Topic #60: Old Enough To Know Better
Still Too Young by: Cindy
Consequences by: Debbie
Problems by: Debbie
Caught Red Handed by: Jo
Anything Less by: Debbie
The Maiden Flight of Joshua Hickok by: Dede
The Bet by: Lori
Payback by: Dee
The Birthday Gift by: Cathy

Still Too Young
by: Cindy

“Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooo . . .”

Teaspoon groaned as the sunlight hit his tightly-closed eyelids. He tried to deny the light, but the warmth on his skin was persistent, and he finally admitted he was awake.

Of course, awake and fully conscious were two very different things.

Eyes still clamped shut, he took inventory. First of all, his head ached, and there seemed to be a pounding sensation between his ears. Secondly, his whole body felt like it was mired in some kind of heavy, thick goo.

Slowly, he wiggled the fingers on his right hand, and then his left. He progressed to moving each hand, then his toes, and finally his legs.

He was just about ready to try opening his eyes when suddenly there was a racket at the door to the tack room that rattled his teeth. In his already-pounding head, it sounded like a hailstorm with thunder pounding against the door.

“Teaspoon! Teaspoon, you in there?”

Teaspoon started at the noise, tried to sit up quickly – and just as quickly fell back, groaning and fighting a wave of nausea. “What is it?” he managed to croak, thinking to himself that this had better be an emergency of the highest order or someone was going to die.

Actually, at the moment, he wasn’t sure but that he’d be the one dying – or maybe already had.

The door flew open, bringing with it more of the morning sun. Teaspoon groaned loudly and threw his arm over his eyes. “Shut it!” he ordered.

“Sorry. I, uh . . . You all right?”

Through the pounding in his head, Teaspoon recognized Sam Cain’s voice. “Sam, what in blue blazes is so all fired important you gotta wake a man so early?”

Sam Cain looked a little surprised. “Teaspoon, it’s two in the afternoon.”

There was silence from the man on the cot, and then he slowly pulled his arm away from his face and forced his eyes open.

That’s when Teaspoon finally registered the direction the sunlight was coming from. It really was afternoon.

Very cautiously he rolled one leg off the cot, then the other, and levered himself into a more-or-less sitting position. “Wanna tell me what’s goin’ on?”

“Teaspoon, you sure you’re all right?” Sam stepped in a little closer. “You don’t look so good.”

Teaspoon waved a hand, asking for quiet. “Could ya talk a little softer, Sam?” he pleaded.

Sam offered up a quick lopsided grin. “Buck said you was just ridin’ in about dawn. Close the saloon with that friend of yours?”

Teaspoon nodded, very carefully. “Gus Kimble. Me an’ him had a lot o’ catchin’ up to do.”

Sam’s smile disappeared. “Well, that’s kinda why I’m here.”

Something about the tone of the lawman’s voice broke through the fog in Teaspoon’s brain. “What’s goin’ on, Sam?”

Sam sighed. “Four men robbed the bank a couple of hours ago. Your friend Kimble tried to help stop them and, well . . . he got shot.”

Suddenly, Teaspoon felt very awake. “Shot?” Damn, just a few hours ago they’d been drinking whiskey and telling tales. “Dead?” he asked, afraid of the answer.

“No, not dead,” Sam replied. “It’s bad, but doc thinks he’ll make it.”

“Well, that’s somethin’ ain’t it,” Teaspoon said softly, relief in his voice.

“A couple o’ my deputies got shot too,” Sam continued. “Mac, he took a round in the leg. It ain’t bad, but he can’t ride. And Wally . . . well, doc ain’t sure he’s gonna make it.”

“Sorry, Sam.”

Sam just nodded in acknowledgement. “Well, leaves me kinda short. Came out here to tell you about Gus, and hopin’ I could get some help for the posse. Buck and Cody said they’d go.”

Teaspoon nodded and used the chair next to the bed to push himself to his feet. “I’m goin’ too.”

Sam looked a little skeptical about that. “Teaspoon, you sure? You really ain’t lookin’ very good.”

“Well, I ain’t dead,” Teaspoon answered, his voice now sounding a little stronger. “And I owe Gus more’n this.”

“If you’re sure, I’d be glad for the help.”

“Just give me a few minutes to clean up.”

Sam nodded and reached for the door. “I’ll have the boys get your horse ready.”

Teaspoon watched as Sam left the room, and then he reached out a hand to steady himself on the back of the chair. There was no way he was in any shape to go riding off on a posse.

And there was no way he was staying behind.

He turned to the wash basin, glad to find that Emma had had the water jug filled the night before, like usual. He filled the basin and splashed cold water over his face, neck, and shoulders, letting the chill shock help bring his senses awake. Then he pulled his wet undershirt off and replaced it with a dry one from his trunk, bending over very carefully as he retrieved it. The room still spun a little, but the knowledge that the men who shot Gus were out there waiting to be caught helped clear his head a bit.

When he finished dressing and walked out of the tack room, strapping on his gun, Buck was just leading his saddled horse out of the barn. Teaspoon met him near the corral and reached for the reins, but Buck didn’t let go right away.

“You sure you can do this?” Buck asked quietly. “You’re not looking so good, Teaspoon.”

The older man gently pulled the reins free. “If that was Ike got shot, would you let anythin’ short of bein’ dead stop you from going?”

Buck shook his head, a half-smile touching one corner of his mouth. “Guess not.”

“Well, me an’ Gus was that close once. I’m going.”

Buck just nodded and stepped aside, holding the horse steady as the older man struggled to mount.

When Teaspoon finally got settled in the saddle, he turned slowly to face Sam Cain. Cody was already mounted and Buck was mounting his horse now. In addition, Sam had Barnett and another deputy, whose name was lost in the fuzz of Teaspoon’s brain. “Well, we ready?”

Sam rode up close, studying the older man. “Teaspoon, you really sure about this? Looks to me like you’re ‘bout ready to fall right off.”

“You stay on your horse, Sam, an’ let me worry ‘bout stayin’ on mine.”

“Must be some good friend, huh?”

“Me an’ Gus go way back, an’ we been through a lot. Ain’t no way I’m gonna let them men get away with shootin’ him – ‘cause me an’ Gus got a lot more saloons to close together.”

