Topic #64: 'Get the Mitten' slang for being rejected by a lover
|Mittens and Dances by: Cindy
||When you Let Go by: Miss Raye
to Love You by: Miss Raye
||Tempting the Fates by: Lori
Identity by: Dede
|Mittens and Dances
“You ain’t askin’ her, Cody. I am!”
“No you ain’t, Hickok. I’m askin’ her!”
The bunkhouse door slammed as Cody and Jimmy stormed in. They stopped near the table and squared off.
“I seen her first, Hickok,” Cody insisted.
Jimmy shook his head emphatically. “We seen the stage at the same time.”
“Well, I helped get her bags off the stage.”
“I put them in the wagon,” Jimmy countered.
“Only ‘cuz I was helpin’ her into the store.”
“Trippin’ her, more like.”
Cody’s face flushed a bright red. “She was just tired from all that travelin’ and all.”
“Cody, use the eyes on your face. Anyone could see it was only me she had time for.”
“In your dreams, Hickok!”
“Interesting day in town, boys?” Emma asked as casually as she could as she entered the bunkhouse. The argument had been clearly audible as she crossed the yard.
“You’d think they never seen a woman before,” Lou muttered. She hopped off her bunk and went to help Emma with the food the other woman was carrying.
“We were waiting for the fight to start,” Kid added as he got to his feet.
“Hmmmmph. I am far too sophisticated to fight,” Cody asserted.
Jimmy’s reply was an inarticulate snort.
“So who’s the unlucky woman?” Kid asked as he grabbed a stack of plates and brought them to the table.
Lou let out a soft giggle as she started to gather mugs.
“Genevieve,” Cody sighed.
“Genevieve Jardine,” Jimmy said at almost the same time.
“Oh, I know her parents,” Emma said. “They bought that farm south of here a few months back. Mirelle’s in my quilting circle.”
Cody obviously didn’t want to talk about the parents. “Well, Genevieve just came to join them.” He sighed. “I’m in love.”
“With yourself,” Jimmy shot back.
“Wouldn’t expect you to understand, Hickok,” Cody huffed. “Genevieve is a real lady. Just back from Paris, France . . .”
The clatter of silverware dropping onto the table startled all of them.
Buck jerked his attention back to what he was doing and quickly gathered up the utensils he’d dropped. He’d barely even been paying attention to the banter – until he heard those last two words.
Oblivious, Cody continued. “Yes, sir, a real lady. Got them fine French ways.”
“You wouldn’t know French ways if they bit you, Cody,” Lou said.
“I’d guess I know culture better’n anyone here,” Cody insisted. “Well, maybe ‘cept Emma.”
“Like what?” Jimmy challenged.
“Well . . . the French like wine,” Cody said confidently.
Buck finished laying out the silverware and abruptly turned to his bunk, grabbing his gun belt, jacket, and hat. “Excuse me,” he said softly.
“Where are you going?” Kid asked, puzzled.
“Teaspoon wanted me to work with that new horse.”
“Lunch is ready, Buck,” Emma said, pointing at the food she’d laid out on the table. “It can wait ‘til you’ve eaten.”
“Thanks, but I’m really not hungry.”
The others watched silently as Buck left the bunkhouse, pulling the door shut behind him.
“What’s eatin’ him?” Cody asked. He sat down at the table and reached for a sandwich.
Emma sighed. “Kathleen Devlin,” she answered softly, swatting at Cody’s hand.
Cody scowled and pulled his hand back, impatiently waiting for the others to take their seats so he could eat. “What’s that got to do with Genevieve?”
“She just came back from Paris too,” Lou pointed out.
“And Buck got hurt real bad,” Emma added as they listened to the sound of a horse running away from the yard.
“Figure we should go after him?” Jimmy asked.
Emma sighed as she picked up the platter of sandwiches. “No,” she said slowly, passing the platter to Kid. “I think he’s got to work this out for himself.”
Buck gave the mare the lead, letting her run at her own pace. She’d become accustomed to the saddle, but the weight of a rider was something else. When they’d first left the yard she’d made it clear she wasn’t happy about that new burden. But now, half an hour or so later, she was settling down.
Of all the women for Cody and Jimmy to be feuding over, it had to be someone who’d just come back from France? That brought up way too many unpleasant memories.
He forced his mind away from thoughts about Kathleen Devlin and back to the present. The mare had an easy, loping stride, and she’d barely broken a sweat. She’d be a good Express horse once she was a little more used to carrying the weight.
He tilted his head back, savoring the wind as the mare cantered across the open prairie. It felt good to be out there, alone with just his horse and his thoughts.
In a way it was funny. A few weeks earlier he would have been in the thick of giving Cody a hard time about his latest ‘love’ interest. Most of the women Cody thought he’d been in love with had barely even known the blond rider existed.
But Kathleen had certainly known that Buck existed . . . and she’d used him.
That’s probably what hurt the most, he decided. Not that she hadn’t turned out to be his once and forever love. No, even as besotted as he’d been, part of him had known their worlds were too different. But to find out that he’d been nothing but a tool in her plans to get her way with her father, that the time – the passion – they’d shared had meant nothing to her . . .
That’s what hurt.
So, all in all, it was better that he was out here, alone . . .
