Topic #3: Picture Prompt (see Picture Below)
|Sunrise on a New Day
|Window to the World
|One Moment in Time
|What Love Built
|Where the Heart Is
|Goodbyes and New Beginnings
The dust was everywhere. It coated the room and its meagre contents like a dusting of powdered sugar on a Christmas fruitcake. A candle nestled low in a bottle that sat in the corner by the window. It had been burnt to a nub and its spent wax formed haphazard bas-relief patterns on the bottle's surface. The wall near the candle was tinged with smoke leavings that had traced the outline of the brass bedhead over the cracked and distintegrating plaster.
'Lou had been a night reader,' he remembered. He lit the candle and pictured her tucked in the bed and voraciously devouring books that had taken her to every corner of the globe. Taking her on the journeys that had been denied her in marriage.
He picked up the two faded and moth-eaten pillowslips that lay over the bedhead that filled the corner of the room. Disturbed by his movements, dust spiralled up into the air and waltzed gracefully over his shoulder. He had a feeling that under the dust, her scent still clung to the fabric. He didn't need to test his theory. Her scent, and every other detail of her, was carved into his soul.
His eyes lifted to the tattered remains of the lace shawl he had sent her. She had draped it across the lower half of the window. She had written once that she had put it there because looking out of the window through it, was like looking at the world through his eyes. Given the sad, torn state of it now, he found it devastatingly appropriate.
Unable to resist the urge, he lifted a finger and drew a heart in the dust that sheeted the window. For a moment his mind was young with remembered youth and promise. He was about to add a 'J loves L', but thought better of it. He rubbed out the heart altogether using the decaying pillow-slips. That was appropriate too. To use a gift from her husband to brush away the evidence of his love from the world's sight.
He dropped the pillow-slips on the floor.
He lifted his finger again and wrote on the upper pane. He smiled with regret, loss and utter loneliness, then blew out the smoking candle and left.
For as long as the small house stood, the window bore the message he had left.
'Lou was here, and so was love.'
Buck stood at the window, its once cheery panes mired in dirt and grime, and tried to put a halt to the misery that claimed his heart.
Below him, the formerly thriving township of Prairie Flats shuffled listlessly to its demise. The mine had run dry a year ago, and with its loss hundreds were out of work. The railroad saw no need to maintain its station in the town.what with so many leaving for greener pastures. A few stalwarts still lingered on, determined. or desperate. to make the town solvent again. Buck knew it was a useless gesture. Prairie Flats was dead. They just forgot to bury the body.
Sighing, he pushed aside the one rattletrap chair in the room and brushed his hand against the ragged curtain fluttering in the late afternoon breeze. It wasn't difficult to summon up the memory of the splendour of this room in its glory days. The elegance of the people that congregated here. The beauty of one person in particular.
Buck closed his eyes. and remembered.
* * * * *
".And it was his foresight and courage that halted the advance of the rebel column mere miles from the territory border. Had it not been for one man's actions, hundreds -- nay, thousands -- of lives would have been lost. It is my distinct pleasure in my official capacity as governor of the great Territory of Nevada to present the medal of valour to our esteemed guest of honour, Mr. Aloysius Hunter."
Buck joined in the applause that greeted Teaspoon's ascent to the podium. Buck grinned as Teaspoon took off his much-worn hat to wave it exuberantly in the air. Though the former stationmaster now made use of a cane, he was certainly no less spry or enthusiastic.
Buck half-listened as Teaspoon deftly praised the efforts of the men and women of Prairie Flats in rebuffing the confederate attack. It wasn't that he regretted attending the ceremony to give tribute to Teaspoon's heroism. He simply wished that one of the other former riders could have joined him. To say that he felt out of place was an understatement.
Shifting on his feet, Buck glanced around the spacious hotel ballroom. His eyes lit on the banquet tables, laden with every northern delicacy he could imagine. Cody would love them. but Cody was still scouting for the army, likely deep in enemy territory and risking his life. Jimmy. well, Jimmy wouldn't have found much to like. unless he could spike the punch. But Jimmy -- and the flask of whiskey that became part of his costume when the Express disbanded -- was long gone. His invitation to this soiree had been "returned to sender" by the owner of the hotel in which he'd last hung his hat. Kid and Lou would have attended, had Lou not been in the final weeks of her confinement. Buck shrugged uncomfortably. He could understand why his friends weren't here to support their mentor. but he didn't have to like it.
The sound of lively applause brought Buck back to the present with a snap. Looking around guiltily, he joined in while hoping that Teaspoon hadn't notice his woolgathering from the podium. He took a few steps forward to offer his congratulations, but Teaspoon was soon overwhelmed by more important well-wishers. Buck made his way to the punchbowl to wait it out.
"What a. strange little man."
Buck found himself none-too-gently pushed aside as a tall redhead in a big hat reached across him to the finger sandwiches.
"I know!" her companion agreed breathlessly, manicured nails spread across her chest dramatically. "Surely there were more appropriate candidates for the medal of valour. I don't think that Mr. Hunter has had a bath this century! And those clothes!"
Buck looked down at his shoes, silently fuming, before turning to the two women. "I imagine Mr. Hunter was honoured for his bravery, not his fashion sense."
As expected, he earned nothing but a couple of dirty looks for his trouble. The redhead drew an arm around her companion, tugging the smaller women towards the pastries. He turned away as they bent their heads together. "I can't believe they let those people in here," the redhead muttered to her friend.
"Why, Clara Taylor!" a lively feminine voice chimed in. "What an interesting choice of gown. Are you working in the saloon part-time or full-time?"
Buck's head whipped up in time to see the redhead's look of horror. Her gaping mouth tried desperately to form words, but all she could seem to manage was the gasping, gurgling sound of a fish on a hook. Her wide eyes were fixated somewhere at a point beyond Buck's shoulder. He turned in time to see the owner of the voice stride confidently into view, and felt himself gasping for an entirely different reason.
"Don't look so shocked, Clara," the newcomer smirked at the redhead. "Why, you're acting as though there's something wrong with me judging you on your appearance!"
Leaving Clara to flail in her wake, the newcomer turned to Buck with a dazzling smile. "I don't believe we've been introduced," she said, holding out her hand. "Elizabeth Clayton."
Buck realized his mouth was hanging open. Closing it with a snap, he struggled to remember where he was. He struggled to remember who he was. He reached to take the proffered hand, then saw that he was still holding a half-eaten watercress sandwich. Hastily dropping the tidbit onto the table behind him, he managed to control his breathing long enough to get something out. "Buck Cross, ma'am."
Elizabeth's smile widened as their hands met. "A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cross. Have you enjoyed today's festivities?"
Buck returned the smile with what he hoped was confidence as he desperately racked his brain trying to remember what "festivities" had been planned for the day. Was there a pie contest? An auction? Why hadn't he paid closer attention to Teaspoon's letter? Finally he shrugged. "I only arrived an hour ago. I just wanted to be here for Teasp. Mr. Hunter."
Elizabeth quirked a brow. "Oh? Are you friends with Mr. Hunter? My father had him over for supper last night. He tells the most outrageous stories." She laughed. "I couldn't decide whether I wanted to believe him or not!"
Buck joined in the laughter, imagining the tales that Teaspoon had dredged up to regale the lovely Elizabeth and her father. "I imagine they were all true, Miss Clayton. Teaspoon's worked as a Texas Ranger, a gold miner, a marshal, a dozen other jobs. He was the stationmaster when I rode for the Express."
