August 1876, Buford, Wyoming territory

“Mr. Cross, I have a telegram for you…..it came a couple of days ago but with the weather the way it was…..” Mr. Jameson, the shopkeeper, called to him as he walked past on his way to the bank on an errand for the farmer he worked for.

“That’s fine, thank-you; I would have been upset if you had tried to deliver it.” Buck laughed and smiled as he opened the envelope. The smile faded quickly. The words burned into his mind and stirred memories both happy and sad.  

Wild Bill dead – come to SW now– L&K


“Bad news? I knew I should have gotten it to you sooner.” Mr. Jameson wrung his hands together.

“No, really you did the right thing, this is just something I’ve expected but hoped would never come. Thanks again. Oh, um, I’m going to need some supplies seems I’m going to have to head back to Sweetwater.” Buck quickly purchased what he thought he’d need, did the banking he’d been sent to town to do and headed back to the farm where he was working as a hired hand.   

~*~*~


Mr. Patterson, the foreman, took the news of Buck’s leaving well. “Family’s the most important thing you can have in this life son, go. They probably need you too. If you come back this way I’ll have a place for you.” The older man reminded Buck very much of Teaspoon and he felt bad about leaving but he just knew he had to go to Sweetwater.

I’ll send a telegram if I’m not coming back or if I’m going to be delayed beyond a month, month and a half. I hate leaving you a man short with the crops to harvest.” Buck looked down at the trunk at the end of his bed. There wasn’t much in there, just some worn clothes, a book or two, some papers tied in a red bandana, a small pouch with three locks of hair tied together with a leather strap and a faded photograph of him and his wife. “I don’t know if I should pack everything or not.” He’d only been there since last September, not even a year, but it was the longest he’d stayed in one place for awhile.

“Take it all son, I have a feeling you’ll be staying. You’re still young and you need to move on with your life. Lord knows you’re not going to do that here; too many bad memories….ghosts, got a few of those myself.” Mr. Patterson mused as he watched Buck pack. Soon the few things Buck had were stuffed into his saddle bags and his bedroll was secured behind his saddle. The cook had added to Buck’s supplies and his canteen was full of sweet cool water. He mounted the beautiful chestnut bay mare he’d bought eight years ago as a wedding present for his wife and waved good bye. The horse flicked her silky black tail and tossed her head eager to run. Buck let her have her head.

~*~*~


Late in the afternoon five uneventful days later Buck crested the final hill and looked down at the McCloud Ranch. When the War ended Kid and Lou had returned from Virginia to try and start fresh. Emma had offered them the old station and the surrounding land and they had readily accepted.  The young couple had improved the old station and there were now several buildings including a larger house and barn. Buck could see the old bunkhouse was still there and he smiled at the memories the sight of it brought. He could see several people but he was too far away to tell who anyone was. He wondered if he’d recognize anyone or if they’d recognize him. He hadn’t taken very good care of himself the last few of years. He’d just sort of existed.

It had been almost ten years since he’d last seen any of the former riders. Lou had faithfully written to him and told him how everyone was doing and what was happening in their lives; right now he couldn’t remember any of it. He had to admit he hadn’t been quite so good at answering them. And now Wild Bill was dead. Buck smiled sardonically and urged the horse forward; at least he’d lived sixteen years longer than anybody guessed he would the first time they all met in that yard so long ago.

“Rider Coming” Buck heard the familiar cry and smiled; he was home. A sandy haired man that could only have been Kid was standing in the yard waiting as Buck rode up. In short order several other people joined him. Buck recognized Lou, Rachel and Cody, the others he didn’t know; most were young children. He dismounted and was immediately enveloped in a hug from Lou.

“I’m so glad you came, Buck. You are a sight for sore eyes.” She kissed his cheek and hugged him again. He returned the kiss. Lou noticed that his smile didn’t reach his eyes.