The scream brought him immediately back to the present and he reined the mare in, listening.
The crash was followed by another scream, and the sound of a terrified horse. He fixed the direction and headed that way.
There was a bluff between him and the road, where he figured the sounds had come from. As he approached the rock he slowed the horse, finally dismounting and leading her the final distance. He looped the reins over the branch of a stunted tree and crept to the edge. No reason to go rushing in until he knew a little more.
He could see the road now, and . . . there!
There was a wagon tipped on its side, just where the road curved – and where part of it had washed out in the last flash flood. The top wheel was still spinning slowly, so he hadn’t missed what happened by very much.
A quick check of the area showed no one else around, so he left the cover of the rocks and ran toward the wagon. As he got closer he could see the horse, tangled in the harness, thrashing and panicked. But someone had definitely screamed so he slid over the edge of the road where the ground had broken away and made his way around the wagon.
Buck stopped short at the sound of the voice. And in the process he found the person who had screamed. She was on the ground, her left leg pinned under the wagon.
“Are you hurt, ma’am?” he asked as he studied the way the wagon had fallen. It was wedged in next to some rocks. Moving it wasn’t going to be easy.
“A few bruises,” the woman replied, brushing blond hair back from her face. “And my leg. I can’t get it out, and it hurts, a lot.”
He moved a little closer, looking at how the wagon had fallen. “I’ll figure out how to get the wagon off,” he promised. Somehow.
“I guess I’m lucky you were nearby.”
Buck nodded; he’d been thinking that himself. The season for wagon trains had come and gone, so it could have been a while before someone came along. “I was just out testing a new horse. Happened to ride this way.”
“I ride for the Pony Express,” he explained. “My name is Buck Cross.”
“Pleased to meet you, Buck Cross.” She held out her hand. “Genevieve Jardine.”
Buck tried to cover his surprise by taking a moment to remove his glove. The very woman Cody and Jimmy were fighting over? “Miss Jardine,” he said, taking her hand.
“So do you really think you can move the wagon?” She sounded a little skeptical, and then she sighed. “Mother had the buggy, so I took the big wagon.”
“I have an idea,” Buck said. “I’m going to get the horse free first. The way the harness is tangled, the wagon will be harder to move.” And if he got the wagon moved, the horse could struggle and bring it crashing back down – but he kept that part to himself.
“I hope she’s all right,” Genevieve said softly. “I didn’t think we were going that fast. But we came around that curve, and it seemed like the road just disappeared.”
“Heavy storms a couple of weeks back,” Buck said, making his way toward the horse. “Washed out part of the road.” Nearly drowned a couple of the riders on their runs too.
He knelt down by the frightened horse, stroking the bridge of her nose to calm her as he studied the harness. The tangle that he saw would take too long to undo, so he pulled out his knife and started slicing. The sooner he got the horse freed, the sooner he could try to get the wagon moved.
“Is she all right?”
“We’ll know in a minute, soon as I get the harness cut away.”
“If she broke a leg . . .”
“Horses can’t stand on a broken leg,” he replied, as gently as he could. “And if she can’t stand . . .”
A muffled sob was the only reply.
Buck moved to put a leg against the horse’s neck, his weight keeping her head steady as he cut away the last of the harness. Then he pushed back, leaving her free. They’d know very soon now.
At first the horse didn’t move, but then she suddenly realized she was free. With a mighty heave she struggled to her feet and moved off a few steps, snorting. “Is she . . .”
Buck knelt next to the mare, running his hands over her right front leg. She was favoring it, and pulled away as he put pressure on it, but she was putting some weight on the appendage.
“She hurt her leg,” he said, returning to the wagon. “But she’s using it, so it’s not broken.”
Genevieve gave a sigh of relief. “Oh, that’s good.”
“Now for the wagon.”
“Do you know how to move it?”
“I think so.” He pulled off his jacket and handed it to her. “Put this over your head.”
“This axle is nearly broken off. If I can get it free, I think I can use it to help life the wagon. But the wood might chip, so you should cover your face.”
As Genevieve pulled the jacket over her head, Buck picked up the largest rock he could handle as a hammer. Then he leaned over the wagon and started to bang on the broken coupling holding the axle on.
It took several minutes of hammering, and he worked up a good sweat, but finally the axle broke free.
“That sounded different,” Genevieve said, her voice coming out muffled from under the jacket.
“Got it,” Buck said. He reached over and pulled the jacket away, tossing it to one side. Then he picked up the axle, measuring it against a large rock nearby. It wasn’t going to quite work, he decided, so he knelt behind the rock and pushed his shoulder against it. Using all of his weight, he managed to push it a little closer.
“What are you doing?”
“I should be able to use the axle against this rock, to lift the wagon.”
“Oh, like a lever.”
“Ummm, yeah.” He couldn’t quite hide his surprise. Ladies didn’t usually know about things like that.
Genevieve just smiled at his confusion. “Women can be interested in an education too,” she chided.
“No need. At least, not if it works.”
“Well, let’s find out.” He picked up the axle and braced it under the wagon and over the rock, and then he pushed. At first nothing happened, and he readjusted the position a little, then tried again.
Slowly, inch by inch, the wagon lifted.
“Can you move your leg yet?”
