Topic #25: Kiss Me, You Fool
Starting Over by: Cindy
Love's First Kiss by: Helen
Just A Taste by: Debbie
Marry Me by: Donna Ree
It's For The Best by: Sameena
Set This Circus Down by: Lori
Starting Over
by: Cindy

NOTE: This story follows “Going Home” in Quick Fic Topic #17.

Her hand shook as she put down the letter. Then she just stared at the piece of paper, trying to wish it out of existence. If the paper wasn’t there, then the words couldn’t be true . . .

Amanda sighed and sank down onto the chair. The letter wasn’t going to go away, of course, and she finally reached for it, reading the painful words again.

“Ike was killed last week . . .”

She glanced at the rest of the short letter, but there wasn’t much other news. Rachel had just wanted her to know about the loss they’d suffered.

Wanted her to know that her adoptive father was suffering from the loss of one of his boys.

Amanda refolded the letter and carefully replaced it in its envelope. She knew how close Teaspoon was to all of the riders, and how proud he was of the fine young men – and woman – they’d become. This loss had to be hitting him very hard.

She closed her eyes, thinking of Ike McSwain. Images of the gentle young man came quickly, and the memories made her smile. She particularly remembered his joy when she’d shown some knowledge of Indian sign language, giving him someone else to ‘talk’ to. And she remembered the smile when she’d asked him to dance, ending his solitude at the town social.

She remembered, too, the concern he’d shown after her hostage ordeal with Frank Pike. But to think that Ike had survived the encounter with the vicious Pike gang, only to be gunned down right in Rock Creek . . .

Amanda sighed and shook her head. Thinking about this was going to hurt for a while, that was certain. Knowing that there were others hurting in Rock Creek didn’t make it any easier. She knew all of the riders would be feeling Ike’s loss, but Buck – how would Buck handle losing his best friend? She’d actually been a little jealous of the close friendship he’d had with Ike. Until meeting Teaspoon and the others, she’d never experienced a tight friendship like that.

She’d never allowed anyone to get close enough to who she really was. Not until they’d shown her friendship, and forgiveness.

Not until they’d given her a second chance.

Amanda stood up and went to the closet, pulling out a carpetbag. Her friends were in pain in Rock Creek, she was in pain here in Benton – maybe it would be easier to get past the pain in person. Right now, she needed to see Teaspoon, feel the embrace of the man who had been more of a father than she’d ever imagined having.

The saloon was running well, and she had good managers. There was no reason she couldn’t leave for a while. And she had been meaning to make this trip anyway, to see the riders’ new home in Rock Creek. In fact, she knew the stage schedule by heart. It just so happened there was a stage heading the right direction this afternoon.

She threw a few things into the bag, thinking about what she’d need to do before she left. She’d leave Will in overall charge. He helped with the books, and had a good head for business. The saloon would be in capable hands. As for the restaurant . . .

Amanda paused, thinking. Maybe there was something she could do to help Buck past the loss of his friend. It wouldn’t be easy for Will with both of them gone, but it could be done . . .

Maybe she wouldn’t be going to Rock Creek alone.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lou tossed the box into the back of the wagon, then stood back and watched as the stage pulled up across the street. It was always interesting to see what kind of people might be coming to town, especially these days with the war out east driving more and more people west. Even the eastbound route was affected by the war as men headed home to fight.

Across the way, she could see Teaspoon at the door of the Marshal’s office, watching the stage as well. Not all of the people moving through Rock Creek were there with good intentions, and he liked to know who was in his town.

Lou’s thoughts were interrupted when she was jostled lightly from behind. “Sorry, Lou,” Kid said as he maneuvered a heavy bag of feed onto the wagon. He moved quickly to the side to make way for Buck, who was carrying another bag. “We’ve got two more bags to load,” he added, rubbing his shoulder. The station wasn’t far from the store – but he was sure glad he didn’t have to carry that bag any farther.

Buck paused to look over to where Teaspoon was standing. He was just in time to see the Marshal suddenly smile and sprint toward the stage. “Wonder what’s going on over there,” he said, tapping Kid on the shoulder to get his attention.

“Teaspoon sure looks happy,” Lou observed.

The three riders watched for a moment as Teaspoon embraced one of the passengers getting off the stage. There was something familiar . . . “It’s Amanda!” Kid said.

