Topic #100: "Things are not always what they seem"
Looking Back by: Misa Marie Antoinette by: Jo
Scratching The Surface by: Dede A Chance To Dance by: Leah
Misunderstandings by: Karen Secret Past by: Dee
I Followed by: Cindy The Talk by: Lori
The Right Man by: Miss Raye If They Only Knew by: Debbie
A Trip to Town by: Georgia What Have I Gotten Myself Into? by: Debbie
Looking Back
by: Misa

Authors note: This is my very first submission so take it easy on me. This is one I had been working on for a while on my own but with this prompt I just switched things around a little. Hope you enjoy. :)

Cody sat in the den of his home enjoying the peace and quiet. As he sat by the window his aging body told him that it was 1917 but his heart and mind were in 1861. He was a cocky and childish young man; he saw the Pony Express as a way to make money, meet girls and find some adventure. He smiled as he thought of the people that would be closer then blood kin to him.

Jimmy- God could that man shoot! Quick tempered and hard headed though. Full of the alpha male attitude and usually ended up in a fight with Kid. But Cody remembered Jimmy always being there for him no matter the problem.

Kid- The closest thing to a "normal" friend that he ever knew in life. Kid was one that he could count on to keep a cool head even when it seemed to be over.

Louise- She was the closest thing to a sister he had in those days. She was tough and rugged. She sat a horse better then most men he knew. She was always quick to laugh and easy to talk to. He missed her most today. Mainly because it was her birthday.

Buck- He seemed to be able to break up a fight with little to no fear. He had been the one to show that it is ok to be proud of who you are and where you come from; even if it makes you stand out.

Ike- Gentle and wonderful with animals. He had such a sweet personality most times but boy could he throw a punch if pissed off. He seemed to see the inner beauty in people quicker then most. He had past only in the past winter from pneumonia. Cody missed the conversations with Ike.

And last but not least Teaspoon, Emma and Sam. They were the closest thing to parents they all knew in those days. Never had he been able to look at a baseball game, tennis game with out at least smiling.

Yes they gave given him a place to lay his head at night, food, money and all the adventure he could handle. But it went deeper then that. It was a home, true friends, guidance from boy to man and family. He looked longingly at the last photograph of them. Taken in 1905 before they all started passing on. A searing pain flashed through his kidneys. When it passed he looked at the picture a moment longer " I miss y'all. I'll be home directly." With that he went to go lay down and rest.

As he lay there a peaceful feeling washed over him. He saw 5 figures on horse back and one leading another horse. It was his brothers and little sister.

"Always had to be the first on in and the last one out of a place" Kid said tossing Cody the reigns to the spare horse. Lou sat on Lightning smiling from ear to ear to see him again.

" It sure was quieter without you around" Buck said teasingly to him.

"What no smart-ass comment?" He shot in Jimmy and Ike's direction. Ike just shook him head and smiled.

As they all took off Cody felt a sense of peace spread through his soul. That is until Jimmy moved Sundance close to Cody's horse. " I never did get that 2 dollars you owed me" Jimmy shouted with a smile.

Cody laughed " well Hickok tell you what...you catch me you can have it" He shouted back nudging his horse a head. As they rode the wind around them took in two familiar voices.

"Funny how they came and only wanted food, money and job and a bunk.. At least that is the way it seemed to most people." Emma said "But we all got something more. Family"

Teaspoon agreed. "Yep just goes to show that things are not always what they seem to be."

Cody and Jimmy slowed their horses up and the others followed suit.

"Did you hear that Jimmy?" Cody asked

" Sounded kinda like Teaspoon and Emma." Jimmy said scratching his head.

"Shoulda done What I did." Buck said

"What?" Cody said almost afraid to know.

"I left his spirit some onions and bear grease." Buck said as they all took off again.

But they all heard Teaspoons voice shout in the wind "Ride Safe"

Marie Antoinette
by: Jo

“I believe that’s everything on your list Miss Shannon.” Tompkins said looking the list over.

“Thank you Mr. Tompkins, I have to ask, what is all the new fabric and notions for? It’s quite an assortment.” Emma asked looking at a table full of brightly colored fabrics, feathers and wigs.

“Oh, I guess you haven’t seen the notice, your rider is looking at it now….” Tompkins pointed vaguely in the direction of the door where Lou was reading something. “The school is having a costume party to raise money for new books. You’re supposed to dress up as a character from a book. There’s a list of characters too. It’s all there on the notice. The new school master told me about it a couple of months back so I could order some things to make costumes. It all came in yesterday and the party is in a month or so.”

“It really sounds like fun.” Emma said thinking of different books she had read.

“That’s what everyone keeps saying. No one seems to mind that there is a suggested donation of twenty five cents to get in. I guess there is going to be a prize for the best costume, I’m thinking of going as Antonio from “The Merchant of Venice.” He’s the merchant!” Tompkins said smiling then he laughed, “I guess that’s not much of a stretch!”

“Not really but it suits you, Thank you again, I’m sure I’ll be back to pick up some fabric, I’ll need to talk to the boys and see who they want to go as.” Emma laughed and left the store with her parcels. Lou followed glumly behind.

“What’s the long face for?” Emma asked noticing Lou.

“You know…dances are the one time I hate dressin’ like a boy.” Lou said very quietly.

Emma thought a moment. “Will you trust me to make you a costume you’ll love? Please?”

“I guess so…” Lou mumbled looking at her feet.

“I’ll be right back.” Emma disappeared into the general store again.

Lou began packing the wagon and managed to finish before Emma came back out with another parcel.

“I have a plan; you will be the belle of the ball!” Emma said with a wink. Lou had to admit she was curious.

That night at dinner the boys were told about the party and were soon planning who would wear what costume. “I’m reading a book called the ‘The Three Musketeers’ I’d like to go as d’Artagnan.” Buck said smiling.

*I read that one too we could all be musketeers! I’ll be Athos, Jimmy you could be Aramis and Lou, Cody or Kid could be Poithos.* Ike said enthusiastically.

“Ah, what is a musketeer?” Jimmy asked skeptically.

“They were kinda like the law two hundred years ago ‘cept they used swords and not guns. They got all the girls and protected the queen. At least that’s what I’ve read so far.” Buck said quickly summarizing the book. Ike gave a half smile and nodded.

“I’ll be Pottoes!” Cody said quickly “I’m a ladies man!”

Jimmy and Kid groaned, Lou rolled her eyes and Teaspoon shook his head. “It’s Poithos, Cody not Pottoes….” Buck said shaking his head.

“Buck what is that other book you read, something about a whale?” Teaspoon asked. “Anyone in there that might be a good fit for me?”

“Hmmm, Yeah you could be Captain Ahab. He’s the man that goes after the white whale, Moby Dick, that’s also the name of the book.” Buck said. “What about you Kid, Lou any ideas? You could both be sailors…”

“My friend Doritha from back in Virginia used to read me stuff by a guy named Shakespeare, hmmm, I remember Macbeth, Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliette, anything there?” Kid said looking to Buck and Ike.

“Kid, you’d look lovely as Juliette!” Cody laughed. Kid’s look said he’d happily throttle Cody.

“I afraid Lou won’t be able to go, he has a ride scheduled, unless one of you wants to trade…” Emma said hoping Lou would understand it was a ruse. “Kid what about Richard III? He was an English King that might have had musketeers or men like that protecting him…”

“Sounds good to me…” Kid said smiling.

“How come he gets to be king?” Cody asked in a whiny voice.

“Because you’re the ladies man.” Jimmy replied in a singsong high pitched voice that caused everyone to laugh.

The day of the party arrived quickly and Lou wished the boys a good time at the dance as they got their costumes on and Lou left for her ride. Emma had stayed in town at the hotel so she could finish both her and Sam’s costumes. They were going as pilgrims from Pilgrim’s Progress. “Ride safe Lou, sorry you have to miss the party!” Buck and Kid saw her off.

The boys arrived in town and entered the hall to find that Emma and Sam were already there as were an assortment of pirates, witches, scarecrows, kings and queens. Everyone was wearing masks so it was fun trying to guess who was who. Emma was talking to a beautiful young woman dressed as a queen in a long flowing gown, a feathered mask and a big white wig with a jeweled tiara in it. “I see our first damsel to protect.” Buck said smiling.

They all walked over to where Emma was standing with the queen.