"A Pony Express rider. How exciting." Elizabeth pressed his hand briefly before releasing it, blue eyes sparkling. She leaned close, lowering her voice. "But tell me, Mr. Cross. how did Mr. Hunter come by the name 'Teaspoon'?"
Buck grinned. Teaspoon was going to KILL him for this, but he couldn't help himself. Who could resist eyes like pure crystal springs and hair like spun gold? "Well, it all started when he was a private with the Rangers, and--"
"Elizabeth, there you are!"
Buck frowned at the interruption, pleased to note that the expression was mirrored on the face of the beautiful woman at his side. He grinned when Elizabeth rolled her eyes before turning to face the cause of the disruption in their conversation.
"Daniel," she greeted the newcomer coolly. "Let me introduce you to Mr. Cross. Buck Cross, Daniel McPherson."
Buck nodded a greeting, taking in the other man's appearance and trying to avoid thinking about the disheartening lurch in his stomach. Daniel had several inches, several years and, apparently, thousands of dollars on him. The man's Paris-style surcoat alone was worth several months of Buck's current income. Buck found himself tugging self-consciously on the sleeve of his own jacket. His best, but several years out of date. In fact, it was the same jacket he'd owned when he rode with the Express. The only good jacket he'd ever owned. He'd just never had the occasion to buy another. He'd never wanted to impress anyone before.
The older man curtly returned the nod, not bothering to hide his displeasure at finding Elizabeth with an Indian. An undesirable. Buck felt his stomach lurch again at the familiar look of derision and contempt.
"Elizabeth." Daniel tugged gently on Elizabeth's arm, trying to ease her away from Buck's side. "You really mustn't let your time be monopolized by," he glared down his nose at Buck, "some people. Come; I want you to meet the Randalls."
"Come?" Elizabeth repeated incredulously. "Do I appear to be a mangy cur, Daniel, that you can lead about at your leisure?"
"Daniel." Elizabeth cut off the protest sharply. "I thought I had made my feelings perfectly clear. Apparently that is not so. Let me explain it to you in a way that will leave no room for misinterpretation. I would rather be rolled in honey and staked naked on a anthill than spend any time with you and your friends. Do you understand me, Daniel?"
Buck had heard of people turning green, but he'd always thought it was an exaggeration used in badly-written dime novels. He didn't think he'd actually ever witness it.
"Fabulous." Elizabeth turned from the older man in a whirl of taffeta, just as the band began to play their first tune of the evening. "Where were we, Mr. Cross?"
"I have absolutely no idea."
"We'll remember soon enough," Elizabeth smiled. She cocked her head, listening for a moment to the lively music. "Would you like to dance, Mr. Cross? I know it isn't considered proper for the lady to ask the gentleman, and Emily Post would likely have a fit, but I really don't care about what Emily Post thinks about. well, about much of anything."
"I'm beginning to see that," Buck managed to sputter out.
"So. shall we dance?"
Buck gulped. "I. I don't know." When Elizabeth merely raised a brow, he smiled. "The thing is, Miss Clayton. you may look like a butterfly, but you sting like a bee!"
Elizabeth laughed, eyes sparkling with glee. "Only to those with small minds or endless arrogance. I don't think you fit into those categories, do you, Mr. Cross?"
"I would say that I don't."
"Then," Elizabeth wrapped her arm snugly around Buck's, leading him to the dance floor, "I promise to keep my stinger firmly sheathed."
Two hours and many dances later, Elizabeth and Buck found themselves ensconced in a corner of the room taking a much-deserved breather. Buck watched as Elizabeth stood gazing out the window, her forehead pressed to the glass as she strained to take in as much of the night sky as she could. The moonlight shining through the windowpane turned her fair skin to alabaster and her golden hair to summerfire, and Buck ran his hand through the delicate lace fabric of the curtains to keep himself from letting his fingers drift across that pale flesh, to keep himself from running his hands through that cornflower hair, to keep himself grounded and safe.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Elizabeth sighed, finally pulling herself away from the glitter of the stars that blanketed the sky.
"Beautiful," Buck agreed with a playful grin.
Elizabeth's eyes caught his as she blushed, pushing teasingly at his arm. "Will you be in town long, Mr. Cross?"
"I." Buck glanced down at the floorboards, absently twirling a slender finger through the fragile lace of the curtains and cursing himself for not planning an extended visit with Teaspoon. Buck knew his reasons had seemed valid at the time. His horse ranch was still fairly young, and so were his staff. Running a complex operation, maintaining the books, ensuring that the horses were properly cared for. it was all so new to him. New and confusing. and exhilarating as hell. It wasn't that he didn't trust Bernard to take care of things while he was gone. It was just that Buck felt so much better knowing that he was there. should he be needed.
He raised his eyes, aware that Elizabeth was still watching him expectantly. "I have to go back to my ranch tomorrow," he explained, heartening a little at Elizabeth's disappointed expression. "But I'm planning to come back soon," he added, part of him wondering where the heck that came from.
"Next month, in fact." Who was this person, Buck wondered, and how did he get access to my lips?
"I have to come back into town to. to." Buck floundered, at a loss. What could he possibly need to do in Prairie Flats that he couldn't do in Sweetwater? "Uhh.to."
"To visit me?" Elizabeth's eyes gleamed mischievously.
"Am I that obvious?"
Elizabeth grinned easily, tucking her arm in his. "I sense that guile is not part of your repertoire, Mr. Cross. A fact for which I am very grateful."
"Then. if I'm going to be courting you, Miss Clayton."
"You should be calling me Elizabeth."
"And you should be calling me Buck."
"Oh," Elizabeth smiled, leading the Kiowa back to the dance floor, "I'll be calling you, Buck."
* * * * *
"Want to head over to the restaurant for supper?"
Buck heard the voice, but it seemed to come from miles away. Opening his eyes, he let the tattered remains of the curtain fall from his hand with a sigh.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Buck closed his eyes again as the supple arms wrapped around him from behind, enveloping him in warmth. He allowed himself to lean back slightly, drawing comfort from his wife's embrace.
"Just thinking how everything has changed. So much is gone. Destroyed. Entire hunting grounds. Thousands of buffalo. And.even this. Even Prairie Flats." Buck turned in Elizabeth's arms, cradling his hands to her cheeks tenderly. "I fell in love with you in this room."
Elizabeth drew back, taking his hands in hers. "Change is a part of life, Buck. And for everything that is gone, we have to believe that something wonderful will replace it. Something wonderful," she repeated, pressing his hand against her still-flat stomach.
Buck smiled, albeit a little shakily. "I still can't believe I'm going to be a father."
"You'll be magnificent."
"I don't know. Imagine if it's a girl." Buck shuddered elaborately.
"I don't know if I can handle two fiery blondes with attitude," Buck continued, easily sidestepping Elizabeth's half-hearted punch.
Elizabeth pouted, though her eyes were sparkling. "Didn't I promise to keep my stinger sheathed where you were concerned?"
"You did, and you have," Buck confirmed. At Elizabeth's triumphant smile, he added, "At least most of the time."
"Buck Cross, you completely deserved that! An entire pail of red paint on my wash line! I don't even know--"
Laughing, Buck silenced his wife the way he always silenced her -- with a kiss. When the pair drew apart, they were both breathless and definitely hungry for something other than supper.
"Race you back to the hotel."
Buck scuffed his toe on the dirty floorboard. "I don't know, in your delicate condition. Go!"
