Topic #40: Phrase - "Take Me Home"
|Take Me Home by: Nina
||Take Me Home by: Jessica Sams
|Moving On by: Cindy
||The List by: Lori
|And So it Goes by: Raye
||Take Me Home... tonight by: Raye
|The Pull by: Debbie
||Fight Bite by: Jo
|Home Now by: Dede
Forgot my woman, lost my friends
Things I’d done and where I’ve been
Sleep in sweat the mirrors cold
See my face it’s growin’ old
Scared to death no reason why
Do whatever to get me by
Think about the things I’ve said
Read the page it’s cold and dead
Take me home
(Written by Jerry Cantrell and performed by Alice in Chains)
The room was silent, except from heavy breathing and thrashing about of the sleeping man. His nightmare was back and it refused to leave.
He ran towards them as fast as his short legs allowed him, trying to break it up, but there wasn’t a thing a four year old could do. Pa was beating on Ma and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Pa just pushed him out the way like a child’s broken toy. At this point in the dream, he usually woke up screaming at the top of his lungs. Usually...
His dream continued with him running away at age 17. He just couldn’t take it no more. The heavy weight on his shoulders. He took the oddest of odd jobs and getting mixed up with bad company.
The Pony Express. The smiling faces of long lost friends flashed before his eyes; Lou, The Kid, Buck, Ike, Cody, Teaspoon and the others. The fights in the bunkhouse. Playing poker with matchsticks. Growing up. Being friends. Laughing.
Awake. Drenched in sweat. Weeping silent tears.
“God... If you’re up there... Take me home... Please...”
There was nothing left. Well, not nothing. There was the too-sweet smell of dead flesh, and the memories. He couldn’t understand. Why had those men attacked his home? Why could they not leave well enough alone? Had he done something? No, he couldn’t have. He couldn’t even speak. He couldn’t save his mother with a warning cry, nor shout for his father to look. He hadn’t spoken for weeks, not since the scarlet fever had taken his voice, but none of the people who had arrived earlier had seen him since then. They seemed to think the shock had taken his voice. What a ridiculous idea. If he had been capable of talking, he would have warned his parents about the men, not stood silently as his entire world was taken.
It didn’t matter now. They were taking him away. They said the sisters at the mission school would give him a new home. Didn’t they understand he had a home? It was here. Even if his family was gone, their memories lived here. He could see their faces best here. No matter, he couldn’t tell them that, and they didn’t understand that he wanted something to write with. He might only be eight, but he could write very well. Weeks of silence had greatly accelerated his desire to learn.
At the mission, he had trouble with the other children. The boys chased him and threw stones, while the girls laughed in the background. Girls. The only good one had been his sister, and she wasn’t there anymore.
He learned to scare the other children away. At least they didn’t chase him when they thought he might hurt them. He made horrible faces, and once he actually bit a piece of leather and spit the chunks at them.
One boy though, he didn’t throw things. That boy never laughed or chased or harassed him. Actually, the other children tried to do those things to this new boy, but soon learned this was not as easily done as they might have thought. None of the other children could catch this strange boy off guard, and he was too fast to chase. He ran like a wolf; a smooth and effortless motion. He never wasted energy. Ike thought this fascinating and wished to learn how to run like that, but didn’t know how to ask. He couldn’t talk, and the sisters thought he was too stupid to write or he would have been in class long ago. He had nothing to do it on except the dirt.
There was a monthly trip to town for the children. Ike didn’t usually go, but he wanted to stretch his legs. Perhaps he would try to run like the strange boy did.
After about an hour in town, he decided to go behind the buildings to the prairie for a run, but he heard scuffling behind him. Some older boys fast enough to catch him had grabbed the boy by his collar and were beating him on the ground. There were five of them, and Ike didn’t know if the boy could hold out much longer. His decision was made. He ran back to the center of town, and barreled into the young man restraining the strange boy. It was over in only a few minutes when the nuns came running, but each of the smaller boys had regained something precious; Dignity.
Several days later, the two boys were allowed to sit up in bed. Ike discovered that the strange boy was not so strange at all. He was called Running Buck, and the sisters didn’t know what to do with him either. His English was rudimentary, but to Ike’s delight Running Buck had an excellent grasp of sigh language. Each managed to learn to communicate with the other by the time they were healed up, and a brotherhood had been born. Ike started attending classes, and Running Buck, or as the sisters insisted, Buck, was beginning to confide in his new brother. If either had known a home since losing the only people who cared about them, it was now.
The mission was generally a dismal place, but as long as they had a home in each other it did not become a diabolical place. They had names for each of the other children that would have turned the sisters hair white and made it fall out if they had known, but they never did. Sign was their weapon, and they used it. Ike used Buck’s full name that only his family knew, Little Running Medicine-Buck, and Buck called Ike Brother That Fights Valiantly when they conversed silently in class. They had names along the lines of Stinks Like Old Fish, and Face Of A Cow’s Tail for the people they didn’t care for, and much nastier ones for the crueler of the nuns and bullies. It was fortunate that no one ever found out what they were saying, or even that they were saying anything. They would have been whipped three times a day or more for some of those names.