“You gentlemen look handsome, I’d like to introduce you to Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, your majesty, these handsome young men are Athos, Poithos, Aramis, and d’Artagnan. This gentleman is King Richard III and this is Captain Ahab.

Buck swept his hat off his head and bowed deeply from his waist. “I’m at your service Mi’lady” the other musketeers followed Buck’s lead and the Queen curtsied to each of them in turn.

Kid decided to go one step further. “Would you care to dance, your majesty?”

“I’d love to…” The queen said and he led her out to the dance floor.

The queen danced with all of the riders and several of the town’s men but Kid seemed to have the most dances with her. No one could figure out who she was. Finally the time to announce the winning costumes and take off the masks arrived and Kid reached for Marie Antoinette’s arm. She wasn’t there. He saw her being helped into a shawl by Sam and hurried over. “You’re the most beautiful girl here, I’m sure you’ll win best costume, you can’t leave now.” Kid said. “I don’t even know who you are yet….”

“I’m sorry I really have to leave, I’ve had a wonderful time please give my best to your friends.” The queen leaned in close to kiss Kid’s cheek and whispered, “Scratch Katy for me.” Kid stood in stunned silence a moment but that was all it took. She was gone.

Kid started to run after her but Emma caught his arm. “Kid could you help me with the food basket? I don’t know where Sam got off to.” Kid started to protest but it was no use. An hour later the riders, Teaspoon, Sam and Emma left the hall after most of the other town folk. Emma had signed them all up for cleanup duty.

When they arrived back at the station Lou was sitting at the table reading. “How was the dance?” She asked casually.

“Not bad…You should have seen this girl she was beautiful…..” The boys told Lou all about Marie Antoinette and Lou just smiled. The feather mask was hidden in her trunk.

Scratching The Surface
by: Dede

The small bell over the door chimed as another customer walked into the restaurant.

“Mr. Cross.” Abigail Sturbridge greeted the man, smiling sweetly as she walked from behind the counter. “Would you like to join your friends?” My heart has stopped. He is such an attractive man. She indicated the table where Teaspoon was having lunch with Jimmy. The two men waved.

“Oh, no thank you Miss Sturbridge,” Buck replied, returning her smile. “If you could make me up a plate to take with me, I’d appreciate it.” And if you would be on that plate…right…she won’t even say my name. Buck waved to his friends but stayed where he was.

“Mr. Cross,” she said, her brows furrowed in mock annoyance but the smile remained, “that’s just not good for your digestion.” But more importantly, it’s just not good for me either. And why doesn’t he at least call me Miss Abigail?

“Well now, take that up with the man sitting over there,” Buck said, pointing to Teaspoon. “I have paperwork to finish for him.” She is so beautiful. She’s all I can think about. But that’s all I have…thoughts….

“Teaspoon Hunter, are you working your deputies too hard?” Abigail said, shaking her finger in Teaspoon’s direction as she walked over to the table. I’d like to be the one working Buck hard. She cleared her throat and a pale blush crept over her face.

“Now Miss Abigail,” Teaspoon said, holding up his hand to calm the young woman, “Buck’s a bit behind, seems he’s doin’ more daydreamin’ than workin’.” He glanced at Buck and winked.

“And b’sides, it’s only one deputy gettin’ the workin’,” Jimmy chimed in and grinned at Buck, who slowly walked over.

“Uh, well, I have been helping Otis at the livery,” Buck said as a way of explaining his neglect. I work at the livery because it’s across the street…I can watch you all day…especially wash day… He cleared his throat.

“Yes, I’ve seen you there. You work awfully hard,” she said, smoothing her hands on her apron. Oh have I seen you. Shirt off, that beautiful, muscular body…. Her blush deepened and she gently shook her head. “I’m sorry did you say something?”

“Um, no,” he said, his eyes dancing around, trying hard to steer clear of her face. She blushed. I wonder why. I’d like to see her wearing just that and nothing else. Buck’s jaw dropped slightly and his eyes widened.

“Yes, well, I’ll get you your food,” she said, needing to put distance between her and Buck. She walked quickly to the kitchen and pushed the batwing doors opened. He seemed shocked. Can he read my mind? Oh I’m such a ninny when I’m around him.

Buck pulled out a chair and sat at the table with Teaspoon and Jimmy as he waited for Abigail to return with his food. However, his eyes were glued to the still-swinging doors. Suddenly, she popped back into his vision.

“Oh Mr. Cross,” Abigail said, peeking over the doors, “Would you like the special? That’s what Teaspoon and Jimmy had.” And I can stand here staring at you for a moment longer while you decide.

“Um,” Buck glanced down at the two men’s plates and saw they were wiped clean. He looked up and smiled. Actually, can I just get a serving of you? “Whatever you have is fine by me.”

“Pot roast it is,” she said, bouncing up and down on her toes. She paused a moment longer than necessary. Do you really have to go back to that old stuffy jail? Releasing a soft sigh, she turned to prepare Buck’s plate.

Staring towards the kitchen, Teaspoon chuckled. “Ya’ know,” he said, looking back at Buck, “there’s really nothin’ sayin’ you have to go back to the jail just yet.” He glanced at Jimmy and pulled his napkin from his collar, placing it neatly on his plate.

“Yeah,” Jimmy said, leaning back comfortably in his chair. “I’m headin’ that way so I can keep things under control ‘til ya’ get back.”

Buck looked from Teaspoon to Jimmy and back. “Seriously? Are you sure?” he said quickly. When Teaspoon eyed him curiously, Buck swallowed to get control of his emotions. “I mean, I don’t have that much left on my tracking report.” If you say yes, I just may have to kiss you.

“Oh I’m sure,” Teaspoon said, sliding his chair slowly away from the table so he could stand. “You just enjoy Miss Abigail’s cookin’.” Teaspoon stood, stretched, and patted his stomach happily.

“Miss Abigail?” Jimmy called as he stood up. When her pretty face appeared at the door, Jimmy said, “Buck here’s gonna stay for lunch.”

“Mr. Cross, are you really staying to eat?” Why else would he be staying…and don’t sound overly excited you silly girl. He’ll think you’re mad.

“Yes ma’am,” Buck said softly, pulling his chair closer to the table. Actually no, I’m staying to stare at you and will do so all day if I can.

“Well then Mr. Cross, I’ll be right back with your food,” she said, maintaining a strong hold on her giddiness as she turned away. I hope he doesn’t think it’s strange for me to keep calling him mister…I just don’t trust myself to say his name.

He smiled, preoccupied with all thoughts of her. Absolutely beautiful and completely out of reach.

“Buck?”

He glanced up and saw Teaspoon and Jimmy still standing by the table, staring at him with unbridled satisfaction. “Um what?” He couldn’t stop the blush that warmed his cheeks and he wondered how many times they’d called his name. Will you both just leave me to my misery?

“Just sayin’ goodbye,” Jimmy said, laughing as he walked towards the door. Just before ducking out, Jimmy put his hand over his heart and patted it. He laughed harder at Buck’s scowl.

“Yes, enjoy yer meal,” Teaspoon added, as he fluttered his fingers at Buck in a silly wave and followed Jimmy out the door.

Buck watched the two men for a moment longer. Why do they act like I have a chance with Abigail? I know that I don’t so they should too. Abigail… He looked up at the sound of the kitchen doors opening and smiled as she carried his plate to the table. I wish you would stay.

“Here you are,” she said softly, placing the plate and utensils in front of him. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, at the sight of the messy table. She began slowly picking up the dishes. Another way to stay by you longer.

*~*~*~*~*

Teaspoon and Jimmy walked leisurely down the street to the jail; Teaspoon busily chewing on a toothpick and Jimmy glancing back at the small restaurant every so often.

“Somethin’ wrong,” Teaspoon said, sighing.

“Naw, nothin’,” Jimmy said, but shook his head. “Well, yeah, somethin’ is. Do ya’ think Buck’ll ever realize that the lovely Miss Abigail has her sights set on him? Or will he stay as blind as a post?”

“Well, now, you can also ask if Miss Abigail will ever realize the depth of Buck’s affection for her,” Teaspoon said, matter-of-factly.

Jimmy just heaved a sigh in response.

“Son,” Teaspoon said, spitting part of the toothpick on the ground. “It’s like this. Neither one thinks the other is at all interested.”

“Well that’s just dandy, now isn’t it?” Jimmy said. “Why can’t we jus’ tell ‘em what ev’rybody else sees?”

