She had been enjoying the spectacular view of nature from her seat in the stagecoach. The trees were turning gold, their leaves shaking in the wind. She was headed west, where she belonged. She had missed this so much and seeing the wide plains again was soothing her heart. It was the right thing to do, there was no doubt about it anymore.
The stage slowed down when it entered a small town, and eventually pulled to a stop.
"Rock Creek, folks!" the driver shouted to the travelers inside.
Stepping down from the coach she looked around. She had been expecting a rather bigger town. Rock Creek was not much different from Sweetwater, and she started wondering what had encouraged her father to move here. As she waited for the driver to hand over her carpetbag, she began looking around the main street. She caught sight of a particular horse that was tethered on a post, next to a small building, at the end of the street. It was a beautiful painted mare and she was sure she had seen it before. She heard someone call out, "rider comin'!" and a young man rushed out the building almost instantly, mounted the brown horse next to the painted mare and took off in a matter of seconds, he rode away alongside the coming rider who threw him some kind of bag. The rider was out of sight just a moment afterwards. The second rider slowed down and dismounted. He wore brown trousers, a dark blue shirt and a brown jacket. His black hat was pushed very low on his head, almost on his eyes, his long black hair reaching his shoulders. Both rider and horse quickly disappeared behind the first building.
"Miss! Are you listening to me ?" the stagecoach driver was yelling from the top of the stage.
"Oh! Sorry Sir, what were you saying ?" She looked up.
"Is this your bag ?"
"Yes it is, thank you."
"Take a step back, I'm gonna let it drop down, okay?"
She did as she was told and her back collided with something. She spun around quickly and found herself face to face with a familiar figure. William Tompkins was standing right in front of her, with an unreadable face. She could not tell if he was glad or angry at her coming.
"You could've written me you were coming" was all he said, his eyes showing no emotion at all.
"I know... It's just... err..." she stammered involuntarily. "I really wanted to come and see you myself. And I didn't want another rejection from you, especially in a letter."
With her confidence back, she looked at him with a cold stare, ready to face the angry man if need be, even in the middle of the street. The loud thump made them both turn their heads. Her bag was now lying on the ground, in a cloud of dust. Tompkins bent over and took it by the handles. He began carrying it towards his home.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're here. I would have prepared your room, that's all." he said, obviously avoiding her stare.
"Why, you have a funny way of showing it, Dad!" she said, emphasizing her last word, and following him into his store.
Jennifer lay on her bed in her room, wide awake even after such an exhausting journey. She was still amazed that her father had a room for her in his new home. He had furnished it quite simply but it was cozy and very well fitted, for a girl in her late teens like herself. Her father was really a weird person. The last time she saw him, she was sure that he did not consider her his daughter any more, even if he had offered her to stay with him. Her being raised by the Lakota people, for the most part of her childhood, was something she was sure her father could never accept. And today, he acted like she had accepted his offer back then and she had just been away for some time.
Tonight he had prepared dinner, and made casual conversation with her. Deep down inside, she had expected a warmer 'welcome home', with kisses, bear hugs and cries, together with some "I'm so sorry"s and even some "I love yous", but that would have been asking too much. Considering her father's temper she might as well have had the door slammed to her face, if he had been in the same dispositions he was in when she had come back the first time. So all in all, it was not that bad. Still, she could not sleep. She thought back of the beautiful painted mare she saw earlier, but she still could not put her finger on where and when she had seen it before. She snapped out of her reverie when sounds of hoof beats resounded in the silent street. Rising from her bed she went to the window. When she parted the curtains to have a better view she had to grab the window frame to prevent herself from falling backwards.
"Buck...!" she whispered. How in the world was Buck in the same town again as her father? She was sure it was him, there was no questioning that. She could recognize him even while walking in the street, in the middle of the night. The almost full moon helped, of course.
That was it ! Buck, the Pony Express, the mare, her father's move, it all fell into place. Her father had followed the Pony Express here because they bring business. Sweetwater without the mail was probably a dead town by now. The mare belonged to one of the riders and Buck was the rider she had seen earlier.
