Topic #78: Word List - Use at least three: open, stellar, philosophy, chipper, die
Happy To Help by: Lori The Best Remedy by: Lori
'Til The End Of Days by: Cindy Not Again by: catsimmie
Penny Thoughts by: Raye A Love To Never Die by: Shannon
Misunderstandings Of The Heart by: Shannon Sweetwater Resort and Spa by: Dede
Happy To Help
by: Lori

“*Open*, open, open.”

Nothing.

“Open. Open. OPEN!”

Still nothing.

“Oh, come on.”

Still nothing.

He eyed the jar, looked around the kitchen and contemplated his options. A knife between the top and the jar, tapping the lid against the side of the counter – gently, and if those ideas didn’t work, then he’d have to figure something else out.

Just as he was tapping the knife against the lid of the jar, his wife stepped into the kitchen. Looking way too awake and *chipper* considering how late it was. Or more precisely early.

“Sam?” Emma questioned. “What exactly are you doing?”

“I can’t get this blasted jar of cherries to open,” he grumbled, smacking the lid harder in his frustration and earning a glare from his wife. “I don’t understand this newfangled lid and I have spent the past twenty minutes trying to get at these cherries. They’re tauntin’ me, Emma. There they are, all beautiful and temptin’ in their juice, and I can’t get into the jar to get at ‘em.”

He could see that she was trying to suppress her smile, but wasn’t accomplishing the task very well. This was also her fault. She was the one who had used these new lids when she’d done her latest batch of canning. Didn’t she know he didn’t like them, that he couldn’t open them? That he liked the old ones?

“Sam,” she sighed with long-suffering patience. “I’ve showed you how to get into these jars before. I’ve also told you that we don’t need to open up a jar of cherries every other day.”

“I flipped the little thing, Emma,” he protested. “And besides…I can’t help it. I like cherries.”

“Yes, I know, Sam,” she smiled slightly at him. “But that’s still too many cherries for you to eat.”

You eat a jar of peaches every couple of days,” he pointed out.

His wife smoothed her hand over her nightgown, emphasizing the swell of her stomach. “That’s different, Sam. There are less peaches in a jar than there are cherries, and besides…”

“You’re eatin’ for two,” he said, repeating her oft-said phrase.

“That’s right,” she smiled brightly. She was almost constantly in a good mood since she’d been pregnant.

“So what are you doin’ up?” he asked, already suspecting the answer.

“Well, I woke up when you slipped out of bed,” she responded. “Then as I listened to you out here strugglin’ to open the cherries, I got thinkin’ about peaches. Pretty soon…the thought became too strong to ignore.”

He wanted to smirk triumphantly at her. She craved peaches nearly as much as he craved cherries, but she always claimed it was different since she was actually pregnant and he only looked like he was thanks to all the extra food he was eating. But he knew that if he did anything to incur her ire, she wouldn’t help him get the cherries open. And he really wanted some cherries.

“I’ll get the peaches,” he offered, “If you’ll…”

He trailed off, rolling the jar of cherries in his hand.

With a sigh and a roll of her eyes, Emma reached out and took pity on him. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake.”

With a slight twist of her wrist a satisfyingly loud pop echoed through the night. A part of him wanted to *die* of pure embarrassment that his wife could open the jar and he couldn’t. However, a larger part was just so happy that he’d get to have his cherries tonight that he frankly didn’t care.

He smiled broadly and kissed Emma on her cheek as he took the jar back from her. “Thank you, Emma.”

“You’re welcome, Sam,” she laughed slightly. “Now go get my peaches.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he obliged happily. “Anything you want.”

The End

The Best Remedy
by: Lori

“Now say ‘ahhh’.”

Clamping his teeth firmly together and barely moving his lips, Buck shot a look at Teaspoon that should have sent the older man scurrying away. Unfortunately it only made the stationmaster quirk his eyebrow and smile even more.

“I will not *open* my mouth.”

“Aw, Buck, I’m only tryin’ to help you.”

“You’re tryin’ to kill me,” he insisted.

“Cloves won’t kill a person,” Teaspoon denied. “Packing the aching tooth with powdered cloves, although I always found clove oil to more beneficial but we must make do with what we have, will help ease the pain. Almost instantaneously.”