“Nope, nope,” Teaspoon said, wisely. “Until either one of ‘em makes some kinda’ indication, they’s gonna keep on like this.”

“So what then?” Jimmy was aggravated by the whole situation.

“‘Til they see that what’s on the surface ain’t always real, well,” Teaspoon said, tossing his toothpick away, “like I said, they’s gonna keep on like they have been.”

Jimmy glanced back once more at the restaurant and smiled mischievously. Well, sometimes someone needs to just scratch that surface for the truth to come out.

A Chance To Dance
by: Leah

“Afternoon Rachel” Bill Tompkins said as he turned at the sound of the bell. “I’ll be right with you, just need to get this sign posted.

“What is it?” Rachel asked stepping over to the counter. Kid, Cody and Buck began to wander around the store.

“Well you know about the Valentine’s Dance, right?” Tompkins asked when Rachel nodded he continued, “I told the Widow Kelly I’d post a few of these for her.” Tompkins passed over one of the small handwritten fliers.

“Dance lessons?” Rachel said smiling, “What a wonderful idea. I’m sure she’ll get a few students at only five cents a lesson.”

“That’s what I thought and she could use a little help these days.” Tompkins said, “So what can I get for you today?” He asked as he wiped his hands on his ever present apron.

*~*

Two days later Lou rode into town cold, tired and hoping to get some down time so she and Kid could talk. They’d started to reconnect after Doretha had passed and she was hoping that maybe they were finally on the same path at the same time.

Slowing as she entered the town’s main street, she looked around before heading towards the barn and corral where they kept the horses. Lou nearly fell off Lightning as she caught sight of Kid stepping out of a house in town with a beautiful young woman. She had blond hair that fell in curls around her face accentuating her gentle features while her dress showed off her perfect figure. He was leaning down towards her with a smile on his face as she laughed and placed her hand on his arm.

Again? Lou thought anger and pain overtaking her. “Ha!” She called and spurred Lightning on. She didn’t care about anyone that might be between her and home anymore. She just wanted to get clean and warmed up and have some time to think and cool down before she had to see Kid. Why? Why would he start seeing a girl in town. I thought he knew what I’d meant when I said I’d always be there for him. Things were just starting to turn around. These thoughts began running through Lou’s head as she cooled down Lightning.

“Then again look at her and look at me. Can you blame him?” Lou said aloud. Lightning responded by nipping at the cool air as if he were biting something only he could see, then whinnied at Lou for brushing him so roughly. Finally Lou put some fresh food and water down for Lightning and headed over to the bunkhouse. She walked in and her eyes landed on her bunk and Kid’s right below her and her anger swelled anew.

“Hey Lou.” Buck called as he walked into the bunkhouse, “How was your r……” Buck stopped midsentence as Lou whipped around to glare at him. She didn’t say anything just stared at him menacingly. “I, um, …” Buck said as he backed slowly back out the door he’d only just barely come in.

He backed straight into Jimmy. “Don’t go in there right now.” Buck said shaking his head. “I don’t know what Kid did now but I think Lou might actually kill him this time.”

“Oh no, not again.” Jimmy said with a sigh and a shake of his head. “And I thought they were talking normal like again.” Jimmy took a deep breath and then said conspiratorially, “Cover me Buck I’m going in.”

Jimmy knocked lightly on the door before opening it. “Lou?” He called as he slowly opened the door. He stuck his head in and saw Lou half under the bunks that she and Kid shared. Shutting the door Jimmy came the rest of the way in and stopped by the stove in the middle of the room warming his hands. “You loose something Lou?”

“My mind.” Lou muttered from under the bed.

“I doubt it rolled under the beds. More likely went under the blankets. It’s too darn cold on the bare floor.” Jimmy said teasing.

“Ha ha.” Lou said sarcastically as she scooted out from under the bed. “You’re real funny Jimmy.”

“What’s the fool done now?” Jimmy asked and sat down at the table pulling one of the chairs out for Lou to sit down on.

“Nothin’.” Lou said angrily as she sat down. She didn’t want to look at Jimmy because she knew if she did she’d tell him everything. He was such a good friend and always there for her, her and Kid, even when they didn‘t want him to be. Despite herself she looked up at him and sighed.

“He was coming out of a house in town as I came back just now. This beautiful girl was flirting with him and he was eating it right up. Even had a stupid grin on his face.” Lou said and then slammed her fists down on the table. She wanted to throw something, hit something, do something but she couldn’t all she could do was sit there and steam.

“The Widow Kelly’s place?” Jimmy asked watching Lou stand and start pacing.

“Yeah how’d you know?” Lou asked and then interrupted herself, “Let me guess he was in here braggin’ about how he’s seeing the pretty new girl in town. Probably gonna take her to the dance and everything. Well good for him.” Lou began pulling her bed apart as if she were looking for something again.

“What are you looking for?” Jimmy said as he walked over to her and lifted the corner of her mattress so she could see under it better.

“I left something in my pillow before I went on my run and now I can’t find it. It’s driving me crazy.” Lou said.

“Kid’s driving you crazy Lou.” Jimmy said as he lowered the mattress and took her hands in his, “And I suspect that whatever was in your pillow is now at Rachel’s she took a load of sheets over to her house yesterday morning.” Jimmy looked down at Lou’s hands in his and suddenly felt embarrassed. He let go of her and stepped back. “Look Kid hasn’t said anything to me or as far as I know anyone else about the Widow Kelly’s niece, it’s probably nothing. Talk to him Lou.” Jimmy said calmingly.

“I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to hear anything that,” Her face screwed up into a look of utter disgust, “MAN” she sniffed as if clearing a bad smell from her nose, “has to say.”

“I resemble that remark.” Jimmy teased. Thinking for a moment he added, “Do you really want to drive him mad. Get him really upset? Then go to the dance with me. Wear your prettiest dress and we’ll tell everyone you’re from out of town. You know how Kid is. You going to the dance as a girl would drive him crazy. You going with an escort would make him insane. But you going with me would most likely send him right off the cliff.”

Lou looked up and laughed. She suddenly felt a thousand times better. “I love it!” Impulsively Lou kissed Jimmy’s cheek and said, “You’re the best friend a girl could have Jimmy.” Smiling she added, “I think I’ll go see if Rachel’s got my book. Thanks Jimmy.” Lou added as she headed out the door.

Lou was nearly to Rachel’s porch when she heard her name being called. Turning she saw Kid hurrying towards her. “When’d you get back Lou?” He asked as he ran up her walk and stopped a step below Lou.

“About an hour ago I’d guess.” Lou said feeling herself get angry but not quite as much as last time. Her ‘date’ with Jimmy seemed to be acting as a barrier between her anger and her other emotions. Lou turned to head into Rachel’s.

“Lou wait.” Kid said and reached for her arm.

“What is it Kid?” Lou said pulling her arm away from him.

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Maybe later. I got something I need to take care of right now.” Lou said curtly.

“Oh, ok.” Kid said his voice sounding small and hurt, a sad and confused puppy look formed on his face.

Lou turned and walked into Rachel’s house, sighing as she closed the door behind her. Kid tried several times over the next few days to talk to Lou but she always had somewhere she had to be or something she had to do. Once he was even sure she was pretending to be asleep. He couldn’t figure out for the life of him why she was mad at him. What did I do now? Was a constant refrain that ran through his head every time he caught so much as a glimpse of Lou.

Finally he saw her heading towards the barn one day after dinner. He followed her at a distance and when he saw her starting to shut the door he ran quickly in. “willyougotothdancewithme?” Kid asked very quickly before she could stop him or walk away from him.

“What?” Lou said shaking her head.

Kid took a breath and then stepped closer to Lou and said slowly and quietly surprised by how nervous he suddenly was, “Lou, Louise will you go to the Valentine’s Dance with me?”

Lou nearly laughed with shock and surprise and put her hands quickly to her mouth. “Oh Kid, I’m sorry but, I’m going with someone else.” I wonder if Widow Kelly’s niece told him no for some reason. She’d better not be playing with him like Samantha did. Lou couldn’t help but suddenly feel protective of Kid.

“Oh.” Kid said his eyes sad. “Ok. Well maybe you could save me a dance?” He added hopefully.

“Sure Kid, I’ll save you a dance.” Lou said and touched his arm lightly as she walked out of the barn and over to Rachel’s to talk.

