Topic #6: Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies
|I Thee Wed
||Leave the Door Open
by: CindyPlink. Plink. Plink.
Emma opened her eyes and looked around, searching for the source of the noise that had awakened her. But the room was quiet now . . .
Plink. Plink. Plink.
There it was again, and now she could tell it was something hitting against the glass of the bedroom window. She got up and walked toward the window, standing in the shadows to look out.
Sam looked up, trying to decide if he had really seen movement behind the curtains. He waved his arms, hoping that she could see him. He was trying to be as quiet as he could. But the pebbles against the glass just seemed so LOUD!
Emma slowly slid the curtain to one side, looking down. A puzzled smile crossed her face as she recognized Sam below the window. Not that she wasn't happy to see him, but what in the world was he doing here at this time of night? She slid the curtains off to the side and opened the window, leaning out. "Sam Cain, what in the world do you think you're doing?"
"Ssssshhhhh!" Sam looked around nervously, listening for the sound of anyone stirring in the bunkhouse or the tack room. He knew from experience riding on posses that it didn't take much to wake a couple of the riders, and Emma's voice just seemed to echo. "Emma, I gotta talk to you," he answered, his own voice barely above a whisper. "Can I come up?"
Emma looked around herself, wondering what Sam was looking for. "Sam, we're getting married tomorrow. Can't it wait."
"No, it can't, Emma. Please."
Suddenly it felt like a frigid hand gripped her throat, and she struggled to swallow. What if Sam was getting cold feet? Maybe they really weren't getting married the next day. The thought made her knees go weak and she leaned against the windowsill. But then she pulled herself up and took a deep breath. This was silly - there could be any number of things Sam needed to talk about.
And if he was going to back out, she'd rather hear about it now, in private, than be left standing at the church.
"All right, Sam," she answered softly. "I'll come unlock the back door," she answered, keeping her voice down in deference to whatever was worrying him.
Sam paced nervously as he waited, looking around the corner of the house several times to make sure no one was coming out of the bunkhouse. Then he heard the latch open and he turned back, coming face to face with Emma as she stepped onto the back porch. "Hello, Emma," he said, pulling off his hat.
Emma studied his face, looking for some sign of what had brought him here. But the moonlight gave nothing away. "What's wrong, Sam?"
"Emma, I really need to talk to you."
"Well, come in then. I can make us some coffee."
"I don't really need coffee, Emma."
She hesitated just momentarily, then continued on, hoping Sam hadn't noticed. Not wanting coffee made it sound like bad news.
They walked into the parlor and Emma took a seat on the divan. But instead of sitting beside her, Sam kept going, taking the chair near the hearth. He sighed and dropped his hat onto the table, slumping down in the seat.
Emma's throat felt desert dry, and her heart was racing. But she was determined to be strong. "What is it, Sam?" she asked softly.
Sam shook his head wearily. "Emma, I got to thinking, and I think maybe I made a wrong decision."
She managed to catch the sob before it escaped her throat. Well, he'd said it. "I understand, Sam," she whispered. "And I think you're right."
He was right? He wished he knew what she thought he was right about, since he hadn't gotten to why he was there. "Emma . . ."
"I know I'm not the most beautiful woman around," she continued quickly, before she lost her nerve. "And I've seen the way those pretty young girls look at you in town. What with your new job, and moving to a bigger town and all, you shouldn't be tied down."
"Emma . . ."
"It's all right Sam. I really do understand. Don't you worry about it. I'll take care of canceling everything."
Canceling? "Emma, what the hell are you talkin' about?"
She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. "You're not the first man to realize he was making a mistake getting married, Sam," she answered, proud of how calm she kept her voice. Unfortunately, he was the man who was breaking her heart . . .
As understanding finally hit, Sam sprang out of the chair. He knelt in front of Emma, taking her hands in his. "Emma, us gettin' married isn't a mistake." He looked into her watery eyes, saw her quivering lip, and knew the mistake had been in the way he'd handled this whole thing.
She sniffed, so unsure of what was happening. "No?"
"No," he answered firmly. He reached up with one hand to brush away a stray tear trickling down her cheek. "Emma, I love you." He took her hands again, holding them tight. "I guess I've known it for a while. But when Evan Crandall came to town, and I thought I might lose you - well, it felt like half of me was being torn away. I knew then I never want to lose you."
