck stopped reading and looked up at Jimmy. Seeing him nod, Buck continued.

“Sam was recently talkin’ with Marshall Taylor, who’d known Teaspoon down in Texas. Both he and Sam were on business in Hastings not too long ago. As you may know, Mr. Spoon left Rock Creek after the Express closed, headin’ back to Texas. He moved down to San Anton and met a lady named Heloise; they’d married only to have her killed durin’ their honeymoon trip to the Rio Grande. Marshall Taylor had run into Mr. Spoon not long after and found him in the worst sorts. Said, he’s just gonna go off and disappear. The thing of it is, Marshall Taylor is concerned he’d done just that, but not of his own doin’.

“It’s my hope that if this letter does indeed find you, and you’re able, please arrange to meet Sam in Rock Creek at the old station. I don’t want him goin’ alone, but he figures he owes Mr. Spoon to at least look into it.

“Emma.”

Before Buck stopped reading, Jimmy started packing up the camp.

“Well, Buck, it looks like we finally found somethin’ to do.”

“Yeah.” Buck’s mouth twitched with a sardonic grin.


Chapter Two: The Reunion

Kid took Katy from her stall, patting the paint’s neck he spoke low, “Well girl, you ready for this? It’s been a while.” Giving little thought to his actions, he equipped the horse for travel, intuitively checking the cinch one last time before mounting. Walking out of the barn, horse and rider passed the empty stall belonging to Lightning. Kid smiled. It didn’t surprise him to see Lou in silhouette at the farm’s entrance, dressed in a riding habit, and her hair pulled back in a braid.

He trotted up laughing. “I guess I should just be relieved you ain’t dressed like a boy.”

“Don’t tempt me.” Together they worked their horses up to a gallop, leaving behind the home they’d known only a short time.

At midday, they pulled up to a stream to rest the horses and eat. “It’s a beautiful day, Kid.” Lou stretched and removed her hat. Her hair had come loose and tendrils stuck to her skin as she splashed her face with the cool water.

“If we keep at our current pace, we should be to Lincoln ‘fore nightfall.”

“This reminds me of old times.” Memories appeared behind Lou’s eyes.

He kissed her gently. “It’s a little differ’nt.”

They didn’t rest long, both eager to get to their destination. Once on the open prairie they picked up speed. Both Kid and Lou relished the feel of the flight. The journey to Lincoln took them back to a happy time in their lives, riding for the Pony Express.

They made Lincoln by evening. Exhausted they hitched Katy and Lightning outside the state Marshal’s office.

Swinging down Lou turned to Kid, “You have no idea how much I’ve missed this.”

“That familiar ache brings back memories.” He stretched, his cornflower blue shirt tight against his chest.

Despite the late hour, the capital teamed with people. Lou wrung her hands and self consciously dusted the dirt off of her split skirt as she walked with Kid to the newly constructed Marshal Building.

The sound of the door as it shut echoed loudly in the quiet hall; the couple strained to adjust their eyes in the subdued lighting. A big desk sat empty at the front of the building, leaving Kid and Lou to figure out where to go. They headed down the hallway towards an open door with light spilling out of it. The occupant heard them approaching and emerged, the casual smile on Sam’s face broke into a wide grin upon sight of the couple.

“Kid! Lou?!” Sam hadn’t seen Lou since the early days at the Sweetwater Station.

She blushed slightly at the shock on his face, while Kid smiled in admiration.

“I…I’m sorry. It’s just…” Sam stammered.

“Don’t worry ‘bout explain’, Sam. I had a similar reaction the first time I saw her in a dress.” Kid remembered the moment well.

“Well, damn.” Sam blushed at his language. Not knowing what else to do, he bent down and gave Lou a hug and turned to shake Kid’s hand.

“It’s great to see you again. Y’all came quickly.” Sam’s dirty blond hair mixed with gray, gave it a pale silver sheen. The lines around his eyes and mouth were deeper than the last time they’d met. Despite the changes, his features remained rugged and handsome. The wrinkles added a maturity to the Marshal that matched the duties of the badge he wore.

“Well, Plattsmouth isn’t but a days ride. Woulda been here sooner but we had ta get some things squared away at the farm first.” Lou began to relax in Sam’s presence.

“Emma’s sure gonna be glad to see you, both. Can’t tell you how worried we been during the war with y’all in Virginia.”

The couple nodded in appreciative response, though Sam couldn’t help but catch the shadow that came into their eyes at mention of the war. It hurt him seeing the familiar look in the face of friends.

“So, Sam, have you heard more ‘bout Teaspoon?” Sobriety replaced Kid’s joviality.

“Well, truth be told, I don’t know a whole lot. Could be we’re worryin’ for nothin’. But, I know Teaspoon’d be the first to question somethin’ fishy, so I promised Emma I’d see into it. I figured you could be relied on ta help.

“Emma sent letters off ta Cody, Buck, and Jimmy, too, arranging ta meet up at the old Rock Creek Station. Kid, I figured we could leave the day after tomorrow. I’d like ta leave sooner, but it’s a big day for the city, the official namin’ ceremony and all. I have ta be here. ‘Sides which, Cody and Jimmy should be comin’ in from Missouri, so we’d beat ‘em to Rock Creek anyway.”

“Lou and I are happy to help.”

Sam’s head snapped in Lou’s direction, he raised his eyebrows. “Lou, surely you ain’t going?”

“Why not, Sam?” Lou tilted her head sharply.

“Well, because…Kid?” He looked to Lou’s husband as though the young man would reply with a more sensible answer.

