Topic #29: Walk Away
|Walking Away by: Donna Ree
||Why We Said Goodbye by: Lori
|Saying Goodbye by: Cindy
||Time To Leave by: Cindy
|Between Pride and a
Sandwich by: Tracy
||Don't Look Back by: Debbie
|Walk Away by: Karen
||Walking Away To Live and Let Love
by: Michelle R.
|Do The Walkin' by: Raye
||What I Have To Say by: Raye
|A Friend In Need
||Gui-k-ati by: Cathy
|Walking Away by: Destardi
He tried. He really tried to stay. Stay and not walk away. Walk away from everything he loved and held dear. But he knew it was for the best. The best for her…not him.
He was miserable and slowly drinking his way to the bottom of his bottle. What the hell, he thought. He didn’t work for the Express anymore anyway. Not that he’d never broken the Company’s rule on drinking before. But he had no ties to the Company anymore. No rules. No job. No responsibility. And no Lou.
And he’d actually thought of asking her to marry him. Him, James Butler Hickok…no, that wasn’t quite true anymore. He was now Wild Bill Hickok. He’d left Jimmy behind, along with his very existence for being…Louise McCloud.
Maybe if he hadn’t gotten called out last week. Maybes, ifs…nothing was going to change what happened. The fact was he had gotten called out and Lou had been right in the middle of it all.
He’d never in a million years forget how it felt when Jacobson had grabbed Lou and held her hostage until he appeared.
She had looked so pretty in the dress he’d bought her. They’d only been separated for a few minutes. She had only wanted to look in the window of the mercantile for a few moments while he registered them at the local hotel. The next thing he knew he heard a muffled cry from Lou and someone shouting for Wild Bill.
“Wild Bill Hickok! I know you’re in there! I’ve got your lady friend here! If you don’t come out right now, she’s gonna be feelin’ the business end of my gun!” Will Jacobson had shouted.
Jimmy had walked out of the hotel, guns drawn, and the greatest fear he’d ever known growing in the pit of his stomach. Fear for Lou.
When Jimmy stood in the street facing down the man who dared threaten Lou’s life, Jacobson threw Lou aside as one would a sack of grain. Her head slammed against the boardwalk knocking her unconscious. As soon as Lou was in the clear, Jimmy fired both Colts into Jacobson’s chest, killing him instantly.
He’d taken her to the doc’s and as soon as he knew she was out of the woods he’d left her. Simply walked away. Now here he was sinking lower and lower into the bottle to sweet numbness…only the numbness wasn’t coming. All he could think about was Lou being held hostage because of him. All because of him and who he was. Wild Bill Hickok.
He laughed harshly to himself…at himself. How could he have ever thought he could have a normal life and actually settle down? What actually made him think he was deserving of a normal life and deserving of such a woman as Lou.
He reached into his top pocket and pulled out a ring. The ring. If things had gone as he’d planned that ring would have been on Lou’s finger by now.
But destiny had a mind of its own when it came to Wild Bill Hickok. He quickly took another drink and another. Ah, there it was…the numbness was finally taking hold. He took yet another drink.
Something made him look up and as if by magic, there she was. Standing before him with her hands on her hips, looking for all the world as if she were ready to spit fire at him was Louise Hickok…uh, McCloud. Yeah, McCloud. What was he thinking?
She took him all in. The red-rimmed eyes, the hair that had his fingers run through it too many times, the sullen look like he’d lost his best friend. And the ring he held between his thumb and forefinger. Dainty. A small rose adorning the band of silver. Surely that couldn’t be… for her?
“Jimmy.” She said softly. No response.
“Jimmy.” She repeated and laid a hand on his shoulder. “It’s me, Lou.”
He grinned at her lopsidedly. “You can’t be Lou. I left Lou at Dr. Miller’s, two towns back.”
She reached for his near empty whiskey bottle and set it aside as she sat down next to him. “Jimmy, you left a trail that even Cody could’ve followed.” She was silent for a moment, trying to figure out what to say next. “Why’d you leave me?” She finally asked.
“Yeah, Jimmy, it’s really me.”
“I had to leave. I was only gonna put you in more danger. I had to…” He quickly swiped at his eyes, trying to hide the evidence of his emotions. “I just had to. I didn’t have any other choice.”
“Jimmy, don’t you think like that. I was just as much to blame for getting caught like that. I let my guard down and he snuck up on me. If I hadn’t been so preoccupied lookin’ in the store window he’d have never got the jump on me and none of this would have happened. So don’t you dare sit there and just blame yourself. You can blame me, too, while you’re at it.”
“No, Jimmy Hickok, you listen to me.” She said disgustedly. “Have you any idea what I felt like when I woke up at the doctor’s office and you weren’t anywhere to be found? I’ve been tailing you for the past three days, always one step behind the drunken Wild Bill. I rode through the night to get here before you up and disappeared again.” She tried switching tactics on him and asked, “What’s the ring for, Jimmy?”
Almost forgetting that he still held it and she could see it, he stared down at it. Instantly sobering up and realizing where he was…where they were, he took her hand and led her outside. He looked around, but could find no place suitable for what he had in mind. There wasn’t even a hotel in the small town.
Thinking there was no time like the present, he pulled her to the side of the boardwalk and showed her the ring. “It’s supposed to be for you.” He slid the ring on her finger. “I was supposed to give this to you the night you got hurt. I was gonna ask ya’ to marry me.”
“Yes.” She said instantly.
“But Lou, what kind of life are we gonna have? There’s always gonna be someone out there wantin’ to call me out, putting you in danger. I can’t have it. I won’t have it…won’t have that kind of life for you.”
“Then change your name.”
“People know who I am by what I look like, Lou. It wouldn’t work.”
“Cut your hair. Change your clothes. Lose the Colts. Wear glasses. I don’t care what you do. I only know I want to be with you and only you. I love you, Jimmy.”
“Lou, are you sure?”
“Never been so sure of anything in my life, Mr. Hickok.” She demurely replied.
He sighed. “I love you, too, Lou. I have since the day we all found out you were a girl.”
“Then walk away, Jimmy.”
”What?” He asked incredulously.
“Walk away. From all of this.” She spanned her hands wide, indicating the saloon and small town. “And come back with me to Sweetwater. When and where we go from there I don’t care just as long as we’re together.”
He grinned, took her hand in his and walked away.
You’re sewn into the fabric, the pieces of my life
The room was bathed in a soft glow of light. The lamp illuminating the work space of the desk; the fire warming the room while chasing the shadows to the deep corners. It seemed a fitting time to put his late night ruminations and memories to rest.
The envelope was already addressed, waiting to the side for the letter he was finishing. He would send it out in the morning, and put the demons to rest. The decision seemed to have come much easier than the letter. For a man who ended up making his living by the written word, he couldn’t seem to quite get this one missive right. Maybe because it was hard to tell a woman he once loved and held dear in his life, that everything between them was truly over.
He didn’t want to hurt her, yet he knew it was bound to happen. They had shared so much; their youth, their grief…and a child. A child he hadn’t known about until a couple of months ago. With so much between them, it felt wrong to turn away, to close the door, and yet he knew it had to be done. Left open-ended, this would fester between them, bringing more and more hurt into lives already bruised by past events.
Finally with a sigh, he set the pen down and leaned back in his chair.
He told her that he loved her, a part of him always would, but their lives had moved far beyond those lost and desolate people who came together for a brief time. He had offered to share his life with her, had intended to renew the offer again when she came to see his show, but she had made the decision for them. She knew she was carrying his child at the time she married her husband, she chose to lie to him, and to continue on with that lie until her conscience pricked at her too greatly.
He didn’t want to disrupt their families’ lives. Their son believed another man was his father, and he didn’t want to rip that belief away from him. He also wanted to shelter Louise from the possibility of their son’s wrath. Cody knew that he would be angered to find out his entire life had been a lie, he was still angered by Louise’s deceit. He told her that Nicolette knew the truth, but he saw no need to disrupt his daughters’ lives, and tarnish the memory of their brother’s death with the news.
Knowing that Louise would feel the sting of his words, no matter how kindly he tried to word them, and would attempt again, he also told her that it was best they ceased communication for a while. He had injured his wife, however unintentionally and despite the fact that their time together had occurred before he met Nicolette. He was happy in his marriage, the life they built together, the love they shared. It wasn’t fair to her to keep a ghost from the past alive anymore.
If she had told him she was pregnant, he would have done everything in his power to provide a home for their family. But their paths had been chosen and walked, and too much time and distance had passed to go back and attempt to change the outcome. It was best to allow things to remain as they were. Jonathon had provided a good life for Louise and their child; he didn’t deserve to have his love dishonored now.
With a heart both saddened and free of burden, he folded the letter and placed it in the envelope. He extinguished the lamp and banked the fire, ensuring their safety for the rest of the night. Then he climbed the stairs and joined his wife as she slumbered in their bed.
He once thought he’d never get past the despair of Louise saying good-bye to him. But now he knew that their lives had turned out better than they could have hoped for together. He had found the life that brought him joy, the joy he always hoped to find as a young man setting out in the world. In a way, he had Lou to thank for finding Nicolette, and he knew he would indeed be grateful for the rest of his life.