He took off at a run, Elizabeth's delighted squeal of "Cheater!" echoing in his ears. The twosome clattered down the stairs and into the street, laughing like children. Outside, Buck caught his wife in his arms and kissed her again before taking her hand and leading her to the hotel. To something wonderful.
A torn lace curtain hangs in front of the bottom half of a frosty window.
A metal headboard supporting a carefully folded quilt stands in front of the cold frosty window.
Silence - deafening silence where there used to be laughter and joy - fills the room.
It is replaced by the wind - howling mournfully outside the cold, uncaring, frosty window - as I stand and survey our room.
The cold wind brings with it the smell of fresh turned earth.
His presence, his scent, his being linger in this place of death and decay.
I stand - lost, forgotten, uncared for - alone.
It’s been almost five years since she left here, and now, once again she stands in the doorway looking over the room that used to be hers. The once beautiful lace curtain now hangs in tatters, but strangely enough, her grandmother’s quilt remains still neatly folded on the corner of her headboard. She crosses the room and gently fingers it - afraid it will turn to dust with her touch. Surprisingly, it doesn’t. She picks it up and puts it to her cheek. The coolness is a pleasant unexpected gift. She lets it comfort her as she sits and lets the memories wash over her. She can almost believe she didn’t use to work here. She can almost believe her other life is the only one she’s ever had. She would be able to convince herself of this if it wasn’t for “the boy.” If he didn’t exist, she could forget her previous life completely. Of course, if he didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be her past life; it would be her current life. If he didn’t exist, she’d still be here.
A knock at the door brings her back to the present. “You alright?” he asks concern filling his voice.
She nods not yet trusting her voice to keep from betraying her.
“Explain to me again, how this,” he pauses and lets his hand sweep the room, “is all your.”
She sighs. “The man who owned it,” she starts. “The man you saved me from,” she pauses again collecting herself to keep the tears from falling.
He crosses the room and sits next to her on the bed. He puts his hand gently on top of hers. “I remember,” he says. “I would have killed him if you’d have let me. He deserved to die for what he did.”
She looks at him and smiles, sadly. “I know, but I couldn’t. He, he was my father,” she sobs. “I wanted to get away, but I couldn’t let you kill him. If I had, you’d always be the man who killed my father.” The sobbing gives way to a flood of tears. She is no longer able to hide her shame and pain.
He pulls her to him and holds her until she cries herself out. Then, he gently turns her face to make her look at him. “Now I understand,” he says. “If I killed him, you couldn’t leave with me and then you wouldn’t have been able to get away in time. But why? You didn’t leave on good terms. Why would he leave his business and money to you?”
She grins a half-hearted grin. “To punish me,” she explains. “He wanted to make sure that wherever I ended up eventually people would know where I came from. If I own the business, I can’t pretend I didn’t know him. Even in his death he’s punishing me for being born.” She drops her head and mumbles, “Maybe he was right all along; maybe the world would have been better off without me.”
He stands. “No!” he says sternly. “Don’t ever say that. The world is a much better place because of you.”
She looks up at him and smiles forlornly. “That’s nice of you to say, but also not true. I’ve done nothing of importance.”
“Now I’m offended,” he says. “If you hadn’t been born, I’d never have met you. I’d most likely be dead by now. You saved me, remember? And, since I matter to the world it is much better off because of you.” He laughed.
She smiles a genuine smile this time. “That’s true. You have touched the life of so many people. I guess that’s why I came to you after all these years. I knew you’d help be again.” She signed as the smile faded. She slowly looked around the room, “What do I do with this place?”
He sat next to her again. “Run it.”
“What?” she gasps in horror at the idea. “I can’t! My son can’t be brought up here. You know what happens to boys who grow up in whorehouses. He’s the reason I finally left. I won’t allow him to be brought here!” A fire sparks in her eyes for the first time in weeks.
He grins. Glad to see she still has some spunk in her. “So, make it something else,” he says calmly. “A hotel, a boarding house, a restaurant, a dress shop, a stable. . .”
“Something else? How?” she asks.
“Dunno,” he replies. “That will depend on what you want it to be. I suggest you go talk to the girls. See if they have any ideas. Start there, see where it leads you.”
“What if they don’t want to change?” she asks.
“Tell them to go find work somewhere else then, because this is no longer that type of establishment. It’s going to become something respectable or get closed for good,” he answers.
“This could take some time to get finished. What do I do with Joseph while I sort things out? I really don’t want him here until we get things settled,” she states realizing that she wants to do this. If she takes this horrid business, and turns it into something else that becomes successful, she wins. She can take his money and do some good with it. She can make a difference in the world. She can prove him wrong once and for all - she should have been born.
He stands, “He can come visit his good old grandpa, Teaspoon and learn all about the pony express. I’m sure Emma and the boys won’t mind. Besides, it will only be for a few weeks. Maybe a couple of months.”
She stands and takes his hand. “Let’s go,” she says as she turns her back to the dirty window and leaves the room that had tried to destroy her so many years ago.
Jack McCall twisted his neck, trying to peer outside. His trial was set for nine o’clock this morning. He estimated that he had about an hour left before then.
His lips twisted into some semblance of a smile. Who’d have ever thought that his no account brother would ever be useful for anything? But today his brother was going to save him. His lawyer, Judge Miller had made sure of that.
“Let’s go, Crooked Nose,” Sheriff Isaac Brown said irritably. He jerked Jack to his feet and pulled him from the cell, dragging him to the Town Hall, where the trial was to take place.
He sat there, alternating between utter stillness and fidgeting, between silence and laughter. Until it was his turn to testify. Rising to his feet, Jack walked slowly to the seat the bailiff had indicated. And when it was his turn to speak, his said, "Well, men, I have but few words to say. Wild Bill killed my brother, and I killed him. Wild Bill threatened to kill me if I ever crossed his path. I am not sorry for what I have done. I would do the same thing over again." (1)
Hang me now, he thought, staring at each and every jury member defiantly. Hang me now.
End Notes: (1) http://www.ausbcomp.com/~bbott/Subjects/hickock.htm
Polly Hunter sat on the bed, waiting as she looked out the windows. She looked back at the clock, but she couldn't tell what time it was. Darn clock was half-way across the room, her old eyes couldn't make the numbers out anymore. Then she looked out the window once more. Whatever the time was, they were late, she was sure of it.
Sighing softly to herself, Polly rose to her feet and shuffled to the kitchen where she began covering plates. Something probably came up, maybe the baby came down with something. Or maybe there was an emergency in town. Jimmy was busy, now that he was marshal. Plus, he had a wife and three children and they had a busy life. They certainly didn't need her horning in on their business.
She shook her head. Or maybe it was Kid who was marshal now. Sometimes she couldn't remember.
"Cheer up old girl," she said to herself. "One of the children might stop by after school." But what were the chances of that? Slim to none, the voice in her heard said. A voice that sounded suspiciously like her dead husband.
Lord how she missed Teaspoon. How many years had it been? Ten, eleven? It didn't matter, she still missed him. Every day at five o'clock, she half-expected him to throw open the door and start bellowing about his supper.
Maybe next week would be better, she decided. She had to look on the bright side, if there was a bright side. It was better than realizing the world was a busy place, no one had time to come by and visit an old woman.
"Grandma, Grandma," a voice shouted.
"I smell cookies," another voice cried out.
Polly turned around slowly, her face filled with joy. "Slow down, children. I'm coming. I'm coming."