“Listen, Sam.” Lou’s exhaustion gave her voice a hard edge. “I was a girl the first time ya met me, and I rode for the Pony Express right up ‘til my weddin’ day. There ain’t no reason why I can’t go along, and there ain’t no way in hell I’m stayin’ behind.”

Kid shrugged, “Guess she’s goin’.”

“I…I guess so.” Sam turned and shut the door to his office. Placing his hand on Kid’s shoulder, he lead them back out to the town square where the horses were tethered.

“It’s a far cry from that tiny little office back in Sweetwater, Sam.” Kid took in the front of the two storied building, freshly painted, and glowing warmly in gaslight.

“Yeah, never thought I’d end up here, it’s good for Emma and the girls, though.”

“Does Emma like livin’ in town?” Lou watched the people milling about the square.

“It took some adjustin’ but we both feel at home here now. There are a lot of other kids for Liza and Jessie to play with. The people of Lincoln are good people, too, despite the political nature of the town. I feel like I’m makin’ a diff’rnce.”

Coming up to the horses, he pointed behind the building. “You all can keep your horses in the Marshal Stables. I’ll meet ya out front The General Store when they’re settled.” He patted Katy appreciatively as he passed the mounts.

Several carriages rolled down the main street in Lincoln’s town square as Kid and Lou walked over to the unassuming store. A worker moved bushels filled with apples in from under the pushed out windows.

“Thank ya, and goodnight, Marshal” The store clerk shook Sam’s hand.

“He’s been havin’ trouble with after hour looters.” Sam guided the couple west through the town.

“Pretty darin’ right across from the Marshal Offices.” Kid observed.

“I’m suspicious one of my deputies has been turnin’ a blind eye to the activity. I was meetin’ with Gary Turndell ‘fore y’all showed up tonight; he’s takin’ over for me while we head to Texas.”

A couple blocks northwest of the square, businesses gradually turned into homes. The houses were small, though well appointed with trimmed yards. Lights glowed in the dusk as fathers greeted their excited children and mothers rushed families to dinner. Neighborhood kids ran from house to house, setting aside their games for the night. The warm spring breeze added to the coziness, entrancing Kid and Lou in a charming spell.

Coming upon a white house with a red wagon in the front, Lou eagerly ran into the outstretched arms of Emma Cain.

“Loulabelle!” Emma squeezed the young girl in a tight embrace, and then held her securely by the shoulders examining her intently. “You are a beautiful young woman.”

Emma wore a simple muslin dress. Her strawberry blond hair pulled back but wild curls framed her face. Her eyes, which were always her kindest feature, stung Lou with memories. “It’s so good to see ya. I’ve missed ya!” Lou glowed in the care of her good friend.

Emma turned her attention to the smiling man standing beside her husband; she looped her arm through Lou’s, determined not to break contact with the girl. Emma gave him a solid kiss on his cheek. “Lordy, Kid, you don’t look a day older ‘n the last time I saw you.”

Kid removed his hat and looked down in polite embarrassment. “It’s nice ta see ya again, Emma.”

Kid and Sam followed Lou and Emma into the house, taking time to hang their gun belts and hats on the nearby hooks. Lou removed the gun hidden under her skirt. She brushed the back of her hand across the whitewashed wall. Noticing the simple but well made furniture accented with light blue and navy patterns she wondered if her home felt this welcoming.

“Sam, would you call the girls in from out back while I take Kid and Lou to their room to freshen up?” Emma pulled Lou up the stairs.

Kid followed the two women up the narrow flight. Once on the upper landing, Emma opened the door at the end, revealing a bench with several towels on a rack above it, and a large water basin.

“I had Sam set this up; otherwise, the girls destroy their room with wet and mud. But, we’ve all come ta like having it around. If you’d prefer though, I’ll get ya a pitcher and basin for your room.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Emma. Your, house is real nice.” Lou scanned the framed pictures and lace curtains surrounding her.

“Well, I can’t wait to come out and see your place someday.”

“Oh, our house is real simple…”

“Being grand doesn’t make a house a home.” Emma whispered in Lou’s ear,

Turning to include Kid, she opened the furthest door on the right, “I’ll leave you two to get settled. Dinner’s soon, though, so don’t dally.” They grinned at her mothering.

Kid shut the door as Lou set down the small bundle that carried the one change of clothes she’d brought with them. Removing her coat, she laid it gingerly over a nearby rocking chair. Her grimy reflection looked back at her through the bureau mirror. “I think I carried the entire day’s dirt with us.”

“You look perfect to me.” Kid wrapped his arms around Lou’s waist, kissing her neck.

Lou wrinkled her nose, pushing him away. “You’re not very clean yourself.”

Downstairs, two twin girls ran up to the house guests excitedly. “I’m the older one.” Liza shook Lou’s and Kid’s hands solemnly.

Jessie smiled shyly.

“Well it’s nice ta meet ya both.” Lou knelt down. “My name’s Louise and this is my husband. I can’t tell ya his name, because it’s a secret, so you can call him, Kid.”

Jessie’s wide eyes moved from the lady to the man in front of her.

Liza merely questioned them. “Why call you Kid? Why not your real name?”

“Now Liza…” Sam began.

Kid interrupted, nonplused by the young girl’s curiosity. “Well, my family always just called me Kid, so it stuck. I figure, that’s just who I am.”

Liza nodded wisely. Lou shot Sam and Emma an admiring glance, and smiled to see them equally tickled with their daughter’s precociousness.

“Liza, tell me, how old are ya?”

“We’re five, me and Jessie are twins.” Liza indicated her younger sister.

“Is that so?” Lou saw a blush creep over Jessie’s cheeks.

The family sat down to fried chicken and biscuits. Liza asked question after question, first to Kid then to Lou and back again.

