Topic #92: Picture Prompt


Picture A
Picture B
Time and Again by: Cindy Home is Where... by: Cindy
The Long Road Home by: Karen Eureka! by: Dede
Fresh Start by: Miss Raye Building a Trust by: Debbie
Lost Wishes by: Dede  
Time and Again
by: Cindy
Time and Again

Buck stood just inside the barn door, looking out at the tree-lined path. The loft in the barn had been 'home' for the last few weeks, a temporary abode while he worked to help the farm's owner bring in his crop. But now the harvest was done, and it was time to move on.

The same pattern had repeated itself several times since April, when Ike had turned sixteen. That was the age when people were asked to leave the mission school and make it on their own. Buck actually had no idea when his own birthday was on the white man's calendar - but he did know he didn't want to stay at the mission without his best friend.

And so on that chilly spring day they had both walked away from the mission, from everything they had known for the last few years. Walked toward an unknown future.

Since that time, their plans had changed a bit, by necessity. Young and confident, they'd been certain they'd soon have good work. Confident that a half-breed and a mute boy could finally find the acceptance neither had known before.

The reality was, they'd been taking whatever odd jobs they could find for almost six months now. Sometimes the jobs lasted a day or two. Other times, like now, the job had taken almost four weeks. But always they kept moving, hoping to finally find that place to call home.

Now it was time to move on again.

At least they'd finally saved up enough money to buy two horses and the necessary tack. They could move faster and further now, in search of that elusive goal.

Buck felt more than heard Ike move up beside him and he looked over at his friend. "Ready?"

Ike nodded and raised his hands to sign. "Let's go."

They led their horses out onto the path. Ike waited while Buck closed and bolted the door, and then they both mounted.

They rode slowly away, no firm destination in mind. In a way it was different this time. They had horses, and a pack of good food from the farmer's wife.

But in other ways it was still the same. No home, no firm plans for the future. Just moving on together, time and again.

Home is Where...
by: Cindy

A/N: This story follows "The Thunder Rolls" from Quick Fic #33, "On the Edge" from Quick Fic #53, "To Help a Friend" from Quick Fic #54, and "By the Book" from Quick Fic #91.

He really hadn't remembered all of the problems he could see now in the tack house.

When he'd first looked at the farm with Kid, he hadn't really paid much attention to the room. At that point he'd had no plan to make it into a home. He'd paid far more attention to the house and the barn proper, helping to identify what was needed to make them workable.

But now…

Buck kicked idly at some broken wood on the floor as he looked around the room. There was a lot of that laying around - broken wood, glass, bits and pieces of furniture and broken tools. A couple of rickety chairs stood by the back wall, along with a variety of scrap wood and rusty tools.

But all of that could be cleaned up. It would be hard, heavy work, but not worse than many other jobs he had done over the years.

No, the real problem was the holes in the wall. The gaps in the roof. The missing window with a warped frame. The broken door…

All right, there were a lot of problems with the room. Problems he hadn't really noticed on that first visit, probably because at the time he had never expected to call it home.

Fortunately, one side, closest to the barn, seemed to be fairly well closed off to the weather outside. A few small chinks in the wall could be easily blocked with rags, and the roof seemed to be whole. He could put a pallet of straw over there and add his bedroll on top…

And hope like hell that the weather warmed up and the usual spring rains held off a bit. Unfortunately, the dark clouds off to the west made it unlikely that the dry weather hope would be realized.

The first priority was to get the house fixed up. Fortunately, it was in better structural shape than the tack house. The roof needed some work, but any leaks so far seemed contained to the attic rooms, not to the lower two floors. The porch rail needed some work, as did the steps leading away from the back door. Some of the doors were off their hinges, and the railing for the main stairway was loose. That would need to be fixed before Lou's pregnancy advanced too far, but for the moment it wasn't crucial. And the window on one of the bedrooms was broken, but that could be covered easily enough as a temporary fix.

They planned to make a list of what needed to be fixed - and what supplies would be needed. Then they could go to town and purchase what they could, and order what wasn't readily available in Rock Creek.

At least here they weren't so far from St. Joseph, where the Missouri River made shipment of goods easy. It shouldn't take too long to get the new windows, and anything else they might have to order. And that was good, because Buck knew how anxious Lou was to get her sister and brother to the farm. Given how long they'd been separated, he certainly couldn't blame her.

He missed his own brother deeply, thinking about him almost every day. But the odds that he would be reunited with Red Bear in this life seemed to be growing slimmer, almost by the day. He could clearly hear the war chief's words from when they had met near Sweetwater. I will see you in the land behind the sun, my brother.

Fortunately, Lou had a better chance of reuniting her family. And Buck planned to do everything he could to see her dream come true, and as soon as possible.

After all, in addition to all of the repairs, it was nearly planting season. And even though he was no farmer, he still knew that meant plowing and preparing the fields. Hopefully Jeremiah and Teresa would turn out to be good help.

