Topic #4: Fill In The Blanks
Use Three of the Following:
slicker than a _______ in a/with a ______________
lower than a __________ in a/with a ____________
hotter'n a ___________ in a/with a ______________
ornerier than a ____________ in a/with a _________
bluer than a ______________ in a/with a __________
||The Last Words
You mealy-mouthed son of a biscuit! You low down…Ooooh- you’re lower than a snake in the grass! How dare you tell me I can’t see Jimmy after you took up with that schoolteacher! You don’t have any claims on me anymore, Kid. You gave up that right the moment you started seeing Scumantha! Ooops.” See didn’t mean to divulge that last part.
“Scumantha, eh?” Kid asked, emphasizing the ‘scum’ part.
“Yeah! That’s what we all called her Kid. You were just too blinded by her southern charms to notice much of what any of us thought about her.” She told him.
“Everyone thought that or just you?” Kid reached out to her, but she swatted his hand away.
“No, Kid, everyone. Everyone ‘cept Noah that is, and you don’t want to know the name he had for her.”
“Lou, you’re being more ornery than Cody with an empty plate at suppertime. It’s over ‘tween me and her now. I made a mistake, Lou.” Kid pleaded with her.
“Kid, I wouldn’t go back to you if’n you were the last man on earth! You hurt me, Kid – bad. I can’t take the chance you’ll do that again. Any man of mine has got one chance and one chance only and you messed it up, Kid. Do you know what Teaspoon told me the first day I saw you and her together? He said I was moping around so much that I looked bluer than the bluebonnets in Texas on a summer afternoon.”
“Bluer than what?”
“Bluebonnets!” She snapped.
Kid looked confused.
“They’re flowers, Kid. Somethin’ you obviously know nothin’ about.” Jimmy supplied as he walked in the bunkhouse.
“I know what they are, Jimmy!” Kid yelled at him.
“Do you really now? Coulda fooled me. Not once did you give me flowers while we were together.” Lou pointed out.
Jimmy took that opportunity to bring the bouquet of purple coneflowers out of hiding from behind his back and graciously presented them to Lou.
“My favorite!” She squealed with delight. “Oh, Jimmy, thank you!” She flew into his arms, hugging him tight. She pulled back and kissed him soundly.
Kid felt he was going to be ill. ‘Heck, if I’d have known all it took was flowers, I would have given her some today. Then maybe it’d have been me she was hanging all over instead of Jimmy and we’d be back together again.’ He thought to himself. He looked back at Jimmy and Lou and rolled his eyes. “It won’t last.” He muttered to himself. He headed out of the bunkhouse and slammed the door behind him.
‘Don’t be so sure, Kid.’ Jimmy thought to himself as he pulled Lou closer to him.
“OOOOOOH, KID, YOU ARE LOWER THAN A SNAKE WITH A BELLYACHE! YOU ARE NEVER COMING NEAR ME AGAIN!”
Buck watched, half amused and half concerned, as Kid stumbled back a few steps toward the door. For a moment he thought the other man really was going to bolt out of the house, but then Kid steadied himself and stayed in the room.
Buck turned toward the window and let out a sigh of relief. He knew he would have been the one who’d have had to go chase the other man down.
Kid tugged at his already-loosened collar. “It’s hotter’n a branding iron in a fire in here,” he muttered.
Buck kept his attention on the window, suppressing a smile. Actually, it was a cool, rainy day. But the way Kid was sweating, nothing was going to convince him of that.
Just then a blood-curdling scream came from the other room, followed by a string of curses that had both men reeling. Kid plopped down onto a chair, whatever color that had been left in his face draining away – most of the colorful language was directed straight at him.
Buck found himself impressed with the extent of Lou’s vocabulary. He’d had no idea she could curse quite so . . . effectively. There were even a few in there he hadn’t heard himself. Given how many times he’d been cursed at, he found that rather amazing.
There was another scream, and another round of curses. Kid finally shook his head and stood up. “I need to go in there,” he said shakily.
Buck moved to block his path. “Kid, Rachel and the doc have everything under control. They’ll let us know if they need anything.” Besides, Rachel had charged him with keeping Kid out of the room, and that’s what he intended to do. Rachel’s wrath could be almost as frightening as Lou’s.
Kid started to back off, but then there was another scream. He turned, stricken, toward Buck. “She hates me. She’s gonna hate me forever.”
Buck guided his friend gently back toward a chair. “Kid, you know how moody Lou’s been. Doc says that’s normal for pregnant women.” He was just really glad it was Kid she was mad at, and not him – Lou had been known to hold a grudge now and then.
Kid nodded and tried to smile. “She’s been ornerier than a mama cougar with a cub in danger,” he agreed, then he snapped his mouth shut in shock. Had he really just said that out loud? He shook his head, deciding to change the subject. “It’s been nine hours, Buck.”
Buck just nodded. It had been nine very LONG hours, trying to keep Kid calm as they awaited the birth of his first child. He couldn’t even imagine what Lou had been going through. He pulled a chair toward the hall so he’d be in position in case Kid tried to get past him again. Then he sat down, more weary than he thought a friend of the new parents should really be.