Time marched on, and life at the mission school was very much the same from day to day, except that addition turned into multiplication, and reading turned into writing. But eventually, the pair had worked through all of the readers available, and were old enough to be thrust out of the mission-rather forcefully-and shown the work they could do. Unfortunately, neither Ike nor Buck was a highly desired employee, and it took them nearly a year to secure good horses and guns. They managed to keep themselves alive, but were desperately in need of steady work.
Standing in that lineup was about the most nerve-wracking thing either had ever done. If they could pull off this test, they would be earning twenty-five dollars a week. That was enough to start them out in life. If they saved even half of what they made, they would be rich enough to start a ranch or invest in something in only a year or two. If they could pass the test.
They did. They were part of a team, and it looked to be a good team. After a week of running around doing whatever Teaspoon said, they were deemed ready to face the world, and they both felt accepted, even if they were not understood. It was certainly nice to finally come home.
Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters, I just do this for fun. I don’t make any money off of these stories, please don’t sue me.
A/N: This follows the episode “Survivors.”
Buck hung the last of the harnesses over the rack, put the tools into the chest, and then left the barn, latching the door behind him. He stopped at the pump to wash up, tossing his dusty shirt off to one side as he splashed the cold water over his arms and chest. Finally, feeling somewhat cleaner, he picked the shirt up and headed for the bunkhouse.
Once inside, he tossed the shirt into the laundry bin and went to his trunk for a fresh one. With the shirt buttoned and his vest on, he grabbed his hat and headed for the door again.
Even back out in the yard, everything was still quiet. Rachel was still at the school, and teaspoon was most likely in his office – quite possibly taking advantage of the lazy afternoon to sneak in a nap. Jimmy was off on a special run, Lou was on the regular mail run, Kid and Cody were picking up some supplies from a neighboring town, and Noah had gone to the Perkins place to help fix a roof. So he had the station to himself, and his chores were done.
He headed toward town, carefully skirting the marshal’s office. Right now he had other things on his mind, and didn’t want to risk being cajoled into taking Teaspoon’s rounds, or playing checkers . . . or doing anything other than what he was planning to do now.
He hurried forward to cross in front of a wagon, putting the vehicle between him and the marshal’s office. A few more doors along and he reached his destination. He opened the door and went inside.
Adam Dillard looked up from the paperwork on his desk and smiled at his visitor. “Buck, good to see you.”
“Doc,” Buck greeted.
Dillard took his glasses off and set them on the desk. He rubbed at his nose as he gestured to a back room. “I’m sure someone will be happy you’re here.”
“How is she?”
“Doing real well – getting her strength back just fine. And that baby is doing all right too. You did a real good job.”
“I was pretty scared,” Buck admitted. Scared that he’d do something wrong, scared there would be a problem with the birth, scared that he’d drop the baby . . .
“Sometimes I am too,” Dillard replied. “All we can do is our best.” He smiled again and pointed down the hall. “Anyway, go on back.”
Buck nodded and headed away, past the staircase and down the hall to a room at the back of the doctor’s office. He knocked, then opened the door after hearing a response from within.
Walking in, he stopped just inside the door and smiled. She was sitting in the rocking chair, a sleeping infant held carefully in her arms. “Hello, Anna.”
Anna Granger returned the smile. “Hello, Buck. I’m so glad you came!”
“Me too.” As if he’d missed an opportunity to see them since he’d brought Anna and baby Thomas Ike to Rock Creek two days earlier. “The doctor says you’re both doing real well,” he offered as he walked farther into the room.
“I’m feeling so much better,” she agreed. “And I swear Thomas is bigger already.”
Buck sat down on the edge of the bed near the chair and just watched the baby for a moment. The infant was sleeping peacefully, a look of total contentment on his little face. “I think he is bigger,” he said. Or maybe the baby just looked bigger now that Buck wasn’t worried about trying to catch a slippery, squirming bundle.
“Would you like to hold him?” Anna asked, holding out her arms.
Buck reached out automatically, pulling the baby gently to his chest. It was hard to believe he’d been so afraid of the infant just days before. His smile widened as the infant snuggled up tight.
“He likes you,” Anna observed.
“He’s not old enough for people to have taught him to hate,” Buck answered sadly.
“Thomas will never hate you!” Anna replied. “I’ll never hate you, Buck.”
He looked up at her and tried to smile again. “I’m sorry. Just too much experience.”
She reached over and touched his arm. “I know.” There was silence then, but before it could get too awkward, Anna grinned. “I’ll bet I’m the only woman who’s held you at gunpoint!”
“Yeah, with an empty gun even,” Buck complained, but his smile was back. Now if he just hadn’t made the mistake of mentioning that little fact to Cody . . .
“Well, you didn’t know that at the time,” Anna pointed out. She adjusted the blanket Thomas was wrapped in as the baby stirred, but then he settled back against Buck’s chest.
“I would have helped you anyway,” Buck said.
“I know that now. I was just so scared . . .”
“I know.” Buck eased one hand free and reached for her hand. “It’s all right.”
“You were so kind – and people here in Rock Creek have been so good to us! Your friends have brought things for me and Thomas, and Doctor Dillard didn’t have to let us stay here.”