As soon as Lou released him Rachel grabbed him and kissed him. “You look thin but it’s so good to see you again.”  He returned the kiss and hug. Buck was thin; his face was gaunt and pale. He didn’t see any reason to eat much anymore.  

Kid handed the reins of Buck’s horse over to a boy of about ten that had to be Kid’s son. “Cool her down and be sure she’s fed and watered…..”

“I know Dad, I know!” the boy smiled and laughed. “I’ll let her in the corral with the others after. Where should I put your things sir?”

It took Buck a moment to realize that the boy had spoken to him and called him sir. “I, um, I…”

“He’ll be in the bunkhouse, the single bunk by the window.” Lou answered as Kid finally got his chance to hug Buck. They didn’t kiss.  

“Hey save some of him for me!” Cody joked and clapped Buck on the back also drawing him into a hug. Buck barely had time to catch his breath when he heard fast moving foot falls behind him. He turned just in time to see the woman that hugged and kissed him next.

“Emma! Everyone’s here…well sort of….” Buck grimaced remembering why Lou had summoned them all.

“We are all here, except Jesse, of course, but we’ll catch up later on everyone. You’re the last to arrive, I was afraid you weren’t coming.” Lou gushed and began ushering the adults toward Emma’s old home. “Rachel’s right you’re too thin.” She took his hand and felt the calloused fingers close around her own.  He looked old and worn out but there was a genuineness to the smile he flashed her this time and Lou knew he was home to stay even if he didn’t.  

“The weather slowed me getting the telegram; I left the day I got it, took me five days to get here. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be back. That was some welcome!” Buck slipped his arm around the waist of the small former rider and squeezed her slightly. He honestly hadn’t realized how much he’d missed this place and these people. There were several young girls that he assumed were the children of his friends. The girls had been having a tea party with their dolls on the porch and he caught a bit of the song they were singing as he passed them.

Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold……” *

They were all heading toward the parlor and Buck noticed that the sick bed was set up in the corner like it had been when one of them was hurt so Emma or later Rachel could care for them. There was someone in it but Buck couldn’t see who. He assumed it was one of the children. He entered the parlor and stopped dead in his tracks. Teaspoon was sitting in an overstuffed chair near the hearth with a blanket wrapped around his legs. Polly sat in the chair beside him; they were holding hands!

“Teaspoon! Polly! I, um, ah…oh, never mind, its great to see you!” Buck rushed over and reached his hand out to the old marshal.

Teaspoon took Buck’s hand and pulled him down for one of his old bear hugs. “Come here son, a handshake just won’t do!” Teaspoon only looked frail; he nearly broke Buck’s ribs. “You thought I was dead, admit it!” Buck nodded sheepishly and smiled a lopsided grin. Once Teaspoon released him he kissed Polly on the cheek. “You did know I remarried Polly, didn’t you?”

“I let old Sugarlips here get away once I wasn’t about to let it happen again!” Polly laughed.

“You’re just skin and bones son, what’s happened to you?” Teaspoon looked Buck over with a critical eye.

“Don’t mind him, Buck….” Polly turned to Teaspoon, “A few days of Teresa and Lou’s cookin’ and he’ll put some meat back on his bones.” Polly smiled and patted Teaspoon’s hand.

“Dinner will be ready soon, I’m going to feed Jebediah; then we’ll feed the rest of the kids so we adults can enjoy our supper.” Lou read the confusion on Buck’s face. “He’s my youngest, Jebediah Luke, he was born in November. Don’t worry we’ll introduce you to everyone soon.” Lou kissed his cheek again as she passed by him on her way upstairs. Kid winked at her.

“Where is everyone staying? I can sleep out in the barn, I don’t need a bed.” Buck looked a bit overwhelmed and definitely confused.

“Hmm I notice you didn’t say that with Lou here, chicken….” Kid laughed and Cody made clucking noises. Some things never change.