Sam smiled. “Thought you might be old enough to know better,” he chided.

Teaspoon just grinned. “Might be old enough to know better,” he agreed with a wink, “but that don’t mean I ain’t still young enough to not care.”

Sam laughed for a moment and then turned back to the others. “All right, these men followed the road for a ways out of town. I’ll take you to where they turned off, and then we’ll let Buck track ‘em. Let’s go.”

Teaspoon watched as the others followed Sam out of the yard. He swallowed hard, fighting back a wave of nausea. Maybe he really should have known better . . .

But he was still too young to care – and with any luck, by the time they caught these robbers and got back, Gus would be ready for the next round of whiskey.

Teaspoon was almost sure it was the other man’s turn to pay, and he was gonna enjoy reminding Gus of that fact.

He urged his horse forward, picking up the pace to catch up with the others. He sat very carefully in the saddle, trying to keep his balance. Yup, with a little luck and a lot of willpower, he might just stay on the horse long enough . . .

Consequences
by: Debbie

Kid looked down at Lou’s sleeping form as she lay cuddled next to his body. He pulled the blanket up over her bare shoulder then couldn’t help but grin when she took hold of his hand along with the blanket and brought both tightly against her chest.

His grin vanished as he looked at where his hand now rested. It certainly wasn’t the first time it had been there and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last and that thought alone caused his brow to crease in concern.

He laid his sandy-haired head next to hers on her pillow as she pulled him closer to her body. Kid thought there was nothing greater in the world than these quiet moments between them but he sighed, knowing they shouldn’t even be happening. Ever since that magical night in Red Fern when they’d given their bodies to each other for the first time and finally announced they loved one another, it was one challenge after another to find the time to be together. It had been hard enough to just be able to share a kiss without anyone watching but to have the chance to do more than that was few and far between. Sneaking out of the bunkhouse in the middle of the night or spending an afternoon down at the pond were fine but it was times like this, when they got the chance to go on a ride together and share a room in a hotel instead of lying on a hard ground by a campfire, that made both of them feel like a real couple. And he didn’t want that feeling to end but not just for the pleasure he got out of it; it made Lou feel special, like a real lady, and Kid would do everything in his power to make her happy.

Then what he should do is put an end to times like this before it was too late. Oh, who was he fooling? He probably wouldn’t be able to stop if given the opportunity and did he want to? No, it was more than that. Kid wanted to love Lou and enjoy the way he felt, both physically and emotionally, as she gave her love to him but he wasn’t a kid anymore. The southerner chuckled at his play on words in relation to himself then quickly clamped his mouth shut when he felt Lou stir next to him. He glanced at her and seeing her still resting peacefully, he brushed his mouth against her hair as he turned onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.

To continue with his previous thought – he wasn’t a kid anymore. He may not be a full grown adult in most folks’ eyes but he thought he was grown up enough and so did Lou. And he did know what the consequences of their actions could produce. He didn’t feel he was grown up enough to want that in his life right now … definitely someday, with Lou, but not now. And it wouldn’t be fair to force Lou into that situation. Yet each time they were presented with the opportunity, he would give his customary protests but they always turned out to be just words as the two of them would give in to their passion and succumb to the need to share their bodies and souls with each other.

Maybe he would stop it right here and now. Maybe he would tell her he knew better than to pretend nothing was wrong with what they were doing. Maybe he would just hug and kiss her and stop there. Maybe … Kid felt like he was being watched and turning his head, found two passion filled brown eyes staring at him. Maybe he would tell his mind that he was old enough to know better but wasn’t old enough to just take things lying down and do the responsible thing. Yeah, that was what he would tell his mind, Kid decided, as he turned onto his side, pushed Lou onto her back and with a smile spreading across his face, moved his body on top of her petite frame.

Problems
by: Debbie

Rachel pulled her blouse over her head and threw it on the bed in disgust. She felt like burning the blasted thing. How could something so innocent on her part create such impure thoughts? She rolled her eyes at that question as the answer was staring her in the face … or staring everyone else in the face it seemed.

What an evening it had been! This was her first full day in her new job and she was trying to do everything right only everything had gone seriously wrong. All she’d done was dress like she was accustomed to dressing; she hadn’t given it a thought as her clothing was simple but clean. There was no other reason for her to be wearing what she was wearing in front of them other than it was how she dressed. It was certainly not in an attempt to advertise what the Good Lord had given her. Why would she do that when she’d cursed their very existence more times than she could count? The trouble she’d found herself in, in the past, was a fine example of that. She walked to the mirror in what was now going to be her bedroom and stood looking at her image as it stared back at her. The curly haired blonde frowned as she looked at the upper half of her body that was thinly covered by her camisole. What was she thinking?!

She’d been around men long enough to know better. That was the problem right there – these weren’t men but hormonal raging boys. And that was even worse! Men at least had the decency to ogle a woman and knew how to undress them with their eyes, all the while acting like they respected her … until they got her into bed that is. These boys were ready to paw at her like she was the bird she’d been serving them. One would think they’d never seen a woman before! Maybe they had and maybe they hadn’t but Rachel found herself pitying the poor soul that was to become the object of their desires. They’d probably be so flabbergasted they wouldn’t know which way was up!

Well that was their concern; she had to deal with her own. Rachel pulled the fabric up over her head then frowned down at the brunt of her problems. One side involved six young men and the other revolved around a young woman pretending to be something she wasn’t. She volleyed back and forth on the issues she’d been dealt this evening.

She wasn’t naïve for crying out loud! She’d been around men long enough in her life to know the reaction the sight of her body normally got from them. So why did she think it would be different now? Because she was different. Rachel wasn’t trying to gain their attention for her own private goals. She was just trying to begin a new chapter in her life. She wanted people to see her as just a person, not a piece of meat or someone to envy because she was able to show what someone else had to keep hidden. Size didn’t matter after all; it was the whole of the person that was most important. Well Rachel knew she was a good person so maybe with time those boys would see her as such and she was sure Louise was already on her way to being happy with what she’d been given.

Now she had to think of how to handle each one of them and make them respect her, all the while still staying true to herself. Pulling her nightgown over her head, Rachel resolved to be firm yet gentle and hopefully they would eventually forget she had what none of them would be able to get their hands on.