Actually, Buck figured Lou would see to it that they were. He was a lot older and bigger than her siblings, and it occurred to him that he wouldn't want to cross her.

Buck heard steps outside and turned just in time to see Lou step into the doorway. He grinned and held his hands out. "Well, I'll have plenty of light in here."

Lou pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow, clearly not convinced that was a good thing in this case. "Buck, this place is falling apart."

He reached over and hit his hand against one of the beams supporting the wall. "Actually, the structure is pretty sound. But it does need some work," he admitted.

"More than the house," Lou replied, looking at the warped frame where a window should have been. "Guess we better work out here first."

Buck shook his head. "No, the house first. Then we can get Jeremiah and Teresa here to be with you."

"Well, you can't stay out here until then."

"It'll be all right over here," he said, pointing. "I can…"

Lou was shaking her head. "No, you ain't staying out here like this."

"I've slept in far worse places, Lou."

"Not when there's a pretty sound house just right over there."

"I can still stay in the old bunkhouse for a while. I just wouldn't be here quite as much."

"Buck…"

"Lou, we've talked about this. It wouldn't be proper."

"We managed to stay together in a small bunkhouse for the better part o' two years."

"That was different. We weren't alone."

"No, I was just stayin' in the same room as five or six men. Nothin' improper there."

"Lou…"

"Buck the people who think it ain't proper… well, they ain't the ones whose opinions I care about. The people who know us, they're the only ones I care about. And they're gonna say you can't stay out here."

Buck considered that for a moment. It was true that the other members of their 'family' - Teaspoon, Polly, Rachel - would object to him staying in the tack house in its current condition. And they would understand if he used one of the rooms in the house. But word was sure to leak out, get back to others in town. And with Lou having just been abandoned, and dealing with having a baby on the way, he didn't want to do anything to make life harder for her.

As if sensing his hesitation, Lou tried another tactic. "The house is half yours anyway," she pointed out. "Says so on the deed."

"That's not why I gave you the money."

"I know, but it was the only way I could take it."

Lou hadn't had enough money to buy the farm outright, and Buck hadn't wanted her to be struggling under a bank note, especially when neither of them knew much about farming. So he'd provided enough money for her to get outright title to the land. But he hadn't gone with her on the final trip to the bank - where she'd added his name to the deed.

Just then the first roll of thunder announced the approaching storm. One look out the window showed a nearly black sky approaching, punctuated here and there by lightning. And with that, Buck's resolve to stay in the leaky tack house began to waiver. The previous owner had left most of the furniture behind, including the beds, which sure seemed like a better idea than a bedroll out here in nature's fury.

"Maybe for tonight," he said. "It looks like that storm could be kind of bad."

"Tonight," Lou agreed. "For a start." She looked out the window herself, then turned back to Buck. "Think we can get that window in the other bedroom covered before this hits?"

Buck nodded and moved toward a work table near the window. He'd seen a hammer there before and now he picked it up, along with a tin full of nails of various sizes. "Take this inside," he said, handing the items to Lou. "I'll get some wood and follow you."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Later, with the window patched, they sat together in the front parlor. A fire burned in the hearth, providing warmth and a gently flickering light as they sipped coffee and listened to the sounds of the storm outside.

Lou emptied her cup and set it down on the table. Then she reached into a crate at the end of the settee, bringing out a frame. As she turned it toward him, Buck could see a needlework piece.

"Rachel gave this to me as a housewarming gift," she said, holding it out toward him. "I think it's real appropriate."

Buck took the frame, turning it toward the fire so he could read it.

HOME IS WHERE YOUR FRIENDS ARE

"It is," he agreed softly.

Lou pulled her feet up under her and leaned against his shoulder. "I'm real glad you're my friend, Buck, and that you're here."

Buck set the frame down and shifted so he could put one arm around her shoulders. "I'm glad I'm here too," he admitted, without any hesitation. Any doubts he'd had about staying in Rock Creek had pretty much been put to rest, and Rachel's gift summed up why.

This was where his friends were, starting with the friend curled up by his side. Which meant this was exactly where he was supposed to be.

The Long Road Home
by: Karen

The emptiness of the road was the worst part. It used to be busy all the time. Someone was either bringing news in or taking it out. But no one had been out this way for the past few days - no need to anymore; what with the telegraph wires reaching all the way to town.

Lou sighed as she turned her back on the empty road and tended the few horses that were still kept here. She knew someone would come get them soon; it was only a matter of time. When that happened, she'd have no reason to stay: she'd have no choice but to pack up and head to Virginia in hopes of finding Kid.

The sound of the approaching rider took time to reach her because she was so lost in her thoughts. The look on the boy's face told her whatever it was that had brought the lad out this way wasn't good.

"Can I help you?" she asked when he didn't say anything after she'd stepped out of the barn.

"I have a telegraph," the boy said.