The room looked smaller somehow. Back when he’d spent so much of his time there, he’d thought the room to be cavernous. Back then it had taken him twenty paces to get from one end to the other. Now he could do it in ten.
It was all an illusion he knew. The room was no smaller than it had ever been-the man was simply bigger than the boy had been.
The long unused springs of the bed creaked when he sat down. He had been surprised to find that nothing had been touched. The quilt his mother had painstakingly made for him one winter was still tossed haphazardly across the blanket and pillows-his boyish attempt to make his bed and still get out to play before the wind died and his kite would be grounded.
Lying back, he discovered he could still fit in the bed if he twisted a bit and pulled his knees up. He hadn’t realized the bed was so small.
Could he, he wondered, position himself just right to see out the lone window the way he had back then? If he could just get his head to a certain place, he should be able to see the old cow track where the small herd-his father’s pride and joy-would make their way down from the meadow for their daily milking.
Twisting as he might, he could see nothing. The track was probably overgrown, he reasoned. It had been a long time.
Standing, he walked to the window and gazed out, his eyes pausing only briefly at the site of the shed. The track should have been-there it was, just to the left of that big oak tree. When had that scrawny sapling gotten that big? Heck, he could remember helping his father plant that tree.
Returning to the bed, he lay down again. How many times had he watched the sunset from that very spot? Too many to count, he decided as his tired brain drifted off to sleep.
“Ike, you’re a big boy now,” his mother said calmly. “And big boys have their own room and their own bed.”
“See, Ike,” his father agreed cheerfully. “You have this fine room with all your things right here. Mama and I are right next door so there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
They left him then, after tucking him in one last time and giving him a good night kiss.
He tried to be a big boy, and as long as the sun was up, it wasn’t that hard. He watched as the great orange ball sank into the hill and darkness crawled through the window and across the floor.
Curling into a tight little ball in the exact center of his “big boy” bed, he tried really hard not to be afraid. It was just that there were a lot of noises that he couldn’t identify and he was all alone. Squeezing his eyes tightly shut and covering his head with the quilt, he waited for the monsters to come out of the closet and get him.
After what seemed like hours, he finally risked a quick peek out from under the covers to find the room bathed in a wonderful light. He looked out the window to discover a big old moon smiling down on him. Suddenly he wasn’t afraid anymore. Nothing could hurt him with the man in the moon as his guardian.
“Ain’t afraid of no monsters!” he said determinedly as he lay back on HIS bed in HIS room.
The man relaxed, stretching out, oblivious to the fact that his feet now hung off the end of the bed. A satisfied smile crossed his face as the dream ran to completion. Had he been awake, he would have seen that the full moon once again shared its light.
“All she does is cry!” the three year old complained bitterly. “Can’t you take her back and get a brother who doesn’t cry?”
“Now, Ike,” his father said patiently. “She’s your sister and she’s here to stay.” He watched as the boy stomped across to flop down on the bed, then added, “Besides, it won’t be very long before she’ll be sleeping through the night. Then you won’t mind as much.”
The boy stubbornly refused to look at his father. The window became the object of his undivided attention.
“You and your sister will become best of friends,” his father promised. “You just wait and see.”
Ike muttered something under his breath.
“What was that?” his father asked sternly.
“WILL NOT!” the boy repeated petulantly.
“I think you’re just going to have to stay here in your room until you decide differently,” the man countered.
He left his son sitting on his bed, a determined look on his young face.
“He gets that stubbornness from YOUR side,” his wife told him as he stepped into the hall.
He looked at her, trying to think of a protest but finally just sighed and smiled ruefully. “He IS my son,” he agreed. “But I think he’ll be changing his mind real soon,” he added as he left the house and started for the barn.
As his mother watched, unseen, from the hall, Ike heard the whinny of the new colt and ran to the window. His father was leading the foal out to the yard for the first time, the nervous mare watching as closely as his wife watched his son. Without looking up, the man began to brush the colt, taking great pains to be thorough.
Whatever resolve the boy had felt evaporated. He had been promised the opportunity to help with the newborn and if accepting the squalling little sister was the only way to . . .
Resolutely, Ike went to the door. “She can stay,” he told his mother. “I hope she stops crying soon!”
A low chuckle escaped the sleeping man though he was unaware he had made a sound. Turning back to his side, he curled up a second time.
“You better hurry up!” his sister called as Ike trudged slowly home from school. “Pa’s going to need help with the new cows.”
“I know!” Ike said irritably as he struggled to make his legs move faster. After just a few steps, his pace slowed again.
“Come on, Ike!” the girl demanded. “We’re going to be in trouble because of you!”
“Go ahead without me then!” Ike growled.
“You know we’re supposed to walk together,” his sister protested. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked, reaching out to touch the back of her hand to his forehead.
“Leave me ALONE!” Ike shouted, slapping her hand away.
“I’m going to tell Mama you hit me!” the girl cried as she ran for the house.
“Go ahead, you big baby!” Ike yelled after her. “See if I care!”
As he wearily struggled up the last hill, he saw his mother standing in the doorway, hugging his sister close. He could see the angry look in her eyes even from a distance.
The angry look turned rapidly to concern as he tried to climb onto the porch but failed to negotiate even that small step.
His last memories, as he sagged to the ground, were being very, very tired and the sound of his mother’s voice as she screamed for his father.
Lost in this dream turned nightmare, the man tossed and turned on the bed causing the springs to squeal in protest. Sweat ran from his face, soaking the pillow beneath his head. Yet he didn’t wake up. The dream was in control and, until it released him, he would be forced to relive some of the darkest days of his life.
The boy woke to darkness so complete, he thought he must have gone blind. Panic began to set in as he tried to reach up to touch his eyes only to find his wrists tied firmly to the bed frame. Frantic, he struggled against his bonds.
“Don’t, Ike,” his sister exclaimed. “Mama! Come quick!” she called as she fought to keep him from hurting himself.
Almost immediately his mother’s strong hands were on his shoulders. “Ike! Stop it!” she commanded.
“Why?” he whispered harshly. His tongue felt swollen and his mouth and throat could have been filled with sand for all the spit he could muster.
“You’ve been really sick, Ike,” his mother told him. Lifting his head, she held a glass of water to his lips allowing only a swallow before taking the glass away again. “The doctor said your eyes will be hurting from the light for a while.”
She allowed him another sip of water after which he was able to croak, “Not blind?”
“Oh no, Honey,” his mother said firmly. “You will just need to keep the bandages on for a while.”
“How long?” he rasped.
“I don’t know,” the woman answered honestly. “The doctor will be back tomorrow. We can ask then.”
He was so eager for more liquid that he swallowed an entire mouthful before the bitter taste told him that it wasn’t just water. He was asleep before he could even form the words to ask what he had been given.
The man woke with a start. The last dream was so vivid that his hands went immediately to his eyes. Satisfied that there were no bandages, he disentangled himself from the bedding to go stand by the window.
The full moon was just above the Western horizon and the sun had not yet made its appearance in the East, but even so he was able to make out the various landmarks of his home-or what would be his home for another few hours.
The buyer would be arriving around noon and Ike could see no reason not to sell. He hadn’t been to the house in years-wouldn’t be here now if not for the letter from Doc Bailey that someone was interested in buying the homestead.
While the dream had ended, his memories continued to run through his mind. In the days and weeks that followed his illness, the window had become the gateway to the world beyond the weakness and pain he felt.
Once the blanket that blocked the window had been removed, he had refused to allow the drapes to be pulled over his only view to freedom. At first all he could do was lie in bed and watch as the clouds passed. As he grew stronger, he was allowed to sit next to the opening and watch his family go about their daily chores.