“Since you’re doing so well, you’re welcome to come and stay with Rachel. She said she’d be glad to have the company – until you decide what you want to do.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful. She’s such a nice woman.”
“She is,” Buck agreed.
Anna hesitated, knowing she wanted to ask him something – but not quite sure how to do it. “Buck, you’ve done so much for us,” she started. “But I do have another favor to ask.”
“What can I do?”
“I want to go home – and I was hoping you’d take me. I can’t do it alone, with Thomas.”
“Back to Pennsylvania?” The idea of traveling that far east made him more than a little nervous.
Anna shook her head slowly. “No, we sold everything back there,” she said. “There’s nothing to go back to.”
“Then you’re going on, farther west?”
“The land Thomas and I bought out by Scotts Bluff is the only home I have now.”
“Your sister in law is there, isn’t she?”
Anna nodded. “And Loretta doesn’t even know that Michael was . . . that he’s not . . .” Her voice trailed off and she struggled against tears as she thought about the brother she’d just lost.
Buck struggled with the silence, but he really didn’t know what to say. He’d never known either of the men who had died – he’d just buried them. But he did know what the pain of losing someone special felt like. And Anna had helped him come to terms with Ike’s death, so he tried to find the right words. “You said it was a beautiful place, and good land.”
Anna wiped her eyes and took a deep breath before trying to answer. “That’s what Thomas and Michael said when they bought it. And Loretta’s said the same thing in letters since she got there last fall.” Tears welled up again. “If only Thomas and I had gone with them then . . .”
“You can’t change that,” Buck said gently. “They did what they thought was best, because both your husband and your brother loved you.” He took her hand again. “Remember what you told me about Ike? That since he loved Emily, he couldn’t have done anything else besides what he did.”
“That doesn’t bring them back.”
“No, but it does make it easier to remember their love.”
Anna pulled her hand away and got up, going over to the small chest of drawers. She lifted the pitcher and poured some water into the basin, then splashed water over her face. When she reached for the towel, she did allow herself a few extra moments of hiding behind it, but then she dropped the towel and went back to the chair. “How’d you get so smart?” she asked, a small smile touching her lips again.
“Someone pretty smart just recently helped me understand,” Buck replied. “When would you be thinking about leaving?”
“Doctor Dillard said I should wait at least two weeks.”
“All right. I’ll talk to Teaspoon and see if I can work something out to get the time off.”
“Buck, you know those men took all our money, everything of value. But I would pay you. I’ll send money as soon as I can . . .”
“I’m not worried about that,” he said quickly.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Buck stood up and placed Thomas Ike carefully back into Anna’s arms. “Rachel really does want you to come and stay,” he said. “So just let me know when you’re ready to move.”
“I will. I’ll talk to the doctor.”
“And I’ll talk to Teaspoon. We’ll figure something out.”
“Thank you, Buck – for everything.” She stood up and leaned forward, gently kissing his cheek.
“No, I should be thanking you,” he replied softly. Losing Ike still hurt – and probably always would – but at least Anna had helped him to get past the worst of the pain. If he could return the favor and do the same for her, so much the better.
He retraced his steps past the staircase toward the outer office. He could see Dillard in the examining room off to one side with a patient, so he just kept on walking.
Outside, the sun was shining brightly as he closed the door and put his hat on. This time he headed right for the marshal’s office, purpose in his step. It wouldn’t necessarily be easy to cover for his absence during the time he’d need to be gone – but it wasn’t like they hadn’t all covered for each other before. And everyone liked Anna – and Thomas Ike – so he was pretty sure Teaspoon would find a way.
He’d take Anna to her home, so she could start to build her new life. And maybe along the way he’d have time to think about what he’d do after the Pony Express ended – and end that threatened to come all too soon.
Even after their respective losses, they’d both be moving on with their lives.
A/N: Inspired by the Toby Keith song…it was just too good to pass up.
He looked up absently from his newspaper as he held his coffee cup in one hand and glanced at his wife before redirecting his gaze back to the newsprint in front of him. “Hmmm?”
“I was thinking about later today.”
“Later today?” he questioned absently, lingering over the news out of Washington and the various proposals for the territories before turning his attention to the section on wanted criminals.
“Yes,” she confirmed. “After you and Al go fishing today. I was thinking that he could go to his friend Martin’s house for a little while and the two of us could go for a ride.”
“Hmmm,” he replied again. “A ride…sure, I suppose.”
“Really?” she sounded a bit surprised. “Then maybe we could even have a picnic. I could talk to Alice. I’m sure that she wouldn’t mind if Al stayed to supper with them.”
He folded his paper and set it aside, then finished his coffee. As he stood and reached for his gunbelt by the door, he turned back to his wife. “I think I’ll be late today. I need to go over some wanted posters with Clarence and I’ve been meaning to write the marshals of Black Gulch and Canyon Creek about some of the Dancy Gang that may be in the area. Plus, I gave Frank the afternoon off so I’ll be covering his shift. Don’t worry about holding dinner for me if I’m not back, I’ll just send over to the hotel for something.”