Lou reached up to him. "Let me see," she said.

The boy handed her the paper and left. Lou put the paper in her pocket without looking at it; whatever it was could wait - she needed to finish tending the stock.

Later that evening, Lou remembered the message. She turned up the lantern and pulled out the paper. She unfolded it and read. She let the paper fall from her hands as the reality of what it said hit her. She moved to the door, opened it, and once more stood staring down the empty road. She let the tears fall freely - no need to go looking; he was coming home.

Eureka!
by: Dede

Buck leaned casually against the corner of Teaspoon and Polly’s house with his arms crossed loosely over his chest, and watched the shed. There was a cacophony of sounds coming from inside the small building. Hammering, sawing, the basic sounds of wood being shaped into something; something only Teaspoon and Joshua knew about. That was the reason for Buck’s lurking presence.

The ‘project’ had started four days earlier when Joshua and his grandfather had disappeared into the shed. That morning no one had paid much attention to the noise, they all thought Teaspoon was just entertaining Joshua. But when the two woodworkers had insisted that their lunch be taken inside the shed and had then stayed there until dinner, everyone’s curiosity was piqued. That the shed was closed up as tight as a tomb added to the mystery. And the events of the second day only intensified everyone’s interest even more.

*~*~*~*~*

The morning was clear and bright as the ceaseless pounding echoed across the Hunters’ yard. Buck glanced around and walked quickly towards the shed. He was there under the pretense of asking Teaspoon a question about some paperwork but really he’d been sent to find out what was going on. Buck approached the shed and saw Hickok, Joshua’s dog, sitting like a sentry by the door.

“Hey Hickok,” Buck greeted the dog cheerfully, “you standing guard?” Buck laughed and raised his hand to grasp the handle. His laughter died as Hickok growled. Lowering his hand, Buck looked quizzically at the dog. “Hickok?” When he saw the dog’s tail wag, the motion sending dirt up in puffs around the animal’s rear, Buck figured it was an anomaly and lifted his hand once more towards the handle. Again, Hickok growled, this time showing a bit of teeth.

Buck stepped back, his brow furrowed with concern. He looked from Hickok to the shed, the noise inside continued uninterrupted by the small confrontation outside. “What’s going on in there?” he muttered.

Trying once more, Buck reached for the handle and Hickok barked a short, sharp woof. All sounds from inside the shed ceased but neither Teaspoon nor Joshua came out to investigate. Buck saw the shutter on one of the windows move but not enough to see who was peeking or what was going on inside. Buck was sure Hickok wouldn’t go as far as to bite but, deciding he didn’t want to tempt fate, Buck knocked.

“What?” It was Teaspoon and he sounded annoyed by the interruption.

“Teaspoon,” Buck said, “I have a question about this –”

“I’ll be by the office later,” Teaspoon responded, “now go away.”

Without waiting for Buck to answer, the rustling and hammering started again. Buck looked down at Hickok. “What are they doing?” Hickok just yipped and nuzzled Buck’s hand. Buck scratched the dog’s head. “I know you’re only doing your job.” Buck rubbed Hickok’s ears one last time and turned to leave. “Keep up the good work,” he called to Hickok, louder than necessary. Buck could have sworn he heard a small giggle from inside but with all the other noise, he wasn’t sure.

As Buck headed back to the office, he knew that Jimmy wasn’t going to be happy with this at all – but Lou was going to be worse.

*~*~*~*~*

Buck had been right. Lou had demanded to know what was going on but Teaspoon had refused to say a word. He’d insisted that it was between him and Joshua and no one else needed to know. And, the older man had told her that she was not to interrogate her son. That had really set well with Lou, so much so that she hadn’t spoken to Teaspoon since.

Sighing, Buck propped his elbow on his arm and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. What could they be doing that needed such secrecy? Maybe they were making something for Lou. Buck contemplated the idea but immediately dismissed it since Lou’s birthday was months away and there was no way Joshua could keep a secret for that long. Of course, the boy was doing a very good job with whatever he and his grandfather were scheming on. Buck felt a nudge against his leg.

“How ya’ doing?” He reached down and rubbed Hickok’s soft ear.

After Buck’s confrontation with Hickok, the dog had seemed despondent at having to keep people away, so Teaspoon had taken pity on the dog. Instead of Hickok having to play guard, Teaspoon had put a lock and chain on the door. That had only made Jimmy more determined to gain entry and Lou more exasperated over the situation. Buck stood idly rubbing Hickok’s ear as he pondered the circumstances.

“Well?”

Buck jumped, accidentally pulling Hickok’s ear. The dog yelped and shook his head. “Sorry Hickok,” Buck said, reaching over to pet the dog’s head as he glared at the intruder.

“Good spy you make,” Jimmy said, his shoulders shaking with quiet laughter. “Concentratin’ on the enemy?”

“Funny,” Buck grumbled. “You should be the one out here you know.”