"Oh, Sam . . ." Her voice trailed off as she struggled for control.
He got up and sat next to her, pulling her gently into his arms. "Those girls in town can look all they want, and I might even look back - hell, I ain't dead! But a 'girl' ain't what I'm looking for." He kissed the top of her head, then rested his cheek against her hair. "I want a woman who's seen enough of the world to know there are ups and downs, and who can deal with both," he continued softly. "I want a woman strong enough to stand on her own, but soft enough to hold me on cold winter nights. I want a woman who knows there's both bad and good in me - she'll help me through the bad, and make the good stronger. I need a best friend I can talk to." He paused, reaching down to lift her chin up until their eyes met. "I need you, Emma. No one else."
She turned toward him fully, then leaned in. He met her halfway and they kissed, holding each other tightly.
"Sam, I'm sorry I was being so foolish," Emma finally whispered.
"I'm sorry I gave you reason to worry," he answered. "Emma, why would you think I didn't want to marry you?"
She shrugged, realizing how silly it seemed now. "Sam, you show up in the middle of the night, you say you think you've made the wrong decision . . ." She paused, looking up. "Sam, what did you come to talk about?"
He smiled. "Nothing quite so serious," he said. "I just got to thinking about the Territorial Marshal job, and how maybe it wasn't fair to ask you to move away from your home, your friends."
She sat up straight, looking into his eyes. "Sam you've worked hard for this, and being named Territorial Marshal is a wonderful thing." She paused, waving her hand around the room. "Mr. Spoon and the boys will take care of the farm. If the Pony Express ends, we'll figure something else out then. I can write to my friends, and we won't be that far away we can't visit now and then."
Emma smiled and slid off the seat onto the floor. Kneeling in front of Sam she took his hands. "I want a man who knows I've made mistakes in my past," she said softly. "And who'll help me not make the same mistakes again. I want a man who'll hold me on cold winter nights - and maybe even on hot summer nights too. I want a man who'll be my best friend, someone I can talk to and share things with. That man is you, Sam."
He slid down onto the floor next to her, holding her against his chest. He kissed her, then asked, "Does that mean the wedding's still on?"
Emma laughed softly, then wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, pushing him backward. "You just try and get away from me, Sam Cain!"
He laughed too as he let himself slide onto his back on the floor, his arms still holding Emma tightly. He knew when he was beat.
Dawn was still almost an hour away when Buck and Ike returned to the station. Lou had assigned all of them tasks in preparation for Emma's wedding, and their mission had been to collect wildflowers to decorate the horse and buckboard. They had just been out collecting the flowers now so the blossoms would be as fresh as possible when it came time for the wedding.
While Ike began sorting the flowers, Buck walked toward the back of the house to where the buckboard sat. He was smiling as he walked, thinking about their task ahead. He still wasn't at all sure that Hercules was going to appreciate flowers in his tail. Maybe that was a good job for Ike, who just seemed to have a better touch with animals.
Buck was just rounding the corner when the back door opened - and he came face to face with a very flustered Sam Cain.
Sam looked quickly between Buck and his horse, waiting just a few feet away. Only another minute or two and he would have gotten out of there without being seen. But too late for that now. "Hey, Buck."
"Sam." Buck struggled not to smile - this just wasn't something he would have expected from the Marshal, an overnight visit the evening before his wedding.
"I, uh . . . I was, ummmm . . . just wanting to make sure Emma was all right," Sam stammered. He rolled his eyes and sighed as Ike walked up and joined Buck - two witnesses!
Buck and Ike exchanged a glance and a smile before Buck answered. "Sure, Sam."
Sam took a step forward, looking around to make sure no one else was up yet. "Look, guys, there's no reason to mention this to the other boys, right?"
Ike was quick to shake his head in an emphatic NO.
"Your secret's safe, Sam," Buck assured him. "We'd never do anything to hurt Emma. We just want her to be happy."
"So do I," Sam answered. He started for his horse.
"I hope you found Emma's all right," Buck said.
It took Sam a moment to remember that he had just used that as his reason for being there, but then he turned back and smiled. "She's perfect."