Caught Red Handed
by: Jo

Part of the Buck and Jane series, sometime during the second year of their marriage.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when Buck’s eyes fluttered open. He glanced to his right and saw the form of his sleeping wife curled around her favorite pillow. He rolled over and tenderly kissed her head while wrapping an arm around her swollen waist. Jane was six months pregnant with their first child together. They were already the parents of Ike and Emily’s son Little Ike who was two and a half and into everything. Buck closed his eyes and enjoyed the early morning sounds; the birds just waking up, Jane’s soft breathing, the gentle breeze rustling the leaves outside their window and “DAAADEEEEE!” Both adults were instantly awake.

“You rest I’ll go get him, I still want to know how someone that small can make that much noise.” Buck laughed as he rolled off the bed and headed toward his son’s room. Moments later he was back with Ike slung under his arm like a sack of grain; the child was giggling. “I don’t know where Ike is but I found this giggle monster in his bed” Buck half tossed, half placed his son on the bed beside Jane.

She pretended to look him over as if seeing him for the first time then tickled the little boy. He shrieked with laughter making both Buck and Jane laugh too. “I guess you’re right Buck, this isn’t Ike, it’s a giggle monster that looks like him.” Jane poked Ike in the tummy and the child curled into a little ball and laughed. They played together for awhile longer until the sun was sending golden rays into the room and calling to them that there were chores to be done. Buck got up first, dressed and left to take care of the animals before breakfast. Jane and Ike snuggled a bit longer then she headed downstairs to start the morning meal.

The morning passed by in the usual fashion, meals were cooked and eaten, dishes were cleaned, floors were swept, the animals were fed and watered, the barn was cleaned, and clothes were put in the wash bucket to soak. Buck came in from the barn for lunch and noticed how tired Jane looked. “Honey, I was thinkin’ the barn could use a new coat of paint and it’s the perfect day to get that started. Why don’t you rest a bit and Ike and me will start paintin’. Whatta ya think Ike? Wanna help Daddy?” Buck finished, ruffling the toddler’s hair.

Jane looked at him with something like fear in her eyes. “You’re going to have Ike help paint the barn? Buck, he’s two. He’ll make a mess.”

“Hmmm, I got an idea, wait here…..” Buck bolted from the kitchen and returned moments later with an old grain sack and a pair of scissors.

“I hope you didn’t run with those” Jane mumbled sarcastically as Buck cut the top off the sack and turned it over spilling the tiny bits of left over grain on the floor.

“I’ll sweep it up don’t worry, Come here Ike….” Buck held the sack up to the child and proceeded to cut a hole for his neck and two for the arms. When he was finished he slipped the sack over Ike’s head. “There, now he won’t get too much paint on his clothes. How about that Mama?” Buck grinned that silly lopsided grin that Jane had never been able to resist.

“OK, I guess so, but he still has to take a nap in a couple of hours….” Jane still wasn’t sure this was a good idea but she couldn’t think of a valid reason to say no.

The first part of the afternoon went much better than Jane expected and she decided that her fears had been silly. She watched father and son putting bright red paint on the faded barn wall, the child imitated everything Buck did. Buck had given him a brush and a tiny tin of paint. Ike was actually getting paint on the barn and was only minimally covered; the sack was working.

“Ok, nap time!” Jane called as she brought out some lemonade for Buck and attempted to retrieve her son. “You can help Daddy after your nap, right Daddy?”

“Yup I’ll be right here, and I’ll be sure to leave part for you to paint, Ok?” Buck said handing the empty cup back to Jane.

“Me paint again?” Ike looked at his parents ready to protest the nap.

“Yup, we’ve got all this to do….” Buck swept his arm around. “I’ll leave your brush and paint right here so you can get it after your nap. OK?” Ike nodded and allowed Jane to take the sack off him before she led him into the house. Jane looked back at Buck and saw him getting the ladder out to reach the higher walls without the help of a curious toddler.

The sack was left on the front porch for use after Ike got up from his nap. Jane was pleasantly surprised to find that she only had to wash two little hands and one cute little nose; his clothes were relatively clean. She took Ike upstairs and decided to lay down with him. She started to tell him a story but he fell asleep almost instantly; within minutes she was sleeping soundly too.

Buck worked for about an hour and a half when he realized he wasn’t alone; a movement near the house caught his eye. Not looking were he was reaching Buck managed to put his hand in the paint tin just as he spotted his son; painting the house, the white house with red paint. “Ike, oh no honey, look, here!” Buck’s hand was dripping red paint and, again without thinking, he placed his hand on the barn wall and wiped the paint off; leaving several red handprints. Buck quickly descended the ladder and headed over to the house where Ike had done exactly what Buck had done. Several tiny hand prints now graced the side of the house.

“You do” Ike beamed up at Buck. “Me do” He pointed to his handprints.

Buck was fascinated by the tiny print and put his own beside it. He then dipped his finger into the paint and put the letters IKE and the date below Ike’s hand print. Then he wrote Daddy under his own. The bright red paint seemed to jump out of the formally pristine white of the house wall. “There is your hand and this is mine.” Buck pointed to the prints.

“Do again!” Ike said as he dipped his hand in the paint making several more prints on the house. Buck laughed and dipped his own hand in the paint making more prints on the wall.

“What are you doing? The barn is red, NOT my house.” Jane cried as she stood looking at her son and her husband. “This is what I get for taking a nap, Buck Cross what were you thinking?” Her face was red with anger and her arms were crossed in front of her.

Buck swallowed hard. “I, I didn’t see him ‘til it was too late but look…..its perfect, its….”

“It’s a mess, he’s a mess, my house is not a coloring book. Don’t give me that look Buck Cross…..” Jane was about to continue when Ike pointed to his hand print with his name under it.

“Mine, Mama!” He smiled happily. “Dada’s” he pointed to Buck’s.

Jane let out a strangled sound, reached for her son’s wrist and as she led him into the house and a good scrubbing, she shot back. “Buck Cross, you are in so much trouble. He’s two, I don’t expect Ike to know any better but you, you’re twenty and I think that that is more then old enough to know better!”

Buck groaned leaned back against the side of the house and put his head in his hands realizing too late he’d just painted his face.

