Topic #97: Picture Prompt
Changes by: Dede
Little Loves by: Jo
A Pointed Conversation by: Miss Raye
Remnants by: Donna Ree
Can't Fence Him In by: Lori
Fence Me In by: Debbie
Don't Fence Me In by: Cindy
Just Talkin' by: Mollie
Changes
by: Dede

Buck leaned down and ran his hand over the neck of his horse, calming her. Sky wanted to run, was used to running when they rode over the prairie. But that was changing. Changing with the ever-expanding ranches and farms, sectioned off by fences as far as the eye could see. He heard the approaching rider, knew immediately who it was before the man spoke.

“Teaspoon.”

“Buck,” he said wearily. “Knew ya’d be out here.”

“Have they complained again?” It was a simple question, without any indication of animosity.

“Nope,” Teaspoon answered truthfully.

The two men sat quietly watching the hands from the Anderson’s ranch pull down the old makeshift sections Eli Anderson had put up when he’d first marked his land so many years ago. Now, the Anderson ranch was prosperous, the cattle business taking off and his range land being vast, Eli wanted a new, sturdier fence put in place.

“I am happy for Mr. Anderson,” Buck said softly after a few moments.

“I know that,” Teaspoon said. “And so does he.”

Buck graced Teaspoon with a faint smile but said nothing.

Teaspoon waited, knowing that he had to give Buck time to either say what was on his mind or move on. It didn’t take long.

“There was a time…” Buck sighed, gathering his thoughts. “A time lost forever it seems. This land was considered sacred by the Kiowa…my people.” He glanced over at Teaspoon and seeing only calm, consideration in the man’s expression, Buck took a deep breath. “The land was plentiful, all you had to do was take care of it, pass it on. Not own it. It is land; it will be there long after we are gone. It isn’t to be kept.” He grimaced.

“I remember that time,” Teaspoon murmured. “It was a solitary time. You could go for days not seein’ anybody.” He smiled sadly. “And where I was, doin’ the trappin’, the trees were as thick as the fur of a winter bear.”

“Simple ways,” Buck said, turning to face Teaspoon. He was glad he had someone who understood his anxiety over the continuing onslaught of people. “But then I saw, with their endless line of wagons, the numbers. In my heart, I knew the conflict to come, saw it happen as it increased daily. Now, what is left? ” A look back over what had for so long been the land of his people, he sat a moment longer. Coming to a resolution, he turned to Teaspoon and reached over, holding his hand out. Teaspoon took it, squeezing it hard. They sat staring at each other, not wanting to be the first to let go. Buck finally pulled away, patted Sky on the neck, and turned her in the opposite direction. Without another word, Buck set Sky into motion, leaving all the past behind.

Teaspoon watched Buck for as long as he could see the rider. He swiped at a stray tear and turned his horse back towards town. With one last look over his shoulder, first at the Anderson’s men, then towards Buck’s fading dust cloud, he sighed. “Now, whether ‘tis to be for good or bad, it’s certain there’ll be even more changes.”

Little Loves
by: Jo

“Ike where are you……Oh….” Buck called as Ike left the trail they were following and headed toward a clump of bushes and a broken down fence. Buck could see a small calf sitting, partly hidden by a clump of weeds.

As the boys drew closer they could hear the calf bleating and the low painful moans of another animal.

“That’s barbed wire be careful.” Buck said looking at the ruined fence as he circled the remains of an old burned out house; the rotten timbers reached for the clouds.

*Buck, look!* Ike signed just before he jumped from his horse and ran toward the calf.

Buck dismounted and grabbed the reigns of both horses. “Ike what are you doing?” Buck led the horses over to a bush away from the broken fence and half heartedly tied the animals so they wouldn’t stray too far.

As Buck approached Ike, he could see what had Ike so agitated. Tangled in the mess of barbed wire was a cow, probably the mother of the calf. The cow was still alive but just barely and both Ike and Buck could see that there was only one solution. *I know I made you kill the doe and I promised…* Ike let the words trail away as Buck reluctantly reached for his gun.

Buck spoke something to the cow in Kiowa and then put the animal out of its misery. “What a waste…Ike what are you doing?” Buck asked when he saw Ike lift the calf.

Ike tore the piece of fence that was keeping the calf away from the cow and put the calf down. The calf didn’t need any encouragement and began to suckle. * I couldn’t do that while the mother was alive it would have hurt her too much.* Ike said patting the calf. *I don’t see any brands, do you?*

Buck looked but didn’t see any markings to indicate who owned the cow and calf. “I don’t think the calf can be more that a few days old, it’s too little to brand. I don’t think it will….” Buck’s words died on his lips as Ike shot him a look that stopped him cold.