“My mama told me you used to ride horses for the Pony Express?” Liza glanced between Kid and Lou.

“Well, that’s how we met your ma and pa.” Kid hedged.

“Louise used to ride, too, Liza. She’s as good as any man on a horse.” Emma winked at Sam.

“Really?” Jessie whispered.

Clearing the meal from the table, the girls were ushered off to bed. Emma noticed the exhaustion on Lou’s face as she began to rinse the dishes. “You look beat. Why don’t you two head on up ta bed, Sam and I can clean up. It’s a big day in town tomorra, you all need ta rest up.”

Gratefully, Kid and Lou ascended the stairs.

Sam took over for Lou at the sink. “You know, Emma. I don’t know how I never knew Lou wasn’t a girl. Lookin’ at her now, it’s hard to think of her as a boy a’tall.” He passed the rinsed dishes to Emma.

“She’s sure blossomed into a beautiful lady, not that I’m surprised.” Emma noted how at peace Louise appeared.

Sam switched to drying the scrubbed dishes. “You know she’s plannin’ on comin’ with us ta Texas.”

“I figured as much.” Emma knew Lou’s independence challenged him.

“It’s goin’ ta be dangerous, Emma.” Sam hesitated.

“Yes, I know.” She turned away.

“I’m sorry, Emma.” He pulled her into his arms. “I wasn’t thinkin’.” Kissing her forehead, he tipped her face to his to look into her eyes. “I don’t understand how Kid could let her think about doin’ this.”

Emma stepped out of his arms. “Sam, Louise is a strong woman. She did a man’s work for a long time, dangerous hard work. She proved herself more than capable. Just because she’s no longer hidin’ who she is, don’t mean she can’t do the same now.”

Sam raised his eyebrows and shook his head.

Emma turned to get Sam’s full attention. “Kid knows who his wife is, he rode with her long before now. He had to overcome the same things you’re feelin’. But, he loves her. If he can accept it, then you’d better, Sam Cain. More’n that, you’d better respect it. Those boys do, she’s one of ‘em. They’ll fight for her, and they’ll keep her safe. And, she loves Teaspoon as much as any of us; it’s her choice to go or stay.”

“Emma, do me a favor.”

“Hmm?”

“Offer for her to stay here. Just in case she’s goin’ because she doesn’t wanna be alone at that farm of theirs.”

Emma noted the concern in Sam’s eyes. “Don’t get your hopes up, Sam.”

Lou sat on the edge of the double bed in Sam and Emma’s guest room with her knees pulled to her chest, watching her husband change.

“They’ve got a real nice home, here.” Kid buttoned the front of his nightshirt.

“They do. They deserve it.”

“Those kids are somethin’ else, especially that Liza.”

A sharp pain crossed over Lou’s face. She recognized the longing when he spoke of children. After two miscarriages in Virginia, Lou could not conceive another child. Coming up behind him, she splayed her hands over his chest, and unbuttoned the shirt he’d just put on.

“What are you up to, Lou?” He turned around, so that his hands rested on the small of her back. Kid pulled her close to him.

“Oh, it’s such a warm night and all I thought you might not need a shirt.” She discarded the unbuttoned garment.

Kid leaned down and kissed her. Louise eagerly kissed him back as he moved her towards the bed.

Later, with the low burning candles casting deep shadows across the bed, Kid wrapped his arms tightly around his wife. “Did you know Teaspoon was married?”

“Nu-uh.” Lou mumbled sleepily.

“I miss him.”

“Me too.” She turned to see the concern on Kid’s face. “I hate that we have to wait an extra day. What if he’s in trouble, Kid?” Lou’s voice broke.

“Well, if anyone can take care of himself, it’ll be Teaspoon.” Kid tried to reassure his wife, though his voice lacked conviction.

~ ~ ~

It wasn’t that Cody disliked trains, he just preferred to ride under his own steam. It kept him from having to think too much. He felt the same the last time he traveled by train between the saints of Missouri. In the spring of 1861, a freshly recruited solider with a broken heart, Cody couldn’t let go of Noah’s death or Teaspoon’s anger; it ate at him then just like the fight with Louisa ate at him now.

He smiled thinking about the first time he saw her dancing with a captain at the end of war celebration. Her bright green eyes sparkled in merriment as she twirled from one end of the hall to the other, laughing as she went. He nervously walked up to the captivating girl, knowing by the quality of her clothing that her wealth superseded most in the room. Two months later they married.

Four months after the marriage, Cody inquired into divorce. It shook him to realize that the bright and happy girl he married desired to live in an insulated world of privilege and indulgence. Immediately disappointed in the small salary an army scout received, she badgered Cody into taking a job with her father. As hired muscle, Cody received a ridiculously high salary to collect debt owed to the bank; after riding with the Express and scouting for the army, working for a banker didn’t thrill him.

Wyoming, Dakota, and Nebraska Territories experienced extreme trouble with Indians, which intensified following the war. Cody voraciously read all news reports relating to the conflicts. His eyes saddened remembering turning down the opportunity to become the Indian Agent for the Dakota Territory. The day his former captain approached him with the news he rushed home to tell Louisa about it; together, they would be part of history, working to erect the framework by which the white man could live in peace with the red.

Louisa felt horrified. Her mother lived in St. Louis. Her sisters lived in St. Louis. Her friends lived in St. Louis. She would never leave St. Louis.

Now Louisa was having a baby. His baby. He tried to smile but the emotion didn’t reach his eyes. Cody felt trapped.

After arranging passage to St. Joe, Cody returned to his home. Louisa’s older sister sat with the young mother-to-be in the front room of the townhouse. When Cody came through the door two dirty looks leveled him.

Standing up from the settee, the older woman left, slamming the door.