Silence settled over the house, then there was one more short scream . . .
And then the sound of a newborn’s plaintive cry filled the air.
Kid was on his feet immediately, pacing even more nervously than before until Rachel emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later. “Congratulations, daddy,” she said with a smile. “They’re waiting for you.”
Kid raced by, oblivious of the two people he almost ran over.
“Are they all right, Rachel?” Buck asked. “It sounded kind of rough.” In fact, Rachel looked like she’d been through a couple of rounds with one of the wild mustangs they’d had to tame for the Pony Express.
“They’re fine, Buck. Both of them. You’ll see in a few minutes.”
Buck just nodded. After what he’d heard over the last few hours, he wasn’t sure he wanted to walk into that room. Still, things were very quiet in there now, so maybe the worst really was over.
A few minutes later, the bedroom door opened again and the doctor came down the hall carrying his bag. “They’re both fit as can be expected,” he announced. “Rachel, you send for me if there are any problems, but I don’t expect any.”
Rachel retrieved the physician’s coat from the hook near the door. “Thank you, doctor. That’s real good news.”
The doctor pulled his coat on, then picked up his bag again. “Well, she did have a rough go there for a while, but Louise is tough. Oh, and Buck? They’re waiting to see you.”
Buck held the door for the doctor as the other man left – more than half-tempted to escape out into the rain himself. After everything he’d heard the last nine hours, he wasn’t sure it was really time to venture into that room yet.
Rachel sensed his hesitation and laughed. She pried his fingers from the door and closed it, then pointed him toward the bedroom and pushed. “Go on,” she said. “And when you’re done, maybe you can go relieve Teaspoon so he can come meet the newest member of the family.”
Buck walked slowly toward the room. The door was ajar and he pushed it open slowly. His trepidation faded as he looked inside. Kid sat on the bed, his back propped against the headboard. He held a very weary-looking Lou in his arms. She, in turn, cradled a small, wiggling bundle in her arms.
Kid looked up. “Come on in, Buck. Meet Irene,” he said, his voice filled with pride.
Buck moved up to the other side of the bed as Lou uncovered part of the bundle. He looked down to see an angelic little face pressed tightly against her mother. “Irene, meet your Uncle Buck,” Lou whispered. She held the baby out to Buck.
He forgot all about being nervous as he took the infant from Lou. It was only after he held her that he remembered he’d only had a newborn in his arms one other time, and that had been the baby he’d delivered in the back of a covered wagon. Well, he hadn’t dropped that one, so maybe this was safe too. Irene squirmed a bit at being jostled, but then she sensed the warmth and security she needed and settled in against Buck’s chest. He pulled her close to him, unwrapping a bit more of the blanket. “She’s beautiful, Lou,” he whispered. “Worth the nine hours?”
Lou smiled wearily, “Yeah,” she answered. “Worth it.” Then she turned and smacked Kid’s shoulder. “But you’re still not touching me again – for a while.”
Kid just looked up and grinned. “Better than never,” he pointed out.
The three adults laughed quietly. For her part, Irene didn’t appreciate the commotion. She squirmed again, her little face scrunched up as if deciding whether or not to cry. But in the end she just balled up her tiny fists, gave a huge yawn, and went back to sleep. Buck just watched the diminutive life in his arms, marveling at the perfection.
When Buck looked up again, he found Lou’s eyes closed, her head nestled against Kid’s shoulder. Kid, too, looked about ready to pass out from exhaustion. “You did good, Kid,” Buck whispered.
Kid gave a slight nod and mouthed a silent “thanks” as he leaned his head back against the wall. Maybe he’d just close his eyes for a little bit too . . .
Buck watched as Kid drifted off to sleep, then he turned his attention back to Irene. “Looks like you wore everyone out, little one,” he commented. But the infant was fast asleep, and paid no attention. He watched her sleep in his arms for a few more minutes, then placed her gently into the cradle waiting at the side of the bed. She barely stirred at this disruption, exhausted by her entry into the world.
With one more look at the happy, sleeping family, Buck left the room, pulling the door quietly shut behind him. He smiled as Rachel met him in the living room. “They’re asleep,” he reported as he reached for his jacket and hat. “I’ll send Teaspoon over.”
He opened the door and stepped out into the rain. He barely noticed the wet as he headed for the Marshal’s office. He couldn’t stop thinking about the happy young family he’d just left. Maybe Kid really was the luckiest man around.
He stopped suddenly, shaking his head. Then again, maybe not – now Kid had TWO women to try and please!
This is a sequel to "Rumor Has It" - set 11 years later
I awake early.
The sun isn’t even up yet and already it’s hotter’n being in Teaspoon’s sweat lodge in August. I feel the sweat trickle down my body, making me slicker than the ice I fell on in January back in Kansas when I was a boy.
I turn over in bed and glance over at Lou’s sleeping form. And once again I marvel over my good fortune that she agreed to marry me all those years ago.
I smile as she stirs in her sleep. At times when I find myself watching her like this I feel such peace. Like everything is right with the world.