“William.” She murmured in her sleep, and as she did so many nights, turned into his side, resting comfortably against him.
He smiled into the night and pressed a kiss to her cheek. “I love you, Nicolette.”
This is the end of this series, and I have to give a huge heap of thanks to both Vicki and Liz for their help, their encouragement, and all they did to make this series what it was. Thanks.
She took each step slowly, running her hand down the banister as she walked. How many times had she been up and down these steps in the years she’d been here? Thinking about this being the last time brought a lump to her throat, and she swallowed hard.
She reached the bottom of the stairs and stepped into the parlor, looking around. If she closed her eyes, it was easy to picture the room five years earlier when they’d built the house. It had been empty, but full of promise – just like her life then had been full of promise. She was a young bride, so in love with Evan Crandall, so excited by the new life they were embarking on after the journey west.
Just as the room had been filled with things since then, so had her life here been filled with experiences – some good, others painful. The joy of finding she was with child, the combination of excitement and pain associated with giving birth to that child, the sheer wonder as she’d gazed at the new life she and Evan had created.
The fear and loneliness that had struck like the illness – suddenly, and without warning. The anger and confusion when she’d realized that Evan was gone – and the numbing, overwhelming pain she’d experienced when the baby died.
Both the baby and Evan were buried out back now. In some ways, that made leaving so very difficult. But she carried both of them with her in her heart and in her memories.
Besides memories, she was taking very little with her. The chest that her grandfather had made and brought from Ireland was packed with the quilt her grandmother had made and given her on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday. Lovingly wrapped in amongst the quilt and some other linens were the pieces of china left from the set her mother had given as a wedding present. And she had the mantel clock with the case that Evan had carved with the intricate flower design, a gift given at their marriage.
She could hear the voices outside the door, and she knew they were all waiting to say goodbye. It was hard to believe that it was less than a year ago when she’d been approached by a representative from Russell, Majors & Waddell with a strange proposal. The firm was setting up something called the Pony Express, and her farm was perfectly situated on the route. If she’d let them build a bunkhouse to house a few riders, they’d pay her rent for the use of the property and pay her a monthly stipend to cook and clean for the riders. With Evan long gone, and monthly mortgage payments still due to the bank, it had seemed like a sound business deal.
She’d just never anticipated how much she’d wind up caring for that ragtag bunch of orphans who showed up on her doorstep – how much like family they would become.
It was a good thing Lou was off on a run, Emma mused as she reached for her shawl and pulled it around her shoulders. They’d said their farewells yesterday in private, where they could be free to be two women. She could only hope that whoever was hired to take over the duties of keeping up the station would turn out to be another woman who Lou could turn to as a confidante.
She took one more look around. The things she was leaving behind were just that – things. She and Sam would start fresh in their new home, making it theirs, making new memories. It was comforting to know that Mr. Spoon and the boys would take care of the place as long as they were there. And when the Pony Express ended . . . well, they’d face that question when the time came.
Right now, however, it was time to go. The wagon was loaded, Sam was waiting, and they were about to start their new life together.
She’d been Mrs. Sam Cain for three days now.
She opened the door and stepped out. Conversation stopped, and seven faces turned toward her.
Sam smiled at his new bride, giving her encouragement with his eyes. He knew how hard saying goodbye was going to be for her – hell, he’d had a pretty hard time just now doing it himself. But now it was her time and he backed away, heading for the wagon. They had the rest of their lives together, so she could have whatever time it took now.
For a moment that seemed to stretch on and on, no one moved. Finally, Teaspoon stepped forward to embrace her. “Emma, it’s been a real pleasure working here with you,” he said. “A real pleasure,” he repeated, his voice cracking. He was pleased as hell that Emma and Sam had gotten hitched, and there was no doubt that the Territorial Marshal position was a big opportunity for Sam – but damn, he was going to miss this fiercely independent, but kind and loving woman. He cleared his throat and turned away to hide the moisture gathering in his eyes.
“I’ll miss you too, Mr. Spoon,” Emma replied. She smiled, thinking of the gruff exterior the stationmaster displayed to the world – and of the soft heart he hid underneath. “I know you’ll take good care of the place, and of all these boys.”
Teaspoon nodded. “I’ll do my best,” he whispered.
Emma smiled and turned to the next person in line. “Billy, I have a feeling I’m going to hear big things about you someday.” Of course, whether all the things she heard were true or not, that would be a different question, given his habit of exaggerating things now and then . . . well, frequently. But underneath the bravado there was greatness waiting to come out.
“I hope so, Emma,” Cody answered as he returned her hug. He’d always known that he had greatness inside of him – and Emma was one of the first who he believed had seen that in him as well. “I want to make you proud.”
“You already do,” Emma replied, pulling back with one last squeeze of Cody’s hand. All of the riders made her proud when she thought of how they had come together as a family, working past their differences.
She turned away from Cody and found herself looking into a pair of troubled brown eyes. “Jimmy,” she said softly, trying to come up with the right thing to say. She had a feeling they’d be hearing about James Butler Hickok as well – but given the young man’s brooding and unsettled past, she wasn’t sure the news would be good. Still thinking, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
“I’m always gonna love you, Emma,” Jimmy whispered, his lips right next to her ear. Then he straightened up and smiled. “Sam’s a lucky man,” he added, wiping in annoyance at the invisible dust that seemed to be making his eyes water.
“Well, if he ever forgets that, I’ll see that he talks to you,” Emma replied.
“He won’t forget,” Kid said. “There’s no way he could.”
Emma smiled and turned to the next rider. “I hope you’re right, Kid,” she said as she hugged him. “You and Lou take good care of each other,” she whispered, her words only for his ears.
Kid just nodded and stepped back, his place quickly filled by Ike. The rider pushed his hat off, letting it hang from the cord around his neck. And then his hands moved, pointing to his own heart and then to Emma.
“And I love you too, Ike,” Emma replied, hugging the mute rider. He was so kind and gentle, and his lack of a voice had set him on such a hard path in life. But then she amended that thought as Ike signed a farewell. He did have a voice, and a soul brother who had given that voice to him. And together, maybe they would make it after all.
She turned to the last of the riders waiting, looking into the deep brown eyes – eyes full of understanding and compassion. It was a shame that people saw only Buck’s Kiowa exterior, and not the heart within. But it did make her fear for his future. “Buck,” she said simply, reaching out in embrace.
“Thank you for accepting me, Emma,” he said quietly as he returned the hug. That simple acceptance had meant more to him than he could ever put into words.
“You’ll always be welcome anywhere Sam and I call home,” she replied, trying to smile. She’d reached the end of the line, and there was only one more thing left to do.
“You make sure and write, let us know you get settled all right,” Teaspoon said.
“We’ll sure do that,” Emma promised. She took one more look at the faces of the people who had touched her life so profoundly these last few months, and then she forced herself to turn away and walk down the steps.
Sam met her halfway between the porch and the gate. “Are you ready?” he asked softly.
Part of her wanted to say no, she wasn’t ready at all. There were still so many unfinished dreams she’d had for this place. The riders still needed her guiding hand. And who would look after Mr. Spoon when . . .
But then she looked into Sam’s face, saw the love in his eyes – and she knew. As much as she’d miss the farm and the people here, everything she really needed was right here in front of her. “I’m ready,” she answered.
Emma took Sam’s hand, and together they walked away from the house. He helped her into the wagon, then he climbed in on the other side and took the reins. He waited a moment as Emma turned back one more time and waved. When she finished and looked back at him, a smile on her face, he knew it was time. He nodded and smiled in return, and then he flicked the reins, starting the horses forward.
As the horses walked away from the yard, Emma resisted the urge to turn around just one more time. Instead, she slid closer to Sam and took his arm, leaning her head against his shoulder. The good-byes were behind her – and their future lay straight ahead.
He lay awake, breathing shallowly, listening to the silence of the night. Of course, the night wasn’t truly silent, not if you knew what you were listening for. But tonight . . . tonight he was listening for some very specific sounds.
Red Bear and his wife, Dances in Spring, had whispered late into the night, finally falling silent well after the moon had started on its downward path. He hadn’t heard everything they’d said, but he’d heard enough to know they were talking about him.
It was well that he was leaving.
He listened again, straining to hear any sound of the watchers stationed around the camp. But the night remained still, with only the soft whisper of the wind reaching his ears. And fortunately for his plans, the watchers were more interested in keeping unwanted visitors out of the camp than in keeping one even more unwanted boy in the camp.
He lay in silence just a little longer. It was comforting to hear his brother’s deep breathing just across the tipi. That was something he was going to miss.
But Red Bear never saw the pain his brother went through every day in the camp – pain that was even worse now after the day the hunting party had returned to find the slaughter in the camp, and to find Little Bird missing. The strides he’d made in finding acceptance with the tribe by proving himself on the hunt were wiped out with that discovery, as all of the old suspicions returned, now magnified.