“Cloves give me a rash,” the rider hissed out in anger and pain. “Make me swell.”

Tipping his head to the side, the older man looked at him curiously. “Really?”

He nodded his head. “Throat swells…can’t breathe.”

“Hmmm,” the ex-ranger pondered. “Then I suppose the common *philosophy* that ascribes to cloves as a cure for toothaches probably wouldn’t be good for you.”

Even though he was in pain, he shot the older a man a look that clearly conveyed his feelings. It was somewhere between relief that the stationmaster finally understood, and contempt for the man’s stupidity. This wasn’t merely a case of wanting to avoid some foul smelling cure, when Buck said no, he meant it. And he had a very good reason. Teaspoon should stop trying to force everyone into doing things and actually listen to what they were saying.

“Then I guess you’ll need to go to the dentist, son,” Teaspoon shrugged. It appeared he wasn’t going to use some other concoction to try to help the rider. But that didn’t mean Buck had given up.

There were plenty of other herbs and roots that Buck had learned about in his childhood. Just because he was allergic to cloves, didn’t mean there weren’t other things that could help him. Before he went to the dentist and had his tooth drilled or decided to yank his own tooth out like Jimmy had that one time, he was willing to try something else. He’d find some relief, one way or another. It just wouldn’t be with Teaspoon’s love of cloves.

~*~*~*~

A week later, Buck’s toothache was gone. He’d used herbs and roots he remembered from his childhood that would not give him a rash to ease the pain. It hadn’t helped completely, but it had aided considerably. Then, he was assisted by a friend in removing his tooth because he knew that it would only continue to fester and Buck had no intentions of going to the dentist. He didn’t have many fears, but letting someone poke around inside his mouth was one of them.

Jimmy, having learned his lesson from Emma, suggested that Buck not use one of Rachel’s napkins to stem the blood. A worn, but clean, rag was used, and after Jimmy utilized his method for dropping a trunk filled with books to yank the offending tooth out, Buck was quite glad for it. He hated the taste of blood, but knew that he would not have any more pain after this. And that was the important thing.

Teaspoon had asked several times how Buck was doing, and each time the rider assured the older man he was fine. It felt like every time Buck turned around, Teaspoon was there, wanting to impart some sort of sage wisdom to him. Yet he’d been stymied by the unchangeable fact that Buck couldn’t utilize his cloves remedy. So he seemed to be trying to make up for it in different ways.

Today was apparently going to be tooth cleaning. If Teaspoon couldn’t help Buck with his pain, then he’d impart some other form of *stellar* wisdom.

“Buck?”

The rider turned his head slightly towards Jimmy, but not taking his eyes off the spectacle in front of him. “Yeah?”

What is Teaspoon doin’? He’s…foaming black at the mouth.”

“Today I am learning the amazing properties of powdered charcoal. It ‘deodorizes the breath and makes teeth white’ according to Teaspoon.”

“He’s goin’ a little overboard don’t you think?” his friend asked. “I mean, yesterday when you were out on your run, I mentioned my throat was a little sore. Word of advice, don’t ever say that around him.”

“What’d he do?”

“Put a paper tube full of bicarbonate soda in my mouth, aimed it where I said it hurt and then blew the soda down my throat. Dang near choked me to death.”

“You talkin’ ‘bout Teaspoon and his cures?” Noah asked, joining the group. When they nodded he snorted his unhappiness. “Couple of nights ago I was complainin’ of heartburn. Don’t ever do that.”

“Why not?” Cody asked. “Emma would sometimes make me a mixture of sugar and peppermint to ease my stomach.”

“That was Emma,” Noah stated. “He gave me bicarbonate soda in cinnamon water with some ginger as well. I hate cinnamon. Burns my throat and my stomach. I was supposed to be getting relief…instead I got more agony. Until Rachel took pity on me and gave me some peppermint.”

“Oh, no,” Buck breathed out. “He’s done. And he’s gonna want me to try his tooth powder.”

“He’s gonna want all of us to try it,” Jimmy said in muted horror.