Hercules stood still, proudly swishing his black flower-laced tail, as Kid helped Emma from the buckboard. Lou helped straighten her dress, trying to do it as boyishly as possible since Teaspoon was standing just to one side.
When Emma finally nodded that she was ready, Teaspoon stepped forward, adjusting his tie. He bowed, then offered his arm. "Miss Shannon."
"Mr. Spoon," she replied, wrapping her arm in his. They started up the steps.
Cody and Ike swung the church doors open with a flourish as they approached. Emma and Teaspoon stopped just inside.
Emma watched as Ike, Cody, Kid, and Lou slipped into the pews at the back of the church, then she looked to the front. Jimmy and Buck were there, waiting with Sam. The three men smiled as they saw her enter.
Emma smiled back, then looked around, taking in the faces of all the friends gathered there. For all the distress of the previous night, she was strangely calm now.
She looked forward again, her eyes only on Sam this time. She thought about something he had said the night before, about feeling as though he lost half of himself when he had thought that he might lose her. With crystal clarity she knew what he meant, because she knew she was looking at her other half.
The pianist started the wedding march, and Emma felt Teaspoon pat her hand as he stepped forward. She moved with him, walking boldly to her future.
“What do you mean you are leaving?” Buck asked fiercely as he grabbed Ike’s arm. “What? Are you truly nuts? We just signed on here.” Buck looked at the Ike’s things strewn across his bunk.
*I’m not staying where people think I’m stupid. They talk real slow as if I can’t catch on.* Ike turned and shoved more of his things into a bag.
“Ike, I know what’s got into you, but it’ll pass. They’ll get the picture.” Buck took Ike’s bag. “I already spoke to Cody about his speaking real slow like. He’s the one that needs people to speak to him real slow.” At no responding smile Buck continued, “He really didn’t mean anything by it. Plus, where are you going to go?”
*Anywhere. I’ll just keep going until I find a place that will accept me* Ike grabbed back his bag.
“Yeah, well you’ll be running to a lot of places if you give every place as much time as this one.” Buck walked to his bunk and sat down looking at Ike. “I’m not going, but I’m going to miss you Ike. I think we can make a go of this. You are real good with the horses and you can ride fast. That’s what they need here,” Buck finished softly.
*Alright, I’ll stay. If one more person treats me like I’m stupid I’m gonna beat the tar out of them.* Ike slowly stared unpacking his things.
“Well, I’ll hold ‘em down for you.” Buck got up and clapped Ike on the shoulder. “Honestly Ike, you are my brother. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Ike smiled at Buck. They walked out onto the porch. None of the other riders were aware that they almost lost a fantastic friend. Buck caught Teaspoon’s eye. Teaspoon nodded knowingly and grinned.
“Yep, it’s gonna be a grand day today.” Teaspoon tipped his hat over his eyes and leaned back in his chair.
“He died doing what he believed in…” The preachers voice seems hollow and his words screaming understatements of the life of my friend. He was loving and kind and he cared for me. Helped guide me when I felt like I was lost in a sea of troubles. He helped make me the man I am today. I ain’t sayin I’m perfect but it’d be me in that grave today had I not meet him.
Jimmy Hickok had just about decided that the day couldn’t get any worse-when it did. Things had started out normally enough back at the Pony Express bunkhouse in Sweetwater, but hadn’t stayed that way for long.
He knew something was going on when Sam Cain rode in just after breakfast. The lawman hadn’t even bothered to stop at Emma’s; he’d just come directly to the bunkhouse. A few minutes later he rode off, taking Buck Cross with him.
Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem-Sam occasionally needed Buck’s help with one thing or another. The problem came up when, less than an hour after the pair had left, Teaspoon Hunter had come into the bunkhouse and asked, “Who’s up?”
It should have been Buck, but with the Kiowa gone, it fell to Jimmy. He didn’t mind-until Teaspoon had decided that another rider was needed. “Another rider” meant Cody-and that’s where things started to go wrong.
It wasn’t that Cody was a bad sort, it was just that Jimmy had hoped for a nice quiet ride. Instead he got Cody and Cody was anything but quiet.
“So there I was-surrounded by a whole band of renegade Paiute!”