“This is Teaspoon and Polly’s house now, Teresa and her husband live here too, with their two kids. Jeremiah and his wife live out in California, someplace called Sacramento. They have about a dozen kids or at least it seemed like it the last time we saw them. They have their own business and couldn’t leave. The family that adopted him gave it to him as a wedding present.” Kid smiled.  “You’ll get the grand tour tomorrow. It’s getting too dark to see the whole place right now.”

“Where’s everybody sleeping? I really don’t mind sleepin’ in the barn….” Buck began again.

“Nonsense, Buck, there’s plenty of room. I live in town now and Cody’s wife, Louisa, is staying at my place with their two girls….” Rachel began as she picked up her wrap, “Looks like Sam and Noah have my wagon ready so I’ll see you in the morning. I’m so glad you were able to make it.” Rachel walked over to where Buck was standing and kissed his cheek. “Bye, see you Sunday!” Rachel called as she walked out the door.

Sam entered moments later and greeted Buck with a hearty handshake. “Buck, its great to see you, it’s been what sixteen years? We wanted to come to Lou and The Kid’s wedding but that was when our son Ethan decided he wanted to be born.” Sam laughed. He’s out tending to some chores with JJ. You’ll meet him soon, he’s sleeping in the bunkhouse with JJ, you and Cody. Did you meet Noah, Rachel’s boy?”

“No, I haven’t really met anyone yet. I only got here about an hour ago.” Buck replied looking a bit confused.

“Well, I hope you’re hungry because I’ve got dinner ready. The kids are already eating over in the bunkhouse and we’re in the kitchen” Teresa came out of the kitchen. “Lou, supper!” she called upstairs.

Five minutes later they were all seated around the kitchen table enjoying a meal of beef stew the likes of which Buck hadn’t tasted in years. He tied Cody for the most number of refills for his plate. Once the dishes were all cleared away and the last crumbs of an apple pie had disappeared, Buck felt like he was truly home. He hadn’t realized how much he missed this place and these people until now. His emotions threatened to overwhelm him and he excused himself saying he was tired after being in the saddle for five days, he suddenly felt very old. He walked out to the corral and around to the back of the barn seeking the solace of the night. It was late when he made his way to the bunkhouse and his bed; three bunks were occupied.

Buck awoke the next morning to the sounds of children playing outside the bunkhouse. He’d slept longer and deeper than he had in a very long time. Sitting up, he looked around and saw Cody was still lying in his bunk but he was reading a book. “’Mornin’ sleepyhead!” Cody chirped. “You still snore, by the way.”

Buck laughed and it felt good, he couldn’t remember the last time he had laughed so easily. “You’re looking good Cody. How’s that show of yours doing? I heard you had Jimmy in it for awhile.”

“Not bad all things considered. Yeah, Jimmy was with me for about a year in ’73, did you know his eyesight started to go?” Buck shook his head. “Buck, I need to ask you something personal, you can tell me to go to hell but I hope you won’t.” Cody paused, sitting up on the edge of his bunk, gauging the look on Buck’s face.

“So go ahead and ask, don’t guarantee I’ll answer.” Buck surveyed his friend warily.

“Fair enough, when Ike died, you said it felt like you’d lost part of yourself, does it still feel that way or does it get better over time?” Cody looked at Buck with tears in his eyes.

“You OK?” Buck had never seen Cody like this, sure he’d been upset when both Ike and Noah had died but that was a long time ago. Cody shrugged. Buck wondered how close he’d been to Jimmy. “It still hurts sometimes, but not so often. Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll forget what his face looked like and wake up in a cold sweat but then it comes back. It really does get better, not easier just better.” Buck wasn’t really sure it his answer made sense.

“My son Kit died in April from scarlet fever, he was six. It hurts like hell Buck. That’s why Louisa ain’t here, she’s stayin’ with Rachel. We’re sorta having a bad time right now.” Cody barely got the last sentence out before he lost the battle to hold back his tears. He put his face in his hands and sobbed.