“There’s only one thing to do,” Cody breathed out.

As Teaspoon turned towards the gathered group Noah sent up the call that everybody had been thinking.

“Run for it!”

The End

The ‘cures’ of Teaspoon were mentioned in Eric Sloane’s The Seasons of America Past that was the impetus of the series ‘Teaspoon’s Almanac’. It came in handy once more, although the riders may argue that fact.

'Til The End Of Days
by: Cindy

He walked through the *open* door, reaching one hand out to steady himself as he navigated the raised lip that marked the portal.

Gone were the days when there was a hop and a skip in his step, the days when he could chase down a bad guy, shoot whiskey until the saloon closed, then get up in the morning and do it all over again. No, his pace had slowed, his steps were no longer so steady, and these days half a shot of whiskey for medicinal purposes nearly put him straight to sleep.

Still, there was a smile on Teaspoon’s face as he slowly navigated the three steps from the porch to the ground and turned toward town. It was a glorious spring day, about as fine a day as he had seen in all his many years. The sun was shining, with only an occasional white wisp of cloud marking the bright blue sky. The prairie had thrown off its winter coat of white and brown, replacing it with the green of new life in the grass and the trees. Here and there the early wildflowers were beginning to bloom, sprinkling the land with bright yellows, reds, purples, blues, pinks – and every color in between.

No reason to be down, he thought, no reason at all.

He tipped his hat to a few people as he shuffled down the street. They were all familiar faces, and even as his bones ached more and more, his mind remained as sharp as ever. For that small favor he was very grateful.

His path took him down the main street of Rock Creek. He stopped here and there to talk to a merchant, or to one of the people strolling the boardwalk. It was pretty much what he did every day, checking to make sure that everything was secure, that everyone was safe. He hadn’t been Marshal here for some years, of course, but the pattern was so ingrained in him that it didn’t occur to him to stop.

Polly wanted him to stop, to take life easy in what she called his golden years. He knew that she meant the best for him, and that she was afraid he’d exert himself too much, and not come home to her one day. But that simply wasn’t who he was, and who he had been for so long. It wasn’t in his nature to just stop, not even for the woman who had been by his side for seventeen years since she came back into his life.

Everyone was going to *die* someday, that was inevitable. He’d accepted that long ago, and he’d cheated death more times than he cared to recollect. But all in all, he’d lived a *stellar* life, full of adventure, good friends, and love. A man had to just keep on living his life as long as he could, that was his *philosophy* -- always had been, always would be. Everything else was out of his hands.

A lot had changed over the years, of course. Men he had served with at the Alamo, in the army, with the Rangers – nearly all of them were dead. There was no one left to share a tale with about sneaking out of San Antonio in the dead of night in a futile attempt to bring help to the embattled defenders of the Alamo. Only one or two of the men he’d served with in the Mexican-American war a decade later were still alive, at least as far as he knew; he hadn’t heard from them for some time so that might have changed.

He’d made a trip back to Texas after the War Between the States, when he’d heard that the Rangers were being reformed. But what he’d found bore little resemblance to the group he had sworn his allegiance to. Or maybe the new Rangers weren’t really so different from what he and his cohorts had been way back when – young, brimming with confidence, ready to take on the world.

But that world had changed, of that there was no doubt.

Thinking about some of those changes led to a tightness in his chest, and he paused, leaning against a hitching rail for support. He took several slow, careful breaths, eyes closed.

Of all the things he’d done in life, his time with the Pony Express might be the thing he was most proud of. He remembered the first day, and thinking he’d never seen such a sorry bunch of misfits – there was no way they’d make Express riders.

And there was no time in his life he’d been happier to be proven wrong.

Those misfits had become a family, and, even if he did say so himself, the finest group of riders any station master could have had. He’d watched them grow from boys to men – and one lady – right before his eyes.

The War had changed things there too. Kid had been drawn back to Virginia. He left his wife in Rock Creek with a promise to return, donned the Confederate grey – and gave his life on a battlefield in Corinth, Mississippi, far from either home.

Lou had borne up well under the news, at least outwardly. But sometimes, when she thought no one could see, he caught glimpses of the pain underneath.