He’d been on the hunt – how could it have been his fault?
Yet somehow, it seemed, it was his fault, and he’d known it was time to go. In the Kiowa world he was half-white, and that half was unwanted.
Would his half-Kiowa site be accepted in the white world? He had to find out, had to learn about his other world. Maybe he’d even find Little Bird again someday.
The night remained still, and finally he knew it was time to go. He could slip away in the cover of darkness and simply be gone when the others awoke. He sat up, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. For a moment, he just looked at his brother, watching the rise and fall of the future war chief’s chest. He was going to miss Red Bear, no question about that. But Red Bear had duties to the whole tribe – he shouldn’t be bothered with trying to protect and unwanted half-breed younger brother.
He got silently to his feet and slipped out the entrance of the tipi. He heard Red Bear stir momentarily, but then the sound of his deep breathing resumed.
The camp was washed in moon and starlight, lending a glow to the tipis. Around the camp, the remnants of a few fires burned low. One of the tribe’s dogs padded over to him, and he absently scratched the animal’s ears as he looked around, fixing the camp in his memory. He was leaving this world, going to a new one, but he didn’t want to forget.
The dog followed him as he headed out of camp, fortunately making no noise. The dogs had never minded that his blood was half-white – they’d always been his friends.
His horse was waiting where he’d left it that evening, outside of the camp, obscured from view by the trees. The horse had been a gift from Red Bear, given on the day he’d finally been declared a warrior. So he felt justified in taking the animal away with him.
Beyond the horse, he was taking very little. He had his knife, given to him by Red Bear’s father. The older man had always treated him well, though never calling him son. His death the year before had simply been another sign to Running Buck that he should move on.
He also had the bow that he and Red Bear had crafted the previous winter. Working slowly and carefully with the Osage orange wood they’d chosen in the fall. It was a fine bow, and he’d used it to good advantage on the recent hunt – but his success as a warrior had been forgotten by the tribe, overshadowed by the grief of their losses at the hands of the white trappers.
The only other item he was taking was one buffalo skin robe. With buffalo harder and harder to find after the white settlers began coming through in greater numbers, the tribe probably needed the robe, and would find it hard to replace. But it was a comforting reminder of the life he was leaving, and he would take it anyway.
He led the horse through the trees, climbing a small hill. At the top, the trees cleared and he stopped, looking down onto the peaceful sleeping village. There was a lump in his throat and a knot in his stomach as he thought about leaving the only world he’d known.
He wasn’t wanted in that world though. And he might not be wanted in the white world either, he knew, but that world was a much his as the Kiowa world, and he had to find out.
He closed his eyes, burning the picture of the sleeping camp into his memory forever as he whispered a farewell and a prayer for good fortune to visit the tribe. Many among the Kiowa would consider his departure a blessing in and of itself, so perhaps the prayer would be considered answered.
His prayer complete, he shooed the dog back toward the village. And with more difficulty than he had imagined, he forced his gaze away from the village.
And then he turned and walked away.
"Why don't you just leave him be, Cody?" Kid rubbed his hand over his eyes and shook his head.
"Can't do that Kid," Cody replied.
"He's only a youngster Cody, why don't you cut him some slack?" Lou pleaded. She hated this. The tension was unbearable.
"That's why I can't let him get away with it. He's got to learn that stealin' ain't right and I aim to teach him," Cody said. His blue eyes crackled with the fire of retribution as they locked onto the brown eyes of the would-be thief.
"I appreciate what you're tryin' to do here, but it's only a sandwich. It ain't like he's been rustlin' cattle." Kid thought that he might get Cody to back down and walk away if he could just get him to see that coming to blows over a sandwich simply wasn't worth it.
"Ain't just the sandwich Kid. There's the little matter of runnin' in front on my horse and spookin' him," Cody said without taking his eyes off his adversary.
"You know that was an accident. Ain't like he planned for you to fall off into the horse trough," Lou pointed out.
"And he really didn't mean to trip you up so you'd land in that horse dung," Kid added. "You could see it in his face."
"Don't you believe it Kid. He meant it alright," Cody said through gritted teeth. "Little so-and-so has a lesson comin'." Cody balled his hands into fists and would have launched an all out attack, but Kid and Lou held him back. "Let me go! Let me go I tell you!"
"Cody, look at him. He's starvin'. I bet he ain't nothin' but skin and bone under that long coat," Kid pointed out.
"Starvin' nothin'! He's laughin' at me!" Cody tried to claw his way free of his friends.
Lou did look. Sure enough, there was definitely the hint of a grin there. At least, the way he had the right side of his top lip curled, it did look like he was smirking at Cody. Lou wondered if this young gentleman really had a clue as to how dangerous this game was. Cody's pride had taken a beating and he wasn't going to leave until he got satisfaction.
"We got him now, but we can't hold him back forever. You better hightail it out of here while you can," Lou called out, but she was too late. Cody gained his freedom and dove for possession of his sandwich. At the precise moment that Cody's fingers made contact with his prize, a gust of wind blew the hat from his head. The thief, having been deprived of his snack, grabbed hold of the hat. There ws no denying the delight of ambush in his eyes. He knew exactly what he was doing.
"What d'you think Cody's goin' to do now?" Lou asked Kid quietly.
"It's either the sandwich or the hat. Don't look like he's goin' to keep both," Kid whispered.
Cody weighed his options and decided he was more attached to the hat, but before he could relinquish his hold on the sandwich, an umbrella came down on his head.
"You brute! You'd steal food from a poor starving animal! There are names for people like you." Alicia Welden, the kind hearted, animal-loving wife of the blacksmith, continued to beat Cody over the head with her umbrella as she chased him up the muddy street.
'Give him one for me lady,' thought the dog. He chuckled to himself as he picked up his sandwich and trotted jauntily off to see the Jenner's labrador. 'Hee hee, the ladies can't resist me when I come bearing gifts. If that fella hadn't been such a hard head, he might have learnt something from me about how to keep the women happy.'
Jimmy took the last pile of clothing out of the dresser drawer and placed it on the bunkhouse table with the rest of his belongings. He then went back and slammed the drawer shut with such force that the entire piece of furniture reverberated against the wall. It's no wonder since there was now nothing in it. Cody had packed up all his things and was now living out of bags on the floor by his bunk; he was expected to ride out anyday with his army unit and wanted to be ready for the move.
As he started packing the carpet bags in front of him, Jimmy looked around the once packed bunkhouse. The quiet was strange but also welcome, it meant he could get this job done without any interruptions or annoying questions.
Then again, who was there around to bother him? Rachel was at the schoolhouse; Teaspoon was at the jail; there were still runs to be made and Buck was out doing that; Noah was now gone almost a whole week and a half; Cody spend his days outside of town with the army; and then there were the newlyweds. He had no idea where they were at the moment and he certainly did not care. Jimmy grunted and glanced toward the bunks they used to occupy. After spending a week in town honeymooning at the great Rock Creek hotel, Kid and Lou had come back and moved into Rachel's spare room.
And that was when Jimmy's life had really turned into a living hell. All he was trying to do was make a life for himself, outside of his Express family, and everyone here seemed to be against it. Jimmy shook his head as he roughly shoved a pair of pants into the closest bag. If Kid came after him one more time wanting to have a little 'chat', Jimmy felt he would have to shoot the man on sight. Suddenly Kid had become the expert on women and more importantly, on what Jimmy should and shouldn't do with his life. How dare he!
In frustration, Jimmy roughly tossed the item in his hand into the suitcase. He quickly picked it back up as he realized what he'd just thrown down. It was a picture frame. Turning it over in his hand to make sure the glass hadn't broke, he paused as he saw what it was a picture of. Staring back at him was himself, a man in a white hat, and the most special woman he'd ever met, looking beautiful in the blue dress he'd bought her months ago as she smiled while having a hand on each man's arm.
Jimmy couldn't help but grin as he recalled how the picture had come to be. On a long ride to St. Louis, he, Kid and Lou had arrived in time for the last day of a fair set up on the city's outskirts. The two men had convinced Lou to have an evening out as a lady so they both had escorted her to all the festivities. Lou had seen a man there selling photographs and with much pleading and even more threats, she'd 'convinced' her two companions to pose in the photo with her. They'd pooled their money together and found they only had enough for the one shot and since Jimmy had put in the most money, it was decided he would hold onto the photograph for them. After all, as Lou had told him, it was still in the family so why did it matter who's possession it was in?
Well, they could have it now for all he cared. He put it face down on the table then went back to his packing but his eyes never left the frame. He tried to force himself to look away but his eyes wouldn't obey and he kept turning back to the piece of silver. He gingerly picked it up, turning it over once more. He ran his finger over the photo itself, outlining the people looking back at him. Sighing, he placed it carefully in the bag, making sure it was well protected by the clothing already inside.
Jimmy didn't own many things so it didn't take too long to pack everything up. He was glad, he told himself, for it meant he could leave this place right away and not have to worry about running into anyone. The only person he wanted to see right now was in town waiting for him. He certainly didn't want to see anyone else, especially not the man and woman who now slept in the guest room across the yard, no, the person he wanted to see would be getting impatient if he didn't hurry along. He'd told Rosemary he would be quick and would meet her at the livery, where they had stored the buckboard they'd come to town on.