“No, not yet.”
Higher . . .
“Oh!” Genevieve’s exclamation came with movement as she pulled herself free.
Buck held the axle in place for a moment, making sure she was clear. Then he let the wagon slide back down to the ground and stepped over to where she was sitting, holding her ankle.
“How bad is it?”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. She looked up at him, and despite the pain he thought he saw a slight twinkle in her eyes. “If it’s broken, are you going to shoot me?”
He grinned and knelt down. “For beautiful women, I’d usually try a splint first,” he said. “Can always shoot you later.”
“Oh, that’s comforting.”
“I could check, ummmmm . . .” He hesitated, unsure how she’d take the next part. “Is it all right if I touch your leg?” Just because he’d rescued her didn’t mean she’d tolerate an Indian’s touch.
The certainty of her answer surprised him a bit, but he tried to cover it by lowering his head. “I’m going to unlace your boot,” he said, working the laces. “If we can get it off, that would be best. Whether it’s broken or not, your ankle’s probably swelling.”
“It feels swollen.”
He finished undoing the laces, getting the boot as loose as he could. “This is going to hurt,” he warned.
She nodded. “I’m ready.”
The gasp of pain as he pulled the boot off probably meant she wasn’t ready – then again, it was hard to be ready for something like that. Having had a few injuries over the years himself, he understood that. “I’m sorry.”
Genevieve shook her head. “You didn’t tip the wagon.” She looked down at her leg. “What do you think?”
Buck reached out and put one hand under her ankle, supporting her leg. “Try to move your foot.”
She did, catching her breath sharply, but able to get some movement.
“I don’t think it’s broken.”
“That’s good. I didn’t want you to have to shoot me.”
“I’d rather not too,” he admitted with a smile. “I’m going to go get my horse, and then we’ll figure out how to get you home.”
It only took a couple of minutes to get the horse and return, and he used the time to come up with a plan. Not much of one, maybe, but it was something. There was a large, nearly flat rock by the road and he left the horse there, then returned to Genevieve.
“I’m going to lift you onto that rock,” he explained. “It’ll be easier to get you onto the horse without putting any pressure on your leg.” He picked up his jacket and pulled it on, then crouched down. “Ready?”
Genevieve snatched up her other boot and nodded. “Ready.”
He put one arm around her back, the other under her legs. One of her arms snaked around his neck for balance as he lifted and got to his feet. Then he made his way to the rock, lowering her gently and holding her steady while she got her balance on one leg.
She finally nodded. “I’m all right.”
Buck let go, waited a moment as she wobbled but then righted herself, and then he swung up onto his horse. Settled, he reached a hand down and waited for her to grab on, and then he pulled her onto the horse behind him. “Are you on all right?”
The mare snorted a bit, telling him she really wasn’t happy with even more weight, but she settled quickly when he pressed his heels to her. There was still a bit of harness hanging from Genevieve’s horse, and he rode close enough to grab it. And then, very slowly with the injured horse in tow, they started off.
By the time they reached the Jardine farm, he’d heard all about Paris. And, he realized as they approached the house, he hadn’t even thought about Kathleen once. Genevieve herself had been too fascinating.
An older man came hurrying out of the house as they approached, and Buck recognized him as Paul Jardine, Genevieve’s father. He hadn’t really met the man, but it was hard not to hear about him. In a small town like Sweetwater, someone with money tended to get a lot of attention.
“Genevieve, what is it? What happened?”
“I’m afraid I broke the wagon, father,” she replied as Buck stopped the horse.
“I don’t care about the wagon! Are you all right?”
“I hurt my leg, but Mr. Cross came to my rescue.”
Buck kicked his feet out of the stirrups and threw his right leg over the horse’s head, then he slid to the ground. “I just happened to be riding out that way, Mr. Jardine,” he explained as he reached up to help her down.
Genevieve stumbled as her one foot hit the ground, and she caught herself against Buck. “My knight in shining armor, father. I was trapped under the wagon.”
“I don’t understand,” Jardine said. “What happened?”
“Part of the road washed away in the recent storms,” Buck said.
“I saw it too late,” Genevieve added. “One of the wheels clipped the edge, and the next thing I knew, I was pinned under the wagon.”
Jardine took her in his arms. “Well, thank goodness you’re all right.”
“It’s just my ankle. But I can move my foot, so Buck doesn’t think it’s broken.”
“I can ride into town, send the doctor back,” Buck offered.
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Genevieve objected.
“Let’s get you inside,” Jardine suggested. “Let your mother take a look. She’s very good with those things.”
“She is,” Genevieve agreed, leaning against Buck as he helped her toward the house. “And I’m sure she’ll insist you stay for dinner.”
“I’ll insist,” Jardine said, hurrying ahead to get the door. “It’s the least we can do.”
As if on cue, Buck felt his stomach rumble. He looked up at the sky, realizing how late it had gotten – and he had left the bunkhouse without lunch. “If Mrs. Jardine doesn’t mind, I’d be happy to accept.” Of course, once she saw him . . .
It turned out that Mrs. Jardine didn’t mind an Indian at her table at all, and by mid-way through the excellent meal, Buck actually found himself relaxing. Years of rejection had made him so wary, but he had been drawn into the conversation at the table, asking and answering questions as they ate.