Cody hadn’t stopped talking since they left the station. Jimmy didn’t figure he’d ever understand how the other rider could keep blabbering on like he did. He sure as heck didn’t seem to mind that Jimmy hadn’t so much as grunted a response in over an hour.
To top it all off, the storm clouds that had been gathering on the horizon were now bearing down on them. The wind had picked up and the occasional flash of lightning had turned into something akin to the fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Knowing that they were still several miles from the nearest man-made shelter, Jimmy cursed the fact that their route wasn’t the normal Pony Express trail with its relay stations every fifteen or so miles. He started looking for someplace where they could wait out the storm, but found nothing.
Mother Nature hit them with all the fury she possessed so fast that by the time he and Cody got their ponchos out of their packs and pulled them over their heads, they were soaked to the skin. With no other option, the pair plunged ahead.
The deluge had its benefits, Jimmy decided. At least Cody had shut up.
Jimmy had just enough time to register a strange tingling sensation before the world went black. Had he remained conscious, he would have see the poplar tree not even fifty yards ahead explode as a bolt of lightning hit it dead center.
His and Cody’s horse both reared up, then turned and twisted violently to get away from the now burning tree. Caught unaware, Hickok instinctively compensated, which unfortunately threw him into an overbalanced condition.
For the briefest of moments, his body hung suspending in mid-air just above his saddle. Then, in an amazing display of slow motion, he fell to the ground. The sickening sound of a leg bone snapping was followed by the equally agonizing thud of a skull connecting with a most inconveniently placed rock.
Cody saw Hickok fall but was too busy trying to regain control of his own horse to do anything to stop it. As soon as he was able, he rode back to where his friend lay and slid to the ground.
“Don’t move him until you check him out,” the blond rider muttered to himself as he tried to remember any of the basic medical training he’d picked up over the years.
A quick glance was all it took to see the leg resting at an awkward angle. That was ugly, but it didn’t worry him near as much as the blood pouring from the wound on the side of Jimmy’s head.
“Head wounds bleed worse than any other,” he murmured, remembering that information from the time a doctor had treated a similar wound on his head.
After making a pad of Jimmy’s handkerchief and tying it tightly over the head wound with his own, Cody looked around to find something to use to splint the leg. Seizing two stout branches that had flown from the now demolished tree, he worked quickly.
“Best to get this done before he wakes up,” he told himself.
As if nature had decided to make amends, the rain began to taper off. By the time Cody had the splints in place, the sky had cleared to a beautiful blue and the sun was shining brightly. Pulling off his poncho, Cody lay it on the ground and carefully moved Hickok from the wet ground.
“He’s going to catch his death of cold,” he whispered worriedly.
Finding dry wood after the kind of thunderstorm they’d just experienced wasn’t easy but he was able to find enough that wasn’t so wet that it wouldn’t burn-if he could find something to get the fire started. Finally realizing he had no option, he reached into his saddlebags and pulled out one of the dime novels he carried with him. Sighing dramatically, he tore the pages from their binding.
Hickok came to and immediately wished he hadn’t. His head was pounding in rhythm with his pulse. That he could deal with, he decided. It wasn’t much worse than a hangover. But the pain in his leg was another matter entirely.
He tried to rise up a bit, to see what was making his leg hurt so much. His head seemed to explode before he even got it off the ground and he fell back with a groan.
“Don’t try to move, Jimmy.” Cody’s voice seemed unusually loud.
“Now you tell me,” Jimmy whispered. “And you don’t have to shout.”
“Nice to see you still have your sense of humor,” Cody quipped.
“I do not!” the wounded man protested. “What happened?”
“Lightning,” Cody explained. “Hit a tree right in front of you. Your horse spooked and you got thrown.”
“Musta landed on my head,” Jimmy muttered.
“Yeah, well you got lucky there,” Cody teased, then continued more seriously. “You hit your head on a rock and got a pretty good size lump on it. And your leg’s broke, too”
“Don’t worry,” Cody assured him. “I got it splinted and you’ll be fine in no time.”
“Glad you think so, Doc Cody,” Jimmy replied.
“Come on, Hickok,” Cody said, sounding wounded. “I did the best I could.”
“I’m sorry, Cody,” Jimmy apologized. Taking a deep breath, then letting it out slowly he fought to control the sudden urge to throw up. “What are we going to do now,” he gasped.