I quietly rise and tiptoe, as softly as my 6 foot 2 inch body will let me, to our son’s room. Ten-year-old James Lou Butler lay sound asleep and I stay and watch him for awhile as well.
I don’t feel any remorse over having to drop the ‘Hickok’ from my name to keep my family safe. It’s been so long since I went by that name, it seems a lifetime ago. Another time, another place.
Silently, I leave his room and walk across the hall to Rachel Louise Butler’s room. The five-year-old lay on her bed, legs askew, her tiny white nightgown plastered to her body. I lean down and gently plant a kiss on her forehead, whispering, “I love you” and she smiles in her sleep.
I smile myself as I look around her room. She insisted it be painted blue. ‘Bluer than the ‘acific Ocean on ‘acation, daddy.’ I can still hear her say.
I leave the house and sit on the front porch swing trying to catch a breeze as I watch the beginnings of a new day rise over the horizon.
As I listen to the creaking of the swing, I think back to another porch swing back in Sweetwater. That’s where Lou helped me begin my new life – our new life- when she agreed to become my wife.
Ah, Sweetwater. It’s been a long time since I’d seen Buck, Ike, Teaspoon and Rachel. And Kid, well Kid was another story.
I decide to head into town later when the telegraph office is open and send a message to them all, inviting them out for a little reunion of sorts.
Cody and Noah are always close by, as are Lou’s brother and sister of course.
Yeah, it’d be nice to have the family back together again - if only for a little while. It’d sure surprise Lou.
Just then the object of my thoughts walks out the door towards me with a smile on her face.
Lou sits next to me on the swing, laying her head against my shoulder. We sit in silence, swinging. After awhile she looks up into my eyes and smiles. She has such a beautiful smile. She lights up a room with it.
“What a wonderful way to start the morning, Jimmy. I love you so very much.”
“I love you, too, Lou.”
We kiss and she settles her head back on my shoulder again. We begin swinging again.
It’s the simple pleasures in life – like watching my family sleep or swinging on the porch with the love of my life watching the morning dawn – that matter most.
THUMP THUMP THUMP...
Lou lifted her head from the pillow and watched Cody bounce his forehead off the top of the trestle table.
THUMP THUMP THUMP
THUMP THUMP THUMP
He paused, his head mere inches from the table top. “What?”
She rolled on her side and stared down at the back of his head. “What’s wrong?”
Turning deeply troubled eyes up to the top bunk, Cody opened his hands and showed her the paper before him. “I’m trying to write!”
“Not that again.”
Cody’s dour gaze turned to the rider at his side. “What do you mean by that, Buck?”
“I just hope it’s better’n the last time.”
A collective round of groans filtered through the dusty air in the bunkhouse.
Waving his hands in the air, Cody stumbled to his feet. “I thought the last time was pretty good!”
Lou swung her legs over the edge of her bunk and nearly clobbered Kid’s head with the soles of her feet. “Last time,” she corrected, “we let you live.”
Cody looked hurt. “Okay so I was a little...”
Cody pressed his hands over his ears. “Enough! Enough... Good Grief!” He let out a long suffering sigh. “And here I was, thinking of asking y’all to help me.”
Noah started in. “That’s new-”
“-askin’ for help.” Buck finished off the thought with a little half smirk.
Jimmy scoffed and added on. “Be careful, Cody. Doin’ somethin’ that out of character, you might hurt yourself.”
“Ha.. ha..” Cody glared at his friend. “Thanks a lot, Hickok.”
“I call it as I see it.”
Cody plopped back in his chair and grumbled nearly beneath his breath. “So much for gettin’ help from your friends.”
Ike shook his head and pounded on the table to get Cody’s attention. **Go ahead and ask**
“Alright.. just ‘cause Ike here asked so nicely.” Cody dusted off his paper and held it up to the light. “So I stood there, facin’ down Longley with a glint in my eye.”
“Longley?” Jimmy turned on Cody and ground out his words from his inner well of frustration. “You faced ‘Longley?’ Yeah, I’m sure folks’ll believe that.”
“They say you should write what you know.”
Jimmy turned away from the table and moved toward his bunk. “Then you can’t write nothin’ but-”
“Watch it, Jimmy.”
“Wait ‘til he writes about you, Kid.”
“GETTIN’ back to MY story,” prompted Cody, “So... I’m facin’ down Longley with a glint in my eye. The crowd that had gathered held their breath as I swung back the edges of my coat. There was a flicker in his eye. Fear.”
“More like tears of laughter...”
“Shut up, Hickok.”
Lou shook her head. “Go on, Cody.”
“That day in Sweetwater, it was hotter’n Teaspoon’s patented chili sauce and there was a river of sweat rollin’ down my cheek.”
“Thanks for the image, Cody, it’s stuck in my head.”
“I ain’t done yet, Buck,” Cody protested.
“Oh, good... more prairie coal to light the fire with.”
“Shut up, Hickok.” He took a dramatic pause and began again. “So I lifted my head to the cooling wind and felt it lift the ends of my golden hair.”