He’d enjoyed it – a lot, he realized, as he rode back toward the station.
He even had a new job out of it. Well, a second job, actually. As the dinner conversation had progressed, they’d started to talk about horses. And that led Paul Jardine to ask him for assistance with some horse traders coming through, and then to help train the horses.
It was work he could do around his scheduled runs and his regular duties at the station. And it wasn’t as though he didn’t have enough work to do there – but he’d said yes anyway.
It felt good – different – to be wanted.
Now he just needed a way to explain why he was getting back so late. After Cody and Jimmy’s display about Genevieve earlier, he had no wish to get in the middle of that argument again.
“She’s gonna be in town today,” Cody said around a mouthful of eggs. “And I’m gonna ask her.”
“Not if I ask her first,” Jimmy countered, waving his fork.
“How do you know she’s even gonna be there?” Lou asked wearily. The battling between the two men had reached new heights of late.
“Heard ‘em in town,” Cody said.
“When we were picking up supplies yesterday,” Jimmy added.
“Town social meeting, and her ma said they’d be in.”
“Both of them.”
“Genevieve,” Cody sighed.
“Sigh all you want, Cody, she’s goin’ with me,” Jimmy said.
“In your dreams, Hickok!”
Buck used the distraction to get up from his table. He dropped his plate and utensils in the dish basin, grabbed his gear, and slipped out the door.
He’d gotten up extra early to get his chores done so that he could get over to the Jardine farm. There were a dozen new spirited mustangs waiting, and he was going to start working with them today.
And it was an excellent excuse to get away from the melee he could hear inside the bunkhouse as he mounted his horse and rode away.
He looked up, smiling as he watched Genevieve and her mother approaching. They looked so much alike, he thought. Blond hair, crystal blue eyes. They carried themselves the same way too, erect and confident.
In fact, Genevieve’s limp was the main thing that differentiated them.
He climbed over the corral fence and dropped down in front of them. “Good morning.”
Genevieve reached over and brushed some dust off of his vest. “Are the horses winning?”
“Only temporarily,” he replied with a grin. Of course, he had wound up on his butt in the dirt a few times . . . Better to change the subject, he decided. “The buggy’s all ready for you.”
“Thank you, Buck,” Mirelle said.
“Off to plan the town social,” Genevieve added.
Buck walked with them toward the buggy. “I should warn you,” he said. “Cody and Hickok are both planning to ask you to go.”
Genevieve stopped, brow scrunched in concentration. “Cody. Is he the blond one, or the one with the low-slung gun?”
Somehow, Buck managed not to laugh out loud at the idea that she didn’t even know which one Cody was. Recalling the other rider’s profession of love, he found that quite humorous. “The blond one,” he managed to say.
“Ahhhh.” Genevieve started slowly toward the buggy again. “I don’t know that I really want to go to the social with either one of them,” she said slowly. “Of course, if someone else had already asked me . . .”
Buck pondered that statement for a moment. Was it possible that she was asking him to ask her . . .
“I’m sure you’ve already asked someone, Buck,” Mirelle said casually.
“Ummmm . . . well, I don’t . . . I mean . . .” Buck stammered, looking for a way to answer. “I don’t . . . I mean . . .” He paused, taking a deep breath. “I don’t ask anyone,” he finally said, looking away. “No one wants to go with an Indian.”
“I’d go,” Genevieve said. “If you wanted to ask me.”
“That would be lovely,” Mirelle said. “Paul and I would love to have you join us.”
“It would be lovely,” Genevieve agreed. “Only if you want to, Buck. You know I’m leaving to go back east next month.
He nodded; she’d mentioned that on the ride to her home the day they’d met. But she really wanted to go . . .
He had no experience asking anyone to a social, but he felt like a fool just standing there, so he plunged ahead. “Genevieve, it would be my great pleasure if you would go to the town social with me.”
She smiled and gave a curtsy. “Mr. Cross, I would be delighted to accept.”
Buck really had no idea what to say. Rather than wind up with his foot in his mouth, he just took her hand and walked her the rest of the way to the buggy. “Thank you,” he whispered as he helped her up.
Her response was the most beautiful smile he thought he’d ever seen.
He helped Mirelle into the buggy and stood back, watching as they drove off. And then he wandered back toward the corral, still somewhat in a daze.
He’d actually asked someone to a social, and she’d said yes . . .
The door banged heavily against the wall as Cody slammed it open and stormed into the bunkhouse. He stalked over to where Jimmy was just hanging up his gun belt by his bunk.
“Hickok, I warned you.”
“Cody, I . . .”
“You knew I was askin’ her.”
“Cody . . .”
“I’m in love with her!”
“Cody . . .”
“How’d you do it, Hickok? I got to town first, I seen the wagon first.”
“What in tarnation is goin’ on?”
All eyes turned to where Teaspoon stood in the doorway – and then Jimmy and Cody both started talking at once.
“I was gonna ask her and he knew it.”
“I said I was gonna ask her and he knew that!”
“I’m the one in love.”
“You ain’t in love.”
“HOLD IT!” Teaspoon bellowed. The sheer volume of his shout drowned out the other two, and silence prevailed.