“We gotta get you some help,” Cody stated firmly.
“Nearest town is . . . “ Jimmy’s voice trailed off as he fought to concentrate on the information. The world had started spinning around, making it very difficult to think clearly. “Hartville,” he was finally able to choke out. “It’s two, maybe three, miles on . . . Cody?” he said feebly. “I’m going to be sick.”
Cody helped Hickok get to the edge of the poncho, then held his head until he was finished.
“Just wash your mouth out,” Cody told Hickok as he helped him take water from a canteen. “Don’t swallow or it’ll come right back up.”
“Thanks,” Hickok said, lying back on the poncho. “Damn it hurts.”
“Don’t fall asleep!” Cody ordered as Hickok’s eyes began to close. “You probably got a concussion. You gotta stay awake.”
“But I’m tired.” Hickok didn’t mean for the words to sound like a whine but they did.
“I know but you gotta stay awake!” Cody replied vehemently.
The blond rider stood and fed a few more wet sticks on to the fire.
“How’d you get that started?” Jimmy asked curiously.
“Used one of my books for kindling,” Cody replied.
“Guess I owe you a new book then.”
“Nah, that’s all right. It was one I already read.” An idea came to Cody as he spoke. “But if you really want to pay me back, you just keep talking to me.”
“About what?” Jimmy asked.
“Anything you want,” Cody replied. “Look, when we don’t show up at Hartville, somebody’s bound to come looking for us. They’ll probably find your horse along the way. Either way it shouldn’t be too long before they find us and we’ll get you some help. But for now, you gotta keep talking.”
“Too bad it isn’t you with the concussion,” Jimmy said. “You never have trouble thinking of something to say.”
“That’s because I could never get a word in edge-wise at home,” Cody replied with a grin.
“You come from a big family?” Jimmy asked, realizing that he actually knew very little about the man in front of him.
“Not really but I have enough sisters that it seems a lot bigger than it is,” Cody laughed.
“Boy, I know how that feels,” Jimmy said, joining in the laugh and then groaning as his head began to throb double-time. His eyes began to droop again.
“What about friends?” Cody asked suddenly. “You musta had a lot of friends growing up.”
“Not really,” Jimmy replied, forcing himself to concentrate. “Never really knew what a friend was.”
“My ma always used to say ‘a friend is someone who comes in the door when everyone else is fighting to get out.’,” Cody told him. “She had a lot of friends, so I guess she knew what she was talking about.”
“Guess I never had anyone like that,” Jimmy said. “Must be nice to have someone who cares about you that much.”
“I think you do,” Cody protested.
“Well, you got Teaspoon and Emma and Lou and Ike and Buck and Kid and me,” Cody said ticking off the names on his fingers as he spoke.
“You really think so?” Jimmy asked. He had never really thought that any of the other riders would consider him a “friend.”
“Sure!” Cody replied adamantly. “I mean, who else but a friend like me would burn a book just to make sure you were warm?”
The two men spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening sitting and talking about anything that came to mind. Every time Jimmy would threaten to doze off, Cody would push him to talk “just a little longer.”
Finally, just after sunset, Cody thought he heard the sound of men and horses moving in their direction. The leader of the search party from Hartville told them they had come looking when Jimmy’s horse had run into town. In short order, the men had Jimmy on a stretcher and were on their way to the doctor’s office.
“You’re a very lucky man, Mr. Hickok,” the doctor told him after resplinting the broken leg. “It’s a good thing your friend Mr. Cody was with you.”
“You can say that again, Doc,” Hickok answered sleepily.
“Well you get some rest now,” the older man told him. “I’m afraid we’ll have to wake you up every couple of hours but you should be able to get some sleep anyway.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Jimmy said as the man started to leave the room. “Hey, Doc,” he added. “Can you leave the door open? I’ve got a friend who might want to come in.”
The voice behind me startles me and makes me swing around abruptly. I thought I was alone out here, and I must have been so lost in my thoughts I never heard him approach. He gives me an apologetic look, before it turns to a mischievous smirk at my being caught off guard. "Hey, Buck."
"Thought I'd find you here," he says, as he walks up beside me. We stand quietly, looking out over the scene before us.
"How'd you know? I didn't even know until I showed up here."