“Look, if Joshua thought I was spyin’ on him,” Jimmy said, sobering quickly, “he’d never forgive me.”

“Oh but it’s okay for his uncle to do it,” Buck retaliated putting his hands on his hips and facing Jimmy.

“You wanna know as much as we do,” Jimmy said, challengingly poking Buck in his chest. When Buck pursed his lips but didn’t say a word, Jimmy laughed. “See?”

“Doesn’t really matter,” Buck muttered, turning back to stare at the shed, “I haven’t seen a thing, not even a quick peek.” Buck shook his head. “There have been small breaks in the noise and I’ve heard voices, nothing I can make out though.”

“Humph,” Jimmy grunted, looking in the same direction. “This has been goin’ on for three days now and –”

“Four,” Buck corrected him.

“What?”

“This is the fourth –”

“Fine,” Jimmy snapped, waving his hand in the air. “Four days then. However long is too long and we need to get –”

“EUREKA!”

“What did he say?” Jimmy whispered and glanced nervously at Buck as the sounds of happy exclamations and laughter came from within the locked shelter. They watched as Hickok ran up to the door and jumped up, scratching to get in and join the fun.

“Nothing good, my friend,” Buck murmured, “nothing good.”

Fresh Start
by: Miss Raye

The road had been long… too long and when the rain started it didn't help that the trees grew skinny in this part of the country.

Louise huddled against the trunk and sighed into the wind. "Just where is 'this part' anyhow?"

Thunder rumbled though the leaves and shook more water from the sky to drip down the back of her collar. It wasn't comfortable sitting out in the storm, but the way the drops of water sliced down her back only served to bring back the memory.

She reached a hand back and clapped it down over the bare nape of her neck. Her hair… her long thick hair. Hot tears slid down her cheeks as she sobbed into the worn knees of her breeches. "My hair…" she said the words, but there was so much more that she mourned. So much more she'd lost in the last few days.

A slap of lightning burst through the trees and she stared at the odd sight before her. A barn, a road… salvation. Before the weather could make up its mind to drown her she ran… hobbled with the sudden ache in her bones… floundered through the mud and found her way to the door.

*** ***

Inside it wasn't so much a matter of what was inside as it was how water tight it was. She crept along the wall, feeling her way past handles and feedbags and… another flash of light and Louise's heart stopped. Rising up from the silence of the barn, a horse, hooves flashing with reflected light of Mother Nature's fury. A silent scream raced past her lips and Louise stumbled back through the hay and dirt and onto her back.

Lifting her hands up in front of her face she waited for the impact. Waited for the pain and instead it was only the sound of the rain driving against the wall of the barn that fell.

One eye and then the other opened as Louise crept backward on her forearms and her backside. It took every ounce of energy still quivering within for Louise to push aside her own abject fear and breathe out her thoughts. "You're just as scared as I am, aren't you?"

The horse backed up in its stall, head down into the shadows. Louise waited for a cry of alarm from the horse… waited for an angry farmer with a pitchfork… or a gun.

She paused, freezing as a twinge of pain stilled her movements. It took a moment for her muscles to relax, for her mind to set aside the images that she feared would haunt her. They were there, forcing her to look into the corners of her mind… see the deep dark shadows of what she'd lived through.

Louise slid her coat off and turned it inside out and into a pillow for her head. She'd hide out in the barn… hope she wouldn't be run off in the morning… hope she wouldn't…

She fell asleep hoping… begging for just a few hours of rest…

*** ***

The world beyond the curtain of her eyelids was bright with sunlight and for a moment, she wondered if it was all a ruse. If it was all dream.

"Ain't got nuthin' to fear, boy."

Louise gasped and sat upright, her back against the wall. She blinked back at an old woman standing in the doorway.

"Ain't gonna run you off, unless you've stolen from me… or thinkin' about it." She gave Louise a measuring stare. "You ain't thinkin' of takin' anything, are you?"

The only thing Louise could do was shake her head, thankful that droplets of water didn't pepper the hay around her body.

"If you've a mind to help me with some chores, I'd be happy to give you somethin' to eat at my table." She looked over her shoulder for a moment and then back at her 'guest.' "Or you can set out when you want. I'll not mind one way or t'other."

It only took a second for Louise to scramble to her feet, ignoring the pain, dulling more day by day. "I'd be happy to help, Ma'am."

The woman nodded, considering the words. "That's fine then… I'd be obliged if you'd give the horse some grain, give him little brush if you ain't afraid of the big brute and then come on inside for the food." She turned before she received an answer, seemingly assured of what it would be. It was a long moment before Louise could move. The barn door yawned open before her. She couldn't just walk out. Walk out and down the road and the old woman wouldn't know.