Buck - he was there. She watched him walk his horse in the middle of the street towards the building at the end of the street.
Grabbing her robe she descended the stairs and put on her coat and her boots, before sneaking out the house into the darkness of the night.
Buck climbed down from his horse upon reaching the way station yard. He was trying his best to remain as quiet as possible so as not to awaken his fellow riders, who were already sleeping in the bunkhouse. They did not know about his nightly outings. Every other night, when Ike's absence was getting too hard to bear, and he found himself unable to sleep he had snuck out to Ike's funeral place. There he could feel closer to his friend and even speak to him out loud. While talking, he felt a lot better, but when there was no answer, the frustration was even harder to bear. Yet, he needed to go there to pour his lonely heart out to his friend. In a way, it was helping him getting over his loss.
Approaching the barn, he took extra care not to make the door squeak when he opened it, and sneaked himself and his horse inside.
Just as he was leading Warrior into his stall, he heard the barn door creaking. In a flash he turned around and was faced with a sight he never thought he would see again.
"Eagle Feather ?! Is this you ?" He whispered, unsure of his own voice.
"Yeah, Running Buck, it's me," she answered, while walking closer towards him.
Buck was rooted to the spot. It was not until she was toe to toe with him that he realized what was happening.
"What are you doing here? It's the middle of the night!"
"I just arrived this afternoon, I could not sleep, I heard your horse down the street, so I came over, that's all," she replied with a soft voice.
Buck could not help but stare at her in awe, he could not believe she was there, right in front of him. "How 'bout you, Buck? What are you doing out in the middle of the night?"
"I was just gone praying... on Ike's burial site..."
"Buck, I'm so sorry, I didn't know he passed away..."
"Of course, you couldn't know…" Buck couldn't speak any more. He felt bombarded with emotions. Jennifer could sense his uneasiness and reached out her hand towards his cheek. Buck let himself absentmindedly lean his head onto her hand, and he felt immediate relief.
"I probably should leave now," she whispered and he nodded. "I'm glad I saw you. We'll meet tomorrow, alright?"
"Yes" he answered, his voice barely over a whisper.
She let go of his face and took a few steps backwards, before turning around completely and leaving a very much-moved Buck. He in turn finished taking care of Warrior and left the barn within the next five minutes before heading to the bunkhouse and turning in for the night.
"Do you think they heard us?" Lou asked, sitting up. She had snuck into the barn with Kid earlier that evening so that they could talk without being disturbed.
"I don't think so," Kid answered before taking her by the shoulders and making her lie down next to him, on top of the bales of hay. "Now, where were we? Oh yes, I was kissing you… or maybe you were kissing me," he said while gently brushing his lips against hers.
"Kid! This is serious!" She scolded him and sat up again. "We have to discuss this."
"I know, honey… It's just… could we talk about it later?"
"No way! It's too important! You're the one that wishes to go back to Virginia! You thought that as soon as I marry you, that I will become your obedient wife and I would do whatever you ask me to? Well, you know what? It won't be that easy, mister! If this is how you see your married life with me, you are sorely mistaken."
"Lou, please, don't yell at me"
"I'm not yelling, I'm explaining things." Lou calmed down a bit. "Don't you understand?"
"I do, I do, but can't you see things from my point of view too? " Kid sat up and looked at her.
"I'm not from Virginia, Kid. I can't feel what you feel." She replied coldly.
"It's my homeland, sweetheart. It's all you need to know." Kid's face was so serious, Lou's heart broke for him again.
"Ok, fair enough, but why now? Why going back while there is a war over there?" Lou stared up at him, her eyes pleading and expectant.
"Because I don't want them to destroy everything. They would kill everything that made Virginia what it is. I have to go back to help prevent that. You see?"
"I see that you are Virginia's knight in shining armor, darling. But you have to be aware that war is everything but glamorous," Lou smirked.