Buck stood, walked slowly over to the bunk and sat beside Cody rubbing his back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know…..I’ll tell you the same thing Teaspoon said to me. Sometimes it hurts so bad you just want to die but you can’t so you just keep going. You want to rip the pain out of you and put it someplace else but you can’t. When my wife lost our first child I felt like part of me had died again but I had to be strong for her and fortunately or unfortunately the child, a daughter, was stillborn. I can’t imagine having a child for six years and then losing him. I’m so sorry.” Buck wrapped his arms around Cody and let him cry as Buck shed a few silent tears for his own family.

A few minutes later Cody got his emotions under control. He’d pulled away moments before from Buck and stood looking out the window. “Lou and Kid lost a baby that way too, stillborn I mean, and then she had Peter….I didn’t know you’d gotten married.” Cody let the unasked question hang in the still air of the bunkhouse. He was there when Buck had ridden in alone and knew Buck’s wife was not with him. “Thanks Buck, I guess I needed to get that out.”

“Yeah it helps, Lou told me about her baby. I was glad that she was able to have more kids. My wife and I weren’t that lucky. We tried again about a year later and I lost them both. It was five years ago, I guess I stopped living after that.” Buck was getting dressed and Cody couldn’t see his face but there was a catch in his voice. “Now this…..but at least I’m feeling like I’m home where I belong, I haven’t felt that way in a long time.”

“I hope we haven’t missed breakfast, I’m starving!” Cody declared as he pulled his clothes on.

“Same ole Cody, it’s good to know some things never change!” Buck laughed. They left the bunkhouse together and went over to the house for breakfast.

Teresa and a man Buck didn’t know were sitting with Teaspoon and Polly at the table. Teaspoon was bouncing a laughing little boy while Polly and Teresa attempted to get a baby of about a year to eat oatmeal; all three of them were wearing oatmeal. The man rose up and greeted Cody then held his hand out to Buck. Buck took the man’s hand and shook it.

“I was over with the older children last night when you came in; I’m Marcus, Teresa’s husband and Daddy to these two imps!” He laughed as the youngest one managed to blow oatmeal out of its nose. “That’s Scott, he’s keeping grandpa Teaspoon young and the one decorating the kitchen is Lizzy.”

“I’m almost five!” Scott giggled happily and waved at Buck. “Papa said you’re a real live Indian and you’ll tell me all kinds of stories! Did you ever scalp anyone?”

Teaspoon tickled Scott and a new shriek of laughter filled the room. Buck took that as a clue and tickled the child too. “Yup, I’m a Kiowa but I don’t scalp people I tickle them!” Scott shrieked happily as Buck’s fingers approached his ribs. Buck’s smile became a laugh and his eyes twinkled.

“Shhhhh, children” Teresa laughed, “Some people are still asleep.”

Cody had closed the kitchen door but Buck was sure that the person in the sick bed had to have been awakened by Scott’s laughter.

“The food is on the stove, the plates are on the sideboard and the forks are in that draw, help yourselves gentlemen.” Polly shook her head and turned to Teresa, “They never grow up you know!” Both women laughed; Cody, Buck and Teaspoon all tried, and failed, to look hurt. Marcus just nodded and wiggled his eyebrows.

After they had eaten, Buck and Cody went to the corral and watched the horses for awhile, as they discussed the changes the old station had undergone. Buck been correct in assuming that the huge farmhouse he’d seen as he sat atop the hill was Kid and Lou’s house. The old barn was used for birthing and isolating sick or injured animals mostly, the other much larger barn was where all the rest of the animals were stabled. There was a chicken coop with about three dozen chickens, two milking cows, one calf, and half a dozen pigs, in their own sty. The horses were magnificent examples of horse flesh; all were healthy handsome animals; there were too many to count.  In-between the old bunkhouse and the new house there was a very much expanded garden where all sorts of vegetables and herbs grew. Buck and Cody agreed that Lou and Kid appeared to be doing well for themselves.  

The sound of a horse walking into the yard drew their attention; Kid and the boy he’d given Buck’s horse to yesterday were just arriving.