“Now,” Noah ribbed Jimmy with his elbow, “it’s gettin’ pretty thick in here.”
**I think he’s just gettin’ started**
“Quiet down, Ike.” Cody sounded pretty cross.
**Sorry** Ike shoved his hands beneath the table top.
“Longley didn’t take kindly to my carefree attitude, but then again, I wasn’t gonna take none of his guff. Not from a man that was slicker ‘n a piglet in a mudbath.”
“Just be glad he ain’t alive to read that. He’d be gunnin’ for you.”
“Shut up, Hickok.”
“I kinda with Jimmy on this one. That’s not the most flattering thing you could say.”
“He’s a killer, Lou!” Cody’s protest bounced off the walls. “I’ve got to say SOMETHIN’ HARSH!”
Noah’s smile was a bit too bright for Cody’s growing headache. “Why don’t you try a few more ideas, before you settle on one.”
Nodding his head, Cody started searching for ideas. “Louder than a rooster in a hen house?
Crazier than a goose in Texas?
Ornerier than a country mouse in a brothel?”
Noah held up his hands. “Cody? What in heaven’s name does THAT mean?”
Cody pursed his lips together and bobbed his head back and forth. “I dunno really... but I thought it sounded good.”
Jimmy gave Noah a sour look before turning to Cody. “You thought wrong.”
Through gritted teeth, Cody wheezed out a breath. “Shut up, Hickok. I don’t need your guff! I need some help!”
Raising his hands in surrender, Jimmy moved toward the door with a purposeful stride. “I better get to fixin’ the barn door. You know how Teaspoon gets when things don’t get fixed ‘round here.”
Nodding in agreement Kid pulled on his trousers and grabbed his jacket from the bedpost. “I’ll give you a hand.”
Cody looked up in confusion. “Where are you two going?”
Buck looked at Lou and pointed at the door. “I’ve got those horses to buy... Lou, you want to come?”
Lou smiled at her friend and scampered off after him, pulling on her shirt as she went. “You coming, Ike?”
The mute rider looked up with utter relief painted across his features. The feet of his chair scraped across the floor boards as he jumped up to follow Lou out the door.
Cody was bewildered. The room was emptier than a head with ringlet curls. His eyes searched through the dimly lit interior and found his last chance for salvation. “Noah?”
Holding up his hand before Cody could continue, Noah silenced the worried rider. “The answer is NO. ‘N’ ‘O’... nope, no way, no how... uh uh.” Grabbing his own jacket, Noah disappeared through the doorway and let the door slam closed behind him.
Staring at the half written paper before him, Cody pondered over his dilemma for a long tenuous moment before inspiration struck like a hammer to a primer. Jumping up from the table Cody flung himself across the room and burst out of the bunkhouse. “TEASPOON, I NEED YOU!”
A/N: Continuation of week #2 and 3...who knows when it will end.
“You low-down, mealy-mouthed coyote! Who the heck do you think you are?”
That angry voice, along with the slam of the bunkhouse door against the wall reverberates through my brain and tells me I am in deep trouble. Brandy has also been talking with Lou it seems. I open one eye and look over at the door. If she wasn’t so angry, I’d make a comment about how pretty she looks with her hair obviously wind-blown from a ride over here and the light filtering in around her. But, I’m in deep enough trouble as it is, and I don’t think she’d appreciate hearing how beautiful I find her right now and that I’d just like to kiss her.
“Hello, Brandy,” I say as I sit up, then slide to the floor. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Surprised, why is that? Really, you are nothing but a liar, Jimmy Hickok. Did you think I wouldn’t come? Do you think I don’t know what you did? You think I’m stupid, that I wouldn’t find out?”
She’s looking at me, daring me. And no matter what I say, I’m sunk. I know what I did, and I knew she’d find out, knew she’d be mad, knew she’d be ornerier than a hornet in a jar, but did it stop me? Oh no. Because I am not giving up. And I am determined to prove that to her.
So, now I’ve resorted to low, underhanded trickery. It’s not like she gave me much choice in the matter. She tore the heads off the flowers I gave her, broke the music box I bought for her, slammed the door in my face more times than I can count, and actually fired a warning shot at me to get me off her property. And I know for a fact that she tore up every letter I wrote to her tryin’ to apologize because she dumped a box full of pieces on my head one day when I went over there, then slammed the door in my face for good measure. That day it actually hit me in the nose and made it bleed.
She wasn’t joking when she said she wanted me to leave her alone. Well, she’ll find out that I was just as serious when I told her I loved her. She has my heart and I was a fool for not recognizing it sooner. It didn’t even phase her. There I was, in the middle of the town, pouring my heart out to her, Cody and the rest of ‘em back behind sniggering their fool heads off, shouting at the top of my lungs that I love her, and what does she do? I’ll tell you. She said, ‘That’s real nice for you, but it’s not going to warm my bed at night.’ Then she turned, picked up her skirt – and that little she-devil, I know she knows I saw a bit of her stockings – and walked away. The whole town laughing at me, and she rides away.