*~*

The night of the dance Rachel, Teaspoon, Kid and Buck went over early to help set up, Cody, Noah, Jimmy and Lou were going to stay late to help clean up.

“Go on.” Jimmy said shaking his head. “I’ll wait for Lou. Don’t know what’s taking her so long. It’s just a dance.” Jimmy had a hard time not smiling at the lie. He knew just what was taking Lou so long to get ready. They’d decided not to tell anyone except Rachel that Louise, not Lou would be attending this dance. As Cody and Noah walked over to the school where the dance was going to be held Jimmy headed over to Rachel’s and knocked on the door. “Lou.” He called as he walked in to find Lou coming down the stairs in a beautiful plum colored dress with a light pink sash around her waist. Jimmy whistled low, “Wow! You look beautiful.”

Lou blushed and put her hands to her face. “Thanks Jimmy. It’s new. Rachel saw it and told me I had to get it.”

“It’s a good thing Louise is only in town for a night.” Jimmy said offering her his arm as she picked up a cream shawl from the newel post.

“Why’s that?” Lou asked as they headed towards the door.

“Cause otherwise there’d be so many men here looking to court you we’d never be able to get out of the yard to go on runs.” Jimmy said laughingly as Lou lightly punched him in the arm.

As they walked into the school building Lou suddenly felt nervous, as Jimmy had predicted every eye in the place turned to her and seemed to stare. The level of whispering increased noticeably as the town folk tried to figure out who the new woman was that the Pony Express Rider was escorting. They all came to the same conclusion, she looked awful familiar but they couldn’t quite seem to place her.

The riders all stopped and stared and then walked over to Jimmy and Lou. Cody teasing that Lou should have gone with him, then she’d at least have a date as good looking as she was. Noah suggested that they should have all brought their guns, cause of all the commotion Lou was stirring up. Buck told her she looked beautiful and asked for a dance later, which Lou happily agreed to. Teaspoon looked at Rachel and said, “I knew you were up to something. I just didn’t know it was gonna be as lovely a surprise as this is.” And then took Lou’s hand and stole the first dance of the night from Jimmy.

Kid stood off to the side shocked and hurt. Why did she come with Jimmy? He couldn’t help but wonder. As the song ended he saw Buck sweep Lou away from Teaspoon and into another dance. I can dance better than that. Kid thought. “Why isn’t she dancing with me?” he said quietly under his breath.

“Did you ask her?” Rachel said quietly into his ear as she walked over next to Kid

“I haven’t had a chance.” Kid said lamely.

“Well then let’s give you that chance.” Rachel said as she looked at Kid

Kid smiled broadly, and led Rachel onto the floor. As they got close to where Lou was now dancing with Jimmy, Rachel nodded her head to Kid indicating that they should get next to them. He got the hint and spun Rachel over so the two couples were side by side and he was looking at Lou. “May I cut in?” He asked forgetting his lessons entirely and asking Lou rather than Jimmy.

Lou looked up at him and smiled faintly. “Sure.” She stepped out of Jimmy’s arms and into Kid’s. He seemed different tonight, more confident as his arms slid around her and he led her into the steps of the dance.

“Why aren’t you dancing with the Widow Kelly’s niece?” Lou asked a little breathlessly as Kid easily led her through the steps of the waltz.

“Why would I be dancing with her?” Kid asked stopping suddenly as he looked down at Lou confused.

Lou’s skirts swayed slowly around her before stopping as she caught her breath and looked up at Kid. “I saw you Kid, coming out of the Widow Kelly’s house, with her niece.”

Kid smiled and said, “You haven’t been to Tompkins since you got back from your ride have you?”

“No why?” Lou asked.

“Because,” Kid interrupted, “If you had you’d have seen the notice that the Mrs. Kelly, not Martha, her niece, was giving dance lessons. I wanted to impress you tonight so I’ve been taking lessons whenever I could sneak away. Martha walked me out after one of my lessons. I was asking her opinion on the best way to invite you to come here with me. She was telling me about how her husband,” Kid said adding a bit of extra poignancy to the word husband, “first invited her to a dance, they were eight at the time.”

“Her… Oh.” Lou said blushing as she stepped back and looked up at Kid. “You did… Oh Kid!” Lou said and leaned forward wanting to wrap her arms around Kid’s neck and hug him but realizing that she couldn’t right now so she leaned back and said quietly, “Would you like to finish up our dance? And then maybe we can go talk?”

“Well it’s about time!” Jimmy said with an exasperated sigh as he led Rachel back past the two.

Thanks to Jo my beta and sounding board

Misunderstsandings
by: Karen

This is a continuation of topic #98 (Pretending).

Buck entered the way station yard slowly. Something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t figure out what it was that troubled him. He’d ridden hard the last few hours to make up some of the time he’d lost due to his “side-trip”. He was still almost two days late, and unsure of how he was going to explain why.

As he dismounted, he realized that was what had him troubled – no one had come to greet him. He led Warrior Spirit into the barn. Once inside, he quickly unsaddled, fed, and watered the animal. He gave the horse a quick rub down with the promise of a better one later. He then threw a blanket across the animal’s back and headed for the bunk house.

On the way, he heard shouting from the main house. He changed directions and approached Emma’s front porch. When the door flew open, it almost hit Buck in the face. “I understand how you feel…” Sam stopped speaking when he saw Buck.

“Good, you’re home. Now maybe we can get this whole mess straightened out.” He moved to take Buck’s arm. “I need you to come into town.”

“Now?” asked Buck.

Sam nodded and started to move still holding Buck’s arm.

Buck gently pulled his arm free. “Could I possibly clean up first?” he asked, moving a step away from Sam as he studied the older man.

Emma stepped into the space vacated by Buck. “And have a bite to eat,” she said. “They’ve waited this long; a couple of hours won’t change anything.”

Sam shook his head. “That mob is ready to tear the town apart,” he said. “If I go back and tell them he’ll be here soon, they’re liable to ride out here and burn the place down. I’m not sure I can stop them.”

“So tell them he still ain’t back,” said Teaspoon. “you left word with us that he’s to come to your office as soon as possible, and that we’re getting ready to start looking for him if he ain’t back by supper.”

Sam sighed. “I’ll try, but…”

“We’ll keep an eye out,” said Teaspoon as he moved around Sam to take hold of Buck’s arm and begin escorting him to the bunk house.

Buck thought about pulling free, but something in Teaspoon’s manner told him not to do anything to upset the older man. Once they were alone, Teaspoon asked, “You have something you need to tell me about this trip?”

Buck shook his head. “Everything happened just like you said, right down to his sending me a girl to keep me entertained…” Buck stopped speaking when Teaspoon reacted to the word “girl”.

“Oh,” the Kiowa said. “Someone from Red Bluff came here?”

Teaspoon laughed. “ ‘Someone.’ Try half the town, including the marshal.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Buck. “She wanted to go home so I gave her a ride.”

Teaspoon didn’t say anything, but his look let Buck know he needed to do some more explaining. He opened the door to the bunk house and quickly gathered his things. When he came back outside, everyone else had gathered on the porch. Buck sighed. “Can’t this wait?”

Teaspoon shook his head. “I think we’d best hear it now. It would be nice to know what it is we’re fighting for if it comes to that.”

Buck leaned against the porch railing. “Rita Mae didn’t want to stay in Red Bluff; she asked me to help her get home to Pine Flats and her mother. She had been so willing to help me with my situation so I agreed. That’s why I’m late; Pine Flats is another day’s ride south.”

He stood. “Now I really need to go shower so I can get to town.” Buck stepped off the porch and started walking. The others waited a few seconds before following. “So why are they saying you kidnapped her?” Emma asked.

Buck shrugged. “That’s why I need to get to town,” he said. “I have to be able to answer their questions or charges to clear this up. I’m sure once I can talk to them everything will be fine.”

As he started to undress, the others began to go prepare for the trip to town. There was no way they were going to miss this story.

to be continued…

Secret Past
by: Dee

Buck sat trying to figure out how he got in this mess. And that is definitely what this was a mess, especially if her brothers showed up before their clothes were dry.

It had seemed like a good idea; ride out to see the herd of wild horses that were on the backside of the ranch. But after seeing the horses, they had started back when the beautiful spring weather took a turn for the worse when a thunderstorm blew in from nowhere. They had already been soaked when they came across the cabin they were in. It really wasn’t more than a shack but it had a roof and was keeping the water outside. The fireplace had worked and Hannah--the young lady snuggling against him and making him very uncomfortable—had found a blanket to cover them while they waited for their clothes to dry.