Ike had covered the calf’s ears at Buck’s words but took them away when he stopped. *I’ve told you before, don’t talk like that in front of the baby!*

Buck rolled his eyes and sighed “Ike, we can’t….um…how are….I promised….Teaspoon’s gonna skin me alive….” Buck said throwing his hands up and walking away.

Ten minutes later the riders, one wondering how he was going to explain all this and one carrying the calf, were back on the trail heading home to Sweetwater. About a mile and a half down the road they saw a farmhouse with small children playing in the yard. “Let’s go over there and see if they own the cow….” Buck said but stopped at the look on Ike’s face. “Look Ike if they owned the cow and we keep the calf it’s the same as stealin’ and I don’t want to do that, alright?”

*I suppose…Do we have to tell them? We….never mind* Ike said but this time it was Buck’s look that stopped him.

The pair rode into the dooryard of the house cautiously, not wanting to frighten someone into greeting them with a shotgun. A little boy of about five looked up and smiled. “Hi Mister, are you an Indian? My name is Mitchell and this is my big sister Phoebe and my little brother Daniel, what’s your name?”

Buck blinked twice before answering. “My name is Buck and this is Ike…are your parents around?”

Before Mitchell could answer his father came around the side of the barn. He had a rifle in his hand but it wasn’t pointed at anyone. “Can I help you?” the man asked.

“We found a cow tangled in some old fencing a ways back and wondered if you were missing a cow…” Buck said quickly watching the man closely.

“I have two milking cows and they’re both just fine.” The farmer said waving his hand in the direction of a small pasture beside the barn. Buck could see two cows grazing peacefully.

“Is there anyone else around that might be missin’ a cow?” Buck asked. “It was tangled up pretty bad and I had to put it down. It’d be a shame to waste all that good meat. We took the calf….” Buck indicated Ike who had the calf slung across his saddle. The calf was sucking on Ike’s fingers.

“We’re the only farm around for a good ways, must be a stray….” The farmer said looking Buck and Ike over, finally propping the rifle against the barn. “Where’d you say the cow was?”

“Where are you boys headed?” A female voice surprised them.

“Sweetwater, Ma’am…we ride for the pony express.” Buck answered removing his hat.

“Joel, we could really use the meat and you will never make it to Sweetwater tonight so why don’t you put your calf in with our cows for the night, show my husband where the cow is, do whatever you need to do then come back here for supper and after a good breakfast tomorrow head home….” The woman spoke as if everything was decided then entered the house as quietly as she’d exited.

*Does Emma have a sister?* Ike asked Buck who shrugged.

“Yes Cora, thank you…You heard my wife, I’ve learned its best not to argue….Want to hand the calf to me?” Joel said to Ike as Buck dismounted.

The rest of the afternoon was spent butchering the cow and bringing it back to the farm. Buck and Ike helped with the evening chores and enjoyed a wonderful supper. “Thank-you Ma’am that was very good.” Buck said placing his napkin beside his plate.

“You’re very welcome, we don’t get too many visitors out this way. You really didn’t have to help with the chores but I’m sure Joel appreciated the help.” His wife paused while Joel nodded. “You’re welcome to sleep in the loft with the boys.” Cora indicated a sleeping loft with a ladder leading up to it.

“We’ll be fine in the barn Ma’am, but thank you. Would you like some help with the dishes?” Buck asked hoping she’d say no.

“Oh no, but thanks for the offer, you’ve done too much already.” Cora answered as Phoebe started to clear the table.

“It’s getting late, if you don’t mind, I think Ike and I will head over to bed.” Buck said stifling a yawn.

“Good idea, I’m a bit weary myself….” Joel said.

The next morning after breakfast Buck and Ike were ready to leave when Phoebe came over to them with a bundle of things. “What’s this?” Buck asked taking the bundle from the little girl.

“Food for you and a couple of bottles of milk for Little Loves.” The girl replied brightly.

“Little Loves?” Buck asked looking at Ike who shrugged.

“Uh huh, that’s what we named your calf. She loves to lick you and suck on your fingers…” Mitchell answered before Phoebe could say anything.

“Yeah well, that and look….” Phoebe pointed to the calf’s head. “She has a heart on her head!” Buck and Ike looked at the calf and right in the middle of the calf’s forehead was a perfect white heart. As if on cue the little calf blinked and reached for Ike’s fingers.

“So she does!” Buck laughed. “Thank you for everything…” Buck and Ike mounted up and Joel handed the calf to Ike. The family stood watching Buck and Ike until they couldn’t see them anymore.

When they stopped for lunch Buck turned to Ike. “Did you know they were going to name the calf?” Ike shook his head. “Little Loves…..I can hear Teaspoon now!”