“That’s better,” Teaspoon said. “Now, one at a time. Cody?”
“I was gonna ask Genevieve Jardine to the town social today, and he knew it,” Cody said, jabbing a finger in Jimmy’s direction. “But when I did ask, she said she was already goin’ with someone. Which means . . .”
Jimmy was shaking his head, looking puzzled. “It ain’t me, Cody. I asked her too, and she told me the same thing, she was already goin’ with someone. I figured it was you.”
The two men just stared at each other for a moment before Cody finally spoke. “You mean you really ain’t . . .”
Jimmy shook his head. “She turned me down, Cody.”
“Well, boys, looks like you both done got the mitten,” Teaspoon said.
Jimmy stared at the older man, an even more puzzled look on his face. “What?”
“Got rejected,” Lou supplied, trying so hard not to laugh.
Cody was still trying to figure out what had happened. “But if she ain’t goin’ with either of us,” he began. “Who’s she goin’ with?”
Kid threw up his hands in surrender as both men turned to glare at him. “I wasn’t even in town!” he protested.
“Hey!” Cody snapped his fingers. “Maybe it’s that new clerk workin’ for Tompkins.”
“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed. “Could be. Or there’s that new tailor in town.”
“Could be him,” Cody said. “Or maybe . . .”
Buck slipped out the door, leaving the speculation behind him. It was simply getting too hard not to grin and give the secret away.
He could only wonder what they’d say when he walked into the social with Genevieve Jardine on his arm.
It didn’t even matter that she was leaving in a few weeks. This was one social he was definitely going to enjoy.
Teaspoon wasn’t having a good day. There was something bothering him, something deep down inside and he couldn’t see to put his finger on it. That little tickle in the bottoms of his feet and the twitch of his forehead. Slapping the top of his desk, he got up and announced to the empty room. “I’m going for a walk.”
When no one objected he grabbed his coat and headed out.
The town had its usual hustle and bustle, making the dust fly up and into his nose and the heat seem to stick to his skin like wet
cotton. It wasn’t pleasant, but every step outside just seemed right to him, like he was heading in the direction he needed to go.
‘Maybe not,” he wondered as Jesse tore through the crowd to get to him.
“Teaspoon!” The boy made it right up to the Marshal and doubled over trying to catch his breath. “There’s this lady.”
“Does she by chance have an extra head to get you this worked up?”
While the boy couldn’t manage an effective vocal comeback his eyes made do.
Teaspoon bent down a bit to get on more of an eye – to – eye level with his young charge. “Take a breath or two and then tell me what about this lady has you so excited.”
“She’s cryin’…. She’s cryin’ somethin’ fierce.”
Setting a hand on the boy’s shoulder, the aging marshal held back a chuckle. “Son, many women cry and sometimes it’s not as bad as you think it is… honestly, when you get a few more years on ya, you’ll be able to tell the difference in a woman. Just like a mama learns how to pick out what cry means hungry.”
“Well,” Jesse straightened up a bit and set his hands on his hips, “I know I ain’t as old as you or even Jimmy and the others, but I know a woman cryin’ cause she powerful upset and that’s what this one is.”
Teaspoon thought for a moment as if measuring the conviction in Jesse’s words. “All right, son. Take me to where you left her.”
It wasn’t that far over to the stage platform and it didn’t take a genius to figure out which woman Jesse was talking about. It wasn’t the single suitcase she sat upon, or the simple dress and bonnet she wore, but it was the cruel bent of her shoulders as though the world rode on her back and the wide circle of space that everyone had left around her.
Knowing the Stage schedule like the back of his hand, Teaspoon leaned down into Jesse’s ear, “Go on back and tell Rachel to set up the guest room. I think we’ll be having a visitor, at least for the night.” He could tell by the way Jesse hesitated that the boy’s curiosity was weighing heavier than his revulsion at the sobbing woman.
A moment after Jesse took off down the road, Teaspoon sauntered up to the woman, taking a wide path around so as not to startle the poor thing. “Uh, excuse me, Miss… Miss…”
Blinking through her tears, the young woman squashed her handkerchief in her hands and managed a faltering smile. “Mr. Hunter? Oh dear, it’s so… nice to see you again!” She grabbed the railing in her attempt to stand and Teaspoon had no choice but to come to his senses and assist her by grabbing her elbow and lifting her to her feet. It was during these few precious seconds that he noticed the rounded belly where her tiny waist had been.
His eyes quickly returning to her face, he caught the blush on her cheeks and the red puffy area around her eyes. “Why, Annie… it’s been an age since we saw you last in Sweetwater, what are you doing here?” He looked one way and then down the other on the street. “Is your husband somewhere about?”
His stomach tightened into knots as her body seemed to crumble and fall between his fingers and he barely made it to one knee as she collapsed on top of her trunk, her sobs turning into silent quivers. ‘Dear Lord,’ he gave a silent prayer, ‘What have I done this time?’
* * * * *
Rachel met him at the door and Teaspoon gratefully turned over the sobbing woman to her capable arms. His charge given over into the care of another, Teaspoon made his way over to the benches outside of the bunkhouse and enjoyed the peace and quiet, allowing his ears to unclog from the abuse heaped on him by the poor hysterical woman.