The Ike of today sighed as he remembered other points in his convalescence. He had been sitting at that very window, waiting impatiently, as Doc Bailey rode up to tell his parents he was to be allowed up and about as much as he was able. The rainbow he had seen out the window had given him hope the day he had gone back to school, only to be mercilessly teased about his lack of hair.
He knew he couldn’t go back to sleep now. If the dreams continued along the path they seemed to be taking, he would be forced to relive the one time in his life that he tried desperately to forget.
Once again his eyes flicked to the shed that sat in plain sight of the window that had brought him so much comfort. He knew then, as he had always known, that his decision to sell had been the right one. The house deserved more than to sit vacant, waiting for the return of someone who would always be reminded of that single bad day that had destroyed his life.
Pulling a chair from under the desk, Ike sat straddle the seat, resting his arms on the high back. The man the boy had become waited then, as the boy had before him, for the sunrise on a new day.
He shifted his head weakly on the pillow, trying to ease the stiffness. But his eyes never left the window. As he grew weaker, this room, this bed, had become his world. The window was an important reminder that life still went on outside. Through it he could see the small apple orchard that he had planted, tended, coaxed, and cajoled into producing the sweetest fruit he’d ever tasted. The blossoms were in full bloom now in celebration of spring. He was proud of that orchard, something good that he had created with his own hands.
That was why he would soon take his final rest in the shadow of those apple trees.
The window also gave him a clear view of the approach to the front of the house, and that’s where his eyes were glued now. His vision had faded, but he could still make out visitors as they drew near. And there was one final visitor he needed to see.
Polly stood silently in the doorway, her arms hugging her shoulders. She knew what her husband was waiting for - who he hoped to see before he drew his last breath. She could only hope the arrival happened soon.
When Teaspoon’s health had taken a dramatic turn for the worse, the word had gone out. And the members of his “family” had responded. Sam and Emma Cain had journeyed to Rock Creek from Wyoming with their two children. Rachel Dunne and her husband Stephen had made the trip from Chicago. William F. Cody and his wife, Louisa, came in all the way from New York. Amanda O'Connell arrived from Abilene. Kid, Louise, and their four children had just departed two days ago to go home to Kansas. Other friends had passed through the house in recent days as well.
With Jimmy Hickok’s death the previous year, that left just one person that Teaspoon still felt he had to see before letting go. The last of his “boys” from the days of the Pony Express.
Movement outside the window caught Teaspoon’s eye, and he struggled to focus. Then a broad grin crossed his tired face and he lifted one hand weakly to point. “He’s here.”
Polly hurried to the window, relieved beyond words to see who the rider was. It really was him! She went to the bed, helping Teaspoon up a little higher against the pillows. “He’ll be here in a minute, Sugar Lips,” she whispered. She brushed her lips over his forehead, dismayed by how warm and dry the skin felt. But they’d known the end was near for some time now, so it wasn’t surprising.
She took a moment to straighten the bedclothes, then went to the front door, opening it just as he was about to knock. “Buck!”
He pulled the hat off his head and offered her a smile. “Hello, Polly.”
She reached out to take his hand, pulling him into the house. “We were so afraid that you weren’t going to make it. That you wouldn’t get word.”
“I had moved on to work at a different ranch since I wrote last,” Buck admitted. “But it was still up near Butte, and your telegram finally got to me. I came as soon as I could after that.”
“I’m so glad. He’s been waiting for you.”
Buck lowered his voice. “How is he, Polly?” He wanted to know what to be prepared for.
“He hasn’t got long,” Polly answered in a whisper. She pointed down the hall. “Go to him, Buck. He needs to see you.”
Buck hung up his jacket and hat, then walked slowly down the hall. It was still hard to believe that Teaspoon was so ill. But when he reached the door and saw the older man lying there, he believed. The man in the bed bore little resemblance to the mentor they had all followed in the Pony Express days. With his sunken cheeks and yellowed skin this barely reminded him of the older, but still lively Teaspoon Hunter he had last visited two years ago. In fact, he had to look hard to see the slight rise and fall of the older man’s chest to reassure himself he hadn’t arrived too late. He walked slowly into the room and sat down on the chair next to the bed. “Teaspoon?”
He heard the voice, and struggled to get his eyes open, working to focus on the figure next to the bed. But when recognition finally did come, Teaspoon smiled. “Buck,” he whispered. “It’s good to see you, son.”
“Nothing would have kept me away,” Buck answered honestly. “It just took a while for the message to find me.”
Teaspoon grunted. “Not like back in the Pony days. We gave good service.”
“The best,” Buck agreed, smiling. That at least sounded like the old Teaspoon. He reached for the older man’s hand, alarmed by the heat and dryness he felt there. “How are you really doing, Teaspoon?”
“Doc says I’m dying,” the ailing man said. He coughed, a dry, raspy sound that seemed to shake his whole body. “Can’t say as I can find reason to argue.”
“I’m so sorry.” What else was there to say?
Teaspoon shook his head. “Don’t go an’ get all sad on me, Buck. I lived a good, long life. I ain’t happy it’s ending, but I ain’t afraid to move on either.”
Buck swallowed hard against the huge lump in his throat. “What can I do?”
“Just sit here with me a bit, and talk.” He took a couple of deep breaths, and his chest rattled ominously. “I seen so much in my life, Buck,” he said softly. Then he pointed weakly over Buck’s shoulder and added. “That’s my world now - my window to the world. But I seen all of you comin’ through there.”
Buck looked out the window. “The apple trees look great this year.”
Teaspoon smiled and nodded. “Buck, think maybe you could help me over to that chair by the window? I like to look outside, and I ain’t got much time left.”
Buck heard a muffled sob behind him, and he looked over to see Polly standing in the doorway, her hand over her mouth. But she recovered quickly and went to the chair, arranging a quilt over the back and seat to provide some cushioning. Turning back to Teaspoon he answered, “Sure, I’ll help you.” He pulled the bedcovers back, trying to hide his shock at how much the older man had wasted away. Reaching down, Buck put one arm under Teaspoon’s shoulders, then slid the other arm under his legs. He lifted the older man easily, taking him to the window and placing him gently in the rocking chair.
Polly brought another blanket, which she wrapped carefully around her husband. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
Teaspoon reached out slowly to take her hand. “No, I’m fine. Me an’ Buck gotta talk for a little while, then I think I’m ready to go.”
Polly’s tears flowed down her cheeks, but she forced herself to keep her voice steady. “Just don’t you go anywhere without saying goodbye to me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Teaspoon answered with a smile.
With great effort Polly pulled her hand away and moved toward the door. But she stopped to whisper to Buck. “If anything changes . . .”
“I’ll call you,” he promised. She held his hand for a moment, then left the room. He heard one more sob, and then all was quiet, so he pulled a chair up next to the window and settled in.
* * *
They talked as the afternoon grew old and the sun began to sink. They reminisced about the days of the Pony Express, and if a few of the tales were more fanciful than the truth of sixteen years earlier, it didn’t matter. Buck listened as Teaspoon talked about other parts of his life, growing up in Texas, the battle for independence, the Rangers. He heard tales about parts of Teaspoon’s life he’d never known about. And when Teaspoon grew tired, he continued on with his own stories, the ranches he had worked on, the beauty and majesty of Montana, the big sky country.
“You really like it there, don’t you,” Teaspoon asked.