Jimmy and Cody had been drawn to the War as well, but on the Union side. They both emerged at the end, unscarred physically – but on their rare visits later, Teaspoon could see a change in both men. That’s what war did. It took boys and made them old before their time, if they survived at all.

Teaspoon put his free hand to his chest and tried a couple of deeper breaths. It still felt tight, but seemed to be a little better.

“Teaspoon?”

The older man looked up into the concerned face of Buck Cross. He guessed he shouldn’t have been surprised, now that he noticed he was directly across the street from the livery. Buck and Janos Terkovsky had become business partners shortly after the demise of the Pony Express, and had run the livery and smithy ever since. “Just catchin’ my breath,” he finally said.

Buck didn’t look quite convinced. “Maybe you should go see the doc.”

Teaspoon straightened up, shaking his head. “Nothin’ the doc can do, son. It just ain’t easy gettin’ old.” He studied the younger man for a moment, a slight scowl crossing his face. Buck’s hair was still dark brown, not a fleck of gray. His body was still lean and firm, his teeth white and straight. “You’ll find out someday,” he grumbled.

Buck just laughed. “I imagine I will,” he admitted. “But not today.”

Teaspoon studied the smile on the other man’s face, near as bright as the sun. “What’s got you so *chipper* then?”

If anything, Buck’s smile widened. “Lou and the girls are due back on the stage today.”

Teaspoon nodded in understanding, and his own scowl turned to a smile. When Kid had taken off for Virginia, Buck had been there for Lou as a friend she could count on. When word came of Kid’s death, he’d been there with a friendly shoulder for her to cry on.

Teaspoon didn’t figure there was anyone more surprised than Lou and Buck themselves, when, after a time, that friendship blossomed into something more.

“Bet you been missin’ them,” he said, knowing that Lou had taken the girls to visit her sister.

Buck nodded. “Longest two weeks of my life.”

Teaspoon’s smile grew. He knew how Buck doted on the women in his life. And to the younger man’s credit, Teaspoon had never seen Buck show any favoritism to the two girls he had fathered over the blue-eyed girl Lou had given birth to some six months after Kid left Rock Creek. All three had their father wrapped around their little fingers.

Well, truth be told, they pretty much had their grandfather in the same place.

“Guess you’ll be wantin’ some time alone tonight,” Teaspoon said. “But you plan on bringin’ the family over for dinner tomorrow night. I’ll tell Polly we’ll be expectin’ you.” And that would give him time tomorrow to look for some gifts, all the better to spoil his granddaughters even more…

“I’ll do that,” Buck agreed. “You’re sure you’re all right?”

Teaspoon turned his face into the sun and grinned. “Right as rain,” he declared. “Might not be as young as I was, but I ain’t dead yet – and I ain’t gonna be today!”

“You better not be,” Buck agreed, glad to hear the spark back in the older man’s voice. “The girls will be looking forward to seeing you.”

“And I’ll be right here,” Teaspoon assured him. “’Til the end of my days.”

Not Again
by: catsimmie

Kid groaned as he heard Lou approach the bedroom and feigned sleep. He still loved her and found her as attractive as ever, but at six months pregnant, he could only take so much. He heard the *open* the door and prayed she would just let him sleep.

"Kiiiiiiiid," she said huskily. "I know you're awake."

Kid felt her crawl into bed next to him and her hands started to roam his body. "Let me sleep, Lou," he said. "I gotta get up early."

"Please, Kid," she begged. Her voice was too *chipper* this late at night.

When he didn't say anything, Lou sat up. "You don't love me?" she questioned. "Now that I'm as big as a house you don't want me anymore?"

Kid groaned and turned over to look at her. He saw the tears in her eyes and knew sleep was a far off possibility now. "You know that ain't true, Lou. I love you and want you just as much as the first day I learned your secret."

"Then why not?"

"We've already done it four times today," he complained. "I'm not a young man anymore."

She smiled seductively. "You'll always be my young man," she said as her hands resumed their exploration.

Kid groaned as she finally climbed up on his chest. He thought he'd *die* of exhaustion, but at least he'd go with a smile on his face.