He smiled as he recalled their conversation about stripping down to their undergarments so their clothes could dry. He had told her it wasn’t proper for them to undress in front of each other and she had replied, “It’s not proper to catch a chill that could turn into something worse. I promise not to look and…you won’t either. Besides I have two brothers, I think I’ve seen just about every…” He’d stopped her there and turned his back telling her she could take the blanket. She laughed saying it was big enough for two and she promised to keep her hands to herself if he would. He’d just stared at her thinking she was the most open white woman he had ever met. Well, not the most open but the most open nice girl.

Hannah’s father owned the Elk Springs Ranch which was a day’s ride north of Rock Creek. Teaspoon had sent him and Jimmy to see about purchasing some horses for the Express since they had lost a few over the winter. Her father was Irish he said and he had come west before most settlers and founded his ranch. He had been kind to both Jimmy and Buck, and so had Hannah’s brothers, Danny and Kevin. He had noticed the difference in Hannah’s coloring and her brothers. Where both brothers had red hair like their father, Hannah’s was a rich brown. And her eyes were the color of a doe’s, a rich but soft brown. He wouldn’t say she was beautiful but she was very pretty.

Hannah sighed snuggling closer and Buck tried to suppress a groan. He couldn’t believe he’d let her talk him into sharing the blanket. All her reasons had been logical though. They were cold and body heat was the quickest way to warm up while the fire warmed the room. She’d asked if they weren’t covered in more than some people ever wore. He couldn’t deny that and had took a seat next to her as she placed the blanket around both of them.

So there they sat waiting for their clothes to dry and trying to stay warm when lightning had struck a tree near by causing both horses to spook and take off for the ranch. He was now stuck in a cabin on her family’s ranch with her. Which, if she wasn’t so nice and he wasn’t trying so hard to be a gentleman, wouldn’t be so bad, but she was nice and Teaspoon would wallop him if he wasn’t a gentleman—and so would her very protective brothers—which made him stuck in a cabin with a very pretty young lady in her undergarments.

And if she snuggled any closer to him he was going to end up kissing her. He knew he shouldn’t think that way. She was white, and he learned from more than one woman he was nothing but a half-breed. Which meant there was no way, no matter how kind her family had been that they would approve of her taking up with him.

He sighed as looking out the lone window in the cabin, he noticed the sun was setting and the rain was still coming down pretty heavy. He was starting to feel the effects of the cold and the comfort of the woman next to him, and grew sleepy. He figured he’d just shut his eyes for a moment and then check to see if the rain had stopped so they could get back to the ranch house.

****************

Someone standing nearby cleared their throat and Buck thought that Cody had best stop before…wait he wasn’t at the station. He opened his eyes and looked straight into the eyes of Hannah’s oldest brother. The man’s sister was snuggled up against Buck and their clothes were in front of the fire. Buck thought he was a dead man.

“Hannah Blackstock, what in hell is going on here?” her oldest brother, Kevin bellowed causing the girl to jump and squeal at the same time. Buck thought he was going to be deaf for a while.

She got over her initial fright quick though and looking at her brother asked, “What do you think? We got caught in the storm and came in here to get dry.”

“That was yesterday,” her other brother Danny replied with a teasing grin.

“Yesterday?”

“Yep, storm didn’t stop ‘til this morn’. You’ve been out all night with Buck here.” Danny couldn’t help teasing her it was too easy.

“Yep,” Kevin replied his look still dark.

Buck felt the girl beside him stiffen and her eyes narrow. He thought she was pretty when she was sleeping but angry, the girl was beautiful. Then she started giving her brother hell in a language he didn’t recognize. She jumped up dropping the blanket and advancing on her brother with a very menacing glare and words flying out of her mouth.

Unfortunately for her brothers they didn’t have the grace to quit grinning. Then she switched to English in mid-sentence, “…besides Buck’s been a gentleman the entire time.”

Kevin said something in the unknown language and looked at Buck with a smile. Danny laughed and nodding, replied back in the same language.

Hannah started shaking her head. “No. And don’t you dare say anything.”

“You’re the one that spent the night with him,” Danny replied.

Hannah let lose again. Backing her brothers into a corner. “I’m not marrying him,” she said looking at Buck. “I hardly know him.”

“You spent the night with him in your underclothes,” Kevin pointed out as he went around her one way and Danny the other putting her in the corner. She turned around and faced them not backing down.

“Yeah, back in Oklahoma you’d be married already,” Danny chimed in looking over his shoulder at Buck.

“Nothing happened,” he told her brother. “Besides your sister deserves someone better. She’s too good for the likes of someone like me and…”

That earned him a glare from all three people in the room. He hadn’t expected that.

“You don’t want to make an honest woman of my vgido,” Kevin asked his look black as any Buck had ever seen on Jimmy’s face.

“That’s not what I mean,” Buck replied burying his emotions behind a mask. “She’s white and some people would say to marry a breed would be a step down…”

The two men started laughing but Hannah just stared at him. “OUT! Now!” she shouted at her brothers. When the two men didn’t move but stood there laughing, she braced herself against the wall and kicked first one brother and then the other toward the door. Buck had to jump out of the way or they would have all ended up in a pile on the floor.

“I said get out!” she shouted, then with a gleam in her eyes she said, “Or I tell Da where you spent last Friday night.”

“How?” Danny started to ask his face full of fear.

“You aren’t the only one that likes to take midnight rides. Only I ride to the mountains to pray and you ride to the who…”

Kevin grinned looking at his brother. “She’s got you there, tsosdadanvtli.”

“Don’t look so smug, tsosdadanvtli, you were in town too. I saw your horse at…”

“Fine, we’re going but you have five minutes and then we’re coming back in,” Kevin warned looking at Buck.

“Fifteen,” Hannah stated her arms crossed over her chest.

“Fine, but not a minute longer,” Kevin warned grabbing Danny’s arm as they both got up and headed toward the door.

Danny turned at the door and asked, “Why fifteen?”

“That’s my business.” When her brothers started to protest she added, “Don’t make me tell Da and edutsi.”

“Come on,” Kevin said pulling Danny out the door. “I mean it, Hanny. Fifteen and not a minute more.”

When her brothers were out the door, Hannah started to laugh and threw Buck his clothes and then started to dress. She finished and found him still standing there. “Buck, are you ok?” she asked when he continued to stare at her.

Buck shook his head and looked at the young woman before him. “Why did your brothers laugh when I said I wasn’t…”

She walked up to him and placed a hand on his cheek. “You are good enough. Well, maybe. What tribe are you from?”

“Kiowa,” Buck replied as he watched her. She didn’t move and he was glad she didn’t. Her hand was warm and he had discovered last night he liked the way she felt next to him.

“Hum… interesting. Your family, who are they?”

Buck knew she was asking about his Kiowa family. “Red Bear, he’s a war chief. My mother is dead; she was called Sings in Winter.” Buck didn’t know why he was telling Hannah this; they hardly knew each other, even though it felt as if he had known her a long time.

“A war chief? Interesting.”

“It’s a lea…”

“I know,” she said smiling and he couldn’t help but return her smile. “A leader of your village. Your tsosdadanvtli carries the same title as my edtusi-my uncle.” She laughed when he still only stared at her. “But my grandmother is the ghigua of our clan.”

Buck shook his head trying to figure out what she was telling him. She took her hand away from his cheek and stepped away, turning her back to him.

“What language were you yelling at your brothers in?” he asked the first thing that came to his mind, when he got his thoughts under control and started to put his clothes back on.

“Cherokee.”

He was stunned for a moment. “Where did you learn Cherokee?” He was finished dressing and reached out turning her around.

“Oh,” she said a mischievous look in her pretty brown eyes, “my mother and her family.” When he looked like he was going to ask where they had learned it she said her voice touched with sadness, “Mother was born in Alabama. In thirty-eight the government decided that the southern tribes could no long live on their ancestral grounds and removed the tribes of the south to Oklahoma. My mother came west with her family then on what is now called Nu na da ul tsun yi by her…our people. She was a young woman then and met my father when they crossed the Mississippi. They married shortly after that and after Kevin was born the following summer, came here and founded the ranch before any other settlers came.”