"It's where you come to think. It's where you find peace," he says. "Here there is nothing to distract you or bother you. And since Rachel and Lou are harping on you night and day about the wedding, I figured you'd be here when we woke up this morning and you weren't in your bunk."
I sigh and nod my head, as I look out over the small bluff. It seems everyone is more excited and uptight about this wedding than Brandy and I are. I don't care if she shows up in a dirty smock fresh from cleaning the fireplace, and I know she wouldn't care if I showed up after just mucking out the stalls - well, I would care, 'cause I hate how I smell afterwards - because we've told each other as much. But Rachel and Lou and every other busy body budinski in town has commandeered our wedding and set out to make it the event of the season.
"I just had to clear my head," I say, watching as the sun slowly rose, pushing back the shadows on the land. There was a family of deer that sometimes came down to the stream below, and I always keep my eye out
for them, wondering if the young 'uns had grown more, or if they've fallen victim to a hunter's bullet.
"I understand," Buck replies, his eyes not leaving the scene before us. It's easier to talk this way. Standing shoulder to shoulder, instead of looking at each other. "Rachel and Lou's nagging is about to drive a few of us to drink. Noah has threatened to hog-tie them up this afternoon so that we can have a moment's rest."
"Noah said that?" I ask, a small chuckle escaping. Noah's usually the calm and rational one. So, it's clear how much we'd all love to not have the wedding planners all over our backs for one afternoon.
"Yep," he replies with a slight laugh. Then he crosses his arms and glances my way. "You doing alright?"
"I'm fine," I quickly say.
"Why should I be?"
One eyebrow slowly rises toward his hairline. I hate when he does that. Makes me feel like my mother just caught me with my hand in the cookie jar, mouth full of cookies and I'm trying to tell her that I haven't snitched at all. I look away, but I can still feel his gaze on me. Finally, I look back at him. "Alright, maybe a little. Mostly
'cause the way everyone's going on about how they can't believe she agreed to marry me makes me feel like I'm something someone scraped off the bottom of their boot. Why would she want to marry me?"
"Because she loves you," Buck states simply. "And she doesn't care who you are, or what you do, she'd love you no matter what."
Some of the weight seems to lift off my shoulders, and I can feel some of the tension bleed out of them. "She told me the same thing last night. Said I could be the undertaker and she wouldn't care."
"Then listen to her," he tells me. "Stop trying to convince yourself that you're a nobody and you're not worthy of her love. It's a gift she chooses to give you, and you would dishonor her to reject it."
It's always so simple with Buck. He believes what people say, especially when they speak from the heart, as he puts it. Brandy loves me. I believe her when she says it. Sometimes I think she shouldn't love me, that she'd be better with someone who wouldn't put her life in danger, but I've learned my lesson and won't try to push her away. It won't work, and I know that I can't live without her.
As the sun rises and continues to brighten the land, I can feel the remaining doubts that plagued me during the night fade away. It always helps coming to this place. And it always helps to have Buck come at just the right moment and say just the right things to make me believe what he and others think about me. I am more than a name, I am more than a legend, I am whoever I allow myself to be.
I rub my hand across my tired eyes and I sense, more than hear, Buck turn. "Come on, Jimmy, let's go home."
I nod and turn, catching him by the shoulder. "Thank you. I always say you don't have to come, but I'm glad you never listen to me."
"You're my friend," he tells me. "And that means you're a part of me, and turning my back on you would be like cutting off my arm."
I close my eyes and fight back a groan. "Buck, it's too early for deep thinkin' like that."
"Alright, then how 'bout this. If we don't get home soon, Cody's going to eat all the food and then we're going to be stuck with nothing but crumbs."
Laughing as we reach our horses, I grab hold of the reins. "Now that's something I can understand."
Friendship is a single soul dwelling in two bodies.
Emma Shannon looked up from the socks she was knitting and smiled. "What is it, Louise?"
"Did you make this?" Louise traced her fingers down the side of the wooden frame holding the cross stiched phrase. At Emma's silence she turned to look.
Sitting with a whistful smile on her face, Emma's knitting rested in her lap.
Startled from her reverie, Emma chuckled under her breath. "I made that a few months ago."
"For who?" Louise couldn't keep the curiosity from her voice.