“Buck, I don’t recall if I introduced you to my oldest, this is James Isaac, we call him JJ. He’s sleeping in the bunkhouse with you in case you didn’t see him last night. Sam and Emma are sleeping in his room over at the big house. If you’re up to a little ride today I’ll show you the spread.” Kid swept his hand around the yard and buildings as if he was showing Buck the whole thing in one glance.

“I’d like that but can I use one of your horses? I think mine has earned a bit of a rest.” Buck smiled.

Ten minutes later the three former riders were riding along the open pastures, following a meandering stream. Kid and Lou’s land was rather extensive, much bigger than Buck remembered the old station property to be. Kid seemed to sense Buck’s confusion and told him they’d managed to buy several parcels of the surrounding land as it became available over the years. There were several small farmhouses in various states of repair that had belonged to the individual farms that they had purchased. A couple had been rented out to the people that worked for Kid and Lou so they had a place to raise their families. Kid had hopes of fixing up one or two for his children when they were ready to start their own families. They were just riding into the door yard of the big house when they saw a wagon off loading supplies.

“Hi Jen, what brings you out this way?” Kid greeted the woman who was over seeing two teenaged boys and speaking to Lou. “Buck, you remember Jennifer Tompkins? I guess its Stephenson now, that’s her boy Andrew, and Sam and Emma’s son Ethan. Kid pointed each person out as he spoke their names they all nodded their greetings. “Jen, you remember Buck Cross, he used to ride with us.”     

The men dismounted and approached the women. “Of course I remember Buck, its good to see you. You still owe me a letter!” she joked. “It’s been what, six years since I last heard from you….How’s Cora, is she….?” She stopped speaking when she saw the look on Buck’s face darken.

“I’m fine; it’s good to see you too. How old is Andrew? He looks like a fine young man; the last time I read one of your letters he’d just skinned both knees chasin’ the dog! I guess I still pictured the little boy.” Buck paused and looked down then he continued. “Cora passed on about five years ago trying to birth our son, I lost both of them. I’m sorry I didn’t write. I was mad at the world and everyone in it for awhile. Lou was about the only person I kept in touch with…..” Buck suddenly found himself being hugged by Jennifer.

“I’m so sorry Buck. My God you’re thin. I’m sure between Lou, Rachel and Teresa you’ll be back to your old self in no time. Hmmm, as I recall, you really liked the molasses cookies I made that time I was staying with my dad, I’ll bake you a batch!” Jennifer winked at Lou around Buck’s back. Lou smiled back.

He returned the hug stiffly but surprised himself by nodding. “I’d like that, thanks.” He mumbled, squeezed her gently and suppressed the urge to kiss her cheek.

“You’re here to stay I hope?” Jennifer was hoping Lou’s plans worked out. She’d been thinking a lot about Buck lately, but hadn’t known his wife was dead. Lou had only told her he was single again.

“Um, I don’t know what my plans are to be honest. Do you live here now?” Buck stepped back and saw that the others were watching him and Jennifer with curiosity. He had to admit, seeing her again had stirred something inside of him that had been dormant for a very long time. He had to remind himself that she was a married woman.

“My husband and I bought my father’s store. I’ve been here about five years. We live in the rooms over it in town; it’s small but big enough for the three of us. Our usual delivery man was delayed picking up supplies over at Blue Creek so Andrew and I decided to ride out today. I’m so glad I did, I didn’t know you’d gotten here.” Jen noticed that Andrew had climbed up into the wagon. Jen climbed up beside him with help from Buck. “Oh Lou, I think I’ll accept that invitation.”

“Come on Mom, we can’t leave Penny on her own for too long.” Andrew urged. “It was nice meeting you Mr. Cross.”

“She’s not alone, she’s with Mrs. Hamilton, hmmm, maybe you’re right. Bye!” Jen waved as Andrew snapped the reins and the horses started back to town.

“You’ve got a lot to catch up on Buck! Mrs. Hamilton is Barnett’s wife, and well…..let’s just say they make a perfect couple.” Lou laughed. “Come on I’ll get lunch ready and we can talk.”