Buck was stunned for a moment. “You’re like…”

Her laugh was like music to him. “Like you.” And again she reached out and touched his cheek. “I’m what some ignorant people call a half-breed, as are my brothers. My father is Irish, and my mother Cherokee.”

He took hold of her hand pulled her closer. “I don’t know my father,” he told her and he could see in her eyes that she understood what he meant.

“I know you,” she said her eyes looking into his and he thought into his soul. “I think I have for a long time.”

I Followed
by: Cindy

The mist rose eerily from the fields, lending an other-worldly appearance to the area. Sunrise was yet to come, but the first pinkish glow of the sun touched the eastern horizon. Combined with the moon, which hadn’t quite vacated the sky yet, there was just enough light to see.

A solitary figure moved across the field, stepping carefully among the lumps and bumps that covered the ground. Approaching each small mound, the bumps turned into bodies – hundreds, thousands of them scattered across the landscape. Here and there a moan could be heard, but not nearly as many as during the deepest of the night; the darkness had called many of the wounded men to itself, their pain ended.

Shiloh. That was the name of the place, this field now covered with blood. It meant peace, yet there had been anything but peace here the last few days.

To any eyes watching now, the figure in the field looked to be a soldier. Dressed in pants of Union blue, but wearing an oversized jacket of Confederate grey, with a kepi cap to match, the figure was small in stature. Moving, looking, the soldier stopped occasionally among the bodies, turning one over here, giving a sip of water to one not quite dead there.

Dawn moved closer, the light increasing, and the soldier moved faster, as if sensing time was short. Behind some trees came the sounds of men talking, voices hushed. Scents of brewing coffee and frying bacon wafted on the morning breeze.

The Confederate troops had pulled away during the night, off to gather again somewhere else, regroup, reorganize. Prepare for another battle somewhere else. Most of the Union troops had withdrawn as well, but not far. No one in that camp wanted to fight for this piece of land again.

The troops that remained, just on the other side of those trees, were the burial detail. Soon, when the sun erased the deathly shadows of the night, they would emerge onto the field. Bodies of the Union dead would be taken away to be identified – hopefully – and buried one by one. The Confederate dead would be put into mass graves, their identities a secret taken with them in death.

That was the way it worked in this war. The victors buried the dead, and their priority was their own men.

The lone soldier worked faster now, crouching low while moving. The quarry had not been found among the living who retreated; though, in actuality, he could have been there, among the throngs of frightened, exhausted men who streamed away. It had been impossible to see them all.

But the soldier couldn’t leave here, not without knowing.

Suddenly, the soldier gasped, threw caution to the wind and jumped over several bodies, running to another. The figure knelt, a hand reaching out to gently touch the familiar features. Fingers brushed against curly brown hair as the soldier looked down into blue eyes that no longer saw.

“Kid…”

CRACK!

The single shot rang out, breaking the morning calm. The kneeling figure stiffened, and then slowly fell to the ground.

Lou could feel her strength ebbing, and while she still could she reached over for Kid’s hand, interlacing their fingers. She turned her head to look at him, even as she heard footsteps running toward her. “I followed you, Kid,” she whispered. Teaspoon and Buck had warned her, begged her not to go. Now they would never know…

“You rode on without me, so I followed you.” Her lips moved at the end, but no sound came out.