So, I repeat, she didn’t give me much choice. I had to get her to take me seriously. And apparently I’ve succeeded. I also made her angrier than I anticipated. Well, I’ve been thrown from wild stallions, shot at by bandits, and I swear I saw a ghost one night on the trail – but I’ll deny that one to anyone that asks – and I am not backing down because Brandy Collins is angry. I like it when she gets angry. Her emerald eyes spark like green fire, icy hot.
“So are you just going to stand there all day, or are you going to admit that you and your overgrown imbecile friends purposefully went out of your way to humiliate Jeff Parsons?”
“I can’t deny it,” I said. “I didn’t know he would end up staying blue though.”
“You didn’t know? Well, obviously. No, you just couldn’t stand the fact that Jeff is a nice man, that he treats me kind, and that he was going to take me to the social this Saturday. Instead you and your friends do something that turns his skin and his hair blue. He couldn’t go to work, the poor man is humiliated.”
I bite the inside of my cheek - hard - to keep from smiling. He did turn a lovely shade of blue. It was quite unique. He was bluer than a robin’s egg, but not quite as blue as a clear July day with no clouds in sight. I know that if I start laughing she’s going to haul off and smack me again. Did I forget to mention that she slapped me? Oh yeah. Two Sundays ago when I was sitting on her porch when she got home, and tried to give her a hug and tell her once again how much I love her.
“I’m sorry, Brandy. But only because an innocent man had to get caught up in this. It was wrong of me, and I should have never brought someone else into what is between you and me.”
She pauses and looks at me like I just said the sun was purple. “Why can’t you just accept the fact that nothing you say or do is going to change my mind? I’m tired of fighting with you, Jimmy.”
“I’m tired of fighting with you, too. But I’m not giving up. I love you, Brandy.”
She turned away as if I’d caused her physical pain. “It’s too late to say that, Jimmy. You had every opportunity to tell me that during the time we were courting. But…I don’t believe you. I’m sorry. But this just feels like a game. I wounded your pride and you can’t bear that so you’re determined to get me back. Well, what happens if you do? What are you going to do? Go back to keeping me at a safe distance, dancing around the future, peck me on the cheek and run back to your friends? I can’t do that again, Jimmy. It’s better this way. Better for me. And you’ll see that it’ll be better for you.”
“It will never be better for me,” I vow to her. “When you said we were through I felt like I’d been horse kicked. I couldn’t breathe, I felt like a piece of me had been ripped out, and I just wanted to sit down in the dirt and cry.”
She turns around then, and I can see that her face has changed. She’s not as angry as before. So, I feel a little courage to go on. “I was a fool, Brandy. And I did play it safe. My life is marked, there’s always going to be someone coming who thinks he can take on ‘Wild Bill’ and best him. What kind of life is that for you? How could I honor you by dragging you into a life of danger?”
“How is now any different from then? Why are you so determined to have me in your life?” she asks, as she fights valiantly against the tears I see swimming in her eyes.
“Because I realize that I would rather die than to be without you. Because I’m living in Hell now. That isn’t a life, that’s merely getting by. Please,” I say as I take a step towards her and let out a small sigh when she doesn’t shy away. “Please believe me when I say that this time will be different. That I love you. That I don’t want to be alone anymore. I’m alone now, even though I’m surrounded by people, and the only one who can make me feel whole is you.”
“Are you just lonely? Or do you really want to be with me? Because I can’t do this if you’re just afraid being alone.”
The doubt in her eyes slices me in two, and I hate that I put it there. But I know without a doubt, that I love her, that I can’t imagine my life without her, and I’m not afraid to face the future, as long as she wants to be with me. “I would live a lifetime alone, if you truly want nothing to do with me. If my life, the men who will look for me no matter what I do to try and convince them I’m not a hired gun, is not something you don’t want, then I’ll walk away. But don’t for one second believe that I don’t love you. Don’t for one moment believe that I’m only doing this because I got my pride hurt and I’m playing a game to keep you away from another man. It would be like cutting off my arm, but I’ll truly back off if it’s Jeff Parsons you want.”
“Jimmy,” she says on a shaky breath. Her eyes are stormy, roiling with a turmoil of emotions and I don’t know if she believes me or not, but I have to press on. I have to tell her everything.
I step even closer. “I want to see the bed. The bed your father made for your mother, the bed that symbolized their love. I want to make you my wife, to sleep with you every night on that bed, to have children with you.”
The mood in the bunkhouse changes, and I know she can feel it. The air becomes still, charged like lightning is about to strike. It feels heavy, hotter’n a firecracker in August, and wraps around us like a blanket.
“You were listening?” she asks, her voice deep with emotion.
“I heard every word you said,” I assure her. “I want that same kind of love, Brandy. I want it with you. How can I make you believe me?”
This time she steps closer, eliminating the distance between us. “You already have.”
I look up at the rafters, sending us a silent thanksgiving. She believes me. Her hand on my chest brings my attention back to her, and I see her raising on her toes towards me. Needing no further invitation, I place my hand at her waist to steady her, and lower my mouth in welcome for our first kiss in over two months.