*Yeah but think how disappointed Cody will look when he finds out it’s been named!* Ike laughed and Buck joined in.

A Pointed Conversation
by: Miss Raye

Tompkins looked up at the salesman and gave the small man a hard look. “What the hell is this stuff for?”

“Well,” the man was soft spoken to begin with, but faced with the incredulous expression on the shop keeper’s face his voice began barely as a whisper, “they call it barbed wire, sir. This high quality barbed wire is strung out between fence posts and it keeps the animals where their owners want them. With the lack of wood to be had in an area such as this; I should think that the concept of barbed wire will catch on quickly as it’s becoming the newest popular item with ranchers and the whole country over.”

“Well,” copied Tompkins, his bearlike voice growling in his throat, “don’t know if you slept the whole way here on the stage, mister, but there ain’t too many ranches round here and the closest one we got, they got some corrals up for their stock. Don’t think I’d find too many buyers out here and so for now, you won’t have me as a buyer.” Tompkins gave a short nod that should have closed the conversation, but the little man wasn’t to be stopped.

Not this easily. As Tompkins picked up his duster, the salesman moved along in a parallel line, his cheeks showing a tinge of pink from exertion. “I’d like to think you’re a reasonable man and we can discuss this further. I’m sure once I’ve explained to you the many ways in which barbed wire is used you’ll decide to do business with me.”

“And I’m sure that if you don’t stop botherin’ me I’ll throw you out of my store.” Tompkins looked up for a moment as a shadow filled the doorway of the store.

“This man givin’ you problems, Mr. Tompkins?”

The little man didn’t know what to make of it. The tone wasn’t all too hostile, but the myriad of emotions that cross the shop keepers features was fascinating to say the least as if the man couldn’t decide if he was happy to see the man or hating the thought. “No… no, can’t say that it’s something I can’t handle myself, Buck… but it’s… well, it’s real kind of you to ask.” The last words out of his mouth seemed as though they came with a tinge of cod-liver oil flavor, adding a slight pinch to the man’s lips.

“I was stoppin’ in to pick some supplies for the Ranch…” there was a decided chuckle to this man’s voice, “haven’t heard you bellow like that in a few months.”

“Must be losin’ my touch then.”

The shadow took on the much more wieldy shape of a man as the voice came closer, and features emerged from the darkness. “Don’t think I mind the change, Mr. Tompkins.”

The shopkeeper gave the man a haughty look that didn’t seem quite genuine. “You don’t mind cause my yellin’ ain’t directed at you s’much these days.” Tompkins brightened for a moment. “In fact, maybe you could be some help to me.”

Buck could barely hide his surprise behind one raised eye-brow. “I’d be happy to.”

Tompkins gestured to the salesman. “This is mister…” Tompkins’ face pinched up in a grimace, “what is your name?”

Juggling his samples in his hand, the salesman managed to offer a hand to Buck. “Finn, Oscar Finn at your service.”

Buck took the hand and shook it. “Buck Cross.”

Tompkins leaned up against the counter as if settling in for the long haul. “Buck, is that rancher I was tellin’ you about.”

The salesman’s eyes lit up and Buck slipped a glance over to Tompkins, wondering what it was he had just gotten himself into. “Mr. Tompkins-”

“I hope we can both help Mr. Tompkins see reason, Mr. Cross.”

Intrigued by the statement, Buck turned and gave the salesman his attention.

Setting his sample case on the edge of the counter, he produced the sample of wire with a flourish. “Barbed wire.”

Buck’s initial reaction had Tompkins chuckling silently. He took the sample in his hand and turned it over and over… around and around. “What’s it for?”

“Well,” obviously pleased at the opportunity to share his vast knowledge of his product, the salesman seemed to glow with anticipation, “for Ranchers such as yourself, it means less cost and more profit! Truly a magical innovation, it will cut your cost and need for wood nearly in half. Just string this between fence posts and your animals will quickly learn to stay far away from the ‘tender’ situation of a fence.”

Pressing his palm against the point of the wire, Buck pressed down against the point until the moment it was about to puncture his skin. His breath hissed out from between his lips and he held out the wire for the salesman to take back. “No thank you.”

The salesman was truly shocked. “But… it’s perfect for your Ranch…”

“No, sir… it’s not.” Buck gave the man a cold look and stepped back as soon as the salesman had taken possession of his sample. “I train and sell horses and that… thing you’re trying to sell me would rip the hide right off their bodies.”

The man tried to calm his worries. “I’m sure it wouldn’t be ‘that’ bad, Mr. Cross, surely the animals would learn to avoid-”

“I have no problem putting up corrals when I need them and the cost,” Buck nearly spat out the word, “would never be an issue. That wire of yours will never be used on my property.” He turned to Tompkins. “Anything else?”