"Are you making fun of me? Because I don't like it!" Kid's frustration rose to the top of his head. "I was born and raised in Virginia and I believe in a state's right to govern as it chooses, and I consider it my duty to help them. I may not agree with the way they govern, but who am I to make them do otherwise? How are Northern people allowed to impose their way to Southerners?"
Lou saw the truthfulness of his beliefs in his eyes and Kid calmed down a little. He remained silent for a moment, so was Lou. It was Kid that broke the silence.
"It's not just the land, honey. It's what lies beneath, and all the memories I have from back there, I don't want them all destroyed."
Lou let that last piece of information sink in before replying. "Nobody can destroy your memories, Kid. They are embedded in your mind for as long as they can be. Can't you see? You've left your homeland a few years ago now, and who knows what happened to the places you've been as a child. The important thing is what you wanna make of your future. If you consider it your duty to go fight, then why did you propose to me in the first place? Because we 'danced'? and you wanted to make things right by me? I hope it's not that, because otherwise I'm sorry but I will have to change my mind and not marry you next week." She paused a moment. "Kid, I know you, and I know you love me and you want me safe and all. But you also want to stop everything bad that happens in the world! You'd better start thinking about a way to prevent it from whirling around because, something bad will always happen somewhere!" she smiled.
"It's too bad this time it's your homeland that is turned into a battlefield, and I am really sorry about what is happening to this country. But sometimes you have to think about what is best for yourself. I'm not like you, I really don't have fond memories of the places I lived in as a child, but what I feel I need now, is to be with you, for as long as we can, and we'll make our own memories, wherever that may be. I want us to be a family."
Kid listened to her in silence. He found it impossible to speak after what she had said. Lou felt Kid's trouble.
"This is how I see things, Kid. You are my life. You remember what I made you promise when you proposed? Don't leave me behind ever again. I won't be left behind because it's safer. But I won't go into war for futile reasons, I hope you understand me. Now, I'm off to bed. Please let me know what you decide. If we are to marry, we have to stick together. I love you too much to let you go alone."
She leaned over and kissed him tenderly. Then she rose and left him to think things over.
The rising sun saw Jimmy already up and finishing readying to go, since he was scheduled for the morning run. He had been busy putting his clothes and boots on, doing his best to keep the noise at a minimal, in order not to wake his fellow riders but, on standing up, he managed to bang his head against the post of his bunk. He doubled up in pain and cursed himself under his breath, still trying to keep it low.
Buck got up at the sound and reached for his gun, ready to shoot at a possible intruder.
"Don't shoot! It's just me," Jimmy warned. "This damned post found a sudden liking to my head," he explained with a miffed smirk.
Bust re-holstered his gun and stood up. "There's no point in trying to get back to sleep now. I'll get dressed quickly and help you prepare your horse."
"Thanks, Buck. At least I did not wake the whole house," he chuckled, pointing at a happily snoring Cody. He then noticed that the other bunks were empty. "Where is everyone?"
Buck shrugged and a small grin appeared on his lips. "You know, Noah's on a run, he's due back this morning. And the other two bunks are Kid's and Lou's," Buck pointed out.
"Oh yeah, let's not go there and imagine what those two may be doing!" Jimmy laughed.
Buck winked at his friend as he went out to the stable and prepare Sundance for Jimmy.
Jimmy headed to Rachel's house in order to grab a nice cup of coffee, and maybe breakfast if he was lucky before Noah rode in. Well, that was asking too much because, as soon as he had poured a cup, Rachel informed him that a rider was coming.
Buck was exiting the barn with Jimmy's horse just as Jimmy ran out of the main house putting his jacket on.
"Thanks," he said to Buck and took the reins of his horse. Noah rode in and threw the mochilla to Jimmy who took off right away.
Buck approached Noah as he was dismounting. "Wow, you look like you've brought all the dust in the prairie back with you," Buck joked.
"Yeah, I feel like a sand magnet. I can't wait to put on clean clothes. Will you take care of this exhausted horse while I go freshen up?"