Teaspoon kept his arms wrapped tightly around Amanda for a long moment, then he stepped back and held her shoulders, smiling broadly. “Dang, it’s good to see you, Amanda,” he said. “Why didn’t you write that you were coming?”

“Well, the trip came up rather suddenly,” Amanda answered. She smiled at the three riders who had just come up to join them. “I got Rachel’s letter telling about Ike’s death,” she added, her smile fading.

The happy reunion became more sober. “I was gonna write you ‘bout that myself,” Teaspoon said. “Just couldn’t bring myself to put pen to paper.”

“I knew it would be hitting all of you hard – especially you, Buck,” Amanda said. “I just really wanted to be here with you for a little bit. We caught the stage just a few hours after I got the letter.”

“I’m really so sorry, Buck.”

Buck turned his head at the new voice. “Jane!”

Jane stepped forward shyly. She didn’t know any of the others as well as Amanda did, and she’d barely known Ike at all. But she had gotten well acquainted with Buck during the whole business with Emory Pike – and part of her wished they’d gotten to know each other even better. So when Amanda had mentioned this trip, she’d jumped at the chance to go. Now, however, with him standing just a few feet away, she was nervous. Still, she had to say something. “Amanda told me about Ike, and she said she was coming for a visit, and, well, I decided to come too.” She took a deep breath and looked down, rolling her eyes at herself. If there was a way to scare a man like Buck off, it was by talking too much.

And it was somehow very important to not scare Buck off.

“Well, it’s real good to see you, Miss Jane,” Teaspoon said. “Real good.” And maybe this visit was just what Buck needed, he thought, looking over at the younger man. There was no doubt that Buck had been doing better since coming back to town one day with a new mother and a newborn infant in tow, but it had still been a rough time. And he definitely recalled the smile in Buck’s voice and the spark in his eyes when he’d talked about the trip to escort Jane home.

“Thank you,” Jane replied, politely, but short and to the point. Her eyes, however, never left Buck’s face. After all, he hadn’t said that he was glad to see her. But just then he smiled – and nothing else in the world mattered. “I’m glad you’re here, Jane,” Buck said softly, surprising himself a little by how true that was.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dinner was a festive affair, giving everyone a chance to catch up. Amanda held court through most of the meal, relating stories about the saloon and about the success of Hack’s mission to recover the money stolen from the people of Benton. In return, Teaspoon and the riders offered up the highlights from their own lives since they’d last seen each other.

Jane added a little bit of information, but mostly she just sat and listened. She learned so much more about the other riders than she’d ever known.

She learned so much more about Buck than she’d ever known.

She looked up, and found him watching her, a small smile on his face. And immediately she felt a warm flush spread over her face. She couldn’t have said a word right then, but she did manage to smile in return.

Finally, with empty plates all around, Teaspoon leaned back in his chair. “Amanda, why don’t you and me go over them bank books you brought,” he said. “Buck, maybe you could show Jane around.”

Hearing his name snapped Buck out of the private world he’d been in. He glared at Cody, who was snickering not so discreetly, and then he stood up, holding out his hand toward Jane. “It would be my pleasure.”

She stood up and took his hand, feeling a warm tingle as their fingers met. No one else in the room . . . the town . . . the world mattered. Back in Benton, she’d almost convinced herself that what she was feeling for him when he escorted her home was just what he had suggested – a reaction to everything that had happened. But now, seeing him again, she knew that wasn’t the case.

They walked in silence for a few minutes, past the corral and barn, and toward town. As they strolled down the main street, Buck pointed out some of the highlights of Rock Creek. Jane listened, but for the most part she just reveled in the feel of his strong hand wrapped around hers. There was a full moon just rising over the hills, and just enough breeze to make the summer night as close to perfect as could be. If only there was a way to just keep on walking . . .

Buck stopped at the edge of town. There was one more sight he definitely wanted Jane to see. “That was the jeweler’s shop,” he said, pointing toward a small now-vacant building. “Cyrus Killiman owned it, ‘til his heart gave out last month. He didn’t have any family, so the town has all the tools and everything. Just waiting for someone to come along and take it over.” And hadn’t Jane mentioned that she’d been studying the craft with her father?

Jane caught her breath. Was he asking her to stay? She walked toward the shop, leading him this time. They stepped up onto the boardwalk in front of the window with JEWELER etched in fancy script across the glass. Just standing there, she could almost see her father’s hands working with the delicate tools, could almost smell the oils he used to keep things clean and shiny. “It’s like my father’s shop,” she said softly. But much to her pleasure, the memories were far more comforting than painful.