"For a lot of people, really."
"Are you sure it's not about ... Sam?"
Emma turned a serious eye on her young friend. "What makes you think that?"
There was a lively tone to Emma's voice, a curiosity of her own. Louise answered the question with a conspirational whisper. "I just have a feeling."
Turning back to her knitting Emma lowered her gaze, but not before Louise saw the slight blush on her cheeks. "I'd say you have a woman's intuition, Louise."
"Really?" Louise crossed to the couch and settled in beside Emma. "You think so?"
Again, Emma's warm laugh settled over them. "I'd say you have it in spades. Why do you always question it?"
Looking down at her hands, lightly clutched in her lap, Louise felt her own blush creep over her cheeks. "It's just,... I spend so much time... dressed like a boy... acting like a boy... pretending to be a boy... "
"That you feel more and more like a boy?"
"Mm-hmm." The back of Louise's head bobbed up and down.
"And you think that's all there is to you." There was a sombre quality in Emma's voice.
"Sometimes..." Louise began.
"Sometimes?" Emma continued with her knitting as she waited for her 'push' to take effect.
"Sometimes, it doesn't matter... but then sometimes... it does." Louise looked up into the following silence and felt a nervous giggle bubble up in her throat. "Confused?" She didn't wait for Emma's answer. "I am."
Louise drew in a deep breath as she listened to the rhythmic click of Emma's knitting needles. "I get up in the morning and for a few minutes... I'm ME. Not Louise.. the girl in hiding... Not Lou the Express Rider... just ME.
"I lay there in bed and listen to the world around me and think... dream... plan." Slowly she rubbed her hands together, calling heat back into her slumbering fingers.
"It's really quiet then,... just me and my thoughts."
She cleared her throat, marvelling at the scratch of unspoken words. "It's not the only time, though. I have other times like that... sitting out on the corral fence. I like watching the horses play. They don't know the difference in me. They don't care if I'm in a dress or pants. They just play.
"I love it out there... with them..." She blushed again and stole a sidewards glance to Emma. "... and in here, with you."
Emma's knitting settled into her lap and she settled a hand on Louise's arm. "I feel the same way, Louise." Answering the younger woman's smile, she gave her another 'push'. "Surely, some of the boys-"
"Feel like that?" Louise straightened her posture unconciously as she turned her gaze inward. "Friends? With them?"
The soft click-clack of the needles started again. "Is that so hard to imagine?"
"Well, before they knew... it was almost easier...."
A slow sigh escaped her lips. "At least with Ike and Cody. I don't think Ike realizes it, but he barely comes within two feet of me anymore.. like I'll break." Louise began to fidget with her fingers as she struggled with her thoughts. "Cody... well, Cody's so wrapped up in the fact that I'm a girl.. I just wanna tie him up and leave him on an ant hill. He's always making some comment or another about 'taking me to a dance'.. taking me to dinner... but he's joking ... we all know it... he makes me feel like a joke."
"Oh..he's alright, I guess... but he's kind of like Ike... just gives me a wide berth, like I'll bump into him or something."
There was a moment of silence as Louise pondered the question and Emma waited for her to get around to the inevitable conclusion.
"There's the Kid."
"Mmmmm." Emma's murmur slipped past Louise with nary a notice.
"He's just soooo... concerned. More so now that the others know. He's always... watching. Like they'll 'do' something. I mean, Cody jokes.. but it's not like he's serious.. he's never serious.... but Kid.. it seems like that's all he is, these days,.... serious."
Louise slumped against the back of the couch, her shoulders rolling forward as she let out a sigh. "Too serious."
The soft clicking of Emma's needles filled the air as they sat there in companionable silence.
"Then, there's Jimmy." There was a little pause as Louise waited for Emma's reaction... waited for her to say.. something. There was only the sound of her needles... "He must have some really neat sisters."
A little clatter of noise from the yard and they knew a mochilla had just changed riders and was speeding off to the next station.
"He doesn't talk about them much.. but it's just that... well, it seems like... he's real comfortable around... people like me."
A relieved breath of air whistled out of Lou's mouth. "That's got to be it. I'm sure they didn't wear pants or anything like that.. but there has to be something like that. Right?"