He closed his eyes and laid his head back against the wall of the bunkhouse, ignoring the rough quality of the wood for a moment.
“Teaspoon? What’s with the ruckus coming from Rachel’s house?”
Cracking open an eye, Teaspoon squinted at Jimmy. “Don’t you got somethin’ better to do?”
Looking over at Buck, the two shrugged their shoulders. “Nope, so what’s the story?”
Sighing, Teaspoon crossed one leg over the other and gave both men an imperious look. “Can’t says that I really know, Hickok, but Buck, when Ike gets in you might want to let him know that Annie’s back.”
Teaspoon grinned as both men went silent at once. Closing his eyes, Teaspoon leaned back against the wall and went to sleep, leaving the two bewildered riders to hash out the information for themselves.
* * * * *
Ike rode in right before supper, with a few more miles of dust on him than when he left in the morning.
“Welcome home, Ike… I’ll take Midnight with me and get her curried, you better get washed up for dinner, and we have a guest.”
There was something dangerous in Lou’s smile. She was much too happy to tell him to get washed up. Something big was happening and he wasn’t sure if he shouldn’t just run off in the opposite direction. He walked around to the side of Rachel’s and poured some water into the metal basin and scrubbed the dirt from his face and hands pausing as a chill spread through him
from the back of his neck to the base of his spine.
He reached out and took the towel from the bar and dried off before heading inside for supper with the rest of the riders.
Silence. A second after everyone realized he was in the room every one went silent. Conversations died on lips and full laughter
simmered to chuckles. *what is it*
Buck looked at Jimmy and signed back. *we’re hungry*
Ike gave them a slow nod. A measured movement that told them he didn’t believe it, especially when Lou walked in behind him, smiling like she’d just beaten him at chess, again.
A quick look at the table said that Lou’s earlier statement was true; there was an extra place setting at the table. *who-*
Rachel breezed in with two arms loaded with serving platters and proceeded to conduct a running introduction of each tray and their contents. “And I’m afraid our guest isn’t quite up to joining us tonight. Ike?”
He turned toward Rachel and nearly swallowed his ineffectual tongue when he saw her hopeful look. *yes*
“Would you be kind enough to take a plate back to her for me?”
Her. Her. Oh… her. *yes*
Maybe it wasn’t anything to worry about, but as Ike took the full plate in his hand he saw the look on Lou’s face, full of hope and expectation and the look on Buck’s concern and a slight trace of fear. He knew he was in for it, but there was no turning back. Not anymore, now that his curiosity armed itself with a shield of trust. This was his family; they meant the best for him. Right? Right. Of course.
Ike shook himself as he climbed the steps to the front door and lifted a free hand to knock on the door.
* * * * *
When the door opened up, Ike wondered how he’d somehow made it back to Sweetwater Station and why he suddenly found himself unable to speak, again.
“Ike.” His name on her lips was intoxicating, something akin to the dandelion wine Cody had made up during the summer, he only hoped that he wouldn’t wake up to a hangover this time.
Annie had her hands clasped up underneath his chin and he still had the plate of food held in his hands or he may have done something utter impulsive and possibly stupid by embracing her. So, to save them both the embarrassment he held the plate out to her and swallowed his pride.
“You brought me supper? How sweet, but… where’s your plate?”
Ike looked down at the single plate and ignored the sigh building up in his throat. Really, he hadn’t thought of bringing a plate for him. He’d been told to bring the plate over and that’s what he did.
“Well, come on in… and uh,” she took the plate from his hand, “I’ll put this on the table.” As she turned away he shoved his hands in his pockets, now bereft of the plate he had to make sure he didn’t embarrass either of them with the thoughts buzzing around in his head. “I didn’t expect to see Mr. Hunter today at the stage platform, I was only thinking about where I was going to go from here. Rock Creek has nothing for me… at least that’s what I thought when the stage stopped here yesterday.”
She turned around and gave him a nervous smile, the corners of her mouth dipping and quivering so that the smile kept slipping down. Annie extended a hand toward the couch. “Would you like to sit?”
Ike didn’t say a thing about how comfortable she seemed in Rachel’s house, acting as though she was the hostess. It seemed so perfectly natural to have her there, close enough to breath in her scent, but a moment later he felt as though he were tripping over his own feet.
The simple gesture of her hands had drawn his eye to something he hadn’t expected to see. She retraced the path of her hand and settled her palm over the slightly rounded belly accentuated by her jacket. “I’m going to have a baby, Ike.”
He nodded. Numb from the cold chill that crawled up his spine and fearful that he’d lose control and cry all over again for the lost chance he’d had with her. Slowly, as if he wasn’t quite sure that he could even manage the gesture he lifted his hands and signed. *father*
Annie understood at once and collapsed to the floor, her eyes welling with tears behind her handkerchief. “I left him, Ike… I left him.”
He knelt down before her; one hand held out as though he wanted to touch her but wasn’t sure quite where or whether or not she’d welcome it.
Pressing her kerchief to her lips she raised her watery eyes to his gaze and gasped out a sob. “He found a woman he likes better than me, Ike. I wasn’t enough for him. My child wasn’t enough for him.”