And now that there was nothing left to keep him here, Jimmy took a deep breath as he looked around at what he once considered home. So much had changed in just a short couple of months that he knew this was the right thing to do. How could he stay? He couldn't, that was for sure. He didn't want to wind up hating the people he'd once called family. Were they still family? That he wasn't sure of, especially after the heated words he and Kid had thrown back and forth to one another. They deliberately tried to hurt the other's feelings; Jimmy knew he'd succeeded there but not Kid, no, Jimmy was tougher than that. Words couldn't hurt him - he couldn't afford to let them affect him.
Jimmy threw his head back in an effort to toss his hair behind his ears then put on his hat. He picked up his bags and went out onto the porch.
He looked around the quiet way station. He heard noises from the nearby street but nothing from the buildings the Express owned. He had half expected to see somebody there, trying to talk him out of leaving. He came to a halt when his feet hit the dirt ground. How could anyone try to convince him to stay? No one knew he was leaving today; he'd told Kid a couple days ago that he didn't need them anymore and was getting away from them but no one had known when he actually planned to leave. Even he hadn't known until his talk with Rosemary last night.
This was what he needed to do, the Express was over any day now and he'd be out of a job as it was. Besides, who knew if the others would even wind up staying in town anyway. It didn't matter, not anymore; this chapter of his life had come to end and it was time to open a new one. They weren't important to him anymore, they weren't, he told himself. Or was he trying to convince himself of the fact?
He shook his head as his thoughts began to waver. "Just stay focused," he said out loud. "You can do this, it's easy. Leave here the way you came in, on your own." He cursed as he realized he'd briefly forgotten about leaving town not alone but with Rosemary.
Jimmy found himself glancing once more toward Rachel's house then the bunkhouse then the barn and finally the corral. Memories started flooding his mind as his eyes crossed each scene before him. He couldn't take much more of it; the images in his mind seemed to be pulling him back, trying to make him recall all the good times he'd had here. If he didn't make his move now, he never would.
He went to his horse, which was just outside the bunkhouse, and started fastening his bags to the saddle. All of that's in the past, he told himself, there would be no more good times like they'd had before. Too much had changed.
Jimmy took one more glance around. "It's easier this way," he whispered. He suddenly paused as he thought he heard something. He looked around, listening, and heard it again. It was soft but there was no mistaking what it was - he'd heard it too many times not to recognize Lou's happy laughter when he heard it. Turning toward Rachel's house, Jimmy glanced at the upstairs window and could barely make out the silhouettes of the newlyweds. He watched them for a moment until they moved out of view then he turned away.
He pulled his gloves out of his pocket and slowly put them on, all the while looking straight ahead, in the direction of the main street of town. "I'll lead my life, they'll lead theirs. Walk away, just walk away from it all ... don't look back." Jimmy decided not to ride the short distance to the livery. He took the reins in his hand and led the animal out of the yard, and not once did he look back.
Lou, Jimmy, Cody, and Buck walked into Tompkins’ store just in time to hear him discussing the goodness of killing Indians. Buck inwardly groaned, but said nothing. He didn’t want to cause trouble. He just wanted to get back to the way station, and away from the stares he kept getting from the people of Sweetwater.
As he stood in the back of the group he heard Tompkins saying something about not wanting him in his store. “That’s fine with me,” thought Buck to himself. “I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here.” He headed toward the door. He slipped out just as Jimmy was saying something about an excuse for fighting.
As Buck walked toward his horse he thought back to the first
time he’d ever walked away from a fight . . .
“Have you ever tried just leaving?” asked Little Bird.
“What?” answered Running Buck.
“When they start to taunt you, have you ever tried just leaving? You know, walk away from them,” explained Little Bird.
Running Buck shook his head, “That would be showing fear. A Kiowa warrior does not run from a fight.”
Little Bird sighed, “It’s not a fight when the other side has you outnumbered; it’s a massacre. No one would fault you for trying to get away before it happened.”
“They would,” replied Running Buck. “They would call me a coward, and they would be right.”
“Fine then,” said Little Bird as she stood to leave. “Let them beat you to a bloody pulp, but don’t come to me to patch you. Find someone else to do it.” She left in a huff.
Running Buck watched her go. He didn’t understand her sometimes. Why couldn’t she understand that he had to defend himself no matter how many there were against him. It was bad enough that he was looked down on for being half white, but to add being a coward would make life unbearable. He stood and returned to the home he shared with his mother and half-brother. Maybe they would be able to understand Little Bird’s anger at him for defending himself.
“It’s because she was brought up differently than you,” said his mother. “Her people do not place as much importance on honor as we do. She will come to understand our ways when she has been here longer.”
“She’s been here three summers already,” said Red Bear. “I think there are some of our ways that she will never accept. Of course, she may be right this time. If the others are picking on you as you say, then bringing the fight away from where they have you isolated could make them stop. It is not a bad plan, and does not make you a coward to look for help.”
Running Buck shook his head at his brother’s words. It was evident by Red Bear’s tone that he still did not believe that the other boys ganged up on Running Buck for no reason. Maybe next time he would do as Little Bird suggested and walk away – away to where Red Bear could see what was happening.
He had his first chance a few weeks later. They always let him heal before they attacked again. This time he was gathering fire wood for his mother while Red Bear was working with a horse he had recently captured. Running Buck kept Red Bear in sight as he worked. He was far enough away that the others would feel safe attacking, but close enough that he could get Red Bear’s attention without having to run or holler.
He felt the others’ presence before he saw them. That was the one good thing that had come out of these constant attacks – he was developing a keen sense of approaching danger. He slowly began working his was toward where Red Bear was working. He did this in such a manner that the others – intent on capturing their prey – didn’t notice the direction he was leading them. By the time they were close enough to jump him Running Buck had managed to attract Red Bear’s attention. Just as his older half-brother started to walk toward him, his tormentors attacked. Red Bear watched in astonishment as Running Buck successfully fended off the first three older boys, and was soon at his brother’s side when the fourth and fifth boy joined the fray.
“This is what always happens?” Red Bear asked as he helped Running Buck home.
Running Buck nodded, “Except usually it lasts much longer because no one comes to help me.”
Red Bear contemplated this information.
After walking in silence for a few moments, Running Buck said, “They will say I started it.”
“What?” asked Red Bear.
“When we get back, they will have told the elders that I started it. I said or did something while I was away from you and then ran to you and made it look like they were after me for no reason.
“If you don’t say I didn’t do anything wrong, I will be punished for this also,” Running Buck said.
“I don’t know if you did anything while you were away in the woods,” Red Bear said. “How can I say that you didn’t?”
“You could believe me,” said Running Buck. “Just this once, you could believe me when I tell you that they pick on me because of my father. You could stand up for me in front of them, and let them know that you believe me. If you do that, they will stop because they fear and respect you. You are important to the tribe; someday you will be war chief.”
Red Bear smiled at his half-brother. “You will not be punished for anything that happened. I promise.”
Much to his surprise, Running Buck wasn’t punished for starting the fight, and the other boys were warned that if this behavior continued serious consideration would be given to them being allowed to train as warriors. A warrior must be able to maintain his temper and not let emotions get the better of him. If words from a half-breed could get them so upset, how would they ever hope to survive on the field of battle? This lead to many more times when walking away from the coming threat was the best option Running Buck had. The others tired of this new development and tried to come up with new ways to torment him, but none of them were as painful as the beatings had been so Running Buck considered this a victory in the war with his peers. He’d won a major battle all because he chose to walk away.
She stood there, staring at absolutely nothing at all. A brush in her hand was all the reminder of what she had come out to the barn to do. Her black stallion was standing there patiently waiting for his devoted rider to get back to brushing him down. His low whinny brought her out of revelry, giving her a slight start.
Patting him on the neck, “I’m sorry boy,” Lou sighed. She started gently brushing down his right side again, hoping that maybe her brushing Lightning down would help her clear her head of all that was running through it.
The last couple of months had been trying for her. She had walked away from Kid after his last marriage proposal. And then hearing the cold words that he uttered to the boys as she stood there at the bunkhouse door had her.
But then Jimmy came to her and helped. It’s as if he had snuck into her heart and helped heal a small piece of it. That day that they had spent in Willow Springs had showed her another side to him. Yes, she always knew he had a caring side to him. But he always had this edge to him, feelin’ as if the ghosts from his past were dawgin’ him all of the time. Afraid that one of his close friends or family members would be hurt because of his reputation, in which meant he never really let people too close.
But that day he did. He let her become just a little bit closer to him. Showin’ her what a wonderful man he was. She felt so lucky to count him as a friend. She considered all of the boys at the Rock Creek station to be her good friends, a family of sorts, but she was closest to Kid, and now Jimmy.