After lunch, which was a lively affair with all the children gathered at the table, Buck helped Kid and JJ with some of the chores while Cody, Sam and Ethan went fishing. Buck loved Lou’s rambunctious youngsters right away and they all called him Uncle. JJ, James Junior, because of his short temper, was almost ten, Mary was seven and quite the young lady, Emma-sue was six and idolized her big sister, Peter was three and into everything, Jebediah was the youngest at ten months and was starting to walk. Lou, Emma and Lillianna, her eleven year old daughter, set right to work preparing more food almost as soon as the lunch dishes were cleaned. Buck watched with curiosity as the mixing bowls were being filled with flour, sugar butter and eggs. He licked his lips unconsciously.

“We’re planning on having everyone here for dinner tomorrow…” Kid explained. “Lou’s thrilled you made it in time. We’ll have dinner tonight over at Teresa’s and, er, think about what Jennifer asked you. We’d love to have you stay with us and work the ranch. Lou and I talked about it before but she didn’t think you were ready to move back this way. You’re here now so why not stay?” Kid looked at Buck “You don’t have to give me an answer now, just think it over.”

That night Buck dreamed about Jennifer; he smiled in his sleep.

~*~*~

   
The next morning Buck and Cody woke to the smell of bacon and coffee, the two friends sat up and looked at the food on the table. Ethan and JJ were already gone but Teresa was standing there smiling at them. “I wanted to feed you boys over here so we could get over to Lou’s as soon as all the chores are done and the animals are settled. Buck when you’re finished eating can you come over to the house? I have something you need to see.” Teresa winked at Cody.

Buck assumed that today was going to be a memorial service of sorts for Jimmy since it was Sunday. He’d read that Wild Bill Hickok had been buried in Deadwood so he knew there was no body to bury. “Sure, I’ll be there in about a half hour, OK?”

“Bring the plates with you, please, if you could…Thanks” The young woman smiled as she left the bunkhouse. Buck was reminded of Lou.

Buck knocked on the door about forty minutes later and balancing plates on one arm opened it when a male voice answered, for a second he could have sworn it sounded like Jimmy. I’m thinking of him that’s why….Buck thought and headed straight to the kitchen and set the plates down on the side board. Marcus was washing the table after what looked like another oatmeal explosion. Teresa was washing dishes and Polly and Teaspoon were attempting to entertain the children. Scott chose that moment to tip his chair backwards just enough to cause it to fall over. He howled as his head hit the floor and the foot of the sideboard. His screams turned panicky when he looked at his hand and saw blood.

Teresa sighed as she watched Marcus pick up their son and attempt to sooth him. Lizzy was scared because her brother was crying and clung to her father too. “Um, Buck would you mind terribly going into town and picking up Rachel and Louisa? Janus will already be over at the big house with the kids, they all camped out in the field last night.” Teresa took her son from her husband who was trying to calm both of his children. “Sweetheart I’ve told you NOT to do that with a chair, this is what happens.” She scolded her son and kissed him. “That’s the first kiss does it feel better yet?” Scott nodded but huge tears still spilled down the little boy’s face.

“Sure, where do they live? Who’s Janus?” Buck asked as he watched Teresa tenderly wiping her son’s tears; Lizzy’s crying had dissolved into hiccups.

“Janus Terkovsky, he’s the blacksmith, you remember him from Rock Creek, Rachel married him and they moved here….must be eight or nine years ago, right around the time Aniela was born. No wait, it was right after and I think she’s nine, so yeah, about nine years ago…they have another boy too Jarek, he’s six.” Teaspoon rambled on. Buck raised an eyebrow and hoped someone would tell him where he was supposed to find Rachel.

“What my longwinded husband is trying to tell you is that they live in the house beside the Blacksmith’s, it’s behind the Livery. Cute little house, white clapboards with green shutters, flowers everywhere, you can’t miss it.” Polly reached for Lizzy who was now struggling in her father’s arms.