As he picked up his hat off the peg, he caught a glimpse of his wife sitting down suddenly in her chair and he looked over. He was a little concerned when he noticed how pale she had suddenly gone and the corners of his mouth tipped down as he turned away from the door. “Meg?”
She looked up at him, her eyes suspiciously bright with tears she was trying not to let fall. “You didn’t even hear what I said earlier, did you?”
“What’d you say?” he asked.
She closed her eyes and let out a sigh. “Never mind, Jimmy. It was nothing important.”
“You sure?” he asked, merely out of formality and habit. In his mind he already had one foot out the door and was thinking about all the things he needed to get done today at the office.
“Yeah,” she whispered. “Just go to work.”
Nodding at her words, he opened the door and stepped outside, putting on his hat. When he closed the door behind him, he paused, thinking for a moment Meg had called out to him. But when he heard nothing again, shook it off and started towards the office.
It was beastly hot indoors, so Jimmy was sitting outside on the bench in front of his office where a breeze was kind enough to oblige him and cool him down. He needed to get back in and finish those letters to the marshals so they could go out in the morning’s mail, but the inside of his office was hotter than an oven and he was indulging himself at the moment. The sound of a boy’s laughter drifted down the street and he looked up because he knew that sound anywhere. Al was skipping down the road from their house holding onto two fishing poles and a small box and Jimmy smiled to himself, thinking that he must be getting together with his friend Martin to go do a little fishing.
Instead, he was surprised when saw Meg walking slowly behind the boy, dressed in an old dress she laughingly called her fishing dress. His smile deepened, thinking he could talk to his family a few moments as they passed by his office before turning down the path towards the pond. However, his smile turned into confusion when Meg suddenly glanced up and after quickly looking away from him, she grabbed Al’s shoulder and turned him between the bank and the dressmaker’s shop. Al’s gaze darted down the road in his direction, and then as if realizing something, he quickly averted his eyes and doubled his steps to take him out of sight.
With his eyes knit in confusion, Jimmy stood and watched the road. Then, he turned and walked down the side of his office and waited out of sight near the corner of the building. He could hear footsteps, two distinct sets, and knew his family was approaching. He didn’t understand why they would avoid him if they were heading out for a day of fishing and yet, he wasn’t above eavesdropping to find out.
“Ma?” Al asked. “Don’t you think we shoulda said something to Pa?”
“No,” Meg replied, surprising Jimmy with her decisive tone. “Your pa’s busy today, Al, and we shouldn’t waste his time.”
“You’re mad at him,” Al correctly interpreted. “Why?”
“Never mind what I think about your pa. Let’s just head down to the pond.”
One set of footsteps stopped and the other set quickly joined. “He forgot, didn’t he?”
Jimmy edged closer to the corner and removed his hat before carefully looking around the building. His wife was standing facing their son whose shoulders were slumped. “Al, he didn’t mean to forget,” Meg said softly. “He’s just a busy man.”
“No, he’s not. He just doesn’t care about us.” Al straightened his shoulders angrily and kicked a stone in the dirt. “Stop making excuses for him, Ma. He doesn’t care about us, all he cares about is his job. He wants to catch criminals and prove that Wild Bill is an honest man.”
“Aloyicious Hickok,” Meg scolded. “Your father is a very important man. Being a marshal, especially a marshal of this town, isn’t an easy job. He takes pride in his work because he wants to honor the man who helped him out and helped him realize he could be more than a hired gun or Wild Bill. You know how I feel about that name; I don’t ever want to hear you use it again.”
“I’m sorry, Ma,” their son said contritely. “I know that Pa is a hard working man, but you never denied what I said. He doesn’t care about us, does he? That’s why he always forgets when he promises he’ll do something with me…or with you.”
Meg looked away and Al pressed on. “I’m not going to Martin’s today, am I? ‘Cause Pa forgot that he promised he’d take the afternoon off and spend it with you.”
“You’re still going to Martin’s today,” his wife smiled sadly. “You two have been looking forward to playing together today and I know you worked extra hard yesterday and this morning so that you could have your chores done on time. You deserve to spend some time with your friend.”
“And you deserve to spend some time with Pa,” their son said hotly and Jimmy saw the pain dance across Meg’s face. “I don’t know why you listen to him anymore when he says these things. He always promises that we’ll do things together, but we never do. He’s a liar.”
“You will not say that about your father,” she said sternly grabbing the boy’s shoulder. “That’s enough, Al. If you keep this up we will not go fishing and you will not see Martin today. And if I hear you say one more thing about your father that isn’t respectful I will wash your mouth out with soap.”
“I’m sorry, Ma. I…I’ll be good. I’d like to go fishing today.”
“I know,” Meg smiled sadly. “So let’s just forget about everything else and go have an enjoyable time together. What do you say?”
Al nodded solemnly. “Alright.”
He started off again and Meg followed behind him. When they were out of sight, Jimmy sat down unceremoniously on the wooden planks, his hands askew as his arms rested on his knees. Pain shot through him as if he’d been shot, and he found it hard to draw in a breath from the ghost sensation that he’d been punched in the stomach.
He’d just found out that he was a failure as a father and a husband and the knowledge was unbearable. His son was disappointed in him. Hurt and angry, he thought Jimmy was a liar. And his wife…he saw she felt the same way, yet she was loyal to Jimmy and defended him to their son. A defense he was completely unworthy of given the magnitude in which he’d let her down.