But now she felt the turmoil of being stuck between two men. She loved Kid, but those hurtful words he said were somethin’ she wasn’t gonna be able to forgive so easily. She honestly felt that he wouldn’t have said them if they didn’t have a bit of truth to them, no matter how Jimmy had tried to help and say that it was “a fella talkin’.” And so now there is Jimmy, who has been such a wonderful friend and has slowly crept into her heart and has made her think that maybe Kid really wasn’t the one she was ultimately goin’ to end up with.
With a shudder, she felt her eyes begin to well up. “Oh Lightning…what have I gotten myself into?”
Like a quiet friend wantin’ to listen, he whinnied softly and moved towards her a bit.
“Lou?” Rachel called into the barn.
“You in here?”
Quickly wiping at her eyes, Lou called back out to her friend and confidant.
“Yeah Rachel, what do ya need?”
“Lunch is ready…” Rachel stopped in her tracks when she saw Lou standin’ there holdin’ a brush in one hand and using her other one to try and quickly dry her eyes.
“Louise? What’s wrong hun?”
Putting up her tough front that she had relied upon so well, she put down the brush and wiped her hands on her pants.
“Wrong? What makes you think somethin’s wrong?”
“Those red eyes of yours are tellin’ it to me. Now, do you wanna talk about it?”
Silently cursing herself for getting caught crying, Lou walked towards Rachel, always thankful that she had another woman to talk to. “Really Rachel, I’m ok. I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
“If you’re sure,” Rachel looked closely at Lou. She had noticed of late that she had been a bit more withdrawn from the other riders.
Setting her hand on her friend’s arm, Lou smiled at her.
“Honest Rachel, I’ll be ok. I’m sure things will work out the way they’re supposed to.”
Smilin’ at her, amazed at how her friend had learned how to deal with things so well, “You know I’m here for you Lou. We all are.”
She answered her back softly, “I know. I just need to figure this out on my own. Besides, I think my ride today will help me clear my head. You know the wide open spaces and the fresh air? When’s Ben due in?”
“You should be up in about an hour. So you should have enough time to wash up and have some lunch. I’ll pack up a bit of food for you to take along since you won’t be back till tomorrow.”
Walking away, Lou turned back towards Rachel, “Thanks Rachel, but I’ll probably just eat in town when I ride into Willow Springs. I’ll see ya back at the bunkhouse in a few minutes.”
Rachel just stood there, watching the girl who’s been like a sister to her walking away. She and the others had noticed how Lou had been actin’ lately. She was normally a bit spryer than she had been of late, and that worried her and her other friends. She had been a bit too quiet. The others thought it was just because of all that happened between her and the Kid and that new school marm, Samantha. But on the other hand, she had noticed that it was even more obvious when she had gotten back from her run to Willow Springs with Jimmy. They seemed closer, but also more reserved around each other when the others were near.
All of them had heard about Jimmy runnin’ into trouble with a ghost from his past. But both he and Lou had been quite tight lipped about all the details of what happened those two days. Nobody got real for at all when ever they asked what really had happened.
Rachel was beginnin’ to notice the signs of Lou’s stress. Her lack of eating and her avoiding the others was a sure sign, and she was finally getting’ the reason of what may be causin’ it. The poor girl was in love with two men, and they were best friends.
Well, if Lou wasn’t any better after this next run, then Rachel had made up her mind. She was gonna sit that girl down and make her talk about it. She wasn’t about to watch her friend fall apart, without trying to at least help her a little bit.
“Lou…you can be so dang stubborn. But I’m sure you’ll figure out who you should be with and who will treat you how you deserve,” she uttered to herself as she followed suite of the young female rider and walked out of the barn and back towards the bunkhouse. She had to make sure that Cody hadn’t eaten everything that was set out on the table. Of course, that’s why she left Buck sittin’ there with him. He’d make sure that Cody behaved himself, or there’d be hell to pay.
“Rider comin’!” Jimmy hollered back towards the bunkhouse.
He had wanted to make sure that he was there when Lou left for her ride. It’s not that he didn’t trust her instincts, or didn’t have any faith in her capabilities. He knew she could handle just about anything. He’d seen her do it tons of times. It was just one of those things that he wanted to do. Just to see that she was ok. He refused to be like Kid, who was standin’ over by the barn at the moment waitin’ for Lou to take her ride, frettin’ over her like she was gonna break the minute she left the station. Jimmy had seen her do her job, and she did it well. But, there were some things even she couldn’t control, like when she had been taken by Hopkins in Willow Springs. He had been so frightened when he saw Lou bein’ held by Hopkins with that noose around her neck. His blood turned cold every time he thought of it. He swore that would give him nightmare’s the rest of his life. The thought of holdin’ her close after she was safe was his only savin’ grace. That was the one thing that calmed him down after each nightmare he had.
His thoughts were broken when he heard the door of the bunkhouse fly open and hit the wall as Low came tearin’ out of their home like the prairie was on fire behind her.
Standin’ there with Lightning’s reigns in hand, Buck prepared her mount and watched as she came running out of their home.
He watched as Kid started walkin’ over to Lou, to try and talk to her, while with the greatest of ease, Lou mounted onto her horse and took the hand off of the mochilla like it was second nature to her. She left Kid standin’ there, with him wonderin’ how he would be able to make up to Lou if she wasn’t willin’ to talk to him.
Jimmy called out to her as she rode out, “Ride safe Lou!”
Quickly glancing back, she watched her home and Jimmy and Kid slowly shrink as she rode further away towards her destination.
Now she’d be able to get all of this straight through her head and stop frettin’ about it. It was so hard to think when she had both Kid and Jimmy around the bunkhouse. Sure she had her alone time when either of them was on a run, but she really was able to just think when she was on a run by herself.
The ride seemed as if it was going to be uneventful enough, but a surprise was comin’. She was ridin’ towards a creek to get her canteen filled as well as water Lightning, when she missed a step, quickly falling backwards towards the rocky ground and landing on her back, knocking the side of her head on a small stone, which in turn knocked her into sweet oblivion.
She lay there with Lightning by her side, guarding her as if he knew there was somethin’ wrong.
She sat up staring into darkness then the darkness began to clear. As she looked down, she noticed her hands were bound by a rope. That’s when she heard sounds in front of her and that’s when she noticed Jimmy and Kid at the end of a street. They were each bein’ faced down by men who seemed to be twins yet they weren’t.
Both Jimmy and Lou looked over at her. Both with such different expressions on their faces that she didn’t know what to think. Kid had this look of fear on his face when he saw her, but Jimmy looked at her with such trust and caring. She had to stop this madness.
“What are you doin’?!”
Lou had no idea what she had woken up to. The last thing she remembered she was riding Lightning and had stopped at a creek, and then she woke up to this madness.
Lou began to stand up tryin’ to head towards where Jimmy and Kid were getting ready to draw on their adversaries.
She walked down the middle of the street, tryin’ to pull at the ropes on her hands. She needed to help them.
“Lou!! Stand back; I don’t want you to get hurt!” Kid’s voice raised in fear.
“Kid I’m comin’ to help!”
“I don’t want your help Lou. You need to get out of the way and stay safe. You can’t do this.”
She just stood there appalled at what he had just said to her. “What do you mean I can’t do this?! I can damn well take care of myself and if I wanna help then I’m gonna.”
Her temper was beginning to flair. “What’s he thinkin’ tellin’ me I can’t try and help, when he and Jimmy obviously need it?”
Now more determined than ever, she walked towards the group of four men.
“Stay out of the way their darlin’,” sneered the man facin’ off with Kid. “Maybe you should listen to your man here and run and wait over there, while we take of ‘em. We’ll be over to take care of you in just a minute.” His face was turned up with an ugly grin.
“Why don’t you shut up?!” Jimmy had just about enough. He knew Lou would be able to help him and Kid, but he had to get her attention and these fellas were busy tryin’ to dawg her.
He was tryin’ to keep an eye on the dirty man in front of him, but also tryin’ to get Lou’s attention. He figured if he kept lookin’ over at her that he’d be able to catch her eye. That’s when it finally happened he saw her look over at him. She had this look of pure anger on her face. He had heard what Kid had said to her. He couldn’t believe what a fool Kid was bein’, but then again, the way things had been goin’ nothin’ was surprisin’ him lately.
He had such a calm look about him; it instantly made Lou feel more at ease. He looked at her and it’s as if she felt like she knew what she had to do. She was gonna help and Kid wasn’t gonna stop her. At least Jimmy had faith in her, knowin’ that she’d be able to try and get them out of this rut that she had woken up to. She wasn’t about to walk away and let them be killed. They may have been drivin’ her crazy lately, but she needed to help them. She really knew she could.
That’s when she thought of the next thing to do. She started walkin’ towards the man that was aimin’ his gun at Jimmy.
“What seems to be the trouble here?”
“Stay out of the way their missy! We said we’d be with you in a minute!”
She was tryin’ to distract him, but he was tryin’ to keep one eye trained on his target in front of him.
“Stay away from them Lou!” Kid was furious with fear.
“I’m just tryin’ to find out what the problem is here Kid. That’s all.” She winked at Jimmy. He knew what she was tryin’ to do.