It didn’t matter.

~~~~~

“Damn.” The Union sniper turned his head to one side and spit, then leaned against his rifle.

One of the other soldiers finished removing the kepi that had been knocked askew by the fall. “A woman.”

“What’s a woman doing out here?”

“Don’t matter.” The officer turned away, looking at his men. “She was dressed like the enemy, and on the battlefield. Throw her in with all the rest of the Rebs.” He paused a moment, pointing at the joined hands. “Put them in together,” he said, his voice more gentle.

The officer walked away, leaving the field to the burial team, and to the dead.

The Talk
by: Lori

A/N: More of Jimmy’s family which can be followed in QFs #43, 44, 51, 54, 77, 80, 84 and 98

When the door to the office opened, Jimmy looked up expecting to see someone from town stopping in to complain about someone else or possibly even to report something that he would actually have to investigate. He didn’t expect to see his oldest son walk in, a slight dejected air about him as he set his school books down and then pull out the chair behind the deputy’s desk. His son didn’t greet him, didn’t even look at him, just grabbed one of his books, opened it and began to read. After a few moments in which Jimmy sat at his desk, his arms resting askew on his chair, Seth then got some paper and a pencil from his bag and looked like he was settling in to do his school work.

“Um…Seth?” he questioned, completely perplexed by the development. “Son?”

The boy looked up at him, nodded his head briefly and said, “Hello, Dad.”

Then he bent back over the desk and prepared to go back to work. Jimmy arched a brow, scratched at his chin and it was only when he went to push up his hat that wasn’t there did he suddenly realize that if anyone could see him now they would probably think he was mimicking Teaspoon. Settling instead for linking his fingers together over his middle he leaned back in his chair and cleared his throat.

“Whatcha doing here, Seth?” he asked. “I thought you and Jeff were gettin’ together after school to work on the project your teacher assigned you.”

“I’m doing the project on my own,” Seth informed him. No doubt the young man had attempted to keep his voice perfectly neutral and nonchalant, but there was a bit of an edge that his father detected.

“Since when?” Jimmy pressed.

“Since I spoke to Mr. Martin today and asked if Jeff and I could work by ourselves.”

Jimmy began to become annoyed by the simple, non-detailed answers, and especially by the fact that the entire conversation was taking place with Seth’s head bent over his paper and his pencil scratching along. Something had happened today, of that the marshal was certain, but his son seemed determined to act as if nothing important had happened. Sure, sometimes Seth came to the jail to take advantage of the fact that it was often more quiet here than it was at home; here his son could concentrate on his schoolwork and complete the assignments that the teacher was taking the extra effort to prepare in order to continue challenging the Hickok’s oldest boy. Mr. Martin was convinced that Seth could apply to go to college back East next year and the man was determined to help him study and understand subjects that he would explore further in school.

Jimmy was happy to let his son do his school work at the jail, because even with the extra subjects he was studying and the additional work, Seth would complete his work quickly. Then he could head home where he would help his siblings finish their work and assist Karen with chores before Jimmy came home in time for supper. His son was hard working and responsible and if he wanted a little quiet space to complete his work, then the father in him was not about to object. He was proud of his son and impressed by how smart Seth was. Jimmy didn’t know how they were going to pay for it, but Seth was going to go to college next year. It was his oldest son’s biggest dream and Jimmy and Karen wanted him to go for it. Even though they would miss him fiercely when he left.

Right now, though, Jimmy suspected that Seth wasn’t thinking about next year or choosing a college. Something was bothering his son, and Jimmy found he just couldn’t let it go, although that’s probably what the young man would wish for. Seth and Jeff were best friends and the other boy was studying the same extra subjects as Seth. They often worked together, figuring out problems and completing their homework. Jimmy knew that when Seth left for school this morning he was planning on going over to Jeff’s house and beginning their assigned project.

Yet, here he was now sitting in Jimmy’s office and acting as this had been the plan all along.

With a sigh, Jimmy stood and pushed his chair closer to Seth’s desk before sitting back down again. The only indication the young man gave that he was aware of the action was a brief pause in the movement of the pencil and then it went back to determinedly flowing across the paper. Jimmy leaned forward trying to catch his boy’s eye but finally just said, “Seth, son…put down your pencil for a moment, would ya? Something’s botherin’ you and it may help you to talk about it.”

Setting his pencil down, Seth looked up and said, “Jeff and I are no longer friends and therefore we won’t be working on our project together. It’s really no big deal, Dad. I don’t need to talk about it, I just need to finish up my work here so I can get home and help Ma.”

“No longer friends?” the shocked father repeated as he leaned back in his chair and his hand drifted up to scratch at the hair he was sure a few more gray ones had just colored. “What happened?”

“I had a different idea for our project and when I mentioned it to Jeff today, he told me he didn’t want to do it. That we were gonna do what we’d already decided and that was that. He then said if we were gonna go over to his house to work I had to help him with his chores as payment ‘cause we’re always working there.” Jimmy lifted his brows slightly, first thinking that his son had misunderstood his friend, but didn’t get the chance to speak because apparently his son was now on a roll and ready to talk. “I just decided I wasn’t gonna put up with it anymore. It’s like we’re always competing or arguing. We don’t get into huge fights, but it’s…it’s like he’s always trying to best me. If I get a certain grade on a paper, he has to make sure to get a higher grade the next time. If I win the spelling bee at school, he’s determined to beat me the next time. If I talk about goin’ to one college next year, he’s sure he’ll get in there, too, or he’ll get into some place better. It’s always a fight, always a competition, always tryin’ to say he’s better than me.”

With a shake of his head, the young man said, “I’m not trying to fight with him. I don’t care if he does better on a test than me, but if he finds out I did better, suddenly he’s not talkin’ to me or he’s all surly and short and snapping at me all the time. I can’t figure it out. I’m not trying to compete with him to see who’s better in school or who gets into the best college…but everything with him has become a fight lately.”

Jimmy let out a breath, looking at his son who was agitated and confused by the behavior of the boy he’d thought was his friend. “I’m sure it’s been hard for Jeff,” the father began. “Living in your shadow at school. I know it’s not a competition to you, Seth, but from a young age, you’ve always been a grade or two ahead. You and Becky were doing the same work even though she’s older than you…and then you began doing some assignments beyond her. Now your sister has grown up with you and knows how you read all the time and become bored when you’re not learnin’ something new. Jeff’s been your friend…but he was left behind.”

“But he started doin’ projects with me,” Seth protested.

“Because you started sharing your extra homework with him and bringin’ him up to your level,” Jimmy pointed out. “Maybe he thinks he wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for you and he wants to prove that he can do it without you.”

The young man pondered it for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe. But I never thought of it like that and I don’t care about that stuff.”

“I know,” he nodded. “But maybe Jeff does.”

“Well, why wouldn’t he say that?” his son wondered. “Instead of makin’ everything a fight with me all the time? Telling me I owe him if I go to his house or gloating because he got a better score than me.”

Jimmy tilted his head to the side and said, “I don’t know, son. Sometimes it’s hard at this age, trying to deal with others around you and not likin’ to admit that there are people who are better than you at things. I wasn’t much older than you when me and your uncles went to work for the Express. It wasn’t easy first; I’m sure your grandpa was ready to grab us all by the scruffs of our shirts and knock our heads together over the way we acted sometimes. It’s not that we felt one should be in charge over everyone else, but we all had our own opinions and we didn’t like bein’ told what to do by someone else who wasn’t Teaspoon and it…it got pretty contentious at times.

“But,” he pointed out, “we worked through things. We all keep in touch; we all know that if somethin’ happens we can count on the other person to help us out. Right now…you and Jeff are just feelin’ out your roles. I’m sure many people in town would say you’re the leader of your little group and maybe Jeff’s just trying to assert himself.”

“I never claimed to be the leader,” Seth denied. “I’m not tryin’ to be in charge. But I am tired of the way he’s treatin’ me.”

“I know,” the father nodded in understanding. “And if for a while you don’t want to spend much time with Jeff…then do that. Nobody’s sayin’ you have to be together all the time.”

“Good,” the young man said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest. The move made him look more like a petulant child than the sixteen-year-old young man he was and Jimmy knew that this age was hard; moving into being an adult but still young and not fully mature. “Because I don’t want to be around him when he’s actin’ like this. I don’t want to be his friend.”

“It’s your decision, Seth,” Jimmy told him. He was beyond the age when he could really try to determine his son’s friends. “I’ll only give you one piece of advice.”

“What’s that?” Seth wondered, his tone a mixture of defiance and curiosity.

“Don’t burn your bridges completely with him,” he answered. “If you don’t want to be around him right now…that’s fine. But one day, you may look back on this time and discover that you’re over it and you’ve forgotten and forgiven what was done and what was said and you’ll be friends again.

“It may never happen,” he admitted. “But you don’t want to be in the position of wanting to talk to the person again and having to get over the hurdle of having said even more angry and hurtful things and finding you’ve said something that can’t be taken back and you wish it could be.”

Standing up, he laid his hand on Seth’s shoulder and patted it gently, knowing that the young man had enough things to think about right now and would rather just do his school work and ponder this conversation later at night. It was odd for Jimmy to realize that another one of his children was growing up and moving into adulthood. Becky…Becky was now married and in her own house and Seth was slightly taller than Jimmy now and looked so much a man, even though he still struggled with things and needed guidance from his parents. It was easier with the younger ones because Jimmy was used to teaching them how to tie their laces, work on their letters and numbers and navigate childhood friendships.

Being a parent to an older child…to an adult…was so much harder than he’d ever imagined. Sometimes he wondered how Teaspoon had handled it all and kept them all from losing their way entirely. Times like this he really missed the older man…because after that talk, he sure could use some sage advice of his own.

The Right Man
by: Miss Raye

Gap filler – “Fall from Grace”

“Put him down.”

Jimmy sighed as he scrubbed his face with a washcloth, nearly dropping it when he tried to set it down on the edge of the washbowl. Shaking his head he couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips. She’d come after him. Of all the riders it had been Lou who had walked right into the Wild Horse like she wanted to be there.

He didn’t have to see a mirror to know that the smile on his face was almost silly. He tried to shake off the laughter rumbling through his chest and slid one hand behind his head. “She sure was mad.”

Even struggling against Beau’s superior strength, Lou had managed to keep her disguise in place. The small ‘man’ had come up against someone more than her physical match and he knew that even now, hours later, Lou was probably tossing and turning on her bunk going back over what she could have done to stop that lunk from picking her up like furniture. She was probably driving Cody crazy, Kid too… but that didn’t always have to do with just tossing and turning.

Was that sigh he heard real or just his imagination? Turning on his side, Jimmy looked around the room and ground his teeth together. Nearly half the size of the bunkhouse, it was all his. He didn’t have to share it with anyone… didn’t have to hear anyone snoring… didn’t have to hear the tell tale creak in the middle of the night when someone slipped out to the privy. It was all his.