But the woman had let her stay. Hadn't yelled upon finding her curled up in the hay of her barn. Hadn't shot her for trespassing. The least she could do was help out in exchange…

Help out and fill her empty middle for the first time in days. The cessation of the rain had left a fine dew everywhere she looked and the sun was just beginning to warm the land… maybe it was time for her too… to have a fresh start.

Building a Trust
by: Debbie

Lou stood in the same spot she'd been in all afternoon, staring at the same building. Her mind had wandered in a thousand different directions in the past couple hours, making her feel lonelier and more nervous than she had been since coming clean as 'Louise' two weeks ago. She wanted someone to talk to but the person she wanted to pour her soul out to seemed more interested in being anywhere but with her. She knew it was mostly her fault because she kept too much to herself until it was too late but Kid had always stood by her before without asking for answers so why would this time be different? Maybe because she'd pushed him so far away that she wouldn't be able to bring him back. All those thoughts were making her angry on top of everything else she was already feeling. And it didn't help that a half hour ago she'd seen someone enter the building she was keeping an eye on; someone she didn't know but whom she was suddenly very interested in finding out about.

The ex-rider wanted, no, needed, answers and needed them now! She'd been about to give up and barge in there herself when activity across the street caught her attention. She watched as Kid walked out then turned around to look at something. The something turned out to be a someone; a very pretty someone in fact. She'd seen her enter the building about a half hour ago but this was the first time she could clearly get a look at her. Lou clenched her jaw tightly as she watched the smiling woman come out into the sunshine then turn her eyes toward Lou's fiancé. After a minute of exchanging words and her grasping Kid's hands with her finely gloved fingers, the lady turned and with one last wave, hurried down the street toward the center of town. She walked right past Lou's hiding place, oblivious to anything around her if the smile on her face was any indication.

Lou didn't know what she expected to find when she'd come to town after him that morning but whatever it was, it was certainly not anything close to this. Lou came out of hiding and walked to where Kid was bent over, busy locking the door to the building he'd just exited. She didn't say anything as she stood with her arms folded across her chest, waiting for him to finally notice her. She'd been feeling invisible to him for close to two weeks now and him not sensing she was this close to him only proved how right she was.

Kid checked the door knob to be sure it had locked then pocketed the key as he turned around. "Lou! What are you doing here?" He glanced toward the shabby looking building then over Lou's shoulder before focusing on the woman standing in front of him.

"Looking for you."

"Well you found me." He gave a small, nervous chuckle as he tried to joke with her; 'tried' being the key word here as she didn't move a muscle. Noticing her stance, he knew she was in a foul mood and that usually meant for him to stay clear of her, especially since he was in a great mood and didn't want her spoiling it. Taking a step toward her, Kid reached his hand through the crook of her arm in an attempt to steer her toward the main part of town. "Come on, you can walk me back to the station; I'm starving."

Lou kept her feet rooted to the dirt below them as she wouldn't let him get away so easily. She tossed her head over her shoulder as she asked, "Who was that?"

"Her? Nobody." Kid stuffed his hands into his pocket. He'd been hoping she'd just come upon him and hadn't seen the person he'd just been with but apparently that wasn't so. What he couldn't figure out was why she seemed so angry with him.

"Well you seemed awfully happy just now comin' out of a deserted building with nobody."

"Huh? Lou, what are you getting at?"

"I don't know; you tell me." She crossed her arms tighter, if that was even possible. "It seems like ever since we got engaged, all you wanna do is be away from me."

"That ain't true!" Kid tried to reach out to her but when she moved her body ever so slightly to make herself out of reach, he dropped his hand with a sigh. "I still got runs to make …"

"Maybe once a week. What about the rest of the time, Kid? You disappear for all these strange hours of the day, come up with some excuse I know ain't the truth, and when I can't take it anymore and decide to follow you, I find you spendin' hours in an old deserted building … and not alone, I might add." Not wanting to break her stance or uncross her arms, Lou used her head to point this time at the building they were standing in front of. "This is Charlotte's dress shop, you know."

"I do know and, actually, it's not hers, it's yours."

"What does that mean?" She wasn't in the mood for riddles. Lou had had a feeling that she'd taken too long to get over her nerves about quitting the Express and getting married but she was over them now and looking forward to that new chapter of her life. Only now it seemed as if Kid had given up on her dragging her feet and not confiding in him and gone elsewhere for comfort. She had been right all along that the family life wasn't for her but it was too late now; everyone knew she was 'Louise'.

"I ran into Mr. Branch, the realtor, one day. He'd heard we got engaged so he asked me what you planned to do with the shop. Not knowing what he was talking about he told me about Charlotte putting the deed in your name. And get this, it seems she didn't lease it, she bought it outright. It's yours to do with as you see fit."

Lou loosened her arms at the mention of Charlotte and let them slip to her side. She glanced to the small shop her friend had proudly shown her so many months ago. "She did that for me?"