Buck mentally kicked himself – why hadn’t he thought of that? Of course this would remind her of her father. And now here he’d gone and dredged up those memories again. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to make you remember that, Jane. I never meant to hurt you by showing you this.”

“Buck . . .”

He pulled away, shaking his head. “Of all people, I should know better than to bring up painful memories,” he said. “I just figured, since you said you studied jewelry making, maybe it was something you’d like to do. Not that there’s anything wrong with working for Amanda!” he added quickly.

“Buck . . .”

“You came all this way to be my friend, to try and make me feel better about Ike.” He took another step away. “And then I go and do something foolish like this.”

As he reached the end of the boardwalk, the moonlight hit his dark hair, almost making it seem to glow. She could see him only in profile, and the strength of that profile nearly took her breath away. She stepped up next to him again and took his hand. “Buck . . .”

He didn’t turn around, but he didn’t pull away from her touch either. “Jane, I’m so sorry . . .”

She pulled his hand harder until he started to turn. “Buck, shut up and kiss me, you fool.” Her own brashness surprised her, but she didn’t regret it.

She just hoped Buck didn’t regret it.

Her command stopped him in his tracks, and for a moment he hesitated, just looking into her eyes. What he saw there was not the frightened, confused girl from Falls Church. No, this was the beautiful, competent woman he’d seen tantalizing hints of before. And suddenly he found no reason not to comply with her command.

Leaning in, his lips searched for hers. When they met, the touch warmed him all over, reaching even into the cold, dark spot in his soul that hadn’t been warmed since Ike’s death. This time when he felt her fingers wrap around his hair, he didn’t push her away.

Time seemed to stop for Jane. She closed her eyes and leaned into his arms, holding him tight in return. All her worries and doubts seemed to disappear, and in that moment she knew she could stay right there forever.

When they finally parted, Jane let out a small gasp. “That was amazing,” she managed to whisper.

“You’re amazing, Jane Benedict,” Buck replied. He brushed a loose lock of hair away from her eyes and smiled.

Jane took a deep breath, trying to steady her racing heart. “I don’t know what to say. When Amanda asked me if I wanted to come to Rock Creek, I said yes right away. I felt so bad for you, losing your best friend.”

“I’m glad you came . . .”

Jane rushed on, barely hearing his words. “When I saw you again, I felt the same way I did that night on the way to Falls Church. I wanted to be with you, I wanted you to hold me.”

“I wanted that too . . .”

“Oh, I know it wasn’t the right time,” Jane continued. “You were absolutely right. I needed more time to put things behind me, and move on past Emory Pike.”

“I’m glad you’ve . . .”

“But I’ve done that, Buck. Oh, I still miss my father, but I have so many good memories too. And this store, it would be perfect. I could use all of the things he taught me.”

“Jane . . .”

“I’ll have to talk to the town council, see what kind of terms they want,” Jane added, totally lost in thought. “I have some money – now that Hack recovered all the money stolen from the town.”

“Jane . . .”

“Amanda won’t like it if I leave,” Jane said. “But I know she’ll understand if . . .”

Buck finally reached out and put his finger on her lips. “Jane, shut up and kiss me.”

Jane smiled, realizing she had been rambling. She was going to apologize . . . but then his lips moved closer to hers, and she knew anything else could wait. She leaned into his kiss, giving herself totally to the pleasure.

This time when they parted, Buck spoke first. “There’s plenty of time to plan for tomorrow . . . tomorrow," he whispered.

“Tomorrow,” she agreed.

They kissed again, holding each other tight in the shimmering moonlight. For the moment, nothing else mattered. Around them, the night deepened, one day ending and a new one beginning.

Tomorrow . . .

Love's First Kiss
by: Helen

He’d been trying to say what was in his heart for weeks, & now the time had come & she was leaving.

‘Damn’ he thought to himself as he hurried to the barn to catch her. “It’s now or never, Hickok” he mumbled.

Tripping over his own two feet, he stumbling through the doors of the barn and stopped in his tracks at what he saw. There in front of the third stall was Buck down on one knee in front of Lou holding something up to her. Jimmy’s mouth dropped open, he had no idea things were like this. The look of pure joy in Lou’s eye’s made Jimmy’s heart drop to his boots. ‘How could this be happening? This is what I should be doing.’ Jimmy thought. With his head dropping to his chest in resignation, Jimmy turned to walk out, but tripped over a bucket, knocking his head on the wall as he fell to the ground in darkness.