(This story was inspired by a certain father and son I know very well)

Anything Less
by: Debbie

What in tarnation made him think he would have expected anythin’ less?

Teaspoon Hunter sat on the edge of the water trough, pulling on first his socks then his boots. It would appear as if he was deeply concentratin’ on the task at hand as he grumbled out loud about the sock gettin’ caught on his hang nail but, in fact, it was his way of studyin’ his new charges without them realizin’ he was. He was disappointed at himself for havin’ bin caught off guard. But in his excitement over the job he’d been hired to do and his eagerness to get such a worthy venture as the Pony Express up and runnin’ properly, the old Texan had forgotten what he’d be more than likely faced with.

Their age was the reason he had bin expectin’ a group of boys all young and innocent to the wiles of the world. They was young and he was sure at least half of them were more innocent than the other half. Yep, it was definitely those two hot heads standin’ smack dab in the middle of the others that were gonna be givin’ him more gray hairs than his head could afford to receive. He hadn’t even gotten their names yet and it didn’t matter; their actions spoke louder than any words that could come out of their mouths.

He finally stood up and sauntered up and down the line of young ‘uns as they held up the fence behind ‘em. Each was as different as the next yet they was all the same. It was obvious they were still wet behind the ears but he’d dry ‘em off with time. They were cocky and too sure of themselves and were standin’ around like they didn’t need to hear what he had to say which made ‘em much too young to be doin’ the job they were hired to do. Yet the company had hired orphans for a reason … and hired him for even more of a reason. And lookin’ at this assss-ortment of boys he’d bin sent, Teaspoon was sure they were up to the task. Whether it was the one on the end not lookin’ intimidated by the others around him; the blonde dressed like an Indian not lettin’ his hands off his guns; the one next to him wearin’ his gun belt a might too low; the puny one tryin’ to stand as tall as the ones next to him; or two that looked different from the others on account of losin’ his hair and the other havin’ darker skin; all that added up to the type of person he knew would be able to survive alone out on the open plains as he delivered the mail.

So why had Teaspoon been surprised to see ‘em as they arrived at the Way Station? Maybe it was ‘cause he’d been on his own for more years than his mind could recollect and it took seein’ this new group of young pups to make him recall what it was like to be that age. Though the ex-Texas Ranger was sure he had jumped right from young boy to young adult and skipped all those awkward, embarrassin’ years in between. But still he should have known better. These boys were actin’ the same way he would’ve bin and had when faced with a difficult challenge that folks were sure he wouldn’t be able to do. As he went to stand before the first boy, a half breed - Kiowa unless he missed his guess - Teaspoon tried to hide the proud smile he felt threatenin’ to crack the wrinkles around his mouth and eyes. Oh, he would definitely be puttin’ them in their place and wipin’ away a bit of that cockiness they was already displayin’ before he’d even learned where they was from but he would leave them their dignity and do his lessons in such a way that they would think they wouldn’t be able to walk the next day but would silently thank him that he’d learned them what he had. And he didn’t need any thanks; he wouldn’t have given any at their ages so he knew they probably didn’t even know how to say the word, much less spell it. He gave a silent chuckle at that thought then turned to look at the bunch once more. All the thanks he needed was them coming home safe from each ride they went out on. And he would see to it that they did!

The Maiden Flight of Joshua Hickok
by: Dede

A/N: Thanks to Cindy for her help in turning an itty-bitty bunny into a full story! d;-) This follows QF#51 and story O Brother, Where Art Thou?

"Come on Hickok," Joshua said, running as fast as his seven-year-old legs would carry him. Spreading his hands out like wings, he ducked his head down to relieve the wind resistance. "Remember what Grandpa said, we gotta get as much air under our wings as we can." Joshua pushed his legs to run faster. Just when he felt like he would take off, he jumped in the air, landing unceremoniously on his small rump.

Hickok, on the other hand, was having a ball and ran circles around his friend, sprawled on the ground. When Joshua didn't get up, as he had the last ten times while trying this experiment, the dog went over and vigorously licked Joshua's face.

"Quit it," Joshua grumbled and gently pushed Hickok away. He didn't understand what was wrong; he was doing everything Teaspoon had told him. As he sat pondering what the problem could be, Hickok plopped down beside him and occupied himself by nuzzling at the mud. It had rained the last two days so this was the first real chance the boy and his dog had to get outside and play.

Lou had taken the girls to Rock Creek to visit Rachel and Janus, and to welcome the couple's new baby, thus leaving Jimmy and Joshua. And of course, Hickok. They'd been gone for almost a week and there really hadn't been any problems. Jimmy had been taking Joshua into town with him when he was working, leaving him in the care of Martha Drummond, the woman that ran the boarding house. Joshua liked Miss Drummond but Hickok wasn't invited the days Joshua had to spend in town and the boy didn't like that at all. So much to Joshua's delight, that day, Miss Drummond had a full house and had too many chores to do to keep a keen eye on Joshua. And the boy definitely needed a keen eye.

Jimmy solved the situation by having Taylor Johnson, an older boy from nearby, come over and watch Joshua. Unbeknownst to Jimmy, Taylor had left close after Jimmy to go fishing with his friends. So, Joshua and Hickok were left alone, to their own devices.

Joshua sat mulling the situation over. Unconsciously, his hand went to Hickok's head and, as he thought, he rubbed the dog's ears.

Just before his mother had left, Teaspoon had told Joshua the story of Icarus.

"Now Icarus' pa was a great builder, made all kinds a' things for some of the great Greeks." Joshua hung on every word Teaspoon said and the man ate it up. Jimmy and Lou had dropped Joshua at the jailhouse so they could take his sister Polly to see the doctor. As Joshua told his grandfather about his day, he'd mentioned that he'd watched some baby birds learn to fly and that he wanted to fly too. That led to the story Teaspoon was telling him now.

"Many people wanted to learn from him but he took his nephew as his apprentice."

"His what?" Joshua looked at Teaspoon curiously.

"Apprentice," Teaspoon said slowly. "Means someone working with a master to learn a trade." He sat up in his chair, puffing his chest out. "Your daddy and uncle are my apprentices."

"I'm your what?" Buck walked in and overheard what the man said. He grinned, adding, "Joshua, what's he telling you now?"

"He's tellin' me the story of licorice."