Penny Thoughts
by: Raye

Louise was not a woman that liked being pregnant. The end result was just fine with her, but the actual ‘carrying’ of the child within her body had a way of putting her in a terrible state. This pregnancy was no better.

When the extended Express family had heard the news that she was expecting yet again most of them, at least inside their heads, planned on getting as far away from Grove’s Mill until the baby was born.

That is everyone except her husband. He enjoyed everything from the swelling of her legs to the aches in her back and even to the strange cravings she had. It never failed to surprise him how she could want something with a burning passion one day and hate it with that same burning passion the next. Still, he was more than happy to take to the wilds to hunt down fresh game if it made it easier for her to bear the burden.

He had to hide his smiles from his temperamental wife and his children had learned early on that when Mommy asked for quiet it wasn’t a request… it was all about survival.

He always took the biggest part of the burden on himself and loved spending the evening after dinner with her feet in his lap as he rubbed oils into them… or the nights when he’d rub herbal creams into her skin to keep it from stretching.

With the house running like a well oiled machine it came as a complete shock when Teaspoon Hunter walked up to Louise’s front door and found the three elder children sitting dejectedly on the top step.

He bent over, peering into each of their faces with a concerned gaze that came so easily to a grandfather. “Alright, who’s gonna tell me what happened?”

The three stared right through him.

“Hmm… won’t talk, eh… well,” he drawled, “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves.”

Nothing.

Fixing his eldest grand-daughter with an owl-like stare he puffed out a breath. “Let me guess… someone broke your Ma’s vase?”

Nope.

“Fine… maybe she finally found those candies you childr’n been keepin’ for old Grandpa?”

Nope.

“Then, maybe-”

Mina spoke up first… she never could stand keeping things from him. ‘Bless her heart,” he thought.

“It was Papa. He done it.”

Teaspoon cocked an eyebrow at the child, confusion evident. “Buck? What happened?”

Little Bear, the middle of the dejected trio huffed out a breath. “He told Mama that… told Ma that-”

The boy just couldn’t seem to spit out the words and Teaspoon rumpled his hair affectionately. He turned back to the eldest, knowing she’d be his best bet to get at least a coherent story from them. “Missy?”

She turned her head to the side, laying her cheek on her knees. “Mama’s been so worried, with her time comin’… that she’s been cleanin’ and dustin’ and cannin’ everything she can get her hands on. Papa thought he’d make her happy. So he made her a breakfast tray and took it up to their room.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad-”

“That,” sighed the ten-year old, “wasn’t the problem.” She bit her lip for a moment, gathering the strength she needed to complete the story. “He sat her down and showed her his list.”

“List? What would he-” he caught the impatient looks and nodded, “go on.”

“He said that after three of us, he’d learned enough to write a book about it… and told her his plan to make sure that everything went just right with the new baby. He said he had it all figured out and it was going to be sooo,” the little girl looked up at her grandfather, helpless to spare him the pain, “simple.”

“Goodness, no!” Teaspoon clutched his chest and gasped in a few breaths. “What possessed him to say a,” he covered over Mina’s ears, “stupid thing like that?”

Mina struggled to look up at the grizzled old man. “I heard that!”

“I was trying to get her to relax. Is that so wrong?”

Teaspoon straightened up with some effort; planting his hands on his lower back to ease the pull of old muscles. “Buck?”

“Teaspoon.”

“Son, you’re a smart man… but I’m surprised you lasted this long if that’s what you think is helpin’.”

Reaching into his pocket Teaspoon pulled out a couple of pennies and dropped them into Missy’s hand adding quickly, “take your little shadows and get me some of Sally’s penny candy.”

Three expectant faces drooped.

He winked at them. “And each of you can have one too.” They ran off toward the center of town leaving the two men alone.

“What’s wrong, Teaspoon… are you worried that the children will see me cry when you scold me?”

The older man gave Buck a harsh glare. “I worry about you; son… survival is the aim here. When you go and say somethin’ stupid like that to a woman that’s expectin’ I have to wonder if you’ve a death wish.”

Buck looked up at the bedroom window and returned his gaze to Teaspoon with a look that spoke volumes. “I just wanted to tell her that when the time comes, I have everything under control.”