Kid nodded. "Mr. Branch said she wanted you to have some security in your life if something were to happen to her. It was almost as if she knew." He was glad he didn't get an argument from his fiancée, only a nod in agreement. "He handed me the key and since you didn't know about it, I thought it wouldn't hurt to keep it from you a little longer and, well, the reason I've been hard to find is 'cause I kinda opened up a business in there." He nervously rubbed at the back of his neck. He'd planned on coming clean and telling her everything but not this soon and certainly not this way.

"A business you call it." Lou was instantly brought back to the present and her anger escalated that Kid was doing this behind her back and doing it on her property! "Do you get paid for the services you render?"

"I have and I will, hopefully. Today was my best day yet." Kid grinned in spite of his secret being found out too soon.

Lou thought she was going to be sick to her stomach. "Your best day? Was she one of your clients?"

"I guess you could call her that. She did like what she'd seen; liked it very much in fact."

"Yeah I've seen the merchandise so I can imagine she wasn't disappointed. Were … were there others?" Lou was faltering now, not believing her Kid was capable of something like that, Cody, yes, Jimmy, yes, but not Kid.

"A few; it's slow going at first but it'll pick up real fast, Lou, I know it. Just you wait and see." He took hold of her hand, only to have it ripped away from his grasp. "Lou?" he questioned in confusion.

"Did she make you happy?"

"Yeah I'm happy; happy about a lot of things."

"Happier than when you're with me?" She almost choked as she said the words.

"What? What does being happy with you have to do with anything that's going on here?" Kid had absolutely no idea where she was going with this conversation. It was the first time they'd talked, really talked, in weeks and it felt more like an interrogation to him than an actual conversation.

"Because it's our future at stake! I did this for you!" Lou grabbed hold of the skirt she was wearing and waved it at him, brushing his pant legs with the cotton fabric.

"For me?! I thought you did that for us; for the future we were going to make together. And the only way we could do that was as man and woman!" Now he was getting angry and he didn't even know why. "Maybe the boys were right when they said that marriage is a scary thing for men to commit to. I know I've been dragging my feet about all the changes I've had to face and I've kept things from you but you aren't like that … at least the Kid I know isn't like that. I know it scared me so much that I tried to put off the planning and anything that had to do with it; maybe it's the opposite for you in that you talked about it while acting out your frustrations elsewhere."

"Frustrations? You make it sound like I've been going to the saloon each night or visiting one of the local gir … Lou, is that what you're accusing me of? How can you think … and wait, you said you followed me? You couldn't just come and ask me, Lou? If something was bothering you, why couldn't you let me know?" Kid placed his hands on his hips as he looked at her, a sad, lost feeling coming over his entire body. She thought that of him? What was happening to them?

"I didn't think that until just now but the evidence seems perfectly clear to me. Why else would you not wanna be around me?"

"Maybe 'cause you kept backin' away every time I asked you what was wrong!"

"I was scared!"

"And I wanted to help you but you wouldn't let me. You chose to talk to everyone else about your feelings except the person you should be sharing them with."

"I was afraid you would brush my concerns aside and tell me they didn't mean anything."

"Then you don't know me very well. You couldn't even give me the benefit of the doubt, could ya? All I would have liked was the chance to show you I'm not the same shallow person I once was, that I've learned from my mistakes. But I'm not the only one who makes them, am I?" They were standing boot tips to boot tips as they poured their hearts out. Kid felt as if his heart had broken a bit down the middle and wondered if Lou felt the same way. Judging by how mournful her eyes looked, he had a feeling she did.

"I thought I did know you; now I ain't so sure," she admitted softly as she broke contact with his eyes and looked toward the ground.

Kid was going to retort but paused with his mouth wide open as he got an idea. "Come here, I wanna show you somethin'." He reached out and took hold of her hand.

"Let go of me! Kid, what are you doin'?" She tried to pull away from him but as much as she would protest about it, there was no use in denying that he was ten times stronger than she was. And he was using that strength to bring her where she had wanted to go minutes ago but now didn't want to go at all.

"Kid!"

Both turned toward the sound of the male voice calling out in their direction. They stopped their little tugging and pulling display as both glanced at the other with a frown. Lou watched as a handsome young man came running up to them; she also noted that Kid seemed to know who he was. She watched curiously as they engaged in a conversation.

Upon seeing a woman standing beside him, the man took his hat off and nodded his head in her direction. "Ma'am, good day." Lou nodded her head briefly in response. "Kid, Laura just came to tell me how much she loved what you showed her. She wants to buy them both." Lou's eyes got wide as she was getting suddenly confused by this conversation. Both what? "I never thought we'd be able to come across such fine craftsmanship once we left the big cities back east. You keep up the good work and I'm sure we'll be looking for more where they came from."

He pulled out a bag of coins from his jacket pocket and placed it in Kid's hand.

"Mr. Mason, this is too much, it's more than I was asking for." Kid tried to hand the money back but Mr. Mason would see to it.