The noise startled the young couple out of their own little world, running over to the unconscious body of their friend. After checking his status, Buck raced out of the barn and over to Rachel who was hanging out the laundry to tell her what had happened.

Meanwhile in the barn, Lou was busy worrying over the unconscious Jimmy. With tears in her eyes, she tried to coax the man to open his eyes through her sobs “Jimmy, come on, wake up. Please wake up. I can’t…I can’t…” She stopped as she saw his eyes start to flutter open. Sniffing & smiling, she continued, “ I can’t do your work & mine plus all of Cody’s. I’m not a miracle worker.” Seeing the smile crossing his handsome face she leaned down & kissed his forehead.

He stared at her with a quizzical look on his face then asked “Lou, what about Buck. I just saw him proposin’. How long has that been goin’ on?”

“WHAT? Jimmy, I dropped a some nails that I was about to reshoe lightening with & Buck picked them up for me. We’re just friends. It’s you I love.”

Blinking he chucked to himself. “Oh, Lou. I came in here to tell you that I love you & then I saw Buck on one knee & I couldn’t believe my eyes. I turned to walk out & I tripped over the stupid bucket &…&..” placing a finger on his lips, Lou whispered “shhh, I love you too. Now *Kiss Me You Fool!*.” Smiling Jimmy obliged the woman who owned his heart and gave her a loving kiss that only lovers share.

While Lou & Jimmy were enthralled in one another’s embrace, the rest of the “family” arrived in the barn worried about the unconscious member. “Well looks like it was Lou who hit her head, Buck, not Jimmy.” Cody scoffed. Hearing the laughter of their family, the couple looked up and smiled at them.

“Nah, I would has seen that the bucket was in front of me & missed it” Lou said, looking at Jimmy with a teasing look on her face.

“Well it took you long enough to see that I’ve been right in front of you all this time.” Jimmy teased back, then leaned over & kissed Lou passionately.

Seeing where this was leading, Teaspoon took the initiative “ Boys, don’t you have work to finish before lunch is ready? Now get!” Looking at Rachel, Teaspoon winked at her, offered his arm and they turned & left the young couple to themselves. They’d have to come up for air sometime, Wouldn’t they?

The End

Just A Taste
by: Debbie

Lou leaned as far forward as she dared without falling off the bench, trying to get a better view of the sight at the corral. One object in particular had caught her attention and now she was a captive audience.

Buck watched the young woman in front of him and couldn't help but shake his head and smile at the way she was acting. He leaned back against the post on the bunkhouse porch as Lou inched herself forward even more than she was.

"You wanna switch seats with me, Lou? You might have a better view from here," Buck said teasingly.

Lou's cheeks turned red as she made herself lean back against the wall of the bunkhouse. "I'm fine where I am," she told him, as she gave him an annoyed look. It was bad enough she and Buck had been recruited by Rachel to peel potatoes and prepare green beans for that evening's dinner but to be teased like she was - it was just too unbearable.

Sure she'd seen all the boys in their long johns more times than she could count but what was it about a man working up a sweat as he flexed every muscle in his body, that made her breath come in short, shallow gasps? Ignoring Buck, she turned to the right once more to see what was going on now.

Teaspoon was inside the corral barking orders to Jimmy, Cody and the Kid, who were on the other side of the fence. A fiesty new horse had busted the gate and it needed all new boards. Lou found she couldn't peel her eyes off a certain rider who just happened to sleep in the bunk under hers.

Absentmindedly, she broke off the ends of the green beans in her lap as she watched every move Kid made. What he did next caused her to sit up straight and take notice, a bean slipping out of her hand in anticipation. He was taking his shirt off! Sure she'd seen him without one dozens of times but each time was as wonderful as the first in her mind. She caught her breath as she watched him in action. Slowly he opened the buttons and peeled the sweaty material away from his deeply tanned broad chest. Then he worked the sleeves down, revealing toned muscles. God, he had a great body!

Lou had been imagining the muscles through the cloth, but this was so much better. She gripped the bean in her hand with all her might, wishing she was holding onto a part of him. Any part really, she wasn't picky. Although, she could think of one spot in particular that was still a mystery to her. Her breathing picked up as her eyes widened at the image being presented in her mind.