“That’s the problem, Buck. When the time comes ‘you’ ain’t got nuthin’. It all comes down to that woman up in that room and the babe that’s comin’… you’re the least bit of their concern.”

The younger man’s expression sobered… for a second or two and then he was back smiling like the village idiot. “You wanna come inside and see her?”

Teaspoon nodded and turned toward the front door.

“Well Son, a few minutes ago I was thinkin’ that you’d be runnin’ for the hills after that *stellar*little example of what ‘not’ to say to a pregnant woman. ” Teaspoon settled his arm around Buck’s shoulders. “But I have to say that it’s real good that you manage to keep an *open* *philosophy* like this...” he saw the dubious look that the young boy shot his way. “Really, it’s refreshing to see a man that can stay this *chipper* when he’s about to *die*.”

I blame, Cindy… she got me in a Buck as Daddy mood.

A Love To Never Die
by: Shannon

Emma looked out her *open* bedroom window to see the *stellar* sunset. She smiled as she heard Teaspoon discussing his *philosophy*on marriage to her fiancé on the porch below her window. The *chipper* sound of her “boys” could be heard as they finished their chores and headed into the bunkhouse for a friendly game of cards. The station mother sighed at the thought of how soon moments like these would be over. Next week she and Sam would be man and wife, on their way to their new home in Omaha. Although she was leaving them to start a new life, her love for her Express family would never *die*.



Thanks to Jen for the beta!

Misunderstandings Of The Heart
by: Shannon

“There, what do you think?” Kid asks me anxiously.

I can’t believe he’s doing this, and in front of Noah. I don’t know what he’s planning, but the *chipper* sound in his voice makes me think it must be something *stellar*. This is so not like him. I’m so nervous I can barely *open* my eyes. My heart drops when I see a saddle in the store window.

“Katy’s been needin’ a new saddle for a while.” He explains as I try to figure out what say.

“It’s real fine, Kid.” Noah tells him. I’m thankful that neither is aware of the tears I’m fighting back for being just an idiot.

“Yeah,” I finally manage to mutter. “It’s real fine.”

I know if he looks at me he’ll know, so I take off. I just want to disappear. I’d rather *die* than have him know what a fool I am, a fool in love with him.

“Lou!” He calls out as he catches up to me.

I quickly wipe the tear that’s escaped as he asks, “Lou, what’s wrong?”

“Nothin’,” I lie as I feel my face burn in humiliation.

“Don’t tell me nothin’. Something’s wrong, now what is it?”

Before I can figure out what to say, a young woman taps Kid on the shoulder.

“Pardon me,” the girl asks, “Aren’t you the one who captured Lloyd Dyson?”

He smiles at being recognized. He’s probably thinking about asking her out. “Yeah, that’s me.”

The girl immediately slaps Kid across the face to the surprise of both of us. “He was my father! The marshal murdered him and you helped.”



Thanks for the beta Jen!

Sweetwater Resort and Spa
by: Dede

“Teaspoon,” Cody whined, “why do we have to do this?” The other riders murmured their agreement.

“It’ll do ya’ some good to expand yerself. Now get in there,” Teaspoon commanded. He looked at each one and pointed towards the door of the schoolhouse. “And you’d best keep an *open* mind about this.”

Groaning at that last comment, the riders filed into the building and, with Teaspoon guiding them, took seats in the middle section of the room. Unfortunately for them, Teaspoon put them at the front. Grudgingly, Cody, Jimmy and Kid sat in the first row and, behind them, sat Ike, Buck and Lou. Once Teaspoon made sure they were seated, and with a steely-eyed glare that they would stay there, he walked over to speak to the stranger that was standing on the dais, leaning on the podium.

Hearing footsteps, everyone looked towards the back and saw Emma and Sam walk in. Sam nodded to the riders as he continued towards Teaspoon. Emma patted Lou’s shoulder and greeted the boys as she walked over to the right side of the dais where Miss Jackson, the teacher, stood. The women quietly exchanged pleasantries as Sam joined Teaspoon and the unknown man, who had stepped down from the platform, to greet them.