Puzzled Buck looked from Joshua to Teaspoon.

Chuckling, Teaspoon said, "That's Icarus." He looked pointedly at Buck. "Now, if some people would sit down and hush, I'll continue."

Bowing with a flourish, Buck quickly sat and gave Teaspoon his undivided attention, though the mischievous grin spreading across his face gave him away.

"Where was I?" Teaspoon rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"Jimmy and I are your apprentices," Buck said, helpfully, winking at Joshua. Though the little boy didn't know what was funny, Buck got a giggle anyway.

"Humph, not sure 'bout that anymore." Teaspoon turned back to his grandson who was patiently waiting for the story, or as much as Joshua was patient since the boy had started twisting his chair back and forth. "Right, so he took his nephew as his apprentice."

Buck suddenly grasped what Teaspoon was getting ready to say. "Um, Teaspoon, why are you telling this?" He looked at the marshal curiously, a hint of concern in his eyes.

"Joshua brought up wantin' to fly and I'm tellin' him about Icarus," Teaspoon said, a bit put out for being interrupted.

"Does that part of the story need to be told?"

Teaspoon thought and realized what Buck was getting at. Grinning sheepishly, Teaspoon nodded. "Guess you're right on that one." He paused thinking what was next in the story. "Well, the daddy..."

"What's his name?" Joshua asked.

"Well, now, his name," Teaspoon paused, rubbing his chin, "Ah, name's Dadylus." Very proud that he'd remembered the name, or thought he had, Teaspoon continued, "Anyway, Dadylus built a labyrinth for King Minos' Minotaur and..."

"What's a mini...mini...minitar?"

"Min-o-taur. It's a monster, half-man and half..."

Seeing the startled expression on Joshua's face, Buck leaned forward and whispered, "Um, Teaspoon, does that..."

"Do you wanna tell the story?" Teaspoon shot Buck a look that sufficiently quieted the Kiowa. As Buck sat back, Teaspoon sighed, rethinking his telling, once more. "Alright, somethin' happened and King Minos got upset with Dadylus and Dadylus decided that he and his son, Icarus, needed to get away. Well, the only way they can get out is by air so he builds them wings outta feathers and wax."

"That's what I need!" Joshua bolted up and ran to the barn with Hickok hot on his heels.

When Teaspoon had mentioned the wax and feathers, Joshua had giggled and said it wouldn't work. Teaspoon had asked the boy if he'd tried it and Joshua had shook his head. "Then don't dismiss somethin' simply cause it sounds funny," his grandfather had told him. Therefore, especially since his grandfather had said so, Joshua would try the feathers and wax.

Since Joshua couldn't get the wax melted because he wasn't allowed to use fire alone, he figured that the horse liniment would work since whenever he got some on him, everything seemed to stick to him - dirt, hay, Hickok's fur, anything. Climbing up on a hay bale, he pulled the container from the shelf and jumped down. Holding the bottle in his hand, he ran over to the chicken coop and entered, leaving Hickok outside. There was an ample amount of feathers spread across the floor of the small cage so he scooped some up and threw them out the door. After a few more scoops, he figured he had enough to cover his body. Contemplating the best way to do this, he decided to pour the liquid all over and roll in the feathers. As he spread the goop on his clothes, something itched at the back of his brain but he ignored it and finished up by lying down and rolling around in the feathers. The process was complete and he was covered in the feathers, mostly on his arms and upper body.

"Okay, you're next," he turned to Hickok with the liniment in hand. If he was going up, so was Hickok.

The dog had other ideas. Thinking Joshua was playing, he ran so Joshua had to chase him. The only way the boy could get the liniment and feathers on the dog was to throw them at him. Flinging the liniment at the dog spread the stuff everywhere, same for the feathers. Finally done with the dog, he looked around and saw the yard was covered with the bizarre concoction. Ignoring it, he threw the bottle aside.

"I'm ready!" Jumping up and down and flapping his arms, Joshua ran around but still nothing happened. Flopping down on the ground, he pouted. "I got everythin' and I'm still not flyin'." As he sat, again trying to figure out why he couldn't get airborne, Hickok was jumping and running in circles chasing a fly. Watching as the dog chased the insect over to the shed and tried to climb the structure, it gave Joshua a brilliant idea.

"Like Grandpa said, I need to get up high to lift me up," he cried excitedly. Running over to the shed, he put one of the rain barrels under it and climbed up and onto the building. Looking down at Hickok who was barking up at him, he had another itch in his brain.

Again, ignoring it, he yelled down to Hickok, "Okay boy, I'm gonna try it myself and then I'll bring you up!" Stepping back just a bit, he took a deep breath to calm his nerves. "Here I go!" He ran the few steps he had and jumped.

Feeling airborne, he flapped his arms wildly but wasn't able to hold himself and came plummeting to the muddy ground. Since the shed was attached to the house, his flight path led him right into the clothesline and, as he fell he took the line with him. On the line were the sheets that Jimmy had painstakingly washed that morning. Hickok, very happy that Joshua was back on his level, ran over and began licking a very messy Joshua. As Joshua struggled to get free of the bedclothes and fend off his dog, the muddier and more tangled up he and Hickok became. Grunting and yelling, Joshua didn't hear the visitor ride up.

Buck stared at the lurching muddy monster. "What in the world?" he muttered as he jumped off his horse and rushed over to the squirming mound. Standing by the blob as it rolled around, he saw a tail sticking out and wagging. Stifling his laugh, he started pulling at the covers, realizing what they were. He'd seen Jimmy just that morning washing them. 'This is not good,' he thought, sighing to himself.

"Joshua," he barked, "stop squirming!"

Hearing Uncle Buck's voice, Joshua dutifully stopped. As Buck pulled the last sheet off him, he saw his uncle's face. To him it looked very annoyed. "I'm sorry Uncle Buck," he cried. He was a big boy and shouldn't cry but he'd messed up really badly and he knew it. "I was tryin' to fly."

Buck wanted nothing more than to pick up the sniveling boy and hug him but he knew he had to stay clean. Jimmy was close behind him and he needed to get Joshua cleaned up, or as much as he could. Taking Joshua's hand, he quickly led him into the house, all the while speaking softly to reassure his nephew that everything would be alright. "Get your clothes off as fast as you..."