Never again, I vow as our lips dance together and my hand comes up to cup her silken cheek, never again will I ever let this woman go.
The day was beautiful and clear. It was a perfect day for a picnic. Buck and Maria packed the buckboard with a basket.
“Angela, we’re ready. Bring the blanket from the kitchen bench.” Maria called out to her daughter. Buck helped her get in the carriage. These days it was getting harder to get up into the buckboard with her bulk. She placed a hand on her swelling belly. “God, this is awful! How many more weeks?” Maria whined a bit as she huffed into her seat.
Buck smiled knowingly. “Having a tough day, sweetheart.” He gave her a hard kiss and a hug.
“It’s not that bad. I guess I’m just gearing up for the actually whining.” She said and laughed at the funny face he made. “Angela, are you coming?” Angela was a six year old going on twenty years old. Well that’s what Maria thought as she watched her daughter bring the blanket to the wagon. “You are going to be a great big sister and a big help to me.” Maria smiled over her shoulder as Buck put Angela in the back.
“Thank you, mamma. Daddy and I will take good care of you.” Angela hugged her mamma from behind. “Grandpa Teaspoon says you have every right to be a bit cranky when your ankles swell up and you feel lower than a snakes belly with an itch.” Maria and Buck chuckled at those words. “Sure does sound like Teaspoon.” Buck said to his wife in a whisper. “Angel, honey, sit tight.” Buck urged the buckboard down the road.
“How do you get that flat to get lower than a snake’s belly, mamma? You can’t get that low mamma especially since Michael is in the way.” Angela had decided that the baby was a boy and named him Michael. Buck and Maria thought it was cute but had discussed what would happen if the baby was a girl. Angela’s answer was simply, “It’s a boy so it doesn’t matter.”
“Grandpa Teaspoon has a lot of funny things to say.” Angela chattered from the back. “His words paint pictures, Daddy, like your Kiowa stories do. But Grandpa’s are short and are in the middle of talking.” Angela smoothed the hair of her doll and kept on chattering. “Sometimes Aunt Rachel shushes him ‘cause she doesn’t like what he’s going to say. There was this time when…”
“Angel, honey, what do you hear?” Buck tried to distract his daughter. He knew full well the colorful language Teaspoon could spout. Teaspoon helped raised Buck and the pony express riders. He was their sage, disciplinarian and surrogate father. Teaspoon led an eventful life of being a soldier, Texas Ranger, Pony Express manager, and Marshall. Many times Teaspoon had deputized the boys to help him with different situations.
“Daddy?” Angela whispered. “I hear the birds and the wind through the trees. What do you hear?”
Buck smiled and said, “I also hear the birds and the wind, Angel. What does the wind say to you?”
“The wind has a voice all its own. Its language is hard to understand with your ears.” Maria added in hushed tones.
“You’re right mamma; I can understand it with my heart. Michael talks in the wind.” Angela fell silent, concentrating on the wind. Maria and Buck just looked at each other.
“What do you mean Angel?” Buck asked gently.
“Michael doesn’t actually say words but I know what he’s thinking. I feel it.” Angel played absently with her doll making it dance on her lap. “Grandfather says that’s okay that I hear Michael. He says he talks to Grandma all the time.”
“I’m sure your grandfather talks to grandma a lot. He loved her very much, sweetie.” Maria smiled at the memories of her parent. She remembered when they first moved here before her mother became ill. Her Da would gather flowers for her and her mother. He would bow and present the flowers to each of them in grand style making them giggle. He would sweep her mother in his arms and dance her around the kitchen. Her mother would pretend to admonish him but would always add a wink that would light up her father’s face.
Buck reined the wagon in to their favorite spot. It had a beautiful weeping willow tree and the ground sloped to the stream. It was perfect for their picnic. They set up the blanket and quickly took off their shoes and socks. They headed down to the stream to cool off.
“Angela, please be careful,” Maria said. “If you want to go swimming, take off your dress and put it on the blanket. I have a towel for you.” Before she could finish Angela was up the hill pulling off her dress as she went.
“Damn!” Angela said loudly.
“Angela!” Maria gasped at her daughter’s language.
“Mamma, the button’s caught in my hair and won’t come out. It’s ornerier than a donkey in heat.” Angel came trudging down to her astonished parents. The dress was hanging from her head. “See what I mean.” Angela whined.
“Angela Cross, that language is not allowed.” Buck was trying to be stern and had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing at Teaspoon’s words coming out of a six year old mouth. “Maria, I will talk to Teaspoon. I promise.” He gently released the dress from Angela’s hair.
“Thank you.” Maria said quietly. They didn’t want to make a big deal about what Angela said and smirked at each other as Angela ran back up to the blanket to put her dress down. “This water feels heavenly.” “Well in Teaspoon style it’s hotter’n a whore’s dress on Saturday night.”
“Buck Cross!” Maria gasped then burst out laughing. Her skirt hitched up past her knees and her arms outstretched. She tilted her head back to catch the sun on her face. She gasped at Buck’s voice so close to her ear.