As he sat there, his mind turned back on itself and recalled that morning at the table. She had been talking to him about Al and Martin…and a ride later in the day. And he hadn’t even heard or paid attention. And when she realized that he once again had broken a promise to her and their son, she didn’t even call him on it. She merely swallowed her pride and pain as best she could and let him walk out the door without saying a word; not that he’d noticed it anyway he realized as he remembered her pale face and the tears that had collected in her eyes. He’d hurt her, and she was too used to the pain to even say a word about it. What kind of man did that make him?
Standing slowly, Jimmy turned and headed back inside his office. It was still hot, but he didn’t pay attention to it as he sat down limply in his chair and stared unseeingly at the wall in front of him. His wife and child, the two most important people in his life had been hurt and disappointed by his actions. When had that happened? When had he become so obsessed with his job that he stopped spending time with them? How could he fix it?
That was the point he pondered over and over. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to fix it. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to regain the trust and love of his family.
As he reached for his writing supplies intending to write the marshal of Black Gulch, he wished instead that Teaspoon was alive so that Jimmy could ask for his advice. But instead, he merely wrote concerning business.
He put aside his paper that he had scarcely just picked up and looked up at his wife. “Yes, Meg?”
“I received a letter from Emma the other day,” she said quietly.
“Oh? How are she and Sam doing?” he asked. “And the twins?”
“They’re fine,” she told him, her eyebrows drawn down a bit as he hadn’t taken his gaze off her and returned it to the newspaper like he was certain she was expecting. “They invited us to come visit them next month. I know you’ll probably be busy and unable to go, but I was thinking that maybe Al and I could visit them.”
She glanced down at her plate and he lowered his own eyes. She was already prepared to make excuses for him, didn’t even expect him to make an effort to try to join them. Once again, he was struck by how badly he’d hurt her. It would be easy to accept her ready-made excuse and agree with her, but he refused to do so. Looking back up, he leaned back in his chair. “Next month?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
“Before you write back to Emma, let me talk to my deputies today. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Sam and Emma, and…” And far too long since I’ve spent time with you and Al, he wanted to say, but he didn’t. “And it’s been too long since we’ve gotten away from here.”
“You want to go?” she asked in surprise.
“I do,” he nodded, trying to hide his own hurt at her disbelief.
“Alright,” Meg said slowly. “I’ll wait to write back to Emma until I hear from you.”
The boy popped out of the barn when he heard his father’s voice and looked around nervously. “Pa? Is…is there something the matter? Did…did I do something wrong?”
Pain shot through Jimmy at the words and he shook his head, not trusting his voice at the moment. When he could he speak he smiled and said, “Should I ask your ma if you did something wrong?”
“Good,” he smiled again. “Then let’s go surprise your ma by taking her to lunch. What do you say? And then I told Frank that I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off. Thought I’d head down to the pond. Would you care to join me?”
“I have chores, Sir.”
“I think just this once we can make an exception. What do you say? You go get washed up, and I’ll go find your mother.”
Meg came inside and set her shopping basket down on the table and looked around as she took off her hat. “Al?”
“He’s over at Martin’s this afternoon,” Jimmy said as he entered through the backdoor.
“I thought you two were going to work on the chicken coop today.”
“We finished it up,” he shrugged. “And then Martin came by to ask if Al could go help work on a tree house and I told him he could go.”
“Oh,” she replied as she began unpacking the supplies. “Are you heading back to the office then?”
“No,” he shook his head, and she looked up in surprise. He placed his hand over hers and caused her to set the can she was holding on the table. “Leave it.”
“I need to put these things away,” she shook her head. “And then I need to figure out supper.”
“Al’s eating at Martin’s tonight. In fact, he’s spending the night.” He took her hand and pulled her after him. “It’s just you and me tonight, Mrs. Hickok.”
“Just us?” Meg questioned.
“Just us,” he smiled. “What shall we do with all this time?”
“Are you ready, Pa?”
Jimmy looked up and laughed as Al danced out of his bedroom towards the table. “Al,” he said in mock seriousness. “The train doesn’t leave for another four hours. There’s no reason to leave the house just quite yet.”
“But it’s my first train ride, Pa.”
“I know,” he ruffled his son’s hair. “Why don’t you go see if your mother needs anything.”
“I already asked her,” he pouted. “She said she was fine and to go see you.”
“Then why don’t you head over to Martin’s for a little bit?” Jimmy chuckled. “Be sure you’re home in plenty of time.”
“Alright,” the boy sighed. “You better tell Ma to get up so that she’s not late.”
He called out the last remark over his shoulder as he ran out the door and Jimmy looked up with a frown. He stood from the table and headed towards their room. She had been up and starting to get dressed when he left to begin breakfast. He figured she had just gotten delayed packing up some things. Pushing open the door, he was surprised to see her laying back down on their bed with the summer quilt pulled over her. “Meg?”
“Are you alright?” he asked. “Al said you were still in bed. I thought you were up already?”
“I lay back down,” she said through a smile. “I was tired. After all, you did keep me up rather late last night, Mr. Hickok.”