The sound of a rider, very close, stopped Buck. Looking around trying to decide what to do, he realized he couldn't get both Joshua and Hickok out the back and clean up the tracks. His eyes landed on the table, draped with a tablecloth, and he immediately thought of a plan. Lifting the edge of the cloth, he ordered, "Get under here and keep quiet." Rolling his eyes, he couldn't believe he was doing this but he needed to diffuse the situation before Jimmy saw the boy. Spotting a pillowcase sticking out from under the table, he grabbed it and wiped the muddy foot, and paw, prints up as fast as he could. As he did, he heard Jimmy ride up. In fact, Buck figured that all of Sweetwater could hear Jimmy.

"What in the...!" Jimmy's rant included many imaginative expletives. "This is the...I've ever seen! How the...I'm gonna...!" And so it went.

Buck quickly wiped his hands off, noticing the feathers smashed into the mud for the first time. "Feathers?" he muttered, and caught a whiff of something. He sniffed the case. "And liniment?" Snapping himself out of his musings, he threw the pillowcase under the table with the refugees. Sliding into a chair, he picked up the paper on the table. Crossing his legs, he assumed a completely relaxed appearance as Jimmy came barreling through the door, nearly taking it off its hinges.

"JOSHUA ALOYSIUS HICKOK!" Jimmy was so angry that he screamed too hard and started hacking. As he worked through his coughing fit, his eyes darted around but all he saw was Buck sitting at the table looking at him curiously. "Where is he?"

"Why?" Buck figured that he wouldn't lie but he could avoid the question.

"Did you see..." Jimmy coughed once more and cleared his throat. "Did you see the mess out there?" He pointed out the window towards the muddy mess. "My sheets!"

Just hearing James Butler Hickok utter the words "my sheets" was enough to send Buck into fits of laughter and, normally, he'd call his friend on it but now was definitely not the time. Coughing to cover the laugh that threatened, he replied, "Figured it was the wind." Alright, so that was sort of a lie.

"Wind?" Jimmy scoffed. "Right, a wind by the name a' Joshua." Grumbling, he began to pace. "JOSHUA!" He stared up the stairs, waiting to hear something but no sound or answer came. "Where is he?" He walked to the base of the stairs and called out once more.

Buck tried to maintain his nonchalance but ever since he'd sat down, Hickok's tail had been consistently tapping his leg to the point he was going to go crazy. When Jimmy walked towards the table, Buck got up as casually as possible, hoping to keep his friend from sitting down. It worked and Jimmy walked up to him.

"I don't understand," Jimmy said, glancing once more at the stairs, slightly concerned. "He should be here."

It appeared that Jimmy was calming down a bit so Buck asked, "Alone?" That had bothered Buck when he'd rode up. He knew that Taylor was supposed to be watching Joshua but Buck hadn't seen the older boy anywhere.

"Actually, no," Jimmy said. "Taylor should be here." Jimmy growled low in his throat and began pacing again.

"Well, then maybe Joshua was playing and...." Buck left the possibility unsaid.

"And pulled the laundry down?" Jimmy finished sarcastically. "Whether Taylor watched him or not doesn't excuse that mess. Joshua is old enough to know better." Jimmy glanced towards the window and the direction of the line. "I'll deal with Taylor later. Right now it's Joshua I need." His pacing had increased and he was almost stomping.

"Jimmy," Buck said, "you know how clever Joshua is." He wanted Jimmy to understand that his son was a very smart boy and that was why he was always into discovering how things worked or how to do something.

"Yeah, he is," Jimmy said, a small smile played on his lips and his pace slowed. Shaking his head, he added, "But that don't mean he should follow through on all his wild ideas." He stopped in front of Buck and, crossing his arms over his chest, said, again, "He's old enough to..."

"Know better," Buck finished. "Right. And how many times were we old enough to know better?" He waited to see the reaction his statement had. Jimmy grinned slightly. "And, consider who Joshua's parents are."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jimmy tried to sound offended but he knew exactly what Buck meant.

"It means that two of the most bullheaded people I know," he put his hand up to stop Jimmy's argument, "have one of the most intelligent children I know."

The last bit caught Jimmy by surprise. He heard the slight twinge of sorrow in Buck's voice and never realized how much Buck really wanted children. He was so good with Jimmy's that Jimmy had never really thought about the fact that Buck still wasn't married. "Suppose so," Jimmy said, softly.

As the two friends stood there, deep in thought, Jimmy heard a faint tapping noise. "What's that sound?"

"Um, what sound?" Buck asked. Buck had heard it the entire time they were talking and Jimmy was pacing but the sound of both had drowned out the steady drumming.

A suspicious smile on his lips, Jimmy eyed Buck. "If I hear that, I know you do." Jimmy walked over to the table, standing right next to it. Seeing Buck's expression change slightly, Jimmy bent over and lifted the tablecloth. He saw a muddy Joshua, a muddy Hickok and his muddy sheets.

"Joshua," Jimmy said gently, trying to keep his temper in check. "Come on out."

Sniffing, Joshua hesitated. He was still worried that Jimmy would follow through on some of the threats he'd heard his father say outside. "Um, are you gonna kill me?"

Jimmy cringed. He remembered saying something about his Colts. 'I really lost my temper,' he thought, sheepishly. He squatted down so he could look Joshua in the eye. "No son, I was wrong to say anything like that. Please, come on out."

Joshua started to move but stopped, looking up suspiciously. "And you won't shoot Hickok?"

"No I won't shoot Hickok," Jimmy said, heaving a sigh. "Just - come - out."

As Joshua moved, Hickok realized it was safe and bounded out. Before Jimmy could stand and get out of the way, he was hit full force by a very dirty dog. Jimmy was pushed onto his back and Hickok put his front paws on Jimmy's chest and licked every inch of the man's face.

"GET OFF ME!" Jimmy was trying to push Hickok off with one arm and cover his face with the other. "Buck! Are you just gonna stand there or are you gonna help me?"

"I think," Buck said, barely able to talk through his laughter, "I'm just going to stand here." He saw Joshua come barreling out from under the table and jump on Jimmy. Soon, his friend was laughing and rolling around the floor, tickling his son.