“Louisa, you have ta understand the situation.” Cody approached his wife.

“There’s always a situation, and I always have to understand. It’s time you understand something, I am your wife, and I am having your baby. I will not tolerate being abandoned time and again.” Louisa stomped her foot. “I am scared, Billy! I’ve never had a baby before, I don’t know what to expect. Is it too much to ask that my husband be here for me?”

“Louisa, you’re overreactin’. I ain’t abandonin’ you, I will only be gone a month or so. I’ll be back, long before your baby’s born.”

“My baby? It’s your baby, too! Do you even care about it?”

“Of course I care.” Cody softened his voice, taking Louisa’s elbow.

She snatched it away, turning towards the window, her back to him. “No you don’t. If you cared, you’d choose me, your family over some people in Nebraska.” She sniffed.

“Damn it!” Cody slammed his hand down on a nearby table, causing Louisa to jump. “These people ain’t just ‘some people’, their my family! They would do anything to help me out, to help us out, which is more than I can say for your family.”

She turned from the window, her face red. “My family gave you a descent job. My family helped us get into this house. My family has been here for me whenever I’ve needed them…”

“What about me, Louisa, what about what I need, or hell, what I want. I don’t want to intimidate widows into paying off their loans so I can live in this house, go to parties, and buy expensive things. I want to make a dif’rence, I want to see the world, I want to leave St. Louis behind and get back to livin’ my life!”

“Well, I’m sorry if our marriage and our child have gotten in the way of your life, William Cody.” Tears streaked down her pale face. Pushing past Cody she made for the stairs.

“Where are you going?”

“To bed.”

Cody watched her leave. The slamming door echoed down the hall. Cody stood and looked at the well appointed room he stood in. He never thought he’d end up resenting the easy life he fell into.

The next morning he woke up early. The small settee he slept on caused his body to ache as he stood and stretched. Saying goodbye via a scribbled note, he left for the train station.

Now, two days later, sitting in a train car watching the scenery fly by him, the pangs of guilt hit him. She was right; he would use any excuse to get out of St. Louis. Just because the opportunity to leave was legitimate didn’t change that fact. He had every intention of returning, but he couldn’t help but feel relief at being away.

Shaking his head, he stood up, and walked the length of the train. Stopping in the dining car, he ordered a whiskey and drank it quickly. He turned down a second drink and got up to leave.

Just as he was near the door a young boy came up to him. “You a soldier?”

“What makes you think I’m a soldier, Sonny?”

“I dunno, because you’re alone, I guess. My pa says a lot of soldiers ride the trains.”

Cody wondered about the kid’s intelligence. “Most soldiers wear uniforms.”

“Nathaniel, leave that man alone.” The boy’s father came over.

“Oh, he’s no bother.” He stuck out his hand. “The name’s William Cody.”

The man took the offered greeting. “Jackson Path. This is my son, Nate. Over there my wife, Melissa and our baby daughter, Caroline.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Cody tipped his hat at the mother and child.

“He’s a soldier, pa.”

“He is?” Jackson looked Cody up and down.

“Well, Nate, you’re partially, right. I was a soldier, but ain’t no more.”

“Why not?” Nate tilted his head and squinted his eyes.

“Nathaniel,” Jackson knelt down to his son. “Your questions are too personal. Why don’t you ask him what he did as a soldier?”

Cody watched as the boy tried to understand the difference in the questions. It occurred to him this would soon be his responsibility if Louisa carried a boy. Cody hoped it would be; he didn’t know what to do with a girl.

“Mr. Cody?”

“Yeah?”

“What did ya do as a soldier?”
“Well, Nate. I worked as a scout for the Army.”

“What’s a scout?” Nate crinkled his nose.

“Well, part of being the Army is knowin’ where the enemy’s at, so’s you can fight ‘em. A scout helps tell the Army where the enemies are.”

“Did ya do some fightin’?”

“Yeah, a bit. Fightin’ isn’t the good part.” Cody suppressed surfacing memories.

“Aw, that’s what my pa says to. But, fightin’ is part of adventures and I like adventures.”

“Fightin’ doesn’t have to be part of adventures. Why, I used to ride with the Pony Express. Deliverin’ the mail. That was a whole lot of adventure.”

“You rode for the Pony Express?” The boy’s clear eyes opened wide.

“I surely did.”

“Did ya meet Indians?”

“Not only did I meet ‘em, I knew ‘em. I worked with a Kiowa man, Runnin’ Buck Cross.”

“Did he scalp anybody?” The boy rocked on his toes in excitement.

“If he did, he never told me about it.” Cody said mysteriously.

Once in St. Joe, Cody arranged for a horse and set off down the familiar trail to Rock Creek. Riding through the western terrain, he vowed to make his marriage work. After all, his child wasn’t just dependent upon him for bread and water, he or she would need a father. Lou, Ike, and Kid had it rough not having their parents around and Cody felt certain that he didn’t want that for his child. He desired to work things out with Louisa, but he couldn’t ignore his need to be out west. Once in Rock Creek, he’d send her word. Cody thought of the locket he bought her when he got off the train and hoped it would help her to forgive him.

~ ~ ~

Shoots of green appeared bright and young from the muddied earth, a suspension in the relentlessness of the winter and summer weather, a time when hope came to a land that spent so much time in struggle. Nature understood this moment and reflected upon it by pursuing life: animals gave birth, flowers blossomed, the ground breathed, the hibernating reanimated - all filled with essential energy stored through the long winter, now frolicking in the dazzling but tender light. Everywhere life abounded.