“This ain’t you’re fight!”
“It is when you call out the man I love and his friend.” She wasn’t about to let these fellas kill Jimmy and Kid.
That’s when it all began to happen so quickly; the man who had his gun aimed at Jimmy quickly changed angles and was tryin’ to aim at Lou. This gave Jimmy enough time to pass his one Colt to Lou, while he pulled his other one and turned around to the one that was aimin’ at Kid. All you could hear was four shots bein’ fired simultaneously.
Kid turned around in surprise. Everything had happened so quickly. That’s when he saw it, Jimmy and Lou were standin’ there each with a gun in hand and the two men in black lying on the ground dead.
“Lou?” he didn’t know what to think.
“I thought I said we could handle it on our own! You could’ve gotten hurt!”
“But I didn’t! Damn it Kid! How many times do I have to tell you that I can do things on my own?! You don’t need to protect me all the time!” She couldn’t believe he was upset with her after she helped them.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt. You shouldn’t be doin’ this stuff.”
“And why not?”
“Because Lou…it’s dangerous. You should be at home.”
“That’s it Kid! I’m tired of this. You’re always actin’ like a mother hen! At least Jimmy has faith in me and what I can do. Why do you think I’ve fallen in love with him!?”
That’s when it hit her. She held her hand up to her mouth in shock. She had finally said it. It’s Jimmy that had finally crept into her heart, and had made her realize that it was ok that she had walked away from Kid and her relationship. She finally knew that everything would be ok.
She looked at Kid, “I’m sorry. I just don’t want to feel like this anymore. I haven’t been happy in a long time…” that’s when she felt the dizziness set in. Jimmy came rushing up behind her, trying to catch her before she fell.
“Lou? Are you ok?”
That’s when everything started to fade back into black, the last voice she heard was Jimmy talkin’ to her.
She woke up, with a feelin’ of absolute joy. She didn’t feel the pressure anymore of wantin’ to choose. How did she get this way?
That’s when she remembered fallin’ and hittin’ her head. She must have been dreamin’ the whole thing.
Slowly getting up, she gingerly checked her head and felt a small amount of blood. “I best get to Willow Springs. I’ll talk to Jimmy and Kid when I get back home.”
She took the ride to Willow Springs a little slowly, but made it there in fairly one piece. She quickly handed over the mochilla and slid off of Lightning.
“You ok Lou?” Tom the stationmaster asked.
“I’m fine. Just a bump on my head,” her distraction was obvious to Tom. “Would you mind brushin’ down Lightning? I’m just gonna get some water and head back home.”
“You sure you don’t want to get that checked out by the doc in town?”
“I’ll be ok. I’m a bit anxious to get home.”
“Ok, what ever you say.”
Tom quickly brushed down Lightning and then Lou was on her way back home. She had to talk to Jimmy and then Kid.
Luckily the trip home was uneventful, so she made it back to Rock Creek much faster than her trip to Willow Springs.
Jimmy met her as well as Kid, when she rode into the way station.
Kid already frettin’ over seein’ the black and blue mark by the wound on her head. “Lou! What happened? Are you ok?” He was firin’ off questions faster than she could answer them.
“I’m fine Kid. Listen…I need to talk to both of you.” She took a deep breath, “Kid, I need to talk to you first.”
He followed her towards the barn, while Jimmy took Lightning to be watered. He had a feelin’ somethin’ was goin’ on. He had noticed how much more relaxed Lou looked when she came ridin’ in.
”What’s up Lou?”
“Kid I need to tell you somethin’ I’ve been feelin’ lately.” Breathing in deeply she continued, “You said some hurtful things, and I know Jimmy said it was just you fellas talkin’, but I can’t help but think that if you said it, there must be some grain of truth to it.”
She shushed him before he began to protest, “Kid…all I’m sayin’ is that after a lot of thinkin’, I’ve finally figured out that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that we walked away from each other now. Before it really became too late.”
Seein’ the pain in his eyes, her own eyes filled with unshed tears. “I’m sorry Kid. But I just think that maybe you were right. Maybe we just couldn’t make it work.”
That’s when the Kid’s anger had set in. His mind was workin’ over time. It had to be Jimmy. She only just started thinkin’ like this since their ride to Willow Springs.
“So is that why you wanna talk to Jimmy? Is it because you wanna make a go of it with him instead?” He was fuming.
“Kid this ain’t fair. You can’t blame him. If anything it’s both you and me that were the problem. Jimmy doesn’t even know that I’m talkin’ to you right now ‘bout this, so don’t go tryin’ to fight him. I’ve finally realized that I want to be appreciated by someone for who I am. Not for who you want me to be. Jimmy does that.”
Kid had the courage to look at her again, knowing that she was right. “I’m sorry Lou. I’m sorry Lou for not treatin’ you the way you deserve. I just worry is all. I don’t think I could ever really get used to you bein’ out there with us and getting’ into all sorts of trouble.”
“It’s ok Kid. I understand. But I need to be able to live my life the way I want to. That’s why I have to walk away and be who I want to be. I never did mean to hurt you.”
“And I didn’t mean to hurt you too. Honestly.” Kid gave her a small grin and then moved in to give her a hug.
“It’s just gonna take some time Lou. That’s all.”
With that he walked towards the doorway of the barn and turned back towards her. “I’ll send him in. But so help me, if he hurts you, there’s gonna be…”
She cut him off with a smile, “I know Kid. But I ain’t worried about that, and I don’t think you should either.”
He turned back around and walked towards Jimmy, “Just don’t you hurt her.”
Jimmy stood there in stunned silence, “What?”
“Go talk to Lou, Jimmy. She’ll explain.” With that a somber Kid walked to the bunkhouse.
Jimmy slowly walked into the barn where Lou was turned towards Sundance’s stall.
“Jimmy, we need to talk.” He noticed that her relaxed face from earlier was a bit more tense, but she still was as beautiful as ever.
“About?” He was tryin’ to keep his hope alive but he was also tryin’ to not get it too high, in case she was tryin’ to tell him bad news.
She took a deep breath and then walked closer to him so they were face to face.
“I walked away.”
She gave a small grin and then put her hand on his arm, “I walked away from Kid. I’ve finally realized that there was no way he was ready to change and let me be who I am.
You’re the one that treats me right Jimmy. Do you remember when I said you made me feel like a new woman?”
He started to blush when he remembered their conversation at dinner that night in Willow Springs. Before all of it had gone horribly wrong. “Yeah.”
“Well, I meant it. Jimmy, you helped me in so many ways, I can’t thank you enough. I just thought that I would like to…”
She was cut off by his crushing hug and kiss to the top of her head. “Ah Lou, are you sure ‘bout this?” He was scared and giddy at the same time. Was it true that this wonderful woman was fallin’ in love with him?
“Yeah, I am. I just had to tell you what I was thinkin’.”
He looked down at her and then thanked his lucky stars. The love that shown in his eyes was matched in hers. With that last look, he bent down and gently kissed her.
“Lou, I know you’re gonna wanna take this slow. And that’s fine by me, but I promise you that I ain’t gonna treat you any different then I have been. I know you and I know you can handle yourself. I trust you…” she shushed him with a finger to his lips.
“And that’s why I walked away. Because I knew you would. It’ll be almost like old times…” she got a sly grin on her face, “just like it always is.” He kissed her again, “Yep…just like it always is.” They smiled again, “just better.”
*note: taking a jump off the canon into the deep end of the fic pool.. don't expect truth.. just a good ol' fashioned romp in the rider zone...*
“I just don’t understand it, Lou... I just don’t!”
“Really, Kid? Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
“So you’re tellin’ me that I wasted my time on you?” Everyone knew he was tired. He’d ridden double shifts and they knew he wasn’t thinking straight, but that didn’t seem to matter to Lou... her good sense had flown out the window hours ago.
“Wasted, huh? I’ll tell you what a waste of time is...” His color was darkening, heat creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. They all knew the signs... knew what it meant, but Lou just couldn’t seem to drum up enough energy to care. “A waste of time is tryin’ to get anything past that thick head of yours and into your ears!”
Cody’s uncontrollable snicker reached both of their ears, but neither gave any outward indication that they heard it. Instead they just narrowed their gazes on one another.
“Come on, Lou... it was a nice gesture... he brought you flowers... a dress, even a bonnet to hide-”
She whirled around to glare at Buck, “Hide?” Her eyes blazed at each rider in turn. “He has to hide me... to take me out?”
Jimmy avoided her gaze, focusing on the scuffed tips of his boots. Cody somehow managed to keep his comments to himself and Ike.. well there wasn’t anything coming out of Ike’s mouth. It was Kid that could seem to move his mouth out of the way of his foot. “Hmph... with the way you’re over-reacting, I wouldn’t....”
“Oh lord,” sighed Buck under his breath, “this isn’t....”
Cody nodded even though he didn’t hear Buck finish, “no... no it isn’t...”
“Really?” Kid hollered back across the room.
“Really!” Lou answered back and the riders cringed from their bunks.