"Thanks, buddy." Noah left Buck and hurried to the shower. Buck took Noah's horse to its stall and silently began grooming him. ***
Kid awoke to an unusual sound, somebody was brushing a horse , whispering to him. What was a horse doing in the bunkhouse? That's when he realized he was not on his bunk but on the bale of hay in the stable. He pondered for a few moments if he could just wait for whoever was there to go away, but then he thought that there always should be someone coming and going there, so he just might as well show up now. He sat up and tried to rub away the last clouds of drowsiness in his eyes before climbing down the ladder.
Buck couldn't help but smile when he heard Kid on the hay loft.
"Did Lou kick you out of the bunkhouse last night? You're not even married yet, and she already can't stand your snoring!" he laughed with his friend.
"We had a discussion last night, and... well it ended in quite a disagreement," Kid replied sheepishly.
"Anything the matter?" Buck got instantly concerned.
"Sort of… It's just that, you know how I've been thinking about going back to Virginia if the war starts off?" At his friend's nod, Kid continued. "Well, Lou has kind of showed me her point of view in the matter."
"I bet it is different from yours!" Buck smiled as Kid sighed heavily.
Buck's glee began fading when he realized where they where and that his friend might have seen him the night before.
"Kid, when did Lou send you up there?"
"She didn't. We were there together from after dinner. She left me alone right after..." Then it dawned on him that Buck was there too the night before. "Hey! You were there too last night, weren't you?"
Buck blushed a bit. "Yeah... I... Sometimes I find it hard to sleep, and I went out for a night ride."
Kid could see his friend's discomfort and couldn't help but smile at his shyness. "You were not alone, Buck. I remember clearly hearing voices, yours and a woman's". Kid's smile was growing bigger while Buck was turning a darker shade of crimson, if that were possible.
"Err... It wasn't planned, you know. It's just that... she saw me riding down the street, and she followed me here."
"Buck, don't fret, it's ok. I'm sure you didn't do anything wrong." Buck nodded at Kid's statement, but remained silent.
"Could you just tell me who that was? Lou and I could not recognize her, well you were whispering, so..."
"Jennifer Tompkins came for a visit to her father."
"Wow! I didn't think she would come back to him."
"Yeah! Me neither, but yet, she did. We should be meeting again today, she might tell me a little more about it." Buck felt his embarrassment lessen while he was speaking. The matter of the beginning of their conversation came back to his mind. "What about you, Kid? Have you done some thinking then, last night?"
"Yeah. Too much I'm afraid! I have not slept at all, and I have a very bad headache!"
"Have you decided anything, at least?"
"I think so. I don't feel that good about it, but I know I really don't have any other option." Kid replied despondently. "Have you seen Lou this morning?"
"No, I'm afraid. Her bunk was empty, too. Maybe she slept at Rachel's."
Kid had a quick look around and noticed that Lightning's stall was empty. "Maybe she did, but she got away early this morning."
"Come on, Kid. Don't fret. Her whole life is about to change when she says 'I do'. She's allowed to have some time on her own."
Kid was not sure how he should take Lou's disappearance, but he didn't want to worry his friend. He went out the stable to the bunkhouse to freshen a little before having breakfast and go looking for his fiancée.
Jennifer was exhausted. She sat down heavily on a nearby oil drum. His father had hired her that morning to make his inventory before opening his shop. He considered that as there were the two of them, the inventory would go faster and he would not even need to close down the shop. Little did he know that his daughter had not slept that much the night before and her capacities were not at their greatest.
"Dad. Are we done now?" she asked with a sigh.
"The greater part of the shop is done, I can finish it on my own." Jennifer exhaled a sigh of relief at her father's statement. "You can start with the store room now, Jen."
"What? Dad, I'm whacked. I'm done with it," she protested.
"You have anything better to do?"
"Yeah, rest. You woke me before dawn to help you. That was three hours ago and I have not even had breakfast yet!" She found it harder and harder to keep her temper. That father of hers was such a workaholic! She felt tears welling up, they pooled in her eyes and made her vision foggy. "This is not what I came over for," she whispered, closing her eyes, failing in preventing her tears from falling down her cheek.