The horses’ hooves pounded hard and fast, driven by the men who, normally in tune with nature, didn’t have time to reflect on the peacefulness around them. Their hearts were men’s hearts, and men’s hearts were burdened by pain, and violence, and unease. The need to get far and travel fast won over the natural understanding of time and renewal, causing man to use nature, which gave itself so willing to their demands.

The Indian and the White Man, the half breed and the notorious: both reflective, both creative, both burdened by a society that didn’t understand them, by a way of life they couldn’t rely on. Together they drove their mounts forward with an intensity born out of friendship, loyalty, honor, and true sacrifice. The world had caused them pain and the pain made them hard, but the hardness became a comfort, as reliable as death, and they understood intrinsically what it meant to reunite in a small town in Nebraska.

They stopped to rest well into the night. The allegiance and strength of the horses astounded them. A meager meal and a small fire lulled Jimmy and Buck into the thin sleep of the wary. They’d traveled roughly a third of their trip.

The day dawned in gray drizzle. Jimmy woke to the rain dappling his cheek. They’d slept by a spring in a tree covered gully; limited cover in the vast plain made them thankful for the provision of the small grove.

Opening one eye and then the other, Jimmy watched Buck roll up his bedroll and pull out a poncho from a saddlebag. Wordlessly, he pulled himself up and began to do the same. Patting his horse on the flank and feeding her an apple, he thoroughly inspected his mount and provisions.

An hour away, they came upon a battlefield. Buck shivered, sensitive to the unnatural death soaked into the land. The tall grass didn’t hide the deep ruts and trenches of the tumultuous earth. Artillery shattered and destroyed, lay rotting. Without forethought, both men slowed to a walk, picking around the scars, wondering at the ghosts surrounding them, both reliving their own battles and scars.

Thoughts of the war always led Jimmy to thoughts of Kid. He knew Kid and Lou went through hell in Virginia. Last time he saw them the war had been over for several months but the shadow of it covered Lou and Kid like a heavy blanket.

Around midday, Buck and Jimmy came into more populated areas, a few farms, a small trading post, not towns so much but settlements just the same. They brought attention to themselves just by being who they were and each questioning eye and quasi judgment they encountered needled at Jimmy in an unnatural way. By the time evening came, he felt hungry and moody.

Buck watched the darkening mood descend on Jimmy. Not knowing what went on in Jimmy’s mind, he attributed it to the battlefield.

They’d been as unobtrusive as two haggard looking men riding through the open plain, could be. Buck hoped their appearance would keep people at a distance. With Jimmy’s mood and the uncertainty of what waited for them in Rock Creek, Buck wasn’t in the frame of mind for what the unexpected usually bought.

Coming upon a small settlement near Northwestern Missouri called Chase, they rode into the town hoping for a hot meal and a warm bed. The town’s people cast curious glances at the two strangers. Locating a stable for the horses, they set about checking into the hotel.

“What’s yer name?” The bug eyed clerk cast a sideways glance at Jimmy, his pen poised over the roster.

Jimmy looked at him from under his hat. “Smith.”

“Yes, Sir, Mr. Smith.” Frowning the clerk wrote the name down.

“Mine’s Buck Cross.” Buck distracted the clerk from his next question.

“Well, yes, yes. Sign by your name.” Handing the pen to Buck, he refused to meet his eyes.

“I’m gonna go find a game.” Jimmy nodded toward the nearby Saloon.

“Suit yourself. I’m going to get some food.”

“Maybe dinner first wouldn’t hurt.” Jimmy remembered his empty stomach.

They ordered steak and beer. Jimmy began to relax in the alcohol’s warm glow. He knew Buck picked up on his mood, and not for the first time Jimmy felt thankful for the quiet continence of his friend.

As Jimmy took a bite of the steak, a man loudly entered the restaurant and bellowed, “James Butler Hickok?”

The threat hung in the air. Jimmy didn’t respond beyond a slight stiffening of his shoulders.

Walking up to Jimmy and Buck, the man repeated, “Ain’t ya ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok?”

“The name’s Smith, mister, now if ya don’t mind, I’d like to finish my meal.”

“In fact, I do mind, Wild Bill. See, you killed my brother. Now, I’m gonna kill you.”

The heavy silence stifled the air. Quietly, Buck went for his gun.

Jimmy sighed heavily. “You are, huh?” He set down his utensils and looked at the man hovering in front of their table.

“It’s a promise. The name’s Darnell Tutt, Davis Tutt was my brother. You ain’t gonna get away with his murder.”

Jimmy’s jaw clenched in a slow boiling rage, not so much at the man calling him out, but at Henry Morton Stanley, the man who seemed determined to drive Jimmy’s fate.

Jimmy stood up slowly, warily. “You should know Tutt lost fair and square, both the card game, and then the fight.”

Darnell glowered at Jimmy.

“I’ll be out presently.”

“How is it that trouble always seems to find you?” It amazed Buck that of all the people in the world who lived in Chase, Missouri, one would be the brother of Jimmy’s most publicized kill.

“I wish ta God I knew.” Jimmy shook his head.

In the waning side of dusk, Jimmy stood in the street facing the brother of the man who’d refused to pay off a gambling debt and stole his watch. The familiar numbness came over him. He released the gun holster’s strap, flexed his hand, and tensed his muscles. It would be over shortly, either way. Jimmy wasn’t sure what he wanted the outcome to be. The indecision gave him an odd sense of peace.

The man made his move. In a blur, Jimmy sprung into action. Well honed, he removed the Navy Colt in Lightning speed. He fired and hit Darnell Tutt in his heart before the man got a sight on Jimmy.

The whole debacle didn’t take more than ten minutes from threat to death. Slowly Jimmy holstered his gun and turned towards the hotel, the anticipated card game forgotten. Buck followed. Together they walked to their respective rooms, closing their doors to the evening’s incident.