“There’s only one thing the Kid can do now-”
“Besides turnin’ her over his knee?” Offered Cody.
“No, Idiot,” Jimmy bit back. “If he knew what was good for him...”
“Yeah,” continued Buck, “he’d...”
The door of the bunkhouse slammed as Ike marched his fingers along the wood runner of his bunk. *walk away*
The riders covered over their ears as the fight continued outside.
**set in third season, when Jimmy has found out Matt’s fate and is prepared to avenge the young man’s death**
She was gone, good. That’s exactly what he’d wanted her to do. The doorway gaped open into the dark street. No movement.
She didn’t turn around, good. That’s exactly what he’d needed her to do. Walk away, don’t look back.
She didn’t see the look in his eyes, hidden by the brim of his hat – the stoic pride left behind with the fear.
He wanted her to go, told her to do it, but still...
Stepping into the open doorway he lifted his face to the night sky. Lamp oil rose into the darkness, invisible oily scented night mingling with the hay strewn across the floor behind him. It was something to think about, something to lose himself in... something to get his mind off the fact that she’d just walked away.
‘He could do it on his own,’ she repeated in the silent darkness of her mind. “He could. It’s what he told you he wanted.’
The dust of the road pulled heavily on her boots, making long furrows at the edge of the street. “That’s what he said.”
Looking around for an audience, Lou quickly realized she was alone. Her own voice had startled herself from her reverie.
Her feet stilled in the fresh turned dirt, sifting the chunky clods off the sides in a shock of movement.
She tried to tell herself that he meant what he said. Of course he did. There was still that little voice that said she shouldn’t go because, ‘I want to stay.’
Jimmy turned down the lantern beside him on the counter, watching the flame gutter until all that was left was a blue crescent smaller than his nail. They’d left him alone. The towns folk had seen his dark looks and ominous expression and had left him blissfully alone in the room and returned home.
To the ones they love.
To... and he’d told her to walk away.
God help him, why did he wait until he was about to die to realize the important things?
Pressing his fingers against his temple he gladly accepted the bite of nails against flesh, for they were only a shadow compared to the ache spreading through his chest.
He nearly laughed at the strange sound of her voice. He’d given up so much that night... his sanity, his hope... and almost his good sense.
“Jimmy?” He heard her take another step closer and his jaw began to ache where his teeth ground into each other.
His fingers released their grip and slowly lowered down to his sides, the echo of her voice still bouncing in his head.
Waiting until he could open the tense spring of his jaws, he opened his eyes to see a welcome sight standing before him.
“Lou-” her name was little more than a breath cutting across his tongue and he winced as his hands closed over her shoulders, steadying her when he stepped forward...closing the distance.
She had to look up to see his eyes, her own gaze searching his in the dark interior of the room.
“You came back...”
“That’s right.” Her voice seemed so much stronger than his.
“I told you...” an ache surrounded his heart, desperation wrapped around his lungs, making him fight for air, “...to walk away.”
“That’s right,” she began, tilting her face up further toward his, “but I’m here to stay. What do you have to say about that?”
His reply was lost against her lips.
“Please,” Cody beseeched Jimmy, “you owe me.”
“I owe you?” Jimmy exclaimed loudly. “Who covers for you each time you have a run? Who lent you the money you needed last week? Who -”
“You,” Cody interrupted. “But this is different.”
Jimmy made a rude noise.
“I’m in love,” Cody continued.
Jimmy laughed out loud. “Yeah, just like you were in love with Beth Morgan last month.”
Jimmy rose from his seat at the table and Cody leapt to his feet blocking the bunkhouse door. “I’ll pay you,” he added quickly.
“You ain’t got any money,” Jimmy retorted.
“First thing I’ll do when I get my wages is pay you,” Cody told him.
When Jimmy remained silent, Cody took that as a good sign. “You’ll see, ‘Cilla ain’t that bad.” When Jimmy’s eyes grew wide, Cody realized he had just made critical error. He hadn’t understood that Jimmy’s hesitation had nothing to do with Pricilla Washington’s reputation as the town terror but it was just a general reluctance in going out and socializing with a new girl.
But he was desperate. Mr. Washington had caught him with Pricilla’s younger sister, Lorna, in the barn and had forbidden him from every seeing her again. However, Mr. Washington had softened considerable when faced with Lorna’s tears. Cody was now permitted to see Lorna as long as they were not alone.
“I can’t go to the dance with Lorna if you don’t take ‘Cilla,” Cody wailed.
“Fine,” Jimmy grumbled. “Just see that you don’t forget about that money.”
Cody beamed at him.
“What did you mean about ‘Cilla not being so bad?” Jimmy asked hesitantly.
“Well,” Cody began cautiously. He had to be somewhat truthful. So he decided to be safe as well as truthful. “She ain’t as pretty as Lorna, but who is?” he said cheerfully.
“But when she walks away,” Cody let out a low whistle, “it’s as good as some other women walking in.
“You are a true friend,” Cody said, clapping Jimmy on the back. Now all he had to do was make the arrangements with Lorna. It would be Lorna’s job to get Priscilla to agree.
“And you are a true pain in the - ”
Cody hurried out of the bunkhouse, slamming the door behind him. Maybe Jimmy deserved whatever Priscilla would dish out.
Things had really changed in the years since Buck Cross had stood where he stood right at that moment. His memory of the place had been of an open plain, lush with green grass, except where the lodges had stood.
The land had been teeming with people then. In reality it had only been a few handful but to the young Running Buck it had seemed like so many more. Now, as a man who had been in the white man’s towns and cities, Buck Cross could almost laugh at the memory.
Laughter died in his throat as his eyes were drawn across the valley to the spot among the trees that, even today, had changed little from the time he remembered. Unbidden, his mind returned to the time that had been one of the happiest of his Kiowa life.
The trader arrived early in the morning carrying a basket on his shoulder. Children appeared as if by magic to see what he carried and, unlike most other adults, he allowed them to come close and take a look.
Running Buck stood back—as he always did. He didn’t belong with the crowd of children and young teens even though he was of their age. They had made certain he knew that he was different from them and that difference had been something he had almost grown used to. Still, from his vantage point in the trees, the boy watched enviously, trying to get just a glimpse of what the others were so eager to see—and never did get a clear view.
Finally, after the last of the children had seen what there was to see, the trader closed the basket again and walked on. He strode confidently to the door of Running Buck’s lodge and, shaking the string of buffalo claws that announced the presence of company, let those inside know he was there. As Running Buck made his way down the hill, he saw his mother make the man welcome.
That evening, Running Buck was kept busy doing anything and everything his mother’s husband could think of to keep him away from the basket. It seemed that even Red Bear, his half-brother, was determined to keep him from seeing what was inside. Finally, after everyone had gone to bed, the boy stole silently across the tent, quietly undid the latch and opened the mysterious basket.
He hadn’t known what he really expected to see, but it most definitely wasn’t what he ended up seeing. Inside the basket, sleeping peacefully, lay one of the most beautiful dogs Running Buck had ever seen. One of the most beautiful dogs—and an equally beautiful puppy.
Running Buck had seen dogs before. They were always around the lodges and were used as work animals when the band moved from one place to another—but this one—this one was different.
Where most of the other dogs were scrawny and their coats were often matted, these two were obviously well fed and clean. Their brown/black coats shown almost like Running Buck’s mother’s hair after she had cleaned and brushed it for the night.
Without thinking, the boy reached out to stroke the silky hair of the female. The dog arched her head into his hand as if begging to have her ears scratched. Without hesitation, Running Buck complied.
“You must have a way with animals.”
Running Buck jumped at the sound of the voice behind him. Turning quickly, he realized the trader was awake and watching him.
“It’s all right,” the man told him in the same quiet voice. Rising to his feet, he made his way around Red Bear to stand at Running Buck’s side. “She doesn’t let many people touch her.”
“She’s beautiful,” Running Buck whispered. “I’ve never seen a dog like her.”
“That’s because she’s half wolf,” the man explained.
As the pair watched, and Running Buck continued to scratch the female’s ears, the puppy woke up and decided it was time for HIM to get some attention too. With a low growl, the little male leapt across the basket and began to attack the sleeve of Running Buck’s shirt.
Without thinking the boy giggled.
“RUNNING BUCK!” Three Eagles made the two words seem like a curse.
The boy immediately withdrew his hand from the basket and turned toward his stepfather, eyes to the ground.
“The boy was just curious,” the trader said quickly.
“The boy has no right to be curious,” the older man replied angrily. Turning his back on the pair, Three Eagles ended the conversation.
Morning came early for Running Buck. Determined to make up for the indiscretion of the night before, he set about to do all of his chores in record time. Even Three Eagles could find nothing to complain about—and he checked everything Running Buck had done with excruciating thoroughness.
Finally the boy was allowed to eat and then was free for the rest of the day. As usual he headed for the corral where Red Bear and some of the other braves were breaking in some new ponies. Running Buck was hoping, against hope, that he might be allowed to own one of them some day soon. Three Eagles had almost told him he could—almost.