"Here Hickok." Buck caught the dog's neck and led him outside. "Let's get you cleaned up. Sit." The dog did as commanded. Buck walked over and pumped some more water in the trough. Calling Hickok over, he took the bucket and scooped water, pouring it over the dog's head. A few times, Buck stepped back and Hickok shook, dirty water rained everywhere. After a while, Hickok was fairly clean and Jimmy came out with Joshua. The boy was sniffling but seemed content.

"Now it's your turn," Buck said, grinning and pointing at Joshua. He dangled the bucket from his fingers.

Joshua giggled and ran to his uncle. Grabbing the bucket, he willingly dipped it in the trough and poured it over his head.

"Joshua," Jimmy said, laughing at his son. "I believe you need to go over to the shower. Take Hickok and you two can take one together." The excited boy called his dog and the two ran over to the shower.

For a moment, Jimmy and Buck watched the two jumping and laughing. Looking down at himself, Jimmy grunted. "Look at me!"

Picking up the bucket, Buck handed it to his friend. "Well, you do need to do laundry." Laughing, Buck jumped out of Jimmy's reach and ran over to his mount before Jimmy could do anything. Riding off he heard Jimmy threaten, "I will get you for this!"

The Bet
by: Lori

“I don’t believe it.”

“Believe it.”

“How is it possible?”

“Things have changed ‘round here.”

“I know…but that much?”

“It’s alright…circumstances are a little different than before.”

“That much, Hickok?”

“Don’t scoff at me, Cody, just ‘cause you’re sore.”

“I ain’t sore.”

“You’re sore, ‘cause you’ve always hated to lose.”

“It’s impossible. How could Lou eat more than me?”

“Have you seen Lou lately?”

“Well…yeah.”

“So how can you ask that?”

“Well…I mean…I know she’s bigger, but she never ate that much in the bunkhouse.”

“Lou was never pregnant in the bunkhouse.”

“If you knew she ate this much when she was pregnant, how come you bet me?”

“’Cause I wanted to see your face when you realized Lou ate more than you.”

“Bein’ smug is as bad as bein’ sore, Hickok. You aren’t really goin’ to make me pay my debt are you?”

“It’s a fair bet, Cody. You coulda listened to the others when they warned you not to bet against me. They’ve seen Lou do this before. But you were so sure. And you lost. So now you gotta pay your debt.”

“You ain’t really gonna make me wear that…are you?”

“Cody, yes I am.”

“You’re a cruel man, Hickok.”

“Quit your grousin’ and get changin’.”

“But…a dress? I…I’m in the Army. I’ll never live this down.”

“Next time, Cody…don’t bet against me. Now…get changed. ‘Cause I wanna see you dance.”

Payback
by: Dee

Lou looked around; she was sure none of them saw her. She giggled to herself as she snuck closer to the pond. All the boys were swimming; of course being the hot day that it was she understood perfectly why they were all skinny-dipping. She would have herself if no one was around.

She covered her mouth as she started to giggle again. She located each fella as she looked around. Kid in the center of the pond, Jimmy over by the rocks, Cody about to fall out of a tree, and Ike was sitting on the opposite bank. That left only Buck…that’s right Buck had been due up to leave for Benton before she returned. Good thing too, since she was sure he would have heard her. Noah? Hum, Noah was on the special run Teaspoon had sent him on the two days earlier and wasn’t due back until Sunday.

Splash! Lou jumped and almost yelped. Looking back at the pond she noticed Cody had finally fallen in. She breathed a sigh of relief. Inching closer she quietly made her way to the clothes that were on the bank near her. She slowly and quietly gathered them up, leaving just their boots. Can’t have them limping…she giggled again…back to the station. With one last peek over her shoulder – heck, she couldn’t help it they all looked mighty fine in nothing but what God had given them – she quickly made her way back to Lightning.

This would teach them to make fun of her. They had all given her a hard time about not going to the dance last week. She just couldn’t though. She was sick of having to pretend to be the shy quiet ‘boy’ rider and wanted to dance, be a young lady for once, but she couldn’t go as herself, no one would understand. She sighed, thinking back to the chores they had left her to do, even Kid. She was still mad over it and none of the others riders could understand why.

What had really taken the cake though was when Rachel had told them – and Teaspoon had agreed – that they’d better watch their backs because it wasn’t right them teasing her and she might try to get even and they had all laughed. Everyone of them, including Kid, she had expected him to understand at least and not laugh about it. Even if they were broken up, she still thought he cared more than that.

She rode in and passed the mochilla off to the next rider. He didn’t question the clothes tied to the back of Lightning and Lou was glad that Rachel was still inside. She snuck out back to the laundry and started to hide the clothes in the bottom of the basket Rachel had been working on when she heard, “Young lady, just what do you think you are doing?”

Lou jumped and dropped the clothes. “Um…Just got back from my run and thought I would…”

“Aren’t those Kid’s pants?” Rachel asked, then really seeing the clothes for the first time she asked, “Louise McLeod! Just what have you done?”

“Just a little joke, Rachel,” Lou replied blushing.

“Wh…”

Lou couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I stopped at the swimmin’ hole on the way back, and…well…the fellas were all there and they….Heck, Rachel, it was just too tempting.”

Rachel choked trying not to laugh, “And just why would you do this?”

“Remember the dance last week and them all leaving me with the chores since I wasn’t going. Well, this is just my way of getting even,” Lou replied.

Rachel couldn’t stop it this time and burst out laughing so loud it brought Teaspoon in a run from the barn.

“What in tarnation is going on?” Lou begged Rachel silently not to tell Teaspoon but she couldn’t stop laughing.

“Just a joke, Teaspoon,” Lou replied then made a quick exit to the bunkhouse.

Rachel stopped her, “Lou, you know you’re old enough to know better than this.”

Lou couldn’t help it and replied back her eyes twinkling, “Yep, but Rachel, I’m still young enough to have enjoyed it!”

The Birthday Gift
by: Cathy

Aloysius Hunter knew he was in trouble. Even though today was his thirteenth birthday, he knew he wouldn’t be excused from doing his chores. Ma and Pa were always very strict about responsibility and Aloysius knew there would be no exceptions – not even on this special day – especially on this special day when he was now considered old enough to know better. He was old enough, especially now, to know that Pa wasn’t going to take kindly to his running off without doing what he was supposed to do, leaving the chores to Pa and probably his younger brother.