"Nonsense. One should get paid for the fine quality of work they do." He shook Kid's hand one more time. "You must be the Mrs.-to-be. You have a fine, hard working, talented man on your hands. I would think he'd be handy to have around," he lightly joked as he put his hat back on, tipped it in Lou's direction once more, and then disappeared up the street.

As Mr. Mason left them alone again, Lou turned toward Kid with a confused expression on her face. She didn't want to argue anymore and somehow felt it wasn't necessary. Why did she have a feeling she would be regretting this all in a matter of moments?

"What did all that mean?" she questioned as she gazed at Kid, not with anger but with a need to know some answers.

"It means that I would never do what you're suggesting yet for some reason felt it was necessary to accuse me of. It hurts, Lou, hurts like nothin' has ever hurt me in my life."

Lou's heart broke more than it already was to hear him say that. She'd done it; she'd pushed away someone who really cared for her all because of her stupid stubborn pride and her desire to be right all the time.

"Now come with me, please." He added the last word as a plea in case she thought to run from him instead of come to him. When she nodded her head, he went and unlocked the door then opened it. Kid walked into the building and stepped aside to let her enter. Once she was beside him, he swept his arm out in front of him to allow her to take in the sight before them. "There you go. That's what I was keeping from you, my big surprise I was making for you, for us, so we could have the best future together that was possible."

For the second time that day, Lou didn't know what she was expecting but it certainly wasn't anything like what she was staring at. The back of the building had been brightened up by the boards being removed from the window. There were no cobwebs or dust on anything; the only dust she did see, though, was sawdust, and plenty of it. Lou walked toward what had been set up to look like the tool shed back at the way station. There appeared to be a working block with tools hanging all within reach. Wood was piled up against the walls, sorted by varying sizes and nature of material it was made from.

Turning around to take it all in, Lou stopped beside two chairs. They were finely stained with woven seats. She'd seen such fine craftsmanship in some furniture stores in a few of the big cities she'd visited. That was when the conversation Kid had had with Mr. Mason came to mind. She turned toward Kid who had slowly followed to the back of the room.

"A surprise you were making for me? These are the two items that Laura's husband bought for her. You made these?"

He nodded as his hand automatically ran over the back of the chair closest to him. He was so proud of his workmanship. Kid gave her a sad smile. "All I've ever wanted was to own a horse ranch but until I can buy some land and horses to train, that won't be happening. I came up with this idea a while ago as a means to try to support myself and hopefully one day support my wife as well. I told Teaspoon what I wanted to try and he let me use the tool shed to get started in my spare time. He even gave me a lot of the tools you see here. The rest and the wood I bought myself. I figured it was an investment in the future."

Lou moved closer to the chairs and ran her hand over the wood. She paused when her fingers came in contact with his. Normally any other time Kid would have grasped his hand around her fingers but this time he just stared at where they met. Lou moved her eyes to look at him. "Kid, they are beautiful. I always knew you could make things with wood but I never imagined anything like this. It must have taken you months to get them done."

"Longer than that. This is the second set I've sold." He gave a small chuckle. "I'm beginning to think they might become my signature piece. But they're not all I've made. I also made this, only it ain't for sale; it's for you." He went to a large item covered with a tarp and with a strong pull, ripped the cloth away from what it was hiding.

Lou gasped as she took in the sight of the most beautiful rocking chair she'd ever laid eyes on. She felt her body pulled to it as she went to examine every inch of the piece of furniture.

"I wanted to make you something special but didn't know what and somehow chairs seemed too impersonal. So I went to Rachel for advice. She told me every woman needs a good rocking chair that they can retire to when their done with a hard day's work, or rock their babies to sleep in, or just sit in on the front porch during a summer evening when no air is coming in the windows."

"Kid, I love it." She wanted to say thank you but after what she'd accused him of, Lou knew it wasn't hers to claim. She removed her hand as she looked at him. "I'm excited for you, Kid, but why didn't you tell me what you were up to? I would have supported you any way I could."

"I just wanted it to be a surprise. Why is that such a bad thing?" He threw his hands up in the air in frustration. "I figured it was kinda like a wedding gift. I know you want to have your brother and sister come live with us someday and that would mean two more mouths to feed and two more bodies to clothe. Then when we had a baby …" Kid paused as he gave her a shy look since they hadn't talked much about that subject either, "we would need money to take care of him or her. This just seemed like the best way to get everything we want and need sooner than later."

Lou looked at him, feeling guiltier than ever. Here he had been thinking far into the future and there she was feeling selfish about giving up the life she currently had. She wanted all those things he had mentioned; it had just taken her some time to realize it.