As he stood watching and trying to decide which would be his pick, the trader stepped up to stand beside him.
“Nice looking ponies,” the man commented.
“Yes,” Running Buck agreed. “Three Eagles trades only for the best.”
“I see that,” the man said. “I was wondering if you might help me with something.”
“If I can,” Running Buck replied, his curiosity carefully under control.
“I need to take my dog to hunt for food,” the trader explained. “The puppy is too small to keep up and I need someone to keep an eye on him while I’m gone. Do you know of anyone who would be willing to do that?”
It was all Running Buck could do to keep from jumping up and down with excitement. “Would I be good enough?” he asked hesitantly.
The trader considered the boy carefully. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he nodded. “I think you would do just fine.”
Over the next few days, Running Buck helped the trader whenever he was asked. Three Eagles soon admitted, begrudgingly, that his stepson DID have a way with the animals.
The boy wasn’t sure exactly when he began to hope that there would be some way that he might be allowed to keep the puppy he had privately named Gui-k-ati for his resemblance to his wolf ancestors. He considered offering to give up his dream of a horse of his own if only . . .
“Dreaming again, boy?” Three Eagles’ gruff voice broke him out of his reverie. Beside him the puppy stopped playing with the piece of leather he had been tugging to watch the older man suspiciously.
“No Three Eagles,” Running Buck replied, as always keeping his eyes to the ground.
“The trader man tells me you have been taking good care of this dog,” the man said simply.
“I do what I can,” the boy answered.
“The trader man says he would like one of our new ponies and is willing to exchange some things your mother wants for one of them.” As he spoke, Three Eagles looked across to the corral where the new horses were milling about. “I have decided to make a trade for the brown mare.”
Running Buck looked up quickly, then down at his feet—where his heart now lay. Red Bear had been talking as if the brown mare would be Running Buck’s horse in the days to come.
“The trader man says he will also trade this dog for the pony,” Three Eagles continued. “I have no need for a dog this young.”
The heart that had been at Running Buck’s feet now jumped to beat wildly in his throat.
“He will grow,” he suggested timidly.
“He will grow,” Three Eagles agreed. “But he is useless to me until he does.”
“I could take care of him for you—until he grows big enough to be useful,” Running Buck offered a bit more confidently.
Three Eagles sniffed loudly. “Make sure you do!” he ordered as he turned to walk away.
The next years were some of the best of Running Buck’s childhood. With Gui-k-ati at his side he didn’t feel the loneliness at being excluded from the games the others played. The dog was more than his friend, he was his protector—something the other boys learned very quickly. No one bother him when Gui-k-ati was near.
Running Buck kept his word to Three Eagles as well. When the time came two summers later, for the tribe to move on to their winter quarters, Gui-k-ati more than pulled his weight. Running Buck smiled proudly as his friend out pulled every other dog in the tribe.
“Hey, Buck! It’s time to go!”
Cody’s voice brought Buck back to the present with a pang of regret. The other rider wasn’t aware of the significance of this particular stopping point on their route to Fort Bridger—and Buck wasn’t going to tell him.
Smiling secretively, the Kiowa turned to walk away from the clearing taking his memory with him.
Sitting in the darkened bedroom of the newly renovated home I share with my son, my brother and sister and her husband, I stare at the tintype in my hand and feel my heart break all over again as I traced the features of the young man in the picture. An old finger traces the contours of a familiar face years ago I’d let him slip through my fingers, let fear rule me and I’ve paid dearly for it.
One morning I’d awakened to see his bunk empty, the bedding smoothed out neatly, his trunk the only sign of his life open and empty as I crawled from my bunk. Staring into the wooden box my world seemed to shatter around me, crashing down on me like a tidal wave as I realized he’d left for good. Ignoring everyone I poured a cup of coffee and drank about half of it before I rose to head for the barn. Standing in the cool interior of the barn I stared at the empty stall that housed his beloved horse and had to bite my lip to stop the tears.
Retreating from everyone I rode out just after breakfast, headed to that spot that was ours where I’d often followed him to talk, under the shade of several tall poplar trees by the fast running stream that beckoned to me with it’s cool depths.
Sitting there that summer morning I stared into the clear water and in my heart I saw the bluest eyes I’d ever seen reflecting the love that he’d had for me. How could I be so foolish as to let him go? How could I drive him away from me without a thought to what I would be losing? Slowly I let go and allowed the tears to fall, silent and plentiful as I cried for the lost chances, for the broken dreams and hopes that I’d crushed before they’d ever even been born. Sitting there I cried silently, uncaring of the tears leaving a silver trail down my face.
Late in the morning I rose and mounted the leggy black I’d taken to since joining the express and turned her west, away from the others, from the pain of his departure, away from my own anger at myself and the guilt that I carried.
Kicking her into a gallop I raced over the hard ground, trying to outrun my sorrow, my heartbreak only to find that it shadowed me like the warm sun that beat down on us. Finally stopping when my horse stumbled I dismounted and made camp under a rocky ledge where I sat silently, sullenly staring into the flames as I tried to think of where he might have gone, what I could say that would bring him back to me, and knowing that I couldn’t do that. I had made his decision for him that warm spring day in the barn when I turned away from his marriage proposal, from the future he offered without expectations, without the boundaries that I knew would be imposed upon a woman in a man’s world.
Staring into the flames that night I wished suddenly that I could curl up into a little ball and die, that my nightmare of his leaving would disappear with the coming of the dawn and yet I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t. Falling into an uneasy sleep I dreamt of the first time we made love, the laughter, the support he’d offered, his kind and caring attitude that he’d carried for me from the first moment that we’d been together.
With dawn’s early glow I woke and mounted up before heading for Missouri, if I knew anything it was that he’d more than likely gone home to Virginia, but something called me toward Missouri, toward the orphanage I’d run from, in the first of many steps to where I stood now. Sitting on Lightening I stared out over the ground and closed my eyes against the fresh wave of pain that rolled over my body, tightening the grip on my reins I tried to still the quaking in my fingers until my horse nickered in protest.
“Easy.” The soft sound drew a shudder from me as I urged my tired mount forward. Stopping to make camp I glanced around as something told me I wasn’t alone and noticed a familiar looking pony coming toward me with an even more familiar rider. Shaking my head at his foolishness I waited for him to come to me. That evening I learned more about the man that I’d lived with, fought with than I’d ever thought possible, but it didn’t ease the ache in my chest, nor did it erase the desperate need I had to feel another man’s touch, see the look in the blue eyes that I longed to have looking at me over the campfire.
With dawn’s arrival I’d ridden out alone again, leaving my friend behind. I felt no guilt over it, no loss at the turning away from him, after all how could I feel anything when my heart was gone. It had taken a week to get to Saint Joe where I’d collected my brother and sister and we’d moved to Arizona, my heart aching with each mile that I put behind us.
The only blessing that I received when we arrived here at the end of our journey was the discovery of the babe I carried beneath my heart. My son was born seven months later, his eyes a crystal blue, his hair a curly mass atop his head. Watching him grow I had to smile, he was his father’s son, bullheaded, stubborn, always wanting to do things his way. Over the years watching him grow into the man I knew he’d become I fell in love with his father all over again, reminded of the idealistic young man who’d in many ways been older and yet so much more innocent than the rest of us.
From time to time I’d receive a letter from one of the others and it would darken my days for a while until I could bring myself to write back until I just stopped answering the letters after I received word that he’d been killed during a storm on the ranch he’d founded. Sending a wire to the ranch’s foreman I sent Jeremiah to Virginia to retrieve Katy, and the three foals she’d had after the war, then I built a legacy based on that single moment in my life that marked my becoming a woman, that night at Redfern, when I had made the choice to allow my heart to make my decisions for me.
I gave my son Katy’s newest foal to raise and watched him train her to be a beautiful mount, willing and eager to do whatever it took to get the job done. Now as I sit here staring at this tintype I feel my heart breaking all over again, the old pain returning with the force of a .45 slug, dragging me into the years of lonely nights, crying myself to sleep to dream instead of the joy that I’d experienced in his arms.
Hearing hoof beats I rise to walk to the window and stare out into the gathering darkness, the familiar spotted horse and rider so like his father that I am reminder of happier days, of times of love, laughter, joy, and youthful indulgence. Once again in my mind I am back watching him ride up, lost in the memories of our love from so many years before, I am home, with the feelings of his strong arms wrapped around me and his warm breath on my face.
Closing my eyes I savor the warmth and love that for so many years has filled my dreams at night and feel the joy of being with him again. Feeling someone behind me I turn and for the first time in many years I am looking into the familiar face of the only man I’ve loved, the only man whom I’ve ever given myself to and see only love, acceptance and the forgiveness that I’ve longed to have since that summer day so many years ago. Breathing his name I move into his arms and let the tears come, flowing in silver trails down my cheeks as he pulls me close to him and I breath in the unique scent that is his.
Standing in my memories, in my deepest dreams I sigh, and finally accept the truth, except that he didn’t walk way from me, anymore than I walked away from him. In truth we both walked away from our love rather than hurt each other any more than we already had.