“It’s beautiful and free,” Buck answered. “Yes, I like it.”
“Well, I suppose you wanna get back there. But I gotta ask a favor.”
“Whatever I can do, Teaspoon.”
Teaspoon glanced toward the empty doorway, then looked back out the window. “This is gonna be real hard on her, me leaving. If you could stay a little, help Polly get things settled . . .”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Buck answered softly. “Everything I own is on my horse. I’m here as long as Polly needs me.” He paused, grinning. “Or as long as she can stand having me around.
Teaspoon’s answering laugh turned into a coughing spell, one that seemed to rattle his whole frame. Worried, Buck pulled the older man to him, holding him against his shoulder as the coughing continued, with Teaspoon unable to catch his breath. He wondered if this was the sign, if he should get Polly. But then the shuddering eased, and Teaspoon leaned back against the chair. His breathing was labored, raspy, but the coughing had passed.
Teaspoon rested for a moment, trying to gather the last of his strength. Then he raised one hand weakly to the window. “I seen them there, all of ‘em, right outside the window. Been there the last few nights.”
“Seen who, Teaspoon?”
Teaspoon closed his eyes, remembering. “Ike, Noah, Jimmy - Erastus Hawkins and John Eberly were there too. Bunch o’ others too, who went on before. They was all there, together, happy, waiting on me.”
Buck looked out the window, then back to the dying man. “Your spirit will be free soon, Teaspoon. You can join them.”
Teaspoon nodded once, then opened his eyes again. They were silent for a moment as he stared out the window, then he raised his hand one more time. “Rider coming,” he whispered.
Buck looked out the window, wondering if another visitor was arriving. But all he saw was the barn and the apple orchard; there were no riders.
Teaspoon tried to lean forward, his eyes wide. “Rider coming,” he repeated. He could see it so clearly. A big white horse - damn, it looked like the horse had wings! And he could see now that instead of a rider, the horse was pulling a shimmering white carriage, and it was coming right toward the window. “Rider coming.”
Buck got up and went to the doorway, calling for Polly. She was there right away, taking the seat next to Teaspoon, holding his hand. Then he backed quietly out of the room, knowing it was Polly’s time with her husband.
He waited half an hour, never hearing a sound from the room, before he went back. He found Polly still sitting in the chair holding her husband’s hand, and Teaspoon still staring out the window. But even in the fading light, Buck could see that there was no longer any life behind those eyes.
“He’s gone, Buck.”
“I know.” He put his hand gently on her shoulder, then caught her as she stood up and threw herself against him.
She buried her face against his shoulder. “Oh, Buck, it hurts so much!”
He held her tight, then looked down at the withered body in the chair. “His spirit is free now, Polly,” he whispered. “He’s not in any pain.”
She nodded slowly. “I know. But he’s still gone, and once you leave too, I’ll be all alone.”
“I’m here as long as you need me, Polly,” he answered. He put a finger under her chin, lifting her face so he could look into her eyes. “As long as you want me.”
She knew she couldn’t speak just then. She tried to smile, but that didn’t work either. In the end she just buried her face against his chest again and let her tears fall.
They held each other tightly, crying together, as night fell.
* * *
Buck sat on the edge of the bed, pulling off his boots. It had been a very long day, starting with the final push on a hard ride to get to Rock Creek, and ending with the loss of a mentor and friend. He wasn’t sure if sleep would come, but he’d try.
He wasn’t really sure how long he and Polly had held each other, but eventually her tears subsided. When he’d been sure she was all right, he’d ridden into town to get the undertaker. He’d also sent telegrams to the others, telling them that Teaspoon was gone. It wasn’t likely any of them could make the trip again to come for the funeral, but they needed to know. And as Polly said, it was more important that they had been there while Teaspoon was still alive.
Polly was asleep in her room. Buck had also found the doctor while he was in town, and the physician had given her something to help her sleep. She’d need all the strength she could find to get through the next few days.
He slipped off his vest and started to unbutton his shirt when he thought he saw something outside the window. He turned, then froze as he saw Ike, then Noah, and Jimmy standing there. As he watched, he saw Teaspoon join them. The older man had a spring in his step again, the ravages of illness no longer there.
Buck went to the window and opened it, looking out. But there was, of course, no one there. He stood there for a few minutes, savoring the chill spring breeze that carried the apple blossom scent to him. Then he pushed the window down again, leaving it open just a couple of inches.
He finished undressing and climbed into the bed. The soft apple scent helped him relax as he stretched out and pulled the bedcovers up to his chest.
But even as he closed his eyes, he could have sworn he heard voices just outside the window. Familiar voices, whispering, “We’ll be waiting for you.”
As he entered the house it was just as he left it. He walked toward the bedroom door and fear gripped his heart. He took a deep breath and one more step that brought him closer to that room. When his feet reached the doorway he could hear her screaming. Never in his life had he heard such a blood-curdling scream. Her sounds of pain and agony tore at his heart. As his gaze reached the room the sound stopped. The silence in the room was deafening just as it had been that night. He looked at the wrought iron bed and window behind it with a rag tag curtain. He could see Lou lying there motionless on the bed holding their son in a strange motionless slumber. No sound, no cries, no breath.
As lightening ripped the sky, the room faded back to the worn emptiness that filled his heart.
A/N: This story is a continuation of last week's Quick Fic - "Just Follow The Directions"
She stood outside the bedroom door and paused, her fingers resting lightly on the handle as she worked up the courage to walk into the room. She hadn't been in there since her father died, and she wasn't sure she'd be able to handle the assault of memories once she did cross the threshold. But it was time, and there was no sense in putting it off any longer. If there was one thing she wasn't, it was a coward. Her father simply wouldn't allow for it.
So.it was time to stop moping. Stop walking around this house like she was a guest instead of its owner - for however long that lasted - and to take charge. And first things, first, she needed to face the bedroom.
Her father was dead, her mother many years before that, they were gone and wouldn't be back and it was time to come to grips with reality. She could continue to keep a shrine to their lives and live in the same
bedroom she'd occupied since they moved here when she was seven, or she could realize that it was her house and she could do what she wanted with it.
It was also her life, and danged if she was going to put it on hold for some no account boy who couldn't make up his mind about what he wanted. Sure Jimmy Hickok could curl her toes when he kissed her, sure he could
look at her and make her knees feel like butter in the middle of July, sure he had a good heart when he let people inside to see it. But she was tired of fighting to see it. She was tired of fighting to be let into his life, to try and prove to him that he was worthy of love, of her love, if he'd only let himself. Her mother said that love
was worth fighting for, but she shouldn't have to feel like Colonel Washington did in the early days of the war.
She turned the handle, and felt the prick of tears in her eyes as she took in the room. The curtains were faded and dusty, the linens on the bed unmade and exactly where they'd ended up when the undertaker had
come for her father. A heavy layer of dust covered everything, and the lingering odor of death hung in the corners of the room. Lightly she tread across the floorboards and the threadbare rug and pushed the
curtain aside to open the window. She turned and rested her hand lightly on the headboard, the iron curled gracefully into a pattern she would always love, and tried to decide where to start.
He was a coward. He knew it, was sure the others knew it, and could pretty well figure that Brandy knew it too. After all, he disappeared on a run he wasn't scheduled for after walking her home that first night, all because he didn't want to face her. It was easier to stay away than to see her large emerald eyes sparkle with tears.