~ ~ ~

“I feel guilty.” Lou confessed to Emma as they walked passed booths, games, and picnics. The city’s patriotic celebration surrounded the two women.

“What on earth do you have to feel guilty about, Louise?”

“For enjoyin’ all this.” Lou waved her hand through the air indicating the festival. “I mean... I’m tied in knots about Teaspoon. Yet, I’m enjoying this and part of me wishes it was more real. That we wouldn’t be ridin’ out tomorrow, that I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to you and the girls.”

“Well, Louise, you don’t have to you know? I mean leave with Sam and Kid. You could stay here with me if you want.”

Golden sparks emerged from within the chocolate depths of Lou’s eyes.

“Now, I ain’t sayin’ you should stay and I ain’t sayin’ you should go, neither. I’m just lettin’ you know that if you chose not ta go, you’d have a place ta stay. You wouldn’t have ta be alone is all.”

Lou’s eyes softened. “Thank you, Emma, but I can’t stay behind, especially not with Kid goin’.”

Emma expected as much.

They continued walking toward the town square. “I’m just enjoyin’ my time here with you, and I’m enjoyin’ time with Kid away from the work of the farm. I kinda feel like I’m waking up from a murky dream. But, with Teaspoon in trouble…”

“This life is hard, Louise. Not the least because of the war and what you went through in Virginia with Kid gone. Teaspoon would be the first to tell ya to enjoy everything ya can when ya can. He knows more than most that the good doesn’t happen as much as it should.”

“I’m gonna miss ya, Emma. I forgot how much I need ya.”

“Well, with y’all in Plattsmouth now there ain’t no reason we can’t visit more often.” Emma patted Lou’s hand.

“Nothin’ good comes when two women are whisperin’ like that.” Sam and Kid came up behind Emma and Louise.

“You feelin’ guilty, Sam Cain? Got a little somethin’ ya need to confess?”

“Oh, no way honey, not me. I’s a’sceered of ya.” He tickled his wife.

Emma reached around and slapped him away.

Kid and Lou basked in the nationalistic exuberance as the mayor and governor made speeches, baked goods were served, exotic fruits were savored, and games were played all in the name of merriment. Once the sun finally settled in the far west, Nebraska officially became the 37th US state and Lancaster officially became Lincoln, the state capital. The artful production of fireworks exploding over the great sky awed the young couple as much as the kids.

The coolness of the following morning, befit the change in mood. Kid walked to the horses, while Lou said goodbye to Emma. The two hugged for a long time. Swinging artfully onto their mounts, they distracted themselves from Sam and Emma’s kiss goodbye. The three riders slowly walked through the small neighborhood and out of the newly minted capital city.

Sam had a hard time keeping with the well rode couple, who’d been on the trail so many times before at breakneck speed. They teased Sam whenever he fell behind by spurring Lightning and Katy even further forward.

As the familiar landmarks of Rock Creek came into view, Lou felt nostalgic. She brought Lightning up along side Katy. “It feels like comin’ home, doesn’t it?”

Kid’s gaze passed over buildings and people, many of whom recognized Kid and Lou and shouted out greetings. Mr. Tompkins swept the porch outside his store. Stopping abruptly at the familiar site of Kid, Lou, and Sam, his brow furrowed slightly. Kid waved at the crusty man.

“Kid, Lou.” Tompkins greeted the couple as they passed in front of the store before turning to the Marshal. “Cain, it can’t be good if you’re ridin’ out with them two.” His gruff voice did not betray any affection.

“It’s nice ta see ya, Tomkins. I trust things have been good.”

“Well, I guess I can’t complain.”

They continued to the old Express station, now converted into a boarding house.
Lou set down their belongings in the bunk house. “It’s empty?”

“Yeah, Emma arranged ta have it ta ourselves, includin’ the house.”

Lou peeked her head outside the door. “Kid, you comin’?”

“In a bit.” Kid took a moment to look southeast towards Missouri. He’d stood on the porch a number of times before, watching for riders on the horizon.

“He okay?” Sam tossed some supplies on a bunk.

“Yeah. There are a lot of memories here, Sam.”

Later that night, Kid and Lou took a walk. The moon illuminated the couple in silver radiance. They watched Katy and Lightning who remembered their former home and took to it naturally. Kid held Lou’s hand as they walked passed the church where they were married and then on to the cemetery where Noah and other friends were buried. Silently starring at the tombstones their thoughts turned to Ike and Noah. Lou looked up to the last place she saw Jessie, offering up a silent prayer for his safety.

“I wouldn’t trade my life with you, Lou, for anything in this world, but I really miss our friends.”

Sitting down to dinner the following night, they heard riders coming in from the distance. Cautiously they went to the windows, guns ready.

“It’s Buck and Jimmy.” A large smile broke out over Lou’s face as she ran out to greet them. Kid and Sam followed close behind.

Jimmy saw the figure of a woman come out of the old bunk house at Rock Creek Station with two taller figures following. He turned sideways and gave Buck a grin. “It’s Lou!”

Jimmy merely brought his horse to a walk before swinging down and running up to the young woman. He swept her up in his arms, swinging her around while she laughed. He bent down and gave her a solid kiss on her cheek before rushing up to Kid and embracing him in a quick, strong hug. He greeted Sam with a firm handshake; it felt good to see his friends again.

Lou rushed up to Buck who approached slowly. “Lou, is that you?”

She hugged him tightly.

Kid came up and shook his hand before pulling him into an embrace.

“I’m so happy to see you both!” Lou led the two men inside and prepared them seats at the table. “You must be starvin’, we weren’t expectin’ you for another day.”