Ike reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and gently slipped on hand under her chin, lifting her face into the soft lamplight and used the kerchief to wipe away her tears. When he finished the task he sat down before her on the floor and lifted his hands to catch her attention. For a moment he worried that her limited understanding of sign would be a problem, but he knew it didn’t really matter, she’d see it in his eyes. *you came to us*
A moment later she nodded. “I found you, even when I wasn’t looking.”
‘Years ago,’ I recall, ‘my Nana would sit me on her lap and tell me about the stars.’ “You see,” she’d say, “you see the way some star shine bright like a beacon and some seem so very soft and small as though they’re peaking through the clouds?”
I’d nod, because I would look up and see them, just like she said. Soft and pale behind the brighter stars, they would peek out like a child watching its first party from the safety of the nursery door.
“They will shine brightly too, one day… they will shine brightly when two lovers meet.”
I’d recoil at that, my nose scrunched up like I’d bitten into a lemon thinking it an orange.
“When two, born to love the other meet and fall in love the star will blaze with triumph… fire up with their love and then all the world should see it and know that somewhere two people love and are loved.”
“And what star is mine, nana? What star will shine bright for me?”
Softly she’d laugh and twirl a length of my hair over and over around her fingers and smile, brushing back the curls from my face. “You’ll know… the night when he holds you close and tells you it’s you he’s been dreaming of. The moment when he holds you as though you’re the greatest treasure the world could ever know… you’ll look up in the sky and see a star that out shines all the others in the heavens and you’ll know. That is my star.”
‘Our star,’ I’d answer,’ our star…’ and I’d dream of stars the whole night through.
“And tonight?” I feel your hand on my shoulder and I hear the patience in your voice. “You said you saw something in the sky?”
I hate to dash your hopes for me, for we are such dear friends, but I can only tell the truth. I have no energy for pretty words.
“I saw a star flare so very bright for a moment, a lovely moment and then,” I breathe in, hoping that the words won’t sound as empty as my soul, “it fell from the sky, dying in the night.”
“Oh Sybeline,” you throw your arms around my shoulders and keep them from shaking me apart into thousands of pieces, “I’m so sorry.”
Looking past your shoulder and your long brown hair I see a flare of light in the darkness, the end of your cigarette burning in the night. Your words came into my mind like an eager specter, searching for a way to slay me again.
“I can’t tell you I’ll make you happy. I know it’s impossible. I’ll never be more to you than a memory, a man that walked away to keep you safe. A man that walked away because he loved you too much to watch you die for his mistakes.”
As you rock me in your arms I let the tears fall. Let them have free reign as the hot summer air blows through the room, stinging my cheeks and bringing back the memory of your painful admission, the end of my world.
I watch you drop your cigarette into the dirt, crushing it beneath your boot before you walked away. At the corner, you pause a moment looking toward the end of town as though that was your destination and the lantern gives me one last look at you, the light caressing your face as I will always long to do. All I can do is breathe you in, hold on to that last memory as I give up all hope for the future. “Jimmy.”
“You’re pulling my leg,” Jimmy scoffed, shaking his head as he leaned back against his saddle and took a bite of dried beef.
“It’s true,” Teaspoon assured him.
Jimmy looked at him out of the corner of his eye and then stared back at the fire. He’d only been working for the Pony Express for a few weeks, and ever since he’d seen the stationmaster rise up from his horse trough bath, he’d always been a bit wary of the older man. Teaspoon Hunter was wise, Jimmy could admit that, but he was more than just a bit eccentric. Any man who ate raw onions couldn’t be entirely trusted in the young man’s opinion.
Adding to the situation was the fact that Jimmy was alone with the stationmaster. A situation had arisen at another station and Teaspoon wanted someone to come along with him. As one of the few riders at home, and the only one who wasn’t asleep after having just completed a run, Jimmy had been the lucky pick. They’d left as soon as Teaspoon received word of the problem, but that meant they’d left late in the day. Trying to cover as much ground as they could before darkness, they’d finally been forced to make camp for the night.
Being alone, away from his fellow riders, didn’t entirely appeal to the young man. Jimmy took the job because he thought the challenge sounded intriguing, he needed the money, and he figured if he didn’t like it, he would always move on. Since leaving The Judge, Jimmy had gotten used to being on his own. He didn’t make friends easily and he didn’t give his trust to just anyone. He knew that the other riders thought he was a bit aloof, but he wasn’t an easy going man like Cody.
So he took everything Teaspoon was saying with a healthy dose of skepticism. Something the older man obviously sensed because he leaned back on his bedroll and linked his hands behind his head.
“It’s true, Jimmy,” he said into the night. “I’ve been married six times.”
He just couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that one woman managed to get beyond the onion breath and the bear grease and marry the man, but six women had. Apparently, there was no accounting for taste.
“So do you have children?” Jimmy asked. He was looking at the older man, trying to picture him taking care of babies and playing with little kids on his knees, and wasn’t able to conjure up the image. But if he’d been married that many times it seemed like a reasonable question to ask.
“No,” Teaspoon shook his head. “Well…none that I know of. None of my wives ever told me later that I was a daddy.”
The young rider squinted at the older man. “None of them told you later? What?”
That made no sense.
“None of them tracked me down later and told me I was a father,” the stationmaster repeated.