Buck and Marcus had just left the kitchen through the back door when Buck thought he heard Jimmy’s voice again. He shook it off as they moved toward the barn to hitch up the wagon.

“We’ll meet you over at Lou and Kid’s in about three hours, take your time I have a feeling we’re going to be running late.” Marcus called as he walked back to the house.

Cody decided to come along for the ride and rode beside the wagon on his black mustang. The trip to town took about an hour and they found the house with no problem Cody and his wife greeted each other in a civil manner but it was obvious that the relationship was strained. Cody’s youngest daughter, Orra, hadn’t gone on the camping trip but his oldest daughter, Arta had decided at the last minute that since Aniela was going, she was too. Buck and Cody loaded the food Louisa and Rachel had made into the wagon, helped the women and four year old Orra in and were soon on their way to the McCloud ranch.

When they arrived at the ranch Buck was surprised to see tables of food and streamers all around. He looked at Cody and Rachel but neither seemed shocked. He finally had to ask as he was unloading the cakes Louisa had made onto the desert table.

“Lou, I thought this was going to be some sort of memorial service for Jimmy, but this is a celebration or something. Is it someone’s birthday?” Buck looked very confused.

Lou glanced at Teresa, who shook her head. “Scott sort of interrupted things when he knocked his head on the floor, I’m sorry.”

Buck turned toward the yard as another wagon approached. He didn’t see the movement behind him. Jennifer and Andrew were there with a girl about twelve years old that had to be her daughter; she looked just like Eagle Feather had when Buck first met her. Jennifer smiled at Buck and he returned the smile, wondering vaguely where her husband was. He’d been looking forward to seeing her again; he hadn’t been able to get her off his mind since he’d seen her the other day.

“Um, Buck, there are two things you need to know… Yes, this is a memorial for Wild Bill and yes, it is a birthday celebration. Hmm, and in case you are wondering she’s a widow, about three years now….” Lou added watching where Buck’s eyes were looking.

“Really…OK, Um, Yeah, whose birthday?” Buck asked looking back at Lou.

“Mine” a deep voice sounded behind Buck. He spun around and looked right at a ghost.

“JIMMY!” Buck almost shouted. He reached his hand out and touched Jimmy’s arm. “But I thought….”

“Wild Bill died and this little woman saved Jimmy.” Jimmy pulled Lou over to him. Buck took a good look at the former rider and realized his right arm was in a sling and his eyes were somewhat cloudy and very bloodshot. “I’m losing my sight and can’t really hold my own in a gun fight so when I got shot playin’ cards, Wild Bill died and I took Lou up on her offer of a new home. The Doc smuggled me out and I have no idea what or who is buried in Wild Bill’s grave. Today is Jimmy Hickok’s birthday and we’ll lay Wild Bill to rest forever.” Jimmy smiled and pulled an astounded Buck to him. “I, um, needed to sober up and Teaspoon took care of that at Teresa’s I kept missing you every time you were in the house.” Jimmy released Buck from a bear hug that Teaspoon would have been proud of; Buck took a tentative breath checking to see if any ribs were broken. “You’re too thin Buck….” Jimmy nodded in Jennifer’s direction and made a motion with his head indicating She should join them. Jennifer drifted over to Buck and put a tentative arm around his waist; he returned the gesture. “I’m here to stay Buck” he continued. “How about you?”

Buck looked at Jennifer who smiled and placed her head on his shoulder. He wasn’t sure what to think but this seemed like something that just might work out. “It’s really looking like I just might do that!” he smiled and squeezed her waist. Lou noticed he was looking younger than he had just three days ago. His eyes were alive again.

Somewhere behind them they heard Cody call “Is it time to eat yet? The sight of all this food is making me hungry!”

They all laughed and the celebration began. Over to the right several little girls to whom he was now Uncle Buck were singing “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”   Buck felt he was a very rich man.

*Yes, I was a Girl Scout!

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