But now, it was safe to head home. He'd been gone four days, Rachel would be home tonight, and he wouldn't have to worry about running into the woman who had haunted dreams and plagued his waking moments. He
could only hope that Teaspoon wouldn't want to talk about his reasons for coming and begging for the St. Joe run when by all rights and purposes Cody should have taken it.
He crested the rise and saw the town of Sweetwater up ahead. The station would be just a little ways away, and he could get a hot meal, a refreshing shower and his soft bunk. Maybe not necessarily in that order. For better or worse he was home. No more hard, lumpy ground to sleep on, no more rainstorms to ride through, but also no more excuses to avoid Brandy Collins.
If he didn't ride over to see her, the others would be suspicious. It's what he did after he returned from every ride. Or had she told them? Told them that they.what? That they fought; that they ended whatever was between them.had they done that? Would she never want to see him again? Well, in reality it was her who closed the door and snapped at him. So, maybe she was mollified now and would come to him to apologize. They weren't over, Jimmy thought with a sigh of relief. She'd never walk away, just like he could never walk away from her.
He'd go see her tomorrow, if she hadn't come around first. Chances were high though that she'd seek him out first.
Reaching the station, he put his horse in the barn, fed her and rubbed her down, then washed his hands and headed for the bunkhouse. The window was open and he could smell warm apple pie drifting out to him.
Rachel sure was pulling out all the stops on her first night home. With a smile he bounded up to the door and opened it.
He was following her. She knew it. Like some simpering little puppy dog that was looking for a home, he was following behind her in the darkness. Well, she wasn't eleven, and she was definitely not opening her home to this infernal fool. She had just put it together, felt like she was putting her life together, and Jimmy Hickok comes striding back in, full of swagger and bravado that she used to find intriguing and presumed he could just buss her on the cheek. Instead he got a mouth full of hair when she turned her head and gathered up her dishes.
Teaspoon offered to have someone walk her home, but she said she was perfectly fine and no one needed to bother. She figured since Jimmy had just gotten home that she wouldn't have to worry about him coming along. Apparently she was wrong. She knew he was back there, following along behind her. What was he, some ghost bandit or something? Thinking he was being all stealthy?
Halfway across her yard, she paused and turned around. She couldn't see him, but she had a good idea of where he was. The large tree at the edge of the property where he used to always meet her before he convinced her father to let them start courting. Some days she really wished her father had stuck to his guns instead of giving into her pleadings.
"Jimmy, I know you're there. So stop hiding in the shadows like an idiot and tell me what you want."
Setting the basket down by her feet and crossing her arms over her chest, she waited. She knew he'd come shuffling out guilty, give her an 'aw shucks' smile and expect her to come running into his arms. Well, he could go suck an egg for all she cared.
Finally she saw him shuffling slowly towards her and turned her head towards her vegetable garden, watching him out of the corner of her eyes. "Did you fall off your horse while you were on your trip?"
"What?" he asked, as he stopped at the gate.
"Did you fall? Because that's the only reason I can think of why you'd follow after me, when I specifically told Teaspoon I was alright to walk home by myself."
"I figured you told him that but meant for me to come anyway," he said, closing the gate behind him.
"If I'd wanted you to come, I would have said, 'Jimmy, could you walk me home please?' Unlike you, I don't make everything a game."
"What is that supposed to mean?" he snapped at her.
"It means," she said, turning her head and looking him in the eye, "that I wanted to be alone."
"Just the other night you were complainin' about being alone."
"That was before I realized that this has all been a game to you, a diversion, something to pass the time with until you move on to bigger and better things."
"What are you talking about?"
"I mean that I'm ready to settle down, Jimmy. I'm looking for stability in my life, and you're still a tumbleweed. I don't blame you, and I don't want you to feel you have to change into something you're not. But when you asked my father to court me, I thought it meant something. Otherwise, we could have just continued on, me sneaking out the window and meeting you at night to go sit by the stream. Running into you at a social and sharing dances. Silly me for thinking you wanted more."
"I do," he said.
"Funny way of proving it," she said. "Half the town thinks we're dating, and the other half thinks you've got a shine on Jenny Perkins. I come to visit you and your friends at the station and you grin at me from across the room, but you don't invite me to sit near you. You scare off any guy who looks at me twice in town, and yet you and your friends hustle off to the swimming hole and I'm left bringing my supplies home alone. I'm tired of feeling like I don't know which way is up anymore."
"So what do you want from me?"
"I told you before you left. I want more than you're willing to give. And that's fine. At least we both know now." She turned and stared at the barn, wrapping her arms around herself and rubbing her arms lightly. "I cleaned out my parents' bedroom while you were away. I figured maybe it was time I stopped acting like the little girl who
moved here from Pennsylvania, and started acting like the woman that wants to have a family some day.
"When I was a little girl, I loved going into my parents' room and sitting on their bed. I'd beg my mom over and over to tell me about their headboard. I figured if it was the one thing she insisted they bring with them when they left, wrapped it in blankets to protect it, then it had to be special. My father made it for their wedding. He
heated, and formed the metal, twisting it and twining it, until it was smooth, beautiful and strong. The metal forms a heart in the center, and my momma used to say that it was a symbol of their love, and that as long as their bed was attached to it, their marriage would be full of happiness.
"I kept that headboard," she said, absently swiping a tear off her cheek. "I want to have that kind of love, that kind of devotion, that kind of all-encompassing, fill you up to bursting kind-of life. I'm just sorry to realize that I will never have that with you because you either don't want it with me, or you're too afraid to reach out and grab
it. But I refuse to put my life on hold. I think you should go home, Jimmy. And I don't think you should come back."
When he reached the bunkhouse, he paused before going in. He could hear the voices, could hear Noah's laughter as he won another hand of cards, could hear Cody jabbering on about what he was going to do someday when he was famous and he just couldn't take it.
He'd just lost the one thing that mattered to him, that was good in his life and had sustained him. How could he go in there and tell them that it was over between him and Brandy when he didn't understand what happened. That she wanted more than he was willing to give.or maybe she was right and he was afraid to give it. Whatever it was, it left him feeling like he'd been slit from navel to neck and someone had carved out his insides with a hot poker.
She told him not to come back anymore, but how could he stay away? How could he not go back, when he realized that she had reached in and taken his heart for her own?
"I'm sorry.. it's the only one available."
"There's got to be another house... or a boarding house-"
"I really am sorry, Marshal Cain, but this is the last available place in town. We are growing-"
She heard the pause in their argument and she could see Sam in her mind, his hands firmly planted on his hips, jacket pushed back as he glared at the smaller man beside him. Fighting the little growl in her stomach, Emma turned her head to the side and surveyed the room again.
Mr. and Mrs. Paul Hansen had been the last occupants of the little cottage. A quiet couple, church going folk who had moved back east to tend their new grandchild.
Emma took in a deep breath and felt the rush of life draw into her lungs. A chair beside the window looked as though it would fall clean over if anyone set weight on it. Then the ragged curtains caught her eye. Once they had colored the light entering the room, softening it for the aging eyes within, but now they let in the harsh light and revealed the layers of dust caked on the floors.
"Just a minute, Emma, honey."
In a second he was back to arguing.
She walked into the center of the room and blocked off the space on the floor - the bed, a table, a chair, dressing screen... a gentle smile curled her lip ...cradle.
Sam's rumbling voice sent a shiver through her spine. He growled at the land agent like a lion staking out a claim. Emma was hoping he'd calm down enough to tell him he was going to be a father. With the move from Sweetwater, there had been so many things to worry over that Emma hadn't wanted to add to his worries.