Emma nodded, but Louise didn't even look to see.
"'Cause... I mean... I live like a boy.. but I'm a girl... right?
"So, it's got to be tough for anyone to.. understand... if they don't know someone else.. that's...
"'Cause... it's not normal... ... ... ... ... right?" Louise's hands were twisting around each other, her fingers bent and tangled with the others.
Emma's hands settled over hers, her comforting heat spreading through Louise's cold hands like warm honey in milk. "Louise.. sweetie..." Louise looked up into Emma's smiling eyes. "Someday, you're gonna realize that you are normal... you're just you. There's nothing wrong with that. The boys.. well, they'll come around.. they just need some time... and sometimes..."
"...you find a friend that knows you..."
Louise nodded through the confusion.
"... just accept it..." Emma nodded toward the frame on the wall. "That's what that means."
Louise continued to nod, slowly... her gaze focused on their hands, twined together, as her mind sorted through her rioting thoughts.
Friendship... true friends.... you can find more than one.... sometimes.
There's something about the night sky away from Rock Creek. Sure.. the night sky should be the same everywhere you go, but you can't sit around the town and just watch it, there's always someone around wanting to know what you're doing.
That's why I love being out on a run... on my own.
"Jimmy? You still up?"
But I'll make an exception in this case. "Uh huh..."
"I'm sorry.... about before."
"No, really... you didn't need a hysterical girl on your hands."
"I just wasn't expect... it was so quick.. and-"
"You didn't expect the one you were in love with to find someone else that fast."
"And you're probably wondering what's going to happen when we get back."
Jimmy shook his head and let out a long silent sigh.
"What are you doing?"
He couldn't help the smile tugging at his lips. Turning his face to the sky again he blinked a few times and let the view fill his eyes. Thousands upon thousands of stars glittered against the dark curtain of the sky. "Watching."
A long moment of silence passed between them and the soft click of crickets could be heard a short distance away.
"Can I join you?"
"Fine by me." I try to tell myself that it's just any night... that she's just my friend... a friend with a broken heart. Liar.
The thick trunk of the fallen tree at his back shifted a little as Lou settled down beside him, slouching at his side.
He couldn't look. Didn't dare to look and see what her expression was. Didn't dare to see if there were dry tracks of tears on her cheeks, because then...then... I'd have to wipe them away.
It couldn't happen... wouldn't happen... not if he could help it, because if he touched her cheeks, felt the fine curve of her jaw in his palms.. the soft swell of her cheeks beneath his fingers... saw the bow of her lips in the soft amber light of the fire... he knew he'd never be able to stop himself from saying something he might regret, or worse, giving in and doing what he'd been dreaming about on nights like these. Kissing her.
Thank God she said something. "Yeah, Lou?"
"Which stars are your favorites?"
"Favorites?" What kind of a question is that. "I don't think I have any favorites.. they're all kind of nice."
The sound of Lou's giggles reached his ear.
"What are you laughing about?"
He saw her hand pointing up into the night sky at the edge of his vision. "Nice? You call that nice?" He felt the sharp point of what he thought *must* be her elbow dig deep into his side. "That," she paused, "is beautiful... spectacular... glorious!" Her soft exclamation had him gasping for air as well. There was no other sound like it. The soft rasp of her voice when her whole heart and soul was behind her words. He heard it when she spoke of things she found miraculous. Her sister and brother... snow... butterflies... horses... and now, stars.
His palms itched with curiosity.
He could... if he wanted to...just reach out-
He felt heat rise to his cheeks as a cold sweat broke out across his forehead. "Yeah, Lou?"
"Oh.. Good. I thought you fell asleep, or something."
"Sleep? Yeah, sure."
"Oh..." she sounded a bit disappointed. "I didn't want to keep you awake-"
"It's all right... when the night's like this... I like to stay up and watch the stars."
"Me too." She let out a sigh and leaned against his shoulder. "Thanks..."
"For what?" Was that his voice? The gravely groan that he forced out of his throat didn't sound anything like him.
"For... being here. For.. not making this... difficult. For being, you."
They settled in as the stars began to fall, their heavenly lights streaking across the sky high above their heads. Flaring and sputtering, the tiny points added light to the darkest part of the night... giving the two sleepers a little friendly fire.