”You don’t belong here…”

“Thanks… get out of my head, Lou.” Right, now he was talking to himself. Maybe he really was crazy for taking this on.

”You don’t belong here… “

”I don’t belong anywhere.” The groan echoing around the room. Yep, that was him. Covering his face with his hand he groaned again, fisting his other hand in the pillow behind him, catching a few hairs in the process. It was painful, but sometimes painful was good.

On the other hand, admitting to a woman one of his deepest fears and secrets… not good. Why did she have to look so damn good… and so sweet standing there? Sure, she was dressed like ‘Lou’ but the way her eyes were looking up at him… the way softness in her voice…

Jimmy squeezed his eyes shut. He needed sleep. He needed to forget the whole thing. It was going to drive him mad.

”Jimmy, please come back.” It took everything he had not to throw back the covers and get dressed. Teaspoon’s friend had been killed here. The Army needed his help. He was going to be a hero if he could pull this off. It had all sounded good when Teaspoon had told him about it. It sounded like a piece of cake and one of Emma’s turnovers when he’d started out, but now… how long was it going to take to get it done… and would he survive?

Grace.

She’d looked at Lou with a question in her eyes. The woman was smart. Evil smart. He could see it. Hell, Sparrow could see it. He just hoped he could keep her eyes on him and off the riders… especially, Lou.

”It’s me you have to worry about… “ She’d said the words to him and he’d fought to keep the grin on his face. She’d meant it and he’d seen the chill of evil behind the smile in her eyes. He’d gotten into this to find the weapons and a killer, but it hadn’t occurred to him that the others would get swept up in the whole act.

‘How the hell am I gonna keep ‘em out of this mess?’ Jimmy wrestled with the idea. Keep Grace close enough to figure out how to stop her… and keep her far enough away from – from the others . He looked out the window up at the full moon hanging low in the sky. “I’m walkin’ a tight line here; I hope Teaspoon picked the right man for the job.”

If They Only Knew
by: Debbie

Kid sat at the dinner table that evening as he had for the past three nights. The conversation was beginning to wear on his tired body and mind. Didn’t they have anything else to talk about?

First it was Cody talking about some heroic deed he’d done with his rifle then it was Jimmy talking about how fast he was with his gun then it was Cody’s turn again, only to quickly be followed by Jimmy trying to out do what the blonde rider had just said. Why couldn’t the conversation turn to horses or something else that wouldn’t be dangerous if the two of them finally realized there were other people around and began to ask one of the others about their experience?

Kid wasn’t sure how long he could pretend he wasn’t as good a shot as he was. From what Teaspoon had been telling them about the job they’d be starting the end of the week when Express runs would begin, he was glad for the experience he had. But what if one of the others saw that he could shoot and started questioning where a dirt farmer’s son picked up such a skill?

Maybe it was more than them finding out that worried Kid. Yeah, it was. It was him having to lie through his teeth about the reason he’d learned what he knows. That knowledge would show that Kid wasn’t who they thought he was. And what would that mean to them if they did find that out?

Kid was more determined than ever to not let them ever find out and was about to swear to himself that he’d never tell when he suddenly became aware of the feeling of being watched. Looking up from his plate, Kid stared straight into Jimmy Hickok’s curious eyes. That one look was all Kid needed to have him forget his determination of a moment ago as he squirmed slightly in his seat. He knew he was in trouble now because if there was any one rider that could probably get the information out of him, it would be Jimmy. And what would the dark haired rider do if he only knew that Kid wasn’t the quiet, peaceful person they all thought him to be?

A Trip to Town
by: Georgia

Several hours after his last run, Cody awoke with a stomach that was still full and a bunkhouse and yard that was empty. Not wanting to miss a trip into town he headed for Sweetwater.

The town seemed busier than usual, even for a Saturday. Kid was the first rider he spotted, and it seemed to Cody that Kid was a little overdressed. Instantly curious, Cody struck a pace aiming to catch up with his friend. Cody hadn’t made it halfway across the street when the direction of Kid’s walk became clear to him. Kid was headed straight towards The Dove House. Cody couldn’t believe his eyes. Obviously, he had missed a few things while out on his run. He doubled his pace and overtook Kid within a few feet of the establishment’s steps.

“Kid, have you lost your mind? You know the Express rules, and what about Lou?”

Kid turned towards Cody with a startled look on his face. “Cody? I’m still with Lou, I’m just...”

But that was as far as he got before a beautiful buxom blonde came running down the steps and threw her arms around Kid, planting her lips firmly on his mouth.

“I can’t believe you,” a stunned Cody managed to stammer, “with all of your talk of Southern chivalry and following the rules.”

“Kid, who is this?” purred a honeyed Southern drawl.

“Dixie, this is another Express rider. This is Cody, whom I am sure Teaspoon is looking for.” Kid’s arm was now wrapped around the woman’s waist and he attempted to steer her around Cody who was standing between them and the porch.

Cody had no qualms with Dixie and nodded his head towards her, but he sidestepped to continue blocking Kid’s path.

“Think this through, Kid. You have a good thing going with Lou; don’t mess it up.”

“Kid, darling, what is he talking about?”

“Nothing, just a girl we both know. She just wasn’t woman enough for me.”

Disgusted Cody looked away from Kid toward the gathering crowd hoping to see another rider who could help him talk some sense into Kid. A movement caught his eye and Cody saw a small form step out from the alleyway nearby. As she moved out of the shadows, Cody could see that Lou’s eyes and nose were red.

The idea of tough little Lou reduced to tears was more than Cody could stand. With a cry of rage, Cody swung and felt his fist connect with Kid’s eye socket.

“Jimmy’ll tear you apart when he finds out you hurt her, but at least I got the first punch.” Cody spat at Kid who straightened up with eyes (one markedly redder than the other) narrowed and fists clenched.

Cody’s attention was diverted by a wide-eyed Lou yelling, “What the hell are you doing, Cody?” as she physically pulled him with her towards the alley from which she had just emerged.

“He has no right to treat y-,” Cody realized there were people around and that a group of them were watching him just in time to change his wording, “a lady like that.”

“Cody, we’ve got to talk,” Lou said motioning for him to follow her as she set off towards Teaspoon’s office.

It was almost more than he could bear when he saw her glance at Kid then push her hat down farther over her eyes and look at the ground with her shoulders gently shaking. It took all the control he had not to follow his urge to put his arm around her shoulders to comfort her as well as not to act on his desire to go back and punch Kid in his other eye.

He cringed as he heard a southern voice behind him drawl, “Well, I guess we know what he thinks of us.”

*************

All the riders were gathered around the supper table with the exception of two. The return of those two was something Cody was dreading. Once Jimmy got back from his run and learned of the day’s events he would never let Cody live them down, but Cody’s more worrisome and immediate concern was Kid. He should be back any minute, and Cody knew he’d probably be ready to give as good as he’d gotten.

Earlier, Lou and Teaspoon had explained to Cody’s relief and mortification that Kid’s involvement with Dixie was purely a show to help get information about some robberies that had been occurring which seemed to have a connection to The Dove House. The only silver lining that Cody could find was that none of the other riders had been witness to his foolishness.

However, Lou had enjoyed filling them in at supper on all the details with much more gusto than Cody thought necessary.

Amid the laughter, Cody picked at the food on his plate. Pushing around the mashed potatoes, but not bringing any of them up to his downturned mouth, he was busy reflecting on all the things he’d learned during the day. Firstly, Lou was allergic to cats. However, she had spent the first part of her trip to town adoring the new litter of kittens for sale in Tompkins’ store which had resulted in her red eyes and nose. Secondly, from the back a person crying and a person laughing pretty much looked the same. And lastly, never punch your friend in the face until you are sure of all the facts.

“Oh, cheer up Cody! It’s not that bad. You thought you were keeping Kid out of trouble. Besides, I think he’s been enjoying this assignment a little too much. And honestly, I was honored by your gallantry.” Lou grinned at him and her slight blush assured him of the truth of her last statement.

“I hope Kid looks at it that way,” Cody said without conviction, but he returned Lou’s smile anyway.

When the door opened, everyone turned to see Kid’s form filling the frame, his left eye somewhat purple and swollen. His lopsided-stare was directed in Cody’s direction. With a groan, Cody prepared himself to meet his fate swearing to himself that the next time he awoke with everyone gone he’d just go back to bed and enjoy the peace and quiet.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
by: Debbie

Thirteen year old Louise McCloud sat on the chair next to the window in her small room and wiped at the last of the tears that had soaked her cheeks and her dress front. She’d promised Charlotte that she wouldn’t cry any more and nodded her head that, yes, she knew Charlotte would take care of her from then on out.

Louise had felt guilty agreeing to that last part; she knew what a busy person her friend was but after this evening, she was glad that Charlotte wanted to look after her. The young girl shuddered at the memory that had caused all the tears.

She had innocently gone down the hallway where Charlotte and some of the other ladies had their rooms. All she had wanted to do was return an item of clothing that she’d thought lost but had in fact only attached itself to another lace nightgown instead. Well, Louise had never made it to the lady’s room because as she was about to knock on the door, a noise that half sounded like a laugh and half like a whistle came from very close to her ear. Turning quickly, Louise had found herself instantly drawn up against this man’s chest as he ran his hands down her back and onto her bottom.

Louise had tried to pull away but he was much taller and stronger than she was so she’d tried to reason with him that she was only the laundress and didn’t work in the fashion that the other ladies did, whatever fashion that might be. None of it worked and it wasn’t until his hands began to come around to the front of her dress and try to pry one of her buttons open and Louise cried out during her struggle to get away.

A half dressed Charlotte had come out of her room just then and took a firm hold of Louise’s hand, shoving the young girl behind her. A few quick words to the man and a promise to take care of his needs in a half an hour had the man quickly walking back toward the staircase. Louise knew she was in trouble then because the grip Charlotte had on her hadn’t lessoned and the usually kind woman was clearly angry with her.

And that was when Louise had lost it. The tears had started as she’d tried to both apologize and explain what had happened. Charlotte must have taken pity on her then because Louise found herself wrapped in the woman’s arms and escorted back to her own room. Suddenly things began to make more sense to her – the clothing the women wore that she washed every day, the fact that all their rooms only had beds in them, and the way that men always came to that big house at all times of the day and night. Louise still wasn’t exactly sure what the ladies did with the men when they disappeared from sight but her imagination worked quite well and it was making her come up with all kinds of possibilities that were scaring her to death.

“What have I gotten myself into?” she asked herself out loud. It was right then that Louise decided she would talk to Charlotte about how she thought Mr. Wicks would handle it if she told him she needed to move on? She had liked working there but being around what those ladies and Charlotte did and facing the chance of running into another man like tonight was too much for her.

Money or no money Louise didn’t want the security this place offered her anymore; she wanted out.

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