He'd kept to the shadows after he spotted the young man with wavy blond hair and blue eyes that could pierce right through to your soul. He knew those eyes well. At one time they had looked at him with love and admiration. His heart clenched as he remembered the last time he had seen those eyes. Then they were burning with an anger and hate so intense it shook him to the core of his being. He left after that, knowing that he had to change because the pain he saw in the room that night and the pain he felt in himself threatened to drown him.
He followed the young man, watching from a safe distance. It wouldn't do to be seen. Not yet. He wasn't ready, and he doubted if the young man he watched was either. He smiled as the young man laughed playfully with a few other boys who had to be the other pony express riders that his reports had mentioned. The young man looked happy. The older man sighed with regret. 'If only,' he thought to himself.
The young man turned suddenly causing the older man to duck quickly behind a post to avoid being seen. He took a couple of deep breaths to steady himself before casually walking down the boardwalk to the saloon. He paused after going through the bat wing doors allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim room. Quickly, he spied an empty table with a chair facing a window that looked out onto the scene from which he had just walked away.
As he sat down, a saloon girl saucily approached. "Watcha' havin' today, Mister?"
"Just coffee if you don't mind," he replied tonelessly, his eyes never leaving the window.
"Hmmph." The girl marched off recognizing that there wasn't any point in wasting her time on this one.
As she was walking back with the coffee, she ran into Marshal Hunter. "Excuse me, Marshal," she said lightly.
Teaspoon gave a slight tip of his hat and smiled. "No worries, Sarah." His eyes darted to the coffee cup in her hand. "Is that for the gentleman by the window?"
"Yes, it is."
Teaspoon relieved her of the cup with a flourish. "You get along now. I'll take this to him." Sarah gave a nod of thanks and went off to help some of her better customers. Teaspoon studied the man at the table for a moment before sauntering in his direction.
"I believe this is yours," said Teaspoon as he sat the cup down onto the table. With a little lilt in his voice, Teaspoon asked, "Mind if I sit down?" Without waiting for an answer, Teaspoon sat down and stared into blue eyes that reminded him way too much of one of his riders.
The man looked at Teaspoon taking in the star on his chest, the smile on his face, and the hard look in his eyes. This had to be Teaspoon Hunter- the reports were right; he wasn't a man to be trifled with. "How can I help you, Marshal?" The man swung his gaze briefly out the window to reassure himself that the young man was still there before taking a sip of his coffee.
Teaspoon sat back in his chair casually linking his hands across his belly. "Cut to the chase. I like that. What is it you find so interesting out that window that you have been ducking around town most of the afternoon?"
The man slowly sipped his coffee taking in the man that sat across from him. He could lie. Lies came so easily to his lips that he could think of several in a heartbeat. But this wasn't a time for lies. He had changed when it came to things important to his heart. He turned his attention out the window once more trying to appear more at ease than he felt. "My son," he said softly.
Teaspoon tried not to swear as he slowly followed the man's gaze out the window knowing exactly what he would see. Jimmy had just punched Cody on the arm for saying something stupid. Lou was shaking her head as she placed some tins in the back of the wagon. Buck, Ike, and Kid were walking out of Tompkins store with sacks of flour over their shoulders to be placed into the back of the wagon. "Kid," Teaspoon said matter-of-factly.
A small smile crept across the man's face. "Kept that, did he?"
"Yes, he did, Mr. errr..?" Teaspoon left it hanging.
"James," the man replied as he took a sip of coffee.
"James, what?" Teaspoon pushed.
James chuckled. "He hasn't told you, has he?" Teaspoon shook his head. "Well then, I don't think it's my place to tell you what my son has decided to keep to himself." Teaspoon could tell that Kid came by his reticence honestly. James smiled at Teaspoon's obvious irritation.
Teaspoon leaned forward and looked the man directly in the eye; his voice acquiring a hard edge. "What do you want here, James?"
James shrugged. "I've been keeping track of my sons for some time now. I heard about Jed, and when my job offered an opportunity near Rock Creek, I took it hoping to see Kid rather than just read reports about him."
Teaspoon raised an eyebrow. "Just what is it you do exactly?"
James grinned as he took a sip of coffee. "Nothing of importance."
Teaspoon doubted that- the cut of his clothes was a little too fine, his hands a little too clean, and then there were the reports- but ultimately it didn't matter. What did matter was Kid. Teaspoon wasn't sure Kid could handle another ghost from his past, particularly his father. "Tell me then what you intend to do about Kid."
James took another sip of coffee; his eyes searching Teaspoon's face over the rim. "You care a lot for him don't you?"
Teaspoon cleared his throat choosing his words carefully. "Yes, Sir, I do. You may be his father, but we- me, the boys and Rachel- are the family he chose."