There would definitely be a punishment waiting for him when he got home – first from Pa and later his brother would probably exact his revenge. But, he reasoned, at this point the punishment was already going to happen and it wouldn’t be any worse if he waited until later. Going home now would only mean it would happen sooner and he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make The Purchase.

Reaching into his pocket Aloysius carefully pulled out a small pouch. He’d repeated this maneuver at least a dozen times since he’d started on his journey but the security of knowing his hard-earned and diligently saved money was still there was worth the effort.

There had been a time when the amount he’d needed had seemed like an impossible fortune. But he’d done it, appropriately enough, receiving the final few pennies from Mrs. Robertson late last night. Reaching his goal so he could complete his mission on his birthday had seemed like an omen to Aloysius.

Striding proudly along the road, the young man grew more anxious as he neared his goal. He’d been in the general store earlier that week – just to make sure that Mr. Champley had exactly what he was looking for. He just hoped no one else had taken a liking to the items he’d set his heart on buying and had gotten there first.

Aloysius wasn’t sure what he’d do if that were the case. He had to be able to get what he wanted.

~~~~

Six months earlier

Aloysius watched as his Ma had stood silently looking at some items in a display case at Mr. Champley’s general store – and he’d seen her wipe a tear from her eyes. Once he’d seen what she was looking at, he’d known why she was crying.

~~~~

Ten years earlier

Three year-old Aloysius Hunter listened from the loft where his parents thought he was asleep.

“The house is perfect,” his ma had said. “It’s got more than enough room for the four of us.”

His pa had agreed. “We sure can’t keep living here. Not with another baby coming along.” Pa sighed softly before he continued. “I just don’t know how we’re going to get enough money together,” he said. “The price is good but we just don’t have enough.”

“He won’t let us make payments?” Ma asked. “We could manage on what you make at the mill and I could always get a job at Ms. Parker’s in town.”

“You won’t be able to work much longer,” Pa reminded her. “If he won’t come down on the price, we’ll just have to wait and see if we can find another house.”

Aloysius heard his mother rise to her feet. Her belly – where the boy knew his little brother or sister was living right now – made it hard for her to get out of a chair.

He ducked back quickly as she moved to her pine chest that was set back under the loft. A bit of rustling followed before he heard the lid to the chest fall back into place.

Sliding carefully forward again, the boy was able to see Ma put a cloth wrapped bundle on the table. “Maybe these will make a difference,” she stated.

“May! I can’t let you do that!” Pa argued. “Those were your grandma’s. She brought them over . . .”

“And would understand,” Ma interrupted. “These are just things, the house will be our home. ‘sides, it’s not like we use ‘em anyway.”

Pa had gently taken the package then. And two weeks later the family had moved into their new big house.

~~~~

Mr. Champley’s general store was busier than Aloysius had anticipated. The closer he came, the more people seemed to be coming out – and going in. Squeezing between two suddenly very large shoppers, Aloysius entered the store to find even more people crowding the aisles.

“This always happens right after I get a new shipment in,” he heard Mr. Champley say. The tone of the man’s voice indicated he really wasn’t all that put out by the large numbers of patrons.

Twisting and turning along the very narrow aisles, Aloysius resorted to crawling under a couple of tables to get to his goal. The big glass enclosed case stood at the far end of the store, closest to the cash register. The boy supposed that was to keep the contents safe from prying – and thieving – hands.

The huge jars of candy that topped the counter would have caused the boy Aloysius to drool with anticipation – especially given the amount of money he carried safely in pocket. But the young man Aloysius had eyes for something more.

Just below the jars of brightly colored jaw-breakers and other candies, lay the prize he had worked so hard to earn. The sun shining in from the window set high on the wall behind him glinted brightly off the silver in front of him.

“Today’s the day, Mr. Hunter?” Mr. Champley asked formally.

“It sure is, Mr. Champley!” Aloysius replied excitedly. “I got the money right here!”

Drawing the bag from his pocket, he poured the coins inside onto the counter in front of the man. Mr. Champley smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm, then carefully counted the coins.

“Well, you have enough,” he agreed finally. “Are you sure this is what you want to spend it on?”

“Yes, Sir, I’m sure,” Aloysius declared.

Minutes later, transaction complete, Aloysius stepped back onto the street. He inhaled deeply of the clean, fresh air that seemed suddenly far sweeter than it had. Starting off towards home, his step seemed even lighter than it had on the way to town. Unfortunately the feeling didn’t last.

“Well, if it ain’t my old buddy, Al-o-ishes.”

Aloysius paused only briefly. The voice he easily recognized as belonging to Karl Vogle – someone he did not consider a “buddy.” He’d never been all that happy with his name – a name that came from his grandfather Hunter, but he reckoned there were worse names in the world. Normally it wasn’t any big deal but Karl had a way of making it sound almost dirty.

“Whacha got there, Al-o-ishes?” Karl asked as he stepped from the trees.

“None of your business, Karl”, the other boy replied.

“I seen ya over at the gen’ral store,” Karl declared. “The least ya can do is share what you bought – us being friends and all.”

“We ain’t friends,” Aloysius muttered.

“What’d ya say?”

“There ain’t nothing here to share,” he amended in a louder voice.

“Well, maybe I’ll just check that for myself,” Karl challenged. His hand shot out and before Aloysius could defend against him, struck the package to the ground.

The paper wrapping split open as it hit the ground and the contents spilled out. Karl stood, looking down in shock. He had definitely not expected what he saw.

“What are those?” he asked curiously.

Aloysius knelt down to scoop up the silver items. “They’re for my Ma,” he said angrily. “And now you got ‘em all covered with dirt!”

“They’re spoons!” Karl said. “You bought your Ma spoons?”

“They ain’t just any spoons,” Aloysius countered. “These are silver teaspoons. They came all the way from Spain.”

“Teaspoons, eh?” Karl said with a vindictive laugh.

He ran off then, leaving Aloysius to clean up in the nearby stream. As he washed and dried each of the eight silver gifts, he realized he probably hadn’t heard the last of the “teaspoon” incident.

“Oh well,” he decided as he began the walk home again, “At least Ma’ll be happy.”

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