He laughed along with her. “I was worried you might be ill. We can delay this trip if we need to. I’m sure Sam and Emma will understand.”
“I’m fine,” she assured him. “I’m not ill. I’m merely tired. Besides, there’s no way I’m missing our first trip as a family in five years. You’re liable to run off with a posse if we don’t leave today as planned.”
She smiled with a twinkle in her eye as she said this and he was struck by how much had changed in a month. Meg was teasing him, knowing he wouldn’t leave. She and Al no longer doubted that they would be leaving on this trip as planned; just as they no longer doubted the times he would come home to do something with them. He loved them, and they knew it. His family no longer looked at him with hurt and animosity, but with love and admiration.
“Too true,” he teased her. “Perhaps Al had the right idea. We should head to the train depot right now so that I came make sure the two of you don’t change your minds and take off without me.”
“Never,” she cried out. Even though she was laughing, he detected the serious undertone in her words.
“Alright,” he smiled. “You better get up and get dressed, and then run around madly packing up everything you’ve forgotten to pack already. I’ll try and make sure you eat while you do that.”
Meg laughed again. “Go. I’ll be out in just a moment. And I’ll have you know that I didn’t forget anything.”
His glance told her he didn’t really believe her and she huffed as she swung at him with her pillow. Then he quickly kissed her and left the room before either of them decided to follow the previous night’s behavior. When Meg emerged from their room a short time later, he stood and folded the paper he was holding. The well worn creases yielded easily under his hands, and he tucked it away in his pocket where it had resided from the day he’d written it.
That day in his office as he’d tried to figure out how he could regain his life and his family, he’d sat there at a loss until suddenly it came to him. Almost as if he could hear Teaspoon’s voice, the answers came. The way to repair the hurt his family felt and show them that he truly did love them. It was so simple that at first he doubted it could work, but it had. He had his family back. And he kept the list in his pocket so he could be reminded every day of how to keep them.
The Preacher droned on and on, oblivious to the fact that not a single person paid any attention at all. They sat together, huddled on the wooden pews as if the room were an ice house and each breath a puff of frost. No one stumbling into the little chapel would be able to convince themselves that the weather was as sweltering as hellfire and the mourners’ tears were mixed with beads of sweat on their skin.
They sat, shrouded in their own thoughts, prisoners of long treasured memories. They each heard his voice, saw his smile, felt his arm heavy with compassion and love draped over their shoulders. It still wasn’t enough to give them solace. Memories would never be enough, not when they known the real thing.
He was a father, a brother, a friend, a mentor, a husband... a man of great integrity with a heart big enough to swallow the West. Truly they had all lost someone near and dear to their hearts... and the world had lost a true champion.
There would never be enough time to say good bye... never enough words to tell him what he meant to their lives.. never enough gold to repay him for all he had done. They bowed their heads and offered prayers in their stead.
“And so, we come here to remember our dearly departed and witness as angels walk amongst us, waiting to take him home.”
Jimmy pulled Polly into his arms and she wept against his shoulder, clinging to his coat as the preacher closed the lid of the casket.
Head down on the bar I couldn’t hear the laughter and the bawdy comments about me. Hell, it’s not like I didn’t deserve them.
I’d earned each and every one of them... and unless I died in my sleep, I’d earn them again.. and again. Funny how your life gets ahead of you. Your dreams leaving you in the dust, heaping stones over your good name, making a pile so high you had no hope of crawling out from underneath.
Yeah, I’d made my bed but I certainly hadn’t slept in it.
No, I hadn’t.
Who’d want to sleep in a cloud of nightmares, nameless bodies, groping hands, stale breath and dirty words. Who could find rest in a place where you gave up your soul.
So, until the next one shook me awake, I slept with my head on the bar, my bottom barely perched on the stool, inviting curious hands to feel their fill.
Where is my modesty, you ask? Modesty was an unnecessary underpinning that I had long since discarded. Saves you time when you have fewer things to take off before some sweating oaf climbs up on top of you and pretends to be a man.
Yes, that’s what I think of when I sleep.
It’s all I can hear through the noise of the bar and I try to brush away the hand that lands on my shoulder. “Awwww, come on,” I whine, “Give a girl a rest for a few, eh? I’m in no condition to make a man out of you tonight.”
He doesn’t take the hint and I take a swing at his middle.
I hear the rest laughing as he pulls me into his arms. I try to fight... try to get him to leave me be. He doesn’t listen and finally it’s the night air that brings me around. Stops my claws from scratching at his face.
Still, it’s his gentle touch on my cheek that brings tears to my eyes. “God,” I choke out, my voice softer than its been in years, “How can you touch me like that?”
“You deserve better than that, Lou. You deserve so much more.”
I can’t quite meet his eyes, barely find the courage to stroke his brocade cravat, finger the jeweled stick pin cushioned in the middle. “I don’t want to talk about that... not now. Just take me home.. tonight.”
This is a prequel to the quick fic ‘The Welcome Party’
The small group of people he had come to call family was assembled on the walkway outside the general store waiting for the stagecoach to arrive. It was a simple enough thing to do but the reason they were waiting was anything but simple, in fact it was heartbreaking. The stage was going to take him home.