“It sure smells good, Lou.” Buck took a deep breath.

“Her cookin’s improved over the years.” Kid laughed.

“I’ll say.” Sam returned to his abandoned dinner.

“Kid, your wife looks more beautiful each time I see her.”

Lou blushed before sitting next to her husband on the hard bench. “Happiness does amazin’ things, Jimmy.”

“It’s damn good to see you both again. It’s been too long.” Kid scanned the faces of friends around the table. The tableau felt familiar.

Sam wiped his mouth. “How long’s it been?”

“Well, let’s see, last time we saw Jimmy was ‘bout two years ago. We haven’t seen Buck since we left for Virginia.” Lou mused at how quickly life moved on.

“That’s been around 6 years?” Buck shook his head. “It’s been closer to 7 since we’ve seen you, Sam. What have you been up to?”

“Keepin’ peace, or tryin’ ta anyway. There were Indian scares during the war so most of my time was spent tryin’ to keep both sides from boiling over. Emma and I have twin girls.”

“Wonderful kids, too.” Lou interjected.

“Yes, they sure are. We’re livin’ in Lincoln, the new state capital.”

“We were there during the celebration. It was somethin’ else. They had fireworks and everythin’.” Kid shook his head, still in awe.

“How’s your farm doin’, Kid?” Jimmy asked between mouthfuls of baked chicken.

“Things are good. We sold and traded fairly steady through winter. Made enough to hire on a wrangler, a darn good one at that. The birthin’ season was just beginning when we got Emma’s letter. Only one colt, so far.”

“He’s already demonstratin’ a strong will, though.” Lou remembered the new born.

“We’re expecting four more from our own stock and are workin’ a deal to get a few others from some locals.”

“How’d you end up in Plattsmouth anyway?” Buck leaned forward.

“Well, I went up there to fulfill a promise to someone I served with in Virginia. He had a sister and nephew out there. Lou rode out with me and we found this abandoned place outside a town.” Kid watched Lou as she filled the plates with more food.

“It’s really beautiful up there, too. We figured with all the travel to the Dakota’s along the river, it wouldn’t be a bad location for a farm.” Lou handed a plate to Kid.

“The people are nice, the town’s pretty small. Nothin’ like Lincoln, that’s for sure.” Kid took a bite of chicken.

Sipping her coffee and watching the men eat, Lou turned to Buck. “How’d you two end up travelin’ together?”

“We were both just wanderin’. I’d been helpin’ the army out at Medicine Lodge with some treaty trouble but it ended up bein’ somethin’ of a deceit. So, I rode out to Missouri lookin’ for work with the freight line when I ran into Jimmy in Springfield.”

“I s’pouse y’all know how well Springfield turned out for me?” Off the blank looks, he explained. “This Stanley fella, a reporter, well he wrote ‘bout an interview with me concernin’ a guy I killed in Springfield. The thing is I never gave no interview.”

“Sorry, Jimmy.” Lou reached over to squeeze his hand.

“I’ve been doin’ odd jobs for Russell, Majors, and Waddell just stayin’ low; it’ll blow over soon enough. I can’t believe we’re back in Rock Creek, I can’t believe I’ve stayed away this long.”

The former riders nodded.

The night passed in conversation as they eased back into their friendship. Finding a bottle of wine, they settled into to casual conversation around the fireplace. After a while Lou fell asleep against Kid’s shoulder and Sam turned in for the night.

“Kid, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I never saw you on the other side of the battlefield.” Jimmy wanted to express that thought for a long time.

“Yeah, well, Stonewall and Lee never made it very far west.”

“That means you were at Gettysburg?” Buck felt a stab of shock run through him.

“I was. I met up with Stonewall durin’ Bull Run. I followed him ‘til he died and then kept right up with Lee.” His voice sounded far away voice. “I was at Shenandoah, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the siege on Petersburg, Appomattox.” Lou stirred slightly, burrowing into Kid’s side. “I-I don’t really want to talk about it. If Lou wakes up it’ll upset her.”

The two men nodded, shocked at how much of the war Kid experienced first hand.

“I’m just glad we all made it out alive.” Kid continued watching Lou.

“Amen.” Jimmy drained his glass. “I think I’m gonna turn in.”

“Yep, if feels like that time.” Kid gently leaned over Lou and whispered in her ear.

Blinking her eyes she stretched. “Did I fall asleep?”

“Mmm, hmm.” Kid pulled her up with him.

“Where’s Sam?” She watched Buck and Jimmy head to the bunks they once claimed as their own.

“He turned in about an hour ago.” Buck indicated Kid’s old bunk.

Jimmy watched Kid and Lou head out to the station house. “He’s a lucky man.”

“Yep. They’re lucky to still have each other.”

The next evening, Kid feed the horses. Looking up he saw Cody in the distance, riding hard, and hunched down against the damp weather.

Coming out of the barn he waved. “Cody’s here!”

Sam came out of the house. Buck and Jimmy emerged from behind the wood pile.

“Whoa. Whoa.” Cody pulled in the reins, bringing his horse to a stop.

Climbing down, he greeted his friends with handshakes and hugs. “Well, I’ll be!” Cody grinned cockily. “It’s nice of you all to help me rescue Teaspoon.”

Buck punched him playfully.

“Where’s Lou? Don’t tell me she didn’t come?” He looked around careening his neck.

“No such luck. She’s getting supplies and visitin’ friends.” Kid absently nodded in the direction of Tompkins’s store.

“Well, I don’t suppose there’s anything to eat? I skipped lunch to get here.”

“There’s some cold corn muffins from this morning.”

“I’m gonna clean up then. The weather sure changed fast. It was sunny when I left St. Joe.”