SNAP! Lou jumped. She glanced around quickly then noticed the broken bean in her hand. She was just grateful she hadn't called his name out loud.

Lou was suddenly sweating herself and she wasn't even doing physical labor in the hot sun. Her arm wiped across her forehead as she tried to calm down.

Buck just sat, peeling his potatoes, watching the show in front of him. She looked ready to pounce, he thought as he tried to hold back a laugh.

"Gettin' hot there, Lou?" he asked casually. "I was actually feeling a bit chilled sitting here in the shade. I think I'll pull my sleeves down." He acted very serious as he started to unroll then fasten the cuffs of his shirt.

"Very funny," Lou said sarcastically, but she made sure not to wipe her forhead again. Her interest was pulled from Buck back to the corral as she saw activity headed her way.

Kid was walking away from the corral, his shirt flung casually over his shoulder, and he was headed her way. It was then she recalled he had a run soon but he'd be back by tomorrow afternoon.

She sat up straighter and pushed her hair behind her ears. She flashed a smile his way as he climbed the steps to the porch and gave her a grin as a greeting. Those blue eyes twinkled at her - she wanted to melt in the pools of their blueness, she thought, sighing.

Lou now leaned forward looking to the left, watching his back, or rather his backside, as Kid walked through the door of the bunkhouse. She had to admit those pants fit him perfectly. Feeling eyes on her, she turned around.

"What?" she asked innocently.

"You couldn't be more obvious if you tried, Lou," Buck told her.

"I don't know what you are talking about."

"And unfortunately for you, neither does he."

Her head whipped around to stare at him, her mouth wide open in shock.

Buck response was to take the bowl from her lap and with his pot in hand, he headed into the bunkhouse with them.

Lou watched as Buck joined Kid, wishing it was her instead. "That does it," she said out loud, slapping her hands down on her thighs for emphasis. "I want results and I want them now, even if I have to spell it out for him. What is he waiting for anyway? Like Buck said, I couldn't be more obvious that I want more," she said to herself.

She had to admit that even though his slow progress in them developing a relationship usually drove her crazy, she was grateful for it too. Her past experience with men had been nothing but hurtful so it was natural she would have wanted to take things extra slow with Kid. But as soon as she realized he cared about her feelings and wasn't going to force her into anything she wasn't ready for, she had calmed down and found herself wanting more. Yeah, the time they'd danced had been nice and the couple times they kissed had felt magical but Lou was ready to stop backing off and take the next step.

"Maybe what he needs is a little sampling of what could be in store for him," she told herself. "Yeah, that might be just what he needs." She smiled slyly as she came up with a plan. It was perfect and if all went right, it was sure to work.

* * * * * * * *

"Rider comin'," Lou called from the bunkhouse porch. "Ride safe, Buck!" she yelled as she watched Kid hand the mochilla over to their friend. She went down the steps to follow Kid as he led Katy into the barn.

She walked into the building, pulling the door closed behind her.

Kid looked up from Katy's stall as he started to take her saddle off. "Hey, Lou."

"Hey," she said, smiling shyly at him.

"I thought I saw you when I rode up. Where is everyone else?"

"Well, Jimmy's helping Teaspoon with something up to the jail and the rest of the boys are with Rachel on a supply run. Won't be back for a couple hours at least," she told him casually as she moved to lean on the stall wall across from where he was working. "How was your ride?" She brought her arms back to lean on the top rail of the stall, thrusting her chest out as far as it would go, which wasn't very far, but hopefully he had a good imagination. She bit her lips to hid the grin surfacing as she saw with pleasure where Kid's eyes had fallen and remained.

She waited a couple seconds and when he didn't answer, she asked again, "Kid, your ride?"

"Huh?" he said in confusion, shaking his head. "Oh, my ride." He paused, trying to get his thoughts back to a more decent place. "Hot, dusty," Kid laughed as he tried to brush himself off.

"That shirt sure is dirty, Kid. Maybe you should take it off."

Kid stared at her as he caught something different sounding in her voice. She was saying each word slow and deliberately and even dragged out the word 'off'. "I'll take mine off if you take yours off," he told himself then looked away as he chided himself for letting his mind go there. But out loud he found himself saying, "Maybe I should." His eyes locked onto hers. But how could he help thinking that way, what with how she was standing there, and then there were those big brown eyes of hers watching his every move.

"You, uh, you said we were all alone?" Kid asked confused, trying to decide if he'd heard right.