"Jen, darling. I'm sorry. You're right." Tompkins strode towards her and took her into an embrace with a kindheartedness she didn't know he was capable of. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her eyes. "Go back upstairs and make yourself a good breakfast. I could have a cup of coffee myself. I have to stay here to open the shop. You can rest all morning if you'd like, ok?"
"Ok, dad." She sniffed slightly. Her father gave her a kiss on the cheek then pushed her kindly towards the staircase. "I'll bring you a cup of coffee in a bit," she said, climbing up the stairs.
Once on the first floor, she hurried to the kitchen and lit up the stove. She filled the kettle and put it to boil. She kept upbraiding herself for being so weak, hated showing that vulnerability, especially to her father whose coldness was commonly known. Why had she come back to him, she wondered. The thought was so evident back then, she had to give him another chance. He was her father after all, even if she had been brought up by a different family. How she missed her Lakota family sometimes. Running Bear was the only father figure she had as a child. He had cared for her mother, so much more that Bill Tompkins did in her recollection of the past.
Yet, if she thought hard, some fragments of memory from when she was little came back to her. She remembered Bill and Sally holding each other, working together at the shop. Her train of thought was stopped as the kettle began to whistle. She opened all the closets and cabinets, and drawers to find a coffee pot. In the process, she found a box at the bottom of one cabinet, with "Sally" written over the lid. She took it and put it on the kitchen table, she put to coffee to brew.
The box contained a picture of Bill and Sally's wedding, together with a few letters that Sally had written while she was engaged and still lived at her parents. Even though she did not want to intrude into her parents' love life, she couldn't help but read the letters. She was taken aback when she realized how much her mother had been in love with her father. In her letters, Sally suggested how Bill could be hopeful about their move to the west. The prospect of discovering a new land and meeting new people excited him a lot. This differed so much from the grumpy and often times prejudiced shopkeeper he became. His change in behavior surely had to do with her and her mother's abduction by Indians ten years ago.
While she prepared a full cup of coffee for her father, she decided it was her duty to get him to change back to who he was back then.
Kid had been looking for Lou for about an hour, when Rachel, exasperated by his behavior, had gone and told him that Lou had decided to spend some time on her own. Rachel had said that Lou would spend the day at Apple Creek for a change.
Kid knew enough of these two not to try and find Lou in Apple Creek. First because if he did, Lou would be angry with him, and second because he had a feeling that Apple Creek was not really Lou's destination.
In the end, he decided to saddle Katy and ride to the pond to rehearse his speech on the decision he made the night before. He had to find the right words so that the damage made would be minimal. On his way there, he caught a glimpse of a horse a couple hundred yards from the path. The animal looked familiar, so Kid decided to go check it. Once he was closer, he definitely recognized the horse. It was Lightning. He was glad he hadn't rushed to Apple Creek!
Lou was sitting on the edge of the pond. She had taken her boots off and her feet hung in the refreshing water. Kid couldn't help but stare at her for a few moments. So much for rehearsal time, he had to face her right here, right now. This was something Kid dreaded. He remembered being completely in knots when he proposed to her, but now, it was worse, if it were possible. Lou could be so difficult at times and he really had no clue as to what her reaction might be.
*** After having had a quick breakfast with her father, Jennifer had been almost kicked out of the shop by William Tompkins, who really wanted to open his business because he had already been fifteen minutes late in opening his shop. So she decided to try and got to the way station and see if Buck was free to have a chat with her.
As she approached the station, she saw Buck striding towards her. Obviously, Buck had been in the same state of mind and had decided, after taking care of Noah's horse, to go to town and meet her again.
"Hi there!" he welcomed her.
"Hi! I'm glad to see you again," she said with a smile that brightened her whole features. He reached out his hands, almost without thinking, ready to take her by the shoulders and hug her right there in the middle of the street. But he quickly got a hold of himself and took only her right hand and shook it with an energy that startled her. She felt his awkwardness and didn't how to respond. The coat of the night that hid them from the rest of the world last night was now gone, and they both felt uneasy in broad daylight.