Home. That one word used to bring back such pleasant memories: dogwood trees blooming, plantations on lush lawns, the Chesapeake Bay. He could go on and on. He wasn’t even sure if those things held the same meaning to him anymore. It didn’t matter, he’d made his decision and now he would have to live with it, alone.
He quickly glanced around at the people he’d grown to count on and to love. There were no more words to be said, no more tears to be cried, and no more arguments to be argued. There was only a dull ache in each of their stomach’s as once more one of their own was leaving town. As with Cody and Jimmy, it was voluntarily but the difference was the high price he had to pay.
Virginia was calling all of her sons home to fight for her. For so long, he had wrestled with the pull he felt from all those miles but he’d finally lost the battle inside him. He might not have had the best of childhood’s living there but growing up in that part of the country had made him who he was today, had instilled in him the values he carried with him each and every day. How could he ignore all that? It was simple – he looked to his right where the most precious person in the entire world to him was leaning against the porch post, arms wrapped tightly around her. She hadn’t met his eyes in over five minutes; that was five less minutes of memories he had to take with him.
Please, Lou, he silently pleaded. We’ve both said all we had to but you know I can’t change my mind. I need to do this. He reached out to touch her shoulder then pulled his hand back. They had said their good-byes to each other all last night so they wouldn’t have to do it in front of the others. He had made sure she was well taken care of before he had even announced his intention of going across the country. Teaspoon, Rachel and Buck were all nearby to keep her company and she would be working part time with Rachel at the school house to bring in extra money. She had what she’d saved from riding to live off of and he had made sure she had a place to call home. He’d bought, with the money he’d saved plus a loan from Teaspoon, a ranch just outside of town. When he got home from fighting he promised her they would start that horse ranch they always talked about owning.
When he got home … How could he come home when he was going home? Or was he leaving the real and only home he’d ever had to return to something he didn’t know anymore? As they all turned toward a noise coming from down the street, he realized the long lonely ride would afford him time to ponder on those and many other questions that kept surfacing in his mind.
He shook hands with then hugged Teaspoon and Buck, received a kiss from Rachel then turned toward the person he’d opened his heart and soul to. She didn’t let him down; with tears streaming down both their faces they confessed their love for one another as their arms held on to each other for dear life. His lips sore from kissing his love, he finally started moving toward the step of the coach then stopped as he felt the resistance placed on his arm. He had to go now or he never would. He pleaded with his family to take hold of her so he could leave.
Sitting in the seat, staring down at her small form huddled against the man who had been like a father to them, he thought back to the day he had left Virginia behind. It had been such a hard decision to make, to leave his home and try to make it somewhere else, but he had succeeded and was proud of that. Now he was leaving another home, a bigger home thanks to the people who were there to see him off.
The stagecoach lurched forward. He leaned out the window so as to see her for as long as he could. She had broken free of the hold Teaspoon had on her and was walking slowly after the coach. Finally she just stopped and stood still, fingers over her lips as if trying to stop her thoughts from becoming words.
Suddenly he couldn’t see her anymore but he still didn’t turn around in the seat. He wouldn’t until the whole town of Rock Creek was out of his sight. As his mind drifted from the life he had in Virginia to the life he had in Rock Creek, he wondered if he would have a home to return to. And the scary part of that was that he didn’t know if he meant returning to Virginia or returning to Rock Creek.
His fist hurt, two knuckles were bleeding. Buck’s words still rung in his ears, ‘Bein’ mean to little kids a new habit of yours; cos if it is it stinks!’ That had started the fight. Ok it was really one sided he’d hit Buck, hard enough to cut open his knuckles and knock Buck to the ground. Then he’d looked at Buck and seen the shock and surprise in his friend’s eyes, and something else. Hurt.
He’d been in a bad mood and his luck had just gotten worse. The beating, the fire, the saloon girl’s death, no one understood him. Now the little boy, everyone loved the kid. The child was wise beyond his years and he understood what Ike had endured as a child. What the boy said was true and it hurt, then Buck yelled at him. He hadn’t really meant to hit Buck. He was just there. He’d punched his best friend right in the mouth and cut his knuckles on Buck’s teeth. He’d seen blood on Buck’s face and didn’t know if it was Buck’s or his own.
The blood was bad enough but the look. Buck hadn’t expected Ike to hit him and he wasn’t an easy person to take by surprise. Buck had trusted Ike and he’d just betrayed that trust. The hurt in Buck’s eyes as he sat up in the dirt tore at Ike’s heart. He’d just destroyed the best thing in his life; Buck.
He’d run from the hurt and pain he’d caused; mounting the first horse he found and riding out without a backward glance. Buck had run after him and called for him to come back but he couldn’t face Buck again; maybe not ever. They’d all be better off without him.
When he finally slowed the horse he found himself in the meadow on the far outskirts of town. There was a small stream and he’d seen Buck try to scrub off the hurt from insults in its waters. Maybe that would help. It always seemed to help Buck. He striped down to his long johns and entered the water. It was cool and soothing; the slight current seemed to draw the tightness from his body. He finally began to relax and made his way to the shore to dry off. The cool grass made a comfortable bed and he closed his eyes.