"But soon-" she whispered, there would be no hiding the gentle swell of her body or the flush in her cheeks. Again, the rumble echoed in her body... hunger and a flutter of curiosity mixed, perhaps, with anticipation. "Soon. We'll be settled in-"
The land agent's protests were weakening.
"We'll take it."
The agent nearly crowed his relief. "Well, now, that's excellent, Mrs. Cain."
"Now hold on a cotton-pickin' minute, Mr. Oswell."
Then they were at it again, striking back and forth at each other as they fought to make a better deal.
Emma shook her head and withdrew the pin from her bonnet, setting it aside as she moved further in. She settled her palm in the center of her chest and felt a gentle rhythm beat beneath her hand.
There it was.. life. Their life, together. Here, in this home. Their home... Home.
"Sam." Her tone was resolute and final and both men quieted and turned their attention to her; she could see that much in the dirty pane of glass.
"Stop arguing with the man. We're gonna take the house... THIS house. Now."
She saw his smile, the gentle curl of his lips capturing her heart, again. "All right, Emma. We'll take it."
The men stepped outside to discuss the details, leaving Emma standing in the middle of their bedroom. Their house... their future.
"This is going to be a beautiful home," she stroked her hand over the flat of her stomach as her mind worked to compile the list of supplies she'd need, "as soon as we get to work."
An old voice starts with a clearing of a throat. “I’ve looked out this window many times over the years. The scenery is such a comfort to me that I will miss it when I go. I wish there was a way I could capture it and take it with me.”
“Thinking on the times had in this house just makes me ache. They’re all gone now.” The voice pauses and with a said little smile says, “Many times, I was able to hear the shenanigans outside through this window. They never knew I was listening … ha! If they knew they never let on.”
“I sure will miss it here. Those boys were my life. It didn’t matter that they were all different. I didn’t care. I loved each and every one of them as if they were my own. I laughed with them, cried with them and got angry with them as they grew up. Comforting them in their sleep was the best. No matter how they grew and changed they always looked like angels in their sleep.”
The creaking of the rocking chair facing the window can be heard. “Ah, just sitting here looking out makes me remember the time the boys played baseball. The many times they broke a bronco, even when they’d kiss their girls when they thought no one was looking. Now, I’m not saying I was spying but just in case those boys got outta hand. It’s funny to think they all had their first girlfriends here. Most of them went sneaking off behind the barn to steal a kiss.”
Creak, creak, creak.
“I sure am going to miss it here. There’s nothing here for me now.” The voice sighs and gets up. “I’ll miss you old house. I’ll miss the boys. Tomorrow looks bright now but I sure will miss it here.”
A voice calls from the door, “Come on old boy. It’s time to get moving.” An old retriever comes trotting over to his master. “I’m sure you’ll miss it here, old boy but, you’ve got us now too. Jeremiah is waiting for you.”
The retriever jumps up into the wagon next to Jeremy and lies in his lap looking back at the weigh station. “Like I said, the future sure looks bright. I got me a new boy to look after now. Lou and Kid will take care of all of us in Virginia. So long house! Good luck!”
“Shh boy, we’ll take good care of you” Jeremiah patted the dog’s head affectionately as they rolled down the dirt road.
Teaspoon hesitantly stood on the small porch, grasping the doorknob. He had closed this door behind him twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five years. How could that possibly be? Where had the time gone? It seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye. He slowly turned the doorknob, surprised when it opened with ease. He stepped inside, gently closing the door behind him. Particles of dust danced on the strands of soft light that filtered through the only window in the room. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, details emerged from the darkness-from his past.
The room was empty now except for the rusted cast iron headboard that leaned against the wall. The delicate lace curtain still hung on the window, a little more worn and tattered than it had been. The sight of it nearly broke Teaspoon’s heart as memories flooded back and years vanished.
Once again, Deirdre stood in front of the window holding the lace curtain as if it were a rare, fragile treasure. The soft golden light of late afternoon caught her long, loose hair giving it a fiery glow. Teaspoon smiled as he remembered how much she hated the color of her hair, thinking it too orange. She wasn’t fond of her fair, freckled skin or large green eyes, either. She never realized just how beautiful she was. He was lost in her eyes the very first time he looked into them. They sparkled with the mischief of a child and hinted at the passion of a woman.
Teaspoon loved her from the first time he saw her. He loved her still. He always would in that special place in his heart reserved for your first love. Was he really ever that young and innocent? They loved each other with a love that was pure and true, as you only can for the first time when love is new. He was blessed the day she married him.
Teaspoon could see her clearly. As she hung the cream-colored lace curtain, she declared, “Isn’t it grand? Now I’m home. No matter where I am in this world, I know I’m home as long as Grandma’s Limerick lace is hanging on the window.” He thought that the lace was beautiful although it wasn’t new. It already showed signs of wear and tear, probably from the many times Deirdre had hung it and taken it down to move on again.
He smiled as he took her into his arms. “This will be the last time you have to hang it, Dee, unless we move to a bigger place.”
“Oh, no. This cabin is lovely. I never want to leave. It’ll always be home.”
Teaspoon could hear the whisper of her voice echo in the empty room. Her lilting Irish brogue was like a soft melody that stayed in his mind even now. She was gone. She was never coming back. He had left the lace hanging on the window, unable to endure the pain of taking it down and packing it away along with his memories. This cabin had been his first real home-it had been their home. The pain of leaving here had been almost unbearable but he realized now that it wasn’t the actual leaving that had been so hard, but the grief of leaving her behind.
But time had helped him heal. With the wisdom of passing years, Teaspoon knew now that he had never really left her here. She wasn’t in this place. She was in his heart. He had carried her with him through the years, sharing his joys and sorrows with her. He was able to remember their time together with a smile. She was a gift, a rare treasure as fine and delicate as her Limerick lace.
Teaspoon gently took the curtain into his hand, careful not to damage it. He smiled as he thought that he was a lot like the lace-a bit worn and tattered. Life had certainly battered him but it had never broken him. His smiled broadened as he clearly heard Deirdre’s soft voice whisper, “And you are as lovely as my lace.”
The light in the room was quickly fading. Teaspoon carefully took down the lace curtain. He folded it and put it across the old bed frame. He reached into his pocket, pulling out a long green velvet ribbon that had belonged to Deirdre. It was worn from the many times he held it in his hands. He loved when she wore it in her hair. It matched the color of her eyes. He folded the lace over one more time and gently tied it with the ribbon. He placed it inside his shirt, close to his heart.
“No matter where I am in this world, I know I’m home as long as my Grandma’s Limerick lace is hanging on the window.”
He smiled as he heard her words again. He wanted to keep the lace with him. He would hang it in his small room back in Sweetwater. Wherever he hung it, he would know that he was home. Home wasn’t a place but rather wherever you were at the moment with your memories and treasures from the past, with people you loved in the present and where you dreamed of the future. Right now, that place was Sweetwater.
Teaspoon brushed away a tear, not sure if it was a tear of sorrow or joy. He supposed it was a little of both. He would always feel some grief for what had been lost but he was grateful that Deirdre had been a part of his life, even if it had been for such a short time. He couldn’t imagine his life without her. He wouldn’t want to. It was impossible to separate love from loss in life. You couldn’t have one without the other. He knew that.
The light coming through the window was almost gone. Teaspoon touched the delicate material under his shirt. He looked around the room. It was time to go. He stepped outside. Once again, he closed the door behind him. He wouldn’t be returning again. He had everything he needed with him.