"Were you able to sleep last night ?" Buck enquired.
"Yeah, a little bit. Dad asked me to help him with the inventory this morning. I only had a couple of hours of rest. I hope it doesn't show too much." She put her free hand on her cheek in an attempt to hide the lack of sleep that might show under her eyes.
"Don't worry, Jen. You're beautiful as ever." Buck gently placed a kiss on her hand. He felt that he might be a little too forward for her taste and let go of her hand.
"Thanks Buck." She tried to relax a bit, and she added "Could you show me around Rock Creek ? I've only arrived yesterday, and I'm not so sure that my dad would take some time off to give me a tour of the town."
"Of course, it will be my pleasure."
Jenny took the arm Buck was offering her and tried to make a move towards the town, but Buck had another idea, obviously. "Let's start with the most important part, shall we? This is the Pony Express Station of Rock Creek," he said, with a smile from ear to ear.
As Kid finally got the courage to approach the lonely figure that looked so deep in thought, he almost startled when she spoke.
"What took you so long?"
Kid didn't know how to respond. Was she upset that it had taken him almost all night to figure out what he wanted to tell her?
She continued, "I heard you ride in like fifteen minutes ago."
"Oh! Err… I didn't want to disturb you, that's all."
"Well, it depends on whether you reached a decision or not."
"I did. I know what I have to do, what I think is best," he said, trying to keep his expression as neutral as possible. Crouching next to her, he took one of her hands in his.
"I love you, Louise," he started.
"Kid, I know, I love you too, but that's not the point."
"Please, let me speak. This is almost the most important decision I made in my life."
"Ok, sorry. Go ahead, I won't interrupt you." Her eyes were locked on his and he could see a great expectation in them. He hoped he wouldn't disappoint.
"I do love you, Louise, more than I thought possible. You are my life too, and I cannot picture myself in the future without you by my side. The thing is, my attachment to Virginia is also strong, I explained that to you last night. But you are right, maybe now is not the time to go back. Maybe I'm too involved with both sides of this conflict. On slavery for example, I agree with the North that it shouldn't be allowed. But I also agree with the South that it has been their way of life for years and they have every right to choose for themselves.
"Eventually I got to the conclusion that the Virginia I know is bound to change, whether I get involved or not. So I decided not to go."
Lou let out the breath she didn't know she was holding and lowered her eyes to the ground.
"Lou, are you disappointed in me?" Kid asked, seeing her change of mood.
"What? No, why would I be? I'm relieved," she said, opening her bright brown eyes again and Kid saw them shining with unshed tears. "Please, finish what you were saying."
"Well, that was mainly it. I made up my mind. There is no point in leaving for the East. My life is with you now, and I'll be happy wherever you want to live. And, maybe, sometime in the future, when the war is over, I can take you to Virginia, to show you where I was brought up."
"This is great, Kid. I'm happy for that. Why the long face, though?"
"Well, you know that I've been talking to you about going back if the war started. I thought you might think less of me for changing my mind."
"Kid, changing your mind is a sign that you are growing up. I love you."
"I love you too, Louise."
He captured her mouth with his and took her into his arms passionately. The dark cloud that was hanging on top both their heads had now disappeared. They could now face their future with more tranquility.
After showing Jennifer the whole of Rock Creek, Buck had taken her to the park that was next to the church, and they sat on a bench. They were getting reacquainted with each other, and both were finding that so simple. Buck had told her all about Ike's recent death and how he had been affected. Jennifer had been a very good listener and Buck could feel she might help him through this time of grieving. Having lost her own mother not that long ago, she understood him perfectly. Yet, she had managed to avoid the subject of her coming back west, and Buck couldn't help but be curious about it.
"So, Jenny, tell me. Why have you come back to him?"
"To my father? Well, it was something I felt I had to do. When my mother died, I blamed him, and I felt like I couldn't stand to be with him."