"Kid, that was sweet of you to wanna surprise me with the chair and the money to get my brother and sister out of the orphanage and give us a start at a good life together but aside from the chair which ain't no different than givin' someone a birthday or Christmas gift, I do think the sneakin' around makin' all this stuff and sellin' it should have been somethin' you'd come to me about so we could discuss it." Lou looked back at the chair he'd made her, longing to sit in it and try it out but knowing she didn't have the right unless he told her she could. Instead she walked to the work bench he had set up and rested her body against it as she looked at him. "We got engaged almost three weeks ago. It was something we both wanted so badly. I still want it and I hope you do too. I just think that maybe we take each other for granted and think we know the other person so well that we can overlook their feelings or accuse them of things we're not really sure we believe to begin with but we do it because that person is convenient to take our frustrations out on."

Kid listened intently to what she was saying and when she was through, he nodded his head several times. He had tried putting his hands in his pants pockets but as soon as he did, he would take them out again as he found he couldn't stay still. This was the first real conversation they'd had with each other, well at least the first one that mattered so much to them as a couple that it was hard to take things casually. He finally moved to stand behind his pride and joy, the rocking chair he'd made for her, and rested his hands on the back of it.

"You're right, we haven't talked in weeks and we haven't talked like this letting out our wishes and feelings at all. You wouldn't talk to me, telling me what was bothering you. So after several failed attempts, I decided to just let you be. I figured you'd come to me when you were ready. It looks like you sorted through what was bothering you, and I'm real glad you did, but I still don't know what was making you back away from me after you had willingly said yes to my proposal. So, to give you space and not try to crowd you like in the past, I began spending all my time here and kept it from you. That was wrong, I'll admit it now but I still think there's a difference. What you kept from me could have affected our future while what I was hiding was done to make our future better." He gave a sigh as he didn't know what else to say.

"You're right," she began, echoing his words, "hiding things from you was wrong and what I accused you of was terribly wrong. Where do we go from here?" Lou looked away as tears were beginning to sting the corners of her eyes.

Kid took a few steps to her then stopped. All he wanted to do was reach out his hand and gently brush those tears away. He'd put them there. "I think maybe we need to start by building a trust between us; if we don't have that, then we won't have any kind of a marriage worth having. I don't wanna lose you and today has shown us both that we do what you said, we take each other for granted." He figured that said it all for now and turned around to leave. He didn't get anywhere as he thought of something he hadn't done yet so he glanced over his shoulder at her. "Let me know how you like the chair, would ya?"

Lou nodded as she brought her hands up to cover her mouth. This time she did want to cry. He'd taken the first step and given her the present. "That sounds good to me," she told him about his plan for them as a couple. As he began to walk toward the door, she called out to him, "Kid! For what it's worth, I am sorry."

Kid heard the sincerity in her voice. She's trying, he thought. He nodded, "I know you are." He gave her a small, sad grin before leaving her there. "I am too, Lou."

After hearing the door close behind him, Lou let out a gasp of sadness of what had happened that afternoon. She moved her weary body toward the rocker and sat down, holding onto the arms with all her might as she began to move rhythmically back and forth. There was no creaking sound, no roughness on anything she touched, just a smooth, gentle ride like only Kid could provide for her. Well the two of them had anything but a smooth, gentle ride in front of them but if they were going to make this marriage thing work, it would take riding double in every sense of the word. They needed to become one, a whole, not two separate pieces fighting each other to fit together. As she rocked and the tears began to fall down her cheeks, one question kept coming to her mind - could they do it?

Lost Wishes
by: Dede

I stare out across the land but I don’t really see it. It has been two years since we’d bought the small farm. We’d been so proud and together we knew we’d make this work. It was going to be hard, but we had each other and a lot of help from the family.

I look around my workshop. I’d turned the decent size shed into a place where I could do the woodwork I had always loved to do. I hadn’t had much chance while riding with the Express, some whittling here and there, but with this much room and all these tools, I knew I could make anything. At least I thought I could.

As we moved into the house, I’d asked her what she wanted me to make for her, what her heart desired most. She’d blushed and smiled such a sweet smile my heart felt so full.

“A baby,” had been her answer and she’d giggled. I had too but then I wasn’t going to disappoint my beautiful wife, so of course I did my best to fulfill her wish.

Months went by and every time I asked her what she wanted me to make, her reply was always the same – almost always. With every day that passed, her response became more wistful. I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t give her what she wanted, couldn’t make that special wish come true. Because of that, she grew increasingly despondent and distant. I felt like a failure but we still didn’t give up, though the passion was all but gone. It had become more an act of desperation than of love.

That ended two days ago. She died. I guess she simply drifted off, not ever getting what her heart truly wanted, that one wish to come true. I wasn’t enough, she’d wanted a family and I couldn’t give her that.

I look towards the small section of fence to the left, surrounding the copse of trees. She’s to be buried there. I clutch the tiny wooden figure in my hand as I hear the approach of horses and wagons. Family and friends are here to mourn her passing and rejoice her life. Cradling the small image in my hand, my eyes roam over the shape. The tears sting as they fall freely. I finally made her a baby but not the one she wanted.

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