“Keep looking like that and I might get as bad as that donkey Angela spoke about.” He nipped her earlobe. He wrapped his arms around her and caressed his child in her rounded belly.
“That’s how I got in this condition in the first place.” She giggled. Buck growled in her ear. Maria glanced at her daughter just in time to see her fall in the water. “Angela!” Buck jumped into action and got to Angela in time to watch her come up sputtering but unharmed. She stood up and laughed. Her hair was streaming in her face.
“Daddy, did you see me?” She grinned at Buck. “I tried to swim like you taught me.”
“Yes, I did.” Buck said trying to swallow around his heart. “Wait until I’m with you next time, okay?”
“Sure, it was a little scary.” Angela smiled trying to push her hair back. “How about now?”
“Okay, try again. I’ll stand here so that I can catch you incase you drift. Remember when you go under to blow air out of your nose.” Buck instructed.
“Right, like I’m blowing my nose.” Angela gave a demonstration snort. Buck crouched getting ready to catch should anything happen. “One, two, three,” Angela said then went under water. She kept her head in and paddled around. Maria clapped when Angela stood up.
“Very good, Angel! Soon you’ll be swimming like a fish.” Buck hugged Angela with pride filling his eyes. “Are you hungry?”
“Yep!” Angela said and climbed out of the stream. She raced up the hill, grabbed her towel and was ready to eat by the time Buck escorted Maria up the hill.
“Alright, here is chicken, potato salad and apples and cheese for dessert.” Maria told them as she hand them a plate of food.
“Thank you, mamma!” Angela dug in. “Thanks, hon.” Buck said with a mouthful and a wink. Maria, Buck and Angela ate, talked and laughed together. Later they all relaxed on the blanket. Angela was napping. Buck had his head on Maria’s lap and she was running her fingers through his hair as she lounged against a tree. “Buck?” She twirled his hair.
“Hmm,” Buck answered, eyes closed.
“What do you suppose Angela was talking about when she said she hears Michael?”
“She could be speaking to her brother. It’s not so unusual for her age to see spirits.”
“I see. So basically I shouldn’t be worried,” Maria sighed not totally put at ease. “I guess if it isn’t her brother it could be an imaginary friend.”
“Or a guiding spirit,” Buck added.
“Well if it is our son, or a guiding spirit, the spirit is welcome to stay as long as they want as long as it’s not negative.”
“I agree and I will pray to the Great Spirit to guide us in this matter.” Buck sat up and kissed her on the cheek, then her nose and captured her giggle with his mouth. “Mmm, you’re sweeter than shoo fly pie.” Buck licked his lips and tried to dive in on her again.
She playfully swatted him and said, “You’re nuttier than a fruitcake at Christmas.”
“Oh, really!” He grinned lasciviously and pulled her across his lap gently ever mindful of the baby. He kissed her face all over. They laughed as quietly as they could. Angela had awakened to their play.
She smiled at her parents’ antics but soon became bored. She slipped away unnoticed and wandered down to the stream. Leaving her towel on the bank she waded into the water. Walking in a few steps she saw something glint in the water. Bending into grab it she slipped in.
Angela tried to swim but the current took her. Her bloomers snagged on a branch and kept her from fully getting to the surface. Kicking her legs as hard as she could she was still unable to get fully free. At one point her bloomers tore a bit to allow her mouth to surface at times. Panicking she tried to gulp in air.
*Angela* a voice in near her said. *I’m here to help. You must calm down.*
“Who are you?” Angela thought.
*Michael brought me. I’m your Uncle Ike* Angela tried to see him but could only see his silhouette against the sun. She began to calm down as she felt Michael near her.
“Michael, I’m getting sleepy. Will you hold my hand?” Angela thought and felt a small hand in hers. She closed her eyes.
*It’s not your time to go, Angela. I want to play with you.* Michael said to her. *I’ll be here soon. Uncle Ike went to get daddy.* Angela felt the second spirit come close to her.
*Sweetheart, know that I love you. Tell your daddy that I’m still here for him and my whole family.* Uncle Ike told her and flashed pictures in her mind of Lou, Kid, Teaspoon, Cody, Rachel, Jimmy, Buck and Maria.
Hands clasped her shoulders and pulled her limp body from the water. Buck scooped her whole body against him and brought her to the bank and her frantic mother.
“Oh God, Buck!” Maria helped Buck lower Angela to the ground. Buck turned the little girl on her side and helped massage he water from her lungs. Angela coughed and sputtered. Maria wrapped Angela’s towel around her and rubbed her arms and legs to help her regain circulation.
Maria didn’t know she was crying until Angela said, “Don’t cry, mamma. Michael was there. He told me it wasn’t my time yet. He brought Uncle Ike to help.” Angela turned to her father and told him Uncle Ike’s message. Buck crushed his family to him
The four riders stood staring at Teaspoon as if he had two heads.
Finally, Buck managed to ask, "You want us to stake out a what?"
Teaspoon looked at his 'boys' with a lopsided grin and answered, "A coyote, Boys."
They were still confused. Jimmy leaned over to Kid and asked, "I heard coyote - did he say coyote?"