"All alone," she told him. "Though I'm sure we can find somethin' to amuse ourselves doin' til they get back."

Kid felt like he was in a trance. He walked out of the stall and headed toward Lou. He didn't stop until he was a foot in front of her, his arms boxing her in as he held onto the stall edge on both sides of her. He stared deeply into her eyes, trying to read where she was going with this.

"So we're all alone?" he asked once again.

"All alone," she repeated, looking up at him through long lashes.

"We could do whatever we wanted, with no interruptions?"

"None at all," she told him, licking her lips slowly. "We could do anything."

Kid opened his mouth in anticipation. "What did you have in mind?" he asked, his eyes not leaving her lips.

Lou took a step toward him her chest almost touching his. She looked up at him then leaned forward and whispered, "Kiss me, you fool." "Whatever you say," Kid replied obediently. As he bent his head toward hers, Lou closed her eyes in anticipation. He kissed her gently, caressing her lips with his own. When she responded, he deepened his action.

Lou's hands found his chest to rest upon and Kid wrapped his arms around her, pulling her against him. Her fingers entwined themselves in his wavy hair as the kiss intensified. Once Kid started moving down her neck, Lou forced herself to pull away. It was for his own good, she told herself breathlessly.

She reached up and gave him one more passionate kiss then caressed his cheek. "Just remember, Kid, there's always more where that came from." She started backing away toward the doorway, her finger tracing her lips, savoring each kiss he put there.

Kid leaned heavily on the stall as she let herself out then closed him in. His wobbly legs gave out and he slipped down the expanse of the stall wall, landing on his bottom on the dusty floor. He dragged his hands slowly down the surface of his face.

"What just happened here?" he asked himself. She sure didn't back away from him this time, in fact, she was the initiator. He gasped as he realized what she'd done.

Lou had given him just a taste of what she had to offer - enough to wet his appetite. And all that Kid knew was that now that he'd had a nibble, it wasn't enough - he wanted nothing more than to sink his teeth in! Had he misread her all along? No, she was scared of the intimacy before but now, this wasn't the Lou he knew, this was a whole other person and that scared the crap out of him. Now what was he going to do?

He leaned his arms on his raised knees and grabbed his head, sighing heavily. He needed help and he needed it bad. Maybe he could talk to someone, maybe ... or maybe he just needed a cold shower. He would be safe in the shower, be able to think things through with no interruptions ...

Marry Me
by: Donna Ree

“Emma, I got somethin’ real important to ask ya’.” Sam knelt down onto one knee, took her hand in his and asked, “Emma, would ya’ do me the honor of bein’ my bride?”

“Oh, Sam, I…” She stammered.

Sam took her hesitation for a no and started listing all of his attributes as if he were Billy Cody, himself.

Emma, on the other hand, could hardly get a word in edgewise.

“Sam…”

“And ya’ know I’ve got a good, solid job, and the townsfolk like me…” He said and continued on.

“Yes, Sam.” But he didn’t hear her answer. He was too caught up in convincing her he was the one for her.

“I’ll be a good provider for ya’ and uh, any young’uns that may come along. “A blush crept its way up along the back of his neck to his face.

“Sam, if you’d just wait one darned minute.” She said, with hands on her hips.

That got his attention.

“Aw, Emma, please don’t say no. I know we’ve been courtin’ for awhile now and I thought…”

“Sam…”

“Yes, Emma?” He asked and then held his breath.

“Be quiet and kiss me, you fool.”

And he did.

It's For The Best
by: Sameena

Jimmy smiled as he watched the scene in front of him. Little Christopher was laughing as Lou tickled him. The three-year-old fell down in a heap, giggling wildly.

“What is all that noise?” Kid called out and even at this distance, Jimmy saw the twinkle in his eye.

“Pa,” Chris said running and jumping into Kid’s open arms.

“He’s a fine boy,” a voice said from behind Jimmy. He turned and found Teaspoon watching him closely.

“That he is,” Jimmy replied, hoping he sounded like a proud uncle.

“Some day he is gonna know,” Teaspoon said.

Jimmy jerked his eyes away from the happy family walking toward their house. “Know what?” he asked.

“Who his pa is,” Teaspoon replied.

“He’s got a fine pa,” Jimmy retorted.

“You would have been a fine pa to him too,” Teaspoon said quietly.