“How’s married life?” Buck asked as they walked to the house with Sam.

“Well, I’m gonna be a father.” Cody watched from under his hat for their reactions.

“What!” Buck stopped mid-stride. His voice called Kid and Jimmy back from their chores.

“Well, whaddya know!” Sam clapped Cody on the back heartily. “Congratulations.”

“Cody, a father! Now, I’ve heard everything.” Buck shook his head good naturedly.

“Did I hear that right?” Jimmy overheard.

“Here what?” Kid came up, dusting off his gloves.

“Cody’s going to be a father.”

“Oh, Lordy!” Kid grinned.

“Never thought I’d beat you to the punch.”

Kid just smiled.

“Yeah, I though for sure you’d have a couple dozen kids by now?” Buck squinted at Kid.

The smile left Kid’s eyes. “We buried two girls in Virginia. I’m lucky to have Lou still; the last miscarriage almost killed her.” His eyes filled with pain. “Cody, I’m real happy for ya, though.”

The mood changed drastically at the revelation.

“Kid, I had no idea, I’m real sorry.” Jimmy placed his hand on the other’s shoulder.

The other men reiterated the sentiment.

Cody felt uncomfortable and slightly guilty, knowing that he wasn’t entirely happy with the situation with Louisa. He again felt the need to renew his commitment to her and suddenly felt anxious to send off the small gift and letter.

“It was a long time ago.” Kid pushed the dark memories aside. “Do me a favor, though, try not to let on ta Lou that ya know. It’s been hard on her and if she felt for a second that anyone was pityin’ her, well, there’d be hell to pay and I’d probably have to ante up.” Kid said with a lopsided grin.

Jimmy assumed something happened between them in Virginia, something more than the war. Last time he’d seen them, the relief had been so new; their life together had been on hold for years and they were just beginning to learn what being married meant. The injustice upset him and it gave fuel to his energy, burning through the wood long before Lou returned from town.

Lou arrived just as the sun started dropping in the western sky. The limited supply at Tompkins’s store forced her to go around to local residents only getting a fraction of what they needed. The weather hadn’t made traveling in the old buckboard easier and she felt cranky by the time she returned to the station. The light from the home glowed in greeting, the sight familiar and welcoming. None of the men were outside. She’d hoped one had the presence of mind to start dinner, though she had her doubts.

Hearing the buckboard lumber up to the house, Kid emerged with an apron wrapped around his waist. He helped Lou down off the buckboard. “What took you so long?”

“This town.” Lou sighed. “There’s nothing here, we’re going to have to re-provision somewhere else. Are you making dinner?”

“Yeah, stew.”

“Good, I’m starvin’! We’ve gotta get the supplies inside.” Lou grabbed a crate and Kid followed suit.

“Cody!” She saw their friend sitting at the table with the others. Setting the crate down, she allowed herself to be swept up in a big hug.

“You look like a girl!”

“Well, Cody, that’s because I am a girl.”

“I still think of you with that short hair, floppy hat, and glasses.”

“That was a long time ago. How’s Louisa? How’s St. Louis?”

“Oh, St. Louis is busy and Louisa’s good.” Cody cocked an eyebrow at Kid. “She’s expectin’ a baby.”

Lou’s large eyes widened at the news and she gave Cody an enthusiastic hug. “Cody! That’s great news!”

“Yeah, thank ya. It’s real excitin’.”

“You sound like your tryin’ to talk yourself into it?”

“Well, no, no I’m real excited. Just that it’s surprisin’ and I don’t know, big, I guess.” Cody stuttered.

“It’s scary.” Lou nodded.

Everyone sat down as Lou hung up her coat and walked over to inspect the stew simmering on the stove. She took a spoon to it and tasted it. Not half bad, a little bland. Adding a few spices she instructed the obliging group to empty out the remaining supplies from the buckboard.

Kid came up to her, placing his hands on her hips. “I thought I was making this stew?”

She turned up to him. “What’s goin’ on?”

“I’m asking what you’re doing to my stew.”

“No, you have a look in your eyes. Not that I mind it. It’s just not your normal look.”

“What’s my normal look?”

She scrunched her eyes slightly and affected a relaxed, thoughtful smile, or so she thought. “This.”

“That’s my normal look? I normally look I’m eatin’ a lemon?” Kid snickered.

“That’s not what I look like!”

She slapped him away as he tried to take the spoon out of her hand. Fighting for the spoon, she tossed a leafy herb at his face. Kid picked up the salt and flicked it at her. With wide, affronted eyes, she picked a piece of meat out of the pot and threw it at him.

“I’m wearin’ the apron!” Kid exclaimed just as Jimmy, Cody, Buck, and Sam came through the door. Lou and Kid faced off, two hands on the spoon, both with serious looks on their faces. Simultaneously they turned to see the men standing at the doorway with confused expressions. Kid turned back to Lou. He chuckled and pushed her out of the way. “Go clean up.”

Lou released the spoon and headed out the side door to the water pump, her earlier disgruntlement erased by the arrival of Cody and the love she felt for her reunited family.

“I thought we’d be witness to another one of your world famous fights.” Jimmy laughed.

“Just have to keep her in her place, that’s all.” Kid stirred the stew and tasted it. “It actually tastes a helluva lot better.”

The friends sat down to another meal together, another moment of familiarity that melted away the years they’d been separated.

“Did any of you know Teaspoon married?” Kid dipped a roll in the stew.

Negative nods returned the question.

“What’s the plan, Sam?” Jimmy turned to the Marshal.

“Well, I figured we’d ride down to San Anton, and meet up with Marshal Taylor. He’ll have a better idea as ta where ta begin.”

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