Buck understood that clearly enough. He reacted quite poorly himself to Ike's death, and he had gone and killed to man responsible. At least, she didn't go that far, she simply went away.
"But then I found myself in an environment that was so far from what I knew. I tried to fit in, I really tried. But in the end, I found it was pointless. My place wasn't there. And with time, my anger towards my father ease a little and I felt I had to give him another chance."
"Really? You know how headstrong he is, don't you?"
"I know that. But I also know that my mother had once been in love with him. I think she never stopped loving him, even after Running Bear had made her his wife. That's why I think there must be something good in him, after all. This morning I found letters my mother had written to him while they were engaged. As I was reading them, it made me see him in a different light, you know."
"She didn't know what to expect back then," Buck said ironically.
"Buck, please. Don't be so harsh. I know you two don't get along, and I was feeling the same way when I re-met him last year. But, I can assure you, he's not that bad, I can feel it." Jennifer's jaw was straight and Buck could tell she meant what she was saying.
"Sorry, Jen. But you know as well as I do how prejudiced he is, especially towards Indians."
"It's just a shell, I think."
"You think or you hope?"
"I'm sure. He strengthened his skin when my mother and I were abducted. I need to see what lies beneath his armor, if his heart is still as pure as when he was engaged to my mother."
Buck watched Jennifer's face the whole time and couldn't help but feel drawn to her. The way she talked about her father was fascinating. For him, Bill Tompkins had always been the grouchy shopkeeper. He had even been glad to leave Sweetwater and its population behind, just because of him. When he realized that Tompkins had followed them, Buck had really been disappointed, but there wasn't anything he could do, so he did not complain about it. Now that Jennifer had chosen to come back to her father, he felt glad the man had followed the Pony Express to Rock Creek.
"You disagree, don't you?" she stated after a while.
"What? No, no, I just don't know. Time will tell, as they say." Buck was really unsure about the whole thing, but he did not want to put down her hopes. Tompkins was her father after all, and since he had such a nice daughter, he couldn't be that bad. Yet, deep down, Buck was confident that what he liked in Jennifer was exactly what Tompkins disliked the most: her upbringing among the Lakotas. She probably had suffered a lot from her abduction, but all in all, she had managed to enjoy her life there, and she benefited from it. She had lived on both sides, just like him, and she held on to what was best from both ways of life.
Jennifer had stopped talking, and so had Buck. They remained in comfortable silence for a while until she said she had to go back to the shop and give a hand to her father. They both stood up at the same time, and Buck bent over and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. Jennifer, though taken aback by his sudden display of affection, felt her heart melting and her legs weakened. But she managed to keep a straight face, she smiled at him and left.
Buck was stunned from his own behavior. He had just kissed her and she looked pleased. It dawned on him that he had begun having feelings for her last year, when he had rescued her, even though she had never showed gratefulness back then. She was too busy blaming every one that had a hand in her abduction from her Lakota family. It had taken her some time, but she seemed now at peace with her past. And thus she was all the more appealing so maybe something good could come out of it.
The church was literally packed with people. Obviously, people loved weddings, and this one was really peculiar: two Pony Express riders were getting married. One of them used to be a boy, or at least pass for one. And today, in her beautiful white dress, Louise looked nothing like a boy. It was a wonder she managed to keep her secret to everyone until a couple of days ago. Apparently, her secret was not so secret to some of them, but Louise was glad that those who knew never spilled the beans and she had been able to keep her job for that long.
Though everyone was focused on the happy couple, Buck had eyes only for the blonde-haired woman sitting on the other side of the aisle. She must have sensed that she was being watched, and she turned her head towards him. Once her gaze got locked on his, she found herself unable to disconnect from his stare.
Kid and Lou exchanged their vows and the whole assembly began cheering and whistling, but Running Buck and Eagle Feather were oblivious to the rest of the crowd. They were reading in each other's eyes the mirror expression of their own thought : the hope that someday they might be able to find the same happiness.
Author's Note: Thanks to Frankie for her great beta-reading