"He said coyote," Kid said simply.
"What's going on, Teaspoon?" Lou asked, wanting to get to the bottom of this.
Teaspoon sat on the edge of his desk, facing them. "Well, Lou, Boys, seems there's been an animal causing trouble on the surrounding farms. Been raiding the chicken coops, killin' every last one of 'em. And he's good, too, slicker than a moss patch in a rock bed. Comes in real quiet like and by the time the farmer hears any noise, he's already done his business and is out of sight."
Buck looked at the other riders and asked what he's sure they all were thinking. "Then how do you know it's a coyote?"
Teaspoon got up to pour himself a cup of coffee. "Cause someone finally saw him. He hit Old Ben Harper's place last night. Seems Old Ben has a horse who took a fall the other day and ain't faring so well. He just happened to be in the barn checkin' on the horse when he heard the ruckus. The moon was full so he got a good view of the culprit, swears it's a coyote. He managed to get off a couple shots from that old rifle of his but didn't get him."
"So, what do you want us to do?" Lou asked, even though she had a good idea what the answer was going to be.
Teaspoon gave them that lopsided grin, again. "Well, it's simple. The farmers need help, Boys. They can't handle losses like this. It's got 'em real down; they're bluer than a gunfighter with an empty six shooter. You're gonna hafta stop him in his tracks. It looks like he's hitting the farms kinda one after the other so you four are gonna split up and stake out the next two closest farms, the O'Leary's and the Grover's. They'll be expectin' you. You can divide up amongst yourselves."
The four looked at each other trying to decide who should go where when Jimmy stated, "Well, we can't put Kid and Lou together. They'll spend all night kissin' and only have eyes for each other. They'd definitely never see a coyote."
Lou put her hands on her hips and glared at Jimmy. "That's not fair, we would not!"
Buck tried not to laugh. "You would, too, Lou, and you know it. Alright, I'll take Lou."
Jimmy looked at Kid. "I guess that leaves me with lover boy." He moved out of the way as Kid tried to punch him.
As they headed out to the porch, Buck asked, "So what are we supposed to do if we come across this coyote?"
"Simple, Boys, you're gonna have to dispose of him. Can't take no chances: this week it's chickens, next week could be somethin' closer to the heart."
The boys and Lou nodded in understanding.
Before they headed out, Teaspoon had a few more words of wisdom for them. "Now, Boys, you just watch yourselves. Don't get too close, coyotes can be dangerous animals; they're ornerier than a cow with a belly full." With that said, he went back into his office.
As the riders headed down the stairs, Buck said, "Man has a way with words."
"Yeah, and I'm just glad I don't have to hear any more of 'em," Jimmy admitted as they mounted and rode off to their posts.
Several hours later, Jimmy and Kid are pacing inside the barn on the O'Leary property.
"What happens if it doesn't show up at either of these places?" Jimmy asked. "Does it mean we gotta do this again tomorrow night until it does?"
"That's more than likely exactly what it means," Kid answered, leaning in the doorway. "It had to be the hottest night of the year ... this heat is unbearable."
Jimmy grinned at him. "What's the matter, Kid? Can't handle it? Is it hotter'n a skinny dip with a pretty lady?" He grin got wider at the shocked look on Kid's face. "You know where that's comin' from?"
Kid walked back into the barn, not looking at him. "Yeah, I know where that's comin' from and I ain't goin' there. You keep watch for a while, I'm gonna get some shut eye." He leaned against the wall just inside the door and pulled his hat over his eyes. How did Jimmy find out about that; he'd made sure no one was around before they went in the pond. He was gonna have to have a talk with Lou in the morning - what fun is sneaking around if everyone knows what they're doing?
On the Grover farm, Lou sat on a bale of hay throwing stray pieces on the ground while Buck stood in the doorway of the barn. She was having trouble keeping her eyes open and was about to say something to Buck when she saw him motioning her to the doorway.
When she looked out, she saw what had caught his attention. In the light shed by all the lanterns hanging around the property, they watched a coyote approach the chicken coop.
Buck raised his rifle but was halted by Lou's restraining hand.
"Buck, you can't. What if it's a mama and it's just lookin' for food for it's babies?" Lou asked seriously.
"Lou, if it was a mama, it would be bringin' food back with it, but it hasn't taken anythin'. This one's in it for himself and no one else," Buck explained. "Lou, we gotta do what Teaspoon said or next time, it could be one of these farmers' little ones. I don't wanna see that, do you?"
Lou shook her head. "You're right."
"Back me up," Buck told her.
They approached the pen and with two shots from the rifle and a yelp from the coyote, it was over.
"I'll go talk to Mr. Grover," Buck said. "I'll tell him we'll be back with Teaspoon in the morning to remove the carcass." He walked toward the family that had come out on the porch at the sound of the shots.
Lou looked at the family then at the coyote. Teaspoon was right, she thought, an animal who would do something this destructive was lower than a snake in a mouse hole.
She and Buck got on their horses and rode off to tell Kid and Jimmy it was time to head home.