“I ain’t got nothing to offer the boy,” Jimmy said with a heavy sigh. He had made this decision a long time ago. He would not let the stabbing pain in his chest tell him otherwise. Chris was being raised by the finest parents he could find, Kid and Lou.

“And you ain’t got nothing to offer Lou,” Teaspoon said wearily. “I know. I just hope you don’t regret this for the rest of your life.”

Jimmy did not answer. He had so many regrets, what was one more.

He let his mind drift back to that night. Lou had been sobbing her eyes out by the campfire, destroyed by Kid’s flirtation with Samantha. He had tried to comfort her and when she had kissed him, he had held himself utterly still until she said those words, ‘Kiss me, you fool.’ He had been lost then.

A few months later Lou had told him she was expecting but he knew whatever they shared that night was gone. Kid was back in her life. So he had told her, tell Kid, he won’t care. And she did. And he didn’t. Kid took on the burden of raising his son. Why Jimmy was not sure, but he liked to think it was because he loved both Jimmy and Lou enough to do it.

“It’s for the best,” Jimmy said, moving toward his horse.

Set This Circus Down
by: Lori

Cause baby you’re the one laughing with me
When the sun goes down
Living on faith and holding on tight
To the love we’ve found

-Set This Circus Down, Tim McGraw

He loved nights like this. The last vestiges of light fading into the velvet black of night, and a cool breeze coming down off the hills and bringing relief from the summer’s heat. Inside he could hear the muted shuffle of the last of the dishes being washed and set to dry. Soon Nicolette would join him, smiling even though moments before she’d chased him from the kitchen as he tried to help. It appeared she’d never quite forgiven him for accidentally dropping the serving platter they’d purchased shortly after their marriage, or she didn’t quite trust him not to break another.

When their children lived at home, she would often slip out onto the porch while the girls washed and dried and join him in watching the last of the day fade away. Sometimes she’d bring the remainder of the dinner’s lemonade; sometimes they merely stood there, arms entwined as they gazed out over their land and the life they’d built.

Sometimes if dinner had finished early, they would walk down to the barn, talking of their family, their friends – new and old, and sometimes nothing at all. It was always a perfect way to end the day, and he missed her the most when he was stuck inside some fancy hotel dining room listening to businessmen drone on and on about the latest venture they wanted to bring him in on.

The faint squeak of the screen door’s hinges pulled him back before he could become too lost in his thoughts and he turned partway, looking over his shoulder as she emerged from the house. He reached out to take the proffered glass of lemonade, his lips curving into a smile as she reached his side and seamlessly melted into him.

“The breeze is lovely tonight,” she said, her voice almost as soft as the whisper of the wind. “I love how even when the days send you fleeing indoors, a good cooling wind can come and tempt you back out again.”

“Hm-mmm” he nodded, a mouthful of liquid preventing speech. “I wasn’t sure about sticking around here for very long, especially after that first summer, but now I’m glad we did.”

“I told you I would not melt,” she laughed, her elbow bumping him lightly in the side.

“I didn’t think you would,” he smiled back. “I was worried more ‘bout myself. I’d grown a little soft in the time I’d spent back East.”

“Ah, you are a terrible liar, William, but I love you so. You were worried that I would not like it here and would want to return to the city. But like I told you every time you offered to move us back to a larger place so the kids could have advantages and opportunities, I cannot imagine living anywhere else. The cities are so stifling; here we are so free, so open, so unfettered from life. I love our life here and I’m glad that every time you thought about leaving, you changed your mind.”

“I don’t know how I thought I could take you away from some place that makes you smile.” He shook his head. “You’re right though, I hated the cities, the endless people. I’m happy here.”

“I know,” she smiled. That secret smile she had when it seemed like she looked into the very depths of his soul and figured out what he was feeling before he did. “We made a good life here, for us, for our family. It was Providence’s hand that led us here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

He finished his lemonade and leaned his head, his cheek resting on her hair, as they watched the stars twinkle to life, adding their light to the moon’s. Placing his glass on the railing of the porch, he reached across and plucked hers from her slender fingers. “Come with me,” he said, tugging lightly on her waist.

“Where?” she questioned, even as she followed.

“A walk? A ride? I don’t know, it just seems too beautiful a moment to stand sheltered in the porch.”

She laughed and shook her head, her mirth dancing in her eyes. Yet the love and trust that shone brightly said she’d follow him anywhere he wanted to go. He was merely glad he’d followed her promptings to bring them to this place.

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