Leaning towards Jimmy, Kid pointed to the three men and whispered, “Who do you suppose that is with Sam and Teaspoon?”

Jimmy shrugged. “I don’t know but I wish I was on a run right now. Better ‘an bein’ here.” He sighed and turned around to face his friends behind him. Kid did the same.

Cody watched Teaspoon and Sam talk to the man, as his five friends whispered amongst themselves. Stifling a laugh, he turned around and whispered, “I swear a small breeze would take that fella away.” The others glanced up and chuckled softly. “And it looks like his head’s floatin’ in the air.” This time, they all had to cover their mouths to keep from laughing out loud. Emma cleared her throat, eyeing the group, and they sheepishly ducked their heads but the smiles remained.

The man in question was tall. Very tall. The top of Teaspoon’s head came to just below the man’s shoulder and Sam’s just above. He was also very skinny. With Sam and Teaspoon standing in front of him, they completely blocked his body so his head, as Cody pointed out, looked to be detached. He had thinning brown hair, swept down, hiding a high forehead. A pair of wire spectacles sat on his beak-like nose and moved up and down, with the movement of his large ears, as he spoke. When the riders heard a snort from that direction, they looked at each other and then towards the men, realizing that the stranger was laughing. Cody, Jimmy and Kid turned quickly to face the front and all six put their heads down, unable to stop the laughter. A loud cough did the trick. They sat up studiously, and looked towards the podium, trying desperately to keep their composure.

“Well, I believe we’re all here,” Teaspoon said, “so let’s get started.”

Sam walked over to sit next to Emma and Miss Jackson as Teaspoon continued, “I want y’all to give yer undivided attention to our guest.” He looked pointedly at his riders. “I believe this is somethin’ we’ll all enjoy.” He stepped aside, indicating for the gentleman now standing back on the dais to take over, and walked over to sit down by Sam.

Clearing his throat, in a nasally English accent the man said, “Um, yes, well, thank you very much Mr. Hunter.” He nodded to Teaspoon. “I want to thank you all for taking the time to be here. Mr. Hunter thought it a good idea for me to start with a select audience before branching out to the rest of the townspeople.”

The boys and Lou all exchanged knowing looks. Teaspoon was using them for this man to practice whatever it was he was selling.

“Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself,” he said, blushing slightly. “My name is William Leslie Smythe-Briggs and, as I suppose you can tell by my accent, I’m from England.”

“How many names does he need?” Cody murmured, causing Jimmy to snort and cough to cover the laugh. Jimmy elbowed Cody in the side but they both stopped when Emma looked over.

“I’m sure you have heard of astrology, the study of how the stars affect people, but there’s a movement towards a new *philosophy* that takes this to a different level. It’s a growing belief in how the stars guide one’s life,” Mr. Smythe-Briggs continued, glancing over at the riders. “Well, really it’s not exactly new, it’s actually been…” His voice trailed off. He’d been mainly talking to the adults in the front and hadn’t really taken notice of the Express group. Stepping off the platform, he walked towards the boys, staring directly at Buck in awe. “You’re an Indian.”

Unable to contain themselves, the other riders laughed at this obvious statement, as Buck sat stone-faced.

“Well, you must know what I’m talking about then,” Mr. Smythe-Briggs continued, enthusiastically, unaware of the looks he was getting. “You must know a great deal more than I do about this.” The man was absolutely giddy with the prospect of having an Indian to talk to.

Buck, on the other hand, wasn’t so giddy and looked over at Teaspoon. He was uncomfortable having all the attention in the room directed towards him, even if most everyone there were friends.

“Um, Mr. Smythe-Briggs,” Teaspoon said, trying to get the man back on track and away from Buck, “you were sayin’?”

“Oh, yes,” Mr. Smythe-Briggs murmured. With one last look at Buck, he turned towards the front. “God did not use a *die* to cut each of us from the same material. We are all different.” He turned back to Buck and grinned like a ninny. “There is a star up there to guide each one of us, on our own track to enlightenment.”

Buck rolled his eyes. First the fact that this man, a white man, was trying to take up the beliefs Buck held dear and apply them generally was ridiculous. But truly, he didn’t understand why it was always one or the other – people either found him fascinating, like an exhibit, or disgusting, something to be shunned. Why couldn’t they just see him as Buck? He felt a nudge and looked over at Ike.