Tompkins straightened up and gave a good shake of his head. “Nope… that’s all I needed.”

Buck gave the small man another look. “I come back later for the supplies.”

Tompkins shrugged; sure he’d make the sale later. “Sure, no problem, Buck… I’m here until bout four today.” He watched Buck head for the door before he turned to the salesman. “Well?”

“I guess that’s a NO.”

Crossing his arms over his barrel-shaped chest, Tompkins gave the man his first real smile that day. “I see you’ve got my point.”

thanks to Liz for answering questions about horses and barbed wire :) - sorry to everyone..this hasn't been beta'd

Remnants
by: Donna Ree

This quick fic is partly based on the picture prompt and partly based on the picture of what was left of Emma’s house from a reunion photo at OTS.

Buck swore silently to himself as he felt the sliver of wood jab into his skin through his glove. It was the second time he tried to set this particular fence post and knew he was going to have to make a new one to replace it. It was too rotted. Too deteriorated. Just like everything else around here.

He paused to survey his surroundings. Noting the sagging fence lines and remembering the day he and his fellow Pony Express riders put the danged thing in. It had been such an incredibly hot day. So unlike today. Snow still dotted the landscape in some places.

Next, he angled his vision toward the barn and tack room. Half of the barn was still standing, that was where he’d stalled his three horses. The other half of the barn was a different matter. It was beyond repair and would have to be torn down.

What he gazed upon next caused a lump to lodge in his throat and tears to prick his eyes. Emma’s house. Or what was left of it. It was leaning precariously to one side, part of the roof had caved in and the porch was just a memory.

Buck wasn’t sure what had brought him back here to Sweetwater and why he thought he could turn Emma’s holdings into something. Well technically they were his holdings now since Emma had left them to him years ago, long after she and Sam had left the area. Why she had picked him to leave all this to he still couldn’t fathom. Maybe because out of all of the riders he was the most ill-suited to fit in anywhere.

His musings turned toward his ‘family’. Ike, his best friend for as long as he could remember gunned down and Buck’s retaliation against his death. Noah had been taken from them too soon as well. Kid hadn’t been heard from since the War Between the States and long ago was assumed dead. Teaspoon had succumbed to pneumonia a couple years before with his ninth wife by his side. Buck had to smile at that – even at his age, Teaspoon had never stopped looking for true love. Lou and Jimmy he’d last seen at Teaspoon’s funeral, as well as Rachel and her husband. Cody was always being talked about, even this far West. He’d tried his hardest to get Buck to join his traveling wild west show, but Buck would have nothing to do with it. Cody meant well, but sometimes he just didn’t think things through too well.

Sighing, Buck picked up his tools and strode to the bunkhouse, the only structure still completely intact. It must have been fixed up so many times through the years it would probably take an extreme act of nature to make it collapse. The Great Maker knew he had a lot of experience being one of those who’d helped fix it up and various small scars to prove it.

Maybe it had just been time for him to pick up the remnants of his life and start over. Maybe that’s why he felt the need to come here. His wife had died several months back trying to deliver their stillborn child. The ache that settled in his chest from thoughts of them didn’t bear dwelling on. He’d been drifting since then, not really knowing where his life should be heading. The thought of Sweetwater popped into his head one night while praying to the Great Maker for guidance. He’d packed up right then and there and left at first light the next day.

And now here he was, the same place he was 20 years before and the only physical thing to show for it were the few clothes he’d brought with him and three horses in the ramshackle barn.

Shaking his head at the thought, he put his tools away, cleaned up and heated a can of beans over the stove. Eating them straight out of the can, he grinned thinking of the admonishment Emma, Rachel and his deceased wife would be giving him.

Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed. He still had his memories and enough work to keep him busy for two lifetimes. After time his wounds would heal, even though the memories would remain. He could make something of the old Sweetwater station and maybe he could be happy again. One thing for sure - life would go on.

Can't Fence Him In
by: Lori

From the time the Express ended, he had searched for a purpose in life and a place to call home. Searching for respectable work, searching for companionship without feeling hemmed in had torn at him. He couldn’t stand the encroaching rush of people who moved west after the war ended, buying up land, building towns and always sending word back home about how great the country was which caused more people to come.

Yet, he didn’t want to be completely alone. He didn’t hate all towns; he just didn’t like it when they got too big. When he didn’t know his neighbors and didn’t know if the person he saw on the street was new or just someone he hadn’t met yet. He tried to contribute to society, tried to not remove himself completely from interacting with others, but when he felt like he couldn’t breathe because there were too many bodies pressing around him, he had to move on.