“Can we talk about what’s eating you without you hitting me again?” Buck’s words startled Ike out of his trance like state.
*I’m sorry, Buck. Maybe it’s best if you just went home.* Ike didn’t even look Buck in the eye, he couldn’t.
“I’m not going anywhere until you and I talk. What is this all this about? Ike, look at me please?” Buck slowly came closer to his friend. “I’m not mad at you; surprised and a little hurt but not mad. Please talk to me.”
*I’m useless, that girl died because no one could understand me, the pony express can’t cross the land we want to and that’s just the start. I even pushed Sampson when he tried to nuzzle me.* Ike was close to tears and lost his fight to control them when he finally looked up at Buck. *I’m sorry Buck, just go away.*
“I can’t do that; I’m not goin’ anywhere until you and I talk. Ike you are not useless. We all need you, I need you….” Buck put his hand on Ike’s shoulder. “You’re my brother, if you go, I go. Come on Ike, what’s the real problem?”
*I’m sorry I hit you, did I hurt you?*
“Well, you sure surprised me, what happened to your hand?” Buck asked noticing the cuts on Ike’s knuckles.
*I think I did that on your teeth, your lips are swollen* Ike smiled a bit at the lopsided grin Buck gave him as he touched his sore mouth.
“Hmmm, well they’re all still in my head so don’t try it again….” Buck grinned at Ike to show all his teeth were indeed in place.
Once Ike started he didn’t stop. He told Buck all the things that had gone on and all the little things that had bothered him. The two talked about everything and nothing. Before they knew it the sun was set and the evening brought a chill to the air.
“Let’s go home, Ike. I’m not planning on sleeping outside tonight. Hey, where’s your horse?” Buck asked seeing only his horse.
*Oh Great! Now I’ve gone and lost the horse… Teaspoon’s gonna kill me.*
“Come on Ike it’s late, I don’t know about you but I’m hungry. Maybe the horse was hungry and decided to go home for dinner!” Buck teased Ike as he mounted his horse and extended a hand to his friend.
*Ok Buck, Take me home….* Ike smiled and hopped up behind Buck.
He watched the other children play from the safety of his secret spot under the front porch.
He had needed a refuge from all the abuse and, as luck had it, found this place a few days ago. It was safe and since he hadn't thought anybody would ever bother looking there, he hid while everyone else played. Unfortunately, because he hadn't reported to her class after the bell rang, Sister Mary Stephan had worried and came looking for him.
It scared him that she was able to find him so quickly. She must have seen his fear because she explained that, when she was a little girl, she used to hide under the porch at home. Smiling, she assured him that he was fine but he still needed to report to her class so she gave him a permanent excuse for each day to be a couple of minutes late after play. Ever since, he was always late but Sister Mary Stephan's was the only class he actually attended.
He thought it was strange that she had a boy's name but she was the only one that was nice so it really didn't matter to him. Besides, she wasn't the nun outside with them today, it was Sister Mary Francis and she was just as mean as the children, sometimes more so. She would look the other way when the other boys beat on him. But the worst was when she would tell him that he couldn't talk because Satan had his tongue and, since he couldn't confess his sins, he wouldn't go to Heaven.
He listened as everyone laughed and played. Normally, the chatter would make most people happy, but not him. It just reminded him why he was hiding in the first place. He heard Thomas' voice close by, causing him to shrink further from the sound. He wished he could go play with them but, if he came out, Thomas would just taunt him about his baldhead and tease him about not being able to talk. Then the bigger boys with Thomas would try to push him into the girls and start them screaming.
He sighed. He wished someone would come take him back home but that wasn't possible. That home was no more. It was better for him just to stay where he was. Like it or not, this was home now.
He watched the white children play from the safety of his secret spot in the tall prairie grass.
He had been observing them for many days now. Keeping his horse down by the small waterhole, he walked the few miles daily. His brother had taught him the importance of studying everything around you, preparing yourself for anything, good or bad. He had applied these lessons in the village and, would now, in this new place.
He wasn't sure he wanted to go to this school, unfortunately, there wasn't anywhere else that would take him. The blacksmith in the last town told him about the mission school and stressed that it would be the only place someone like him could go. The man had actually tried to be civil but that wasn't the normal response he'd received in his travel. White people seemed hostile in his presence, which confused him. He didn't understand the responses but, one thing was certain, it was something he was going to face more and more.
He continued watching as the children played. He knew if he considered this school, he would have to watch out for the dark-headed boy. Dark-head seemed to be the one that picked on everyone. He'd watched a few days back when Dark-head had ruthlessly taunted a smaller boy that had a smooth head. It had been painful to watch because he had experienced the same treatment in the village. He hadn't seen Smooth-head in a couple of days and assumed the boy had found haven.
He wasn't sure what he would do. Maybe he'd let a few more suns pass before making his decision. It was something that would affect the rest of his days and he wanted it to be right. He knew he needed to pray on it but what he really wanted was his brother here to tell him what to do.
He sighed. He wished his horse would just take him back home but that wasn't possible. That home was no more. It was better for him just to stay where he was. Like it or not, this was home now.