A flash of pain played across James' face and was gone as quick as it came. He swung his gaze back out the window as he took a deep breath to steady his emotions. "Marshal, I'm not here to bring Kid more grief than I have already given him. This is just one step on my journey to forgiveness. Maybe one day I'll be able to forgive myself and then perhaps work up the courage to seek Kid's forgiveness, but today isn't that day."
He watched as Kid swung effortlessly onto the back of a paint mare, and his thoughts drifted back to a day when Kid was about five years old. He had just walked out to the stable. He stopped when he saw Kid jump up, grab the top rail of a stall, and struggle to swing himself up onto it. Kid kept doing this over and over. When James had asked Kid what he was doing, Kid replied, "Practicing, so one day I can mount a horse just like you, Pa." Kid was so proud, both of himself and his father. But that was before. Before he started drinking.
Teaspoon silently watched James. It was obvious that James was a million miles away, probably back in Virginia if Teaspoon had to guess. James dropped his gaze into his cup of coffee and sat unmoving. Teaspoon knew little of Kid's life growing up other than the bits and pieces that had been provided by Jed and Doritha. Kid didn't talk about himself much. But Teaspoon did know the boy who had grown into a man under his tutelage. Kid had a big heart, and an open mind that was willing to change. Teaspoon finally broke the silence that had enveloped them both. Gently, he said, "Kid just might surprise you."
James' shoulders and head dropped in defeat. "I doubt it. Could you forgive the man who killed your mother?"
Teaspoon sharply sucked in his breath, tension suddenly flowing through his whole body. Trying to keep his voice even, Teaspoon asked, "You killed your wife? Kid's mother?"
James sighed deeply then sat back slumped in the chair. His hands tightly gripped the coffee cup. "Not directly, Marshal. Nothing so quick as a bullet or a broken neck. No, I killed her slowly. I killed her spirit and with that her will to live. I killed her the first time I left the imprint of my knuckles on her cheek. When I drank, I was a-" James paused. "- a most unpleasant man," he finished.
James sensed rather than saw Teaspoon stiffen. He could feel the disgust and anger radiating from the marshal. He even knew what was running through the marshal's mind, because once James sobered up, he had the same ones himself. 'How could any sane, good, decent man hit a woman or a child? He was worse than a murderer.' And James also knew that the marshal had made the leap from wife beater to child beater when he saw Teaspoon grip the sides of his chair so tight that his knuckles turned white.
In answer to Teaspoon's unspoken question, James said softly, "Yes, I hit Kid and Jed, too. I hated myself more than they could ever hate me which just led to more drinking. It took Kid looking at me with murder in his eyes and me wanting to die to get me stop drinking. I left that night and never went back even after I was sober. I was too ashamed of what I had done. The best I could bring myself to do was keep an eye on them from a distance. I have stopped drinking, but I haven't stopped hating myself for what I did to them."
James paused and took a steadying breath. He turned his head to look at Teaspoon. "I want to thank you marshal for all you have done for Kid. He is lucky to have found a father at last."
Teaspoon closed his eyes trying to erase the images of a bruised and battered Kid from his mind. At least some of Kid's behavior now made more sense. Teaspoon took a deep breath. He had done several things in his life that he wasn't proud of and understood James' self-loathing. Further, he understood the need for forgiveness. Without it there was no moving forward.
Teaspoon slowly opened his eyes and looked into James' with an intensity that would have scared James had he not been to hell and back. "Forgiving yourself is one of the hardest things you'll encounter in life. I know it from personal experience. It's even harder to believe that someone you hurt, like you hurt Kid, can forgive you. Kid is a good man who just might surprise you if you give him a chance." Teaspoon leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. The tone of his voice became rock hard. "But let me make this clear James, if you ever hurt Kid again, whether it be with fists or words, me and the boys will track you down even if we have to go to the ends of the earth. Do I make myself clear?"
James mutely nodded. Teaspoon relaxed, sat back, and clapped his hands together. Smiling, he said, "Good. Enjoy your stay in Rock Creek. Let me know if I can be of further assistance." Touching the brim of his hat and giving a slight nod Teaspoon stood up. "G'day James." Then Teaspoon turned and slowly walked out of the saloon.
James quietly watched Teaspoon as he left the saloon. Setting his cup of cold coffee onto the table, he thought, 'Yes, Kid is a lucky man indeed.' Wearily James stood up. Teaspoon had given him a lot to think about, but the one thing Teaspoon didn't mention is that sometimes you have to love someone enough to let go. As he headed out of the saloon, he felt lighter than he had in years. He stopped when he reached the boardwalk, turning to look into the distance where Kid had gone. Today, he wasn't ready to follow, but tomorrow was another day. James spied Teaspoon across the street watching him. A slight smile played across his face as he tipped his hat at Teaspoon before he swung effortlessly onto his horse and headed out of town.