He didn’t like big ranches that cordoned off the land and caused disputes over boundaries. He loved to be able to sit on his horse, look in all directions and not see another soul. He kept traveling, hoping to find the peace that seemed to claw at his mind, begging him to find it so he could have just a moment’s rest, but always proving to be just beyond his grasp.

For a while, he’d believe he’d found it. He’d find a sleepy town, small yet not dead, and he’d try to settle down. He’d find a place, find a job, maybe even try to find love, and think that this would be the time he’d have what he’d been hoping for. But it would never last. The town would grow, he’d start to feel restless, he’d take to riding his horse more and more, just wanting to see the land, but he’d really be searching. Searching for space, searching for freedom, searching for the next place to move on to.

Which was why she knew he was getting ready to leave soon.

She knew about his past, knew about his quest, knew about the demons that haunted him and chased him. She knew that he’d tried this before and failed, and yet she couldn’t stop herself from becoming his friend, and then coming to love him. She thought that if she didn’t hold on too tightly she wouldn’t smother him. She thought that if she didn’t comment on the times he took off and disappeared for several days, that he wouldn’t feel that she was trying to tie him down and domesticate him.

Maybe it had worked; at least for a little while. But she recognized the look in his eye, even though she’d never seen it directed at her. He’d simply told her too much about himself for her to not know what was happening. She could see he was struggling. His desire to run warred with his desire to stay. It wasn’t just because she sensed he didn’t want to hurt her by leaving, it was that she sensed he truly was tired of wandering around with no true place to call his own. He wanted to stay, but the urge to leave was simply too demanding. Too all-consuming and he didn’t know how to resist it.

Her people had a saying, and she knew she had to follow it. She had to love him enough to let him go. If he never returned, it was simply because he was never meant to be hers. While she would always cherish their time together, she knew the time had come to set him free. She had to let him know that it was alright for him to leave; that she understood, even if it might hurt her.

So when she heard the familiar sound of his horse approaching her house, she knew what she had to do. She opened her door and stepped outside, holding the bundle she’d prepared that morning under her arm. Smiling at him as he stopped, she approached his horse and lightly laid her hand on his leg, hoping he’d know to stay in the saddle.

“Morning,” she greeted him, keeping her voice light.

“I…I wanted to let you know that I might be gone for a day or two,” he began, shifting slightly on his horse, his hat low over his eyes.

“I figured you’d be going out soon,” she replied. “I fixed you something.”

She passed the bundle up to him and he took it in one hand, gently bouncing it to gauge the weight. “Seems to be quite a bit in here.”

“That’s because you’ll need it,” was her answer. “You’ll need enough to get you to the next town.”

“I’ll be back,” he insisted.

She shook her head. “You won’t, and we both know it. It’s time for you to gather up your belongings you’ve had packed and waiting by the door. You’re too restless, you’re too unhappy, and you need to move on. You know you want to, and it’s time for you to follow your heart.”

There was a heavy moment of silence between them until he let out a heavy breath and said, “I wish I could have been happy here. I was happy with you. For a while.”

“I know,” she assured him, her voice a bit softer as she warred with her own emotions. She knew she had to stay strong, though. “I know. But you’re not happy now and it’ll do us no good if we come to resent each other.”

Leaning forward slightly, he brushed his fingertips over her cheek. “I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” she admitted. “Go.”

He straightened and looked at her hesitantly, his eyes searching hers, but she repeated. “Go. If you ever come back through this way, I’ll be here. If not…”

She didn’t know if she’d ever see him again; though she hoped she did. If he ever did decide to retrace his steps and visit a place he’d once lived instead of ever-seeking new territory, she would be here. Until then, she would just have to live with her memories of their time together.

Fence Me In
by: Debbie

Rachel looked skeptically at the person seated beside her. They had been driving along the main road for a while now and all there was to see was this broken down fence with barbed wire attached to it.

“Well what do you think?”

She was about to ask ‘about what’ when she followed Henry’s eyes and finally saw what was in front of her and not all around her. Sucking in her breath in surprise, Rachel rose her body higher on the seat to look at the house standing on the ridge above them. It wasn’t big and looked like the porch could use some repair work but except for falling off shutters, it was standing.

“If the fence surrounding it is any indication of the condition it’s in, I feel sorry for the folks that have to live there.”

“Then you best feel sorry for us, Darlin’, seein’ as how your name is alongside mine on the deed.”

“You bought it?” Rachel turned toward her new husband with a surprised look on her face that quickly turned to utter joy.

“Didn’t I promise I’d always take care of ya? That means providin’ a roof over your head and that of our young one to be. I can’t be havin’ the most beautiful woman in all of Blue Creek livin’ in anything but the best I could buy her.”