Suddenly Jimmy looked at the other man in a whole new light. “You left them?”
He began to think that even if Teaspoon was a father, that the women wouldn’t have told him. Why would they track somebody down and try to force them to be a father when they walked out as a husband first. Jimmy felt rather disgusted at the man for getting married and then walking out on his wife. Seemed a slightly cowardly thing to do.
“Not all of them,” Teaspoon said, “and not in the way you’re thinkin’, Jimmy.”
He wondered if the old man had any idea of what he was really thinking.
“Marriage is hard work, son,” the older man sighed heavily. “And I wasn’t ready for it. I liked courtin’ the woman, and I liked the honeymoon, but the day-to-day stuff…it wasn’t terribly excitin’. I’d been a soldier and I’d been a Ranger and I was used to being out with other men, trackin’ down criminals and suddenly sittin’ home every night…it was like a noose around my neck slowly chokin’ me to death. So I’d get restless, and I’d start looking for adventure and my wife wouldn’t agree with me and we’d decide we should both just go our separate ways.”
“You got married six times,” Jimmy said somewhat dubiously. “You couldn’t figure out that married life wasn’t for you after the first couple?”
“Well, I nearly did,” Teaspoon said. “And then I met Polly. She was a gorgeous woman, daughter of my boss. He was a Ranger, I was his deputy, we tracked criminals together and dispensed justice. I thought she’d be different; that she’d understand the lifestyle. She grew up with it after all. But it didn’t happen that way. Turns out women don’t like being left behind for months just after their wedding.”
“Gee,” the young man rolled his eyes. “I can’t imagine why not.”
“I was so determined to catch this fellow, that I stayed with the posse for months. We tracked him all over tarnation and back again, and when we finally caught him, all I could think about was gettin’ home to Polly. This was my way to prove to her pa that I was a good man,” the stationmaster explained. “Despite being his deputy, he hadn’t wanted me to marry his daughter, and so I’d stayed on that posse to prove to him that I wouldn’t give up. That I was committed and determined, and that I would take care of his little girl.”
A sad, almost broken sigh floated up between them. “But when I got home, I discovered Polly had gone. Turned out she didn’t care whether her pa approved of me or not, she only wanted a husband. And she thought I was more committed to my job than I was to her and she left me. I tried to beg her to take me back, offered to quit the Texas Rangers and get a job somewhere else, but she wouldn’t budge. She broke my heart that day, Jimmy.”
Despite being skeptical earlier, Jimmy now found himself turning slightly to face Teaspoon better. To hear the story the older man was unfolding. The heartbreak and regret was genuine and thick in the older man’s voice and Jimmy gave him some respectful silence before asking his next question. “So why’d you get married three more times?”
A rueful chuckle escaped Teaspoon. “I was tryin’ to mend my broken heart. Not the best way to go about it. None of them could compare to Polly, and the marriages were doomed from the start. After the last one, I finally just gave up.”
A silence settled on the camp, broken only by the snapping of branches in the fire. Jimmy stretched his shoulders and then slid down to rest further on his bedroll. “Have you ever seen her again?”
“Polly?” Teaspoon questioned, sounds from his side indicating he was stretching out on his blankets as well.
A sad sigh was Jimmy’s answer long before the older man finally admitted, “No. There were many times I thought about trackin’ her down, tryin’ to get her to talk to me, see if she’d give me another chance.”
“But you never did.”
“No,” the stationmaster agreed. “I never did. I figured she’d made it quite clear she never wanted to see me again, the least I could do was not bother the poor woman.”
The young man felt his eyes grow heavy as the long day and the hypnotic power of the fire finally caught up to him. He was nearly asleep when a chuckle brought him back to awareness.
“Of course,” Teaspoon laughed. “If I ever did see her again, I’d do a few things differently. And I certainly wouldn’t give up quite so easily. But that’s only if fate ever crossed our paths again.”
As Jimmy rolled onto his side, he chuffed sleepily. Fate would have to have a weird sense of humor to ever bring Teaspoon and his ex-wife together some day. Or maybe a real perverse streak. But chances were greater that the two of them would never see each other again, and maybe that was the kindest thing for Polly. It didn’t seem fair to think of her stuck with Teaspoon again.
Buck rolled over onto his side, propping himself up on his elbow.
‘It’s time for my favorite part of the night.’ A seductive smile played upon his lips. ‘Make that my second favorite.’ The smile widened as his eyes roamed over the nude body lying next to him.
As if knowing he was watching her, she softly sighed and rolled slightly towards him. He loved watching her sleep, so much so it had become an important part of his night since they’d married six months earlier. Married. This was his wife and the thought of it still made him dizzy with happiness. The fact that this beautiful woman would even acknowledge his presence let alone marry him was truly a dream to him.
He placed his hand lightly on her naked stomach. He loved the contrast of their skin, his dark-tanned against her lily-white. The soft murmur that escaped her sweet lips from his touch elicited an involuntary growl from Buck. He knew if he wasn’t careful he’d wake her and he didn’t want that. Not yet.
He ran his finger over one bare breast, tracing the rise, and leaned forward, placing a light kiss on the swell. She softly sighed and whispered sleepily. His blood ran cold.
She murmured again, breathily. “James.”
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