*Ignore him,* Ike signed, ducking down to hide behind Cody, *he’s an idiot.* Ike added one of his deranged faces he used to make at the mission school. It worked and Buck laughed.

*I just hate it when white people either dismiss my people’s beliefs as heathen or try to take them up like a hobby.* Buck sighed and shook his head, as Ike nodded his understanding.

“My assistant has gone to get the brochures explaining what the spa will do,” Mr. Smythe-Briggs was saying.

Buck and Ike looked at each other confused, realizing they’d missed something important. Before Buck could ask, Jimmy leaned back in his seat.

”Bro-what?” Jimmy muttered.

”Pamphlets,” Buck and Lou answered in unison.

”Oh,” Jimmy and Cody replied.

Buck turned to Lou. “What’s he talking about? A spa?”

“He represents some company back east that wants to build a resort and spa,” Lou whispered. She shook her head as she looked over her glasses at Buck. “Ike’s right, he is an idiot.” Kid glanced around, vigorously nodding to that fact.

Buck coughed to stop the laugh. A resort? Here in Sweetwater? The man not only was an idiot, he was crazy too.

“This place will provide much in the way of both physical and mental well-being. The *stellar* readings have brought us here,” the man continued, missing the perplexed looks on the faces of his audience. “The stars guide you to –”

“Here I am Leslie,” a soft female voice came from the back of the room. “Sorry I’m late.” She walked to the front.

The boys sat up quickly, watching the young woman walk by. She looked over and smiled at them and, as one, all five sighed. Lou, however, snickered at the sappy looks on their faces.

“Ah, Mary Elizabeth,” Mr. Smythe-Briggs said, lighting up like the others. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present my sister, Mary Elizabeth Constance Smythe-Briggs.”

As the young lady curtsied, and they all stood up, Cody again asked, “What’s with all the names? Wha’d’ya’ call ‘em?”

“Forget the names,” Jimmy scoffed, “she’s his sister?” The others nodded in shock.

She was nothing like her brother. Where her brother was very tall, she was petite, the top of her head coming just to his chest, and she was pretty, with delicate features, blonde hair and deep blue eyes.

“I do hope Leslie has provided you with the information you need,” Miss Smythe-Briggs said. “Are there any questions we may answer?” She began handing out the brochures.

“A spa in Sweetwater?” Emma asked, taking the brochure offered. She knew that everyone in the room wondered the same thing. She also wondered if Mr. Spoon knew what this was all about before he agreed to any of this. He answered that for her.

“Well now Emma,” Teaspoon said, holding up the brochure, “I believe Sweetwater could benefit from somethin’ like this. I know that springs, mud baths and the like can leave a person feelin’ right *chipper* and spry.” He smiled as everyone gathered at the front. “And think of the business potential for the area.”

“Oh yes,” Miss Smythe-Briggs agreed, giving the stationmaster a big smile. “Mr. Hunter is right on both counts. Not only are the business opportunities plentiful with a resort like this but we believe that this area is tinctured with healing and medicinal properties.”

“Oh, oh, Mary Elizabeth,” Mr. Smythe-Briggs enthused, leaning towards her. “Look. An Indian.” He pointed at Buck.

Buck was glued to the spot as the others parted slightly, turning to look at him, and left him out in the open. He clenched his teeth, again uncomfortable being put on display. However, Miss Smythe-Briggs walked up to him and, gracing him with the brightest smile yet, put out her hand. “It is a delight to meet you, Mr. …”

“Um, uh,” Buck hemmed. He took the offered hand. “Um, Buck. Buck Cross. And it’s nice to meet you too.” He smiled, knowing it was probably a bit wider than need be. But that was polite; after all she was smiling at him just as wide.

“Yes,” she murmured, “a delight.” She stared into Buck’s eyes and, holding onto his hand for a moment longer, added, “I’m sure we can learn a lot from you.”

Buck raised his eyebrow slightly, returning her stare. Maybe a spa was just what Sweetwater needed.

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