She threw her arms around his neck. “Oh Henry, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”

“I thought you said it was about to fall down?” Henry laughed as he wrapped his arms around her back, snuggling his nose into her soft, sweet smelling hair.

“All it needs is a bit of work, some lovin’ put into it.”

“Oh there’ll be a lot of lovin’ goin’ on inside it, I can guarantee you that!”

Rachel threw back her head and laughed. She had thought they were just out for an afternoon ride. Suddenly a thought occurred to her and reaching behind the seat of the buckboard, she threw back the blanket that had been covering the back. She shook her head as she saw several boxes with supplies in them as well as carpet bags that she was sure contained their clothes.

“And what would you have done if I told you I hated the place and refused to even step one foot inside it, let alone be willing to spend the night in it?!” Rachel placed her hands on her hips as she looked at him.

“I would have said ‘sorry, darlin’ but all my money’s been spent on it so you’re stuck with it just like you’re stuck with me’.” Henry reached out and placed his hands on both her cheeks.

“Well since you put it that way and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world to be ‘stuck’ with you then all I can say is that I can’t wait to see the inside.” Rachel leaned forward and kissed him tenderly on the lips.

“As you wish, my dear.” Henry turned forward again and picking up the reins, flicked them to get the horses moving.

Rachel eagerly sat on the bench, looking all around her but this time actually seeing the promise in what was on both sides of them and not the dishevelment of a time gone by. As she noticed the fence running up to nearly the side of the house, she turned to Henry and asked, “Is all that property we just passed ours?”

“Do you think it’s enough?” he teased with a smile then grew serious as he continued, “The realtor told me this place used to be a big cattle ranch, that’s why the fence is here. I had to check the place out for myself ‘cause we Irish know farmin’ more than anythin’. It’s good soil, Rachel, real good! I’ll have the best crop growin’ in no time, you wait and see.”

“I’m sure you will.” Rachel smiled at her husband, pure love flowing from ever pore in her body as she couldn’t help but think how lucky she was to have him in her life. That was when the nagging feeling she’d been having since saying ‘yes’ to him wiped over her, diminishing the happiness she’d just felt.

Henry hadn’t noticed a change in his wife’s behavior as he kept talking about their new property. “I’ll probably take down the fence. On second thought, maybe I’ll fix it instead and make it go right around the whole house … wouldn’t want anyone thinking they can come up her and take you from me,” he teased as he finally looked at her, his face growing somber when he noticed her expression. He quickly stopped the horses. “Rachel?”

“Do it! Fence me in!” she cried as she reached out and took hold of his hands.

“Hey, darlin’, I was just teasin’ ya.”

“Well I’m not. I want you to do it.”

Henry disengaged his hand from her firm hold so he could reach out and caress her cheek. “Oh darlin’, I’m sorry I brought that up. Rachel my dear, you’re mine now and everyone knows that. Didn’t I tell you there’s no cause for worry? I’ll never let anything happen to ya. It’s you and me together forever … well, at least until you present me with that son or daughter of mine.” He smiled at her as he looked deep into her eyes. “We made vows, Rachel, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about them; it’s what they mean to us that matters.”

“Henry, I …,” Rachel paused then seeing the smile he was sending her way she couldn’t help but share his happiness once more. She nodded. “You’re right. I’ve waited my whole life for someone like you and it’s not fair to let my fears take away any time that we have together. Life’s too precious for that and I want to enjoy the present and the future and not think about the past.”

“Then don’t. No more worries, alright? Now didn’t you say something about wantin’ to see the inside of our new home?” Henry jumped down and walked around to the other side of the buckboard. He held out his hand to help her down then still keeping hold of her fingers, led her toward where he hoped to grow old with her.

Don't Fence Me In
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, "By the Book" from Quick Fic #91, “Home is Where…” from Quick Fic #92, “Memories and Nightmares” from Quick Fic #93, and “A Touch of Comfort” from #95.

~~~~~

Replace windows.

Check.

Fix porch rail.

Check.

Re-hang bedroom door.

Check.

Fix roof.

Lou paused, her pencil poised over that item on the list. Hammering from up above confirmed that Buck was busily working on that task.

Check fence.

Her pencil paused again. Since buying the farm a few weeks earlier, they had not had time to check the whole fence line to look for breaks. Since they were planning to bring in a few head of cattle, and some horses, this summer, it would be important to know if the fence was secure.

Buck, Teaspoon, Polly, Rachel – all of them had explained, many times, that she was not to be riding any more until the baby was born. But the fields were fairly level, and there was no reason she couldn’t take the buckboard and at least get most of the line checked.

With the day’s goal in mind, Lou wrapped up some bread and cheese, filled a canteen with water, pulled on her work boots and jacket, and walked out onto the porch…

“Oh, #$%$#*&^#!!!!!!!”

The language coming from the roof stopped her cold for a moment, and then she hurried down the steps, staring up. “Buck, are you all right?”

A moment later, Buck’s head appeared over the edge of the roof, pulling a thumb out of his mouth. “Hit my thumb,” he muttered, voice taut with pain.

“Way it sounded I thought you’d fallen off.”

He managed to grin a little. “No, that would have sounded a lot worse.”

“Need anything before I go?” she asked, returning the grin.

Buck shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Where are you going?”

“The fence line still needs to be checked.”

“Lou, you can’t be…”

“Riding. I know. I’m gonna take the buckboard.”

Buck didn’t look convinced. “Lou, I can do that.”

Lou rubbed a hand over her growing abdomen, then looked up with a smile. “Buck, I’m pregnant, but that don’t mean I can’t help around here. We’re partners, right?”

“Right.”

“I suppose I could come up and help on the roof instead.”

Buck sighed in resignation. “I’ll come down and harness the horse for you.”

Lou waved him off and started for the barn. “Harnessing ain’t riding, and I been doin’ both for years.”

“Ride safe!”

Lou turned and waved, then continued on her way to the barn.

It only took a few minutes to harness a horse to the small wagon. Lou placed her supplies under the seat and climbed up. As she drove out of the yard the hammering told her that Buck was back at work on the roof, and she found herself smiling. It hardly seemed real that they had accomplished so much in the few short weeks since buying the farm. But now most of the work on the house itself was done, with just a few small jobs left to complete. The barn needed a little work too, but the house had been by far the more needy building.

They’d been talking about that at dinner last night. Buck had seemed pleased with the progress too. In fact, they’d started making plans for their trip to St. Joseph to get Jeremiah and Teresa.

That would really make the farm feel like home.

Guiding the horse through the broken fence beyond the barn, Lou started down the line. They knew about that section, of course. It was the condition of the fence farther out that was an unknown right now.

Driving along, most of the fence she saw looked solid. Closer to the barn it was all wood, but then it turned to strands of barbed wire held up by poles set every ten or twelve feet. Even from a distance the barbs looked sharp, and Lou couldn’t help but think of the time Cody had ridden into a fence like this. He’d been unhurt, but it could have turned out much differently.

She stopped now and then, climbing down to test the poles. Pushing and pulling, she made sure they were firmly planted, noting the location of a couple that would need to be re-seated.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm without being hot. The white clouds were like puffs of cotton high in the sky, and the gentle breeze rustled the tall grasses.

She was really glad she’d decided to do this today.

Up ahead the fence got harder to see as it approached a copse of trees. The ground got a little rockier too, and Lou pulled the horse to a stop.

The bank had said there was a creek near the back of the property, and she guessed she was approaching that. And it looked like she’d be on foot from here on.

Lou opened her food pack, eating a couple slices of cheese. She put two slices of bread in her jacket pocket, slung the canteen over her shoulder, and started toward the trees. On foot now, she checked each post, finding them all quite secure up to the tree line.

The air seemed many degrees cooler when she reached the shade of the trees, and she paused to button her jacket before moving on. Undergrowth made it hard to get to some of the posts now, so she relied on just looking at them. Everything still looked fine until she got to the tenth post.

There was a large branch that had fallen against the wire, apparently with some force because the next post was leaning.

Kicking at the underbrush, Lou slowly made her way toward the fence. The odds that cattle or horses would find this weakness, hidden as it was, were probably low, she figured. But they certainly didn’t have the extra money to tempt those odds, especially not if this would be relatively easy to fix. If the wire wasn’t broken, it might just be a matter of removing the pressure and resetting a couple of posts.

When she finally reached the fence, the branch was heavier than she had imagined, and it seemed to be stuck on something in the dead tree next to it. For a moment Lou considered waiting and telling Buck about the problem, but then she decided there was no need for that. He was already doing the bulk of the work, and she could try a few more times before giving up.

Lou climbed over the leaning branch to get a better angle on it. Setting her shoulder against the wood, she pushed with all her strength. It seemed to move a little, but not enough. So she bent a little lower to get her shoulder under the branch, and then she pushed again.

There was movement now, it shifted, and there was a groaning sound…

Lou had just enough time to realize that the tree was coming down on her before everything went black.

~~~~~

Buck hammered the last shingle into place and stood up, surveying his work. It actually looked pretty good, even if he did say so himself.

He stuffed the extra nails into his pocket, dropped the hammer down to the ground below, and started down the ladder.

He carried the ladder and tools to the barn to put them away – and that’s when he noticed the buckboard wasn’t back yet. He hadn’t really thought about it while he was working, but he guessed he should have. Intent on finishing the roof job, he’d even been ignoring his rumbling stomach in favor of getting the work done.

Looking outside, the position of the sun told him it was later in the afternoon than he’d realized.

That didn’t mean there was a problem, of course. Lou might be taking advantage of the nice weather to just enjoy the day. She might have gone into town, or to visit Teaspoon and Polly or Rachel.

But wouldn’t she have let him know? Lou certainly would have said something if she’d come back and then gone again.

Buck went to the pump outside the barn and washed the dust from the shingles off. Then he went back inside and quickly saddled his horse.

If Lou was just taking her time, and enjoying the day, he could just say he’d come to join her. But a little voice was getting louder in his head, saying that she was in trouble.

He didn’t bother to look for a trail. She was going to check the fence line, so that’s what he followed. If the wagon turned away, he’d see signs.

The voice in his head got louder still when he saw the wagon up ahead, just short of the trees.

Dismounting, he looked around quickly, seeing no signs of a struggle. That was good, because it most likely meant Lou had gotten out of the wagon on her own. But this location wasn’t really that far from the house, and even driving slowly he would have expected her to be much farther along.

“Lou!”

Getting no answer, Buck headed into the trees, still following the fence. “Lou!”

The brush was dense, and he struggled to find signs of her passage. There were footprints of small animals… and there! A print from a boot.

“Lou!”

The brush looked to have been disturbed heading toward a fallen tree, and Buck pushed his way through. The little voice in his head was fairly screaming at him now.

At first he didn’t see anything. The tree had brought down some of the fence but…

He saw a boot first.

Jumping over the downed fence post, he knelt next to the tree, reaching between the branches to touch her face. She was breathing, and that caused him to sigh in relief.

Now he just had to get her out from under the tree.

~~~~~

A hint of light intruded on the darkness, and Lou forced her eyes open. At first she couldn’t focus, but then, slowly, things came into view.

She was in a bed, but not her bed. This wasn’t her room, or even her house…

“Well, hello there darlin’. You had us a mite worried.”

“Teaspoon.”

“How you feelin’?” he asked, coming to the edge of the bed to take her hand.

Lou thought about that for a moment before answering. “Hurts pretty much everywhere,” she admitted. “What happened?”

“Guess you was ridin’ the fence line.”

She nodded. “I remember, sort of. I had the wagon.”

“Ain’t sure exactly how, but when Buck realized you hadn’t come back, he went lookin’ for you. Found you under a tree.”

The memories came back, and Lou gasped. “I was tryin’ to move something that had fallen against the fence,” she said softly. “It was stuck, and I pushed harder…”

“Buck said the tree was dead. Guess whatever it was stuck on was holdin’ it up.”

Lou reached up, touching the bandage around her head. “I guess I passed out. I don’t remember him findin’ me.”

“He brought you here, an’ went on to get the doc.”

Lou gasped suddenly, her hand going to her abdomen. “The baby?”

Teaspoon squeezed her hand gently. “Doc says the baby seems just fine. You were both lucky.”

Lou blinked back tears and just nodded in agreement.

“Polly an’ Buck are downstairs. We been takin’ turns sittin’ with you. All right if I tell ‘em you’re awake?”

Lou nodded again. “Please.”

She watched as teaspoon walked out the door, and then she pushed the blankets down, rubbing her abdomen again. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I coulda got you killed, and you ain’t even had a chance to live yet.”

There were footsteps on the stairs, and she pulled the blankets up again, leaning back into the pillows. She’d been independent for so long, fighting to prove herself. But did she really need to do that any longer?

Buck certainly didn’t give her the feeling she had to prove herself to him. Teaspoon, Polly, Rachel – they were her family, and she had nothing left to prove to them.

Holding her hands over her belly, she closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. There was more than just her life to consider now, and she’d best keep that in mind.

It seemed like all her life she’d fought the efforts of others – mostly of men – to fence her in to a subservient role. But now maybe she’d best fence herself in a bit.

At least until the baby came.

Just Talkin'
by: Mollie

“Hey mister,” the voice pierced through Jimmy’s thoughts, “Hey mister, you lost or somethin’?” Jimmy raised his head to look across the fence at the young boy on the other side. He couldn’t have been more than ten and looked a little startled to have come across a stranger. The boy’s horse shied and balked beneath him, unnerved by the statue like stillness of Jimmy and his own mount. Jimmy noticed that the boy easily kept in the saddle. “Mister?” he asked again, his voice breaking a little.

“No, I’m not lost,” Jimmy answered darkly and looked away from the boy out to the horizon.

“Oh,” the boy said slowly, maneuvering his skittish horse closer to the fence line. “You’re not in trouble or, or anything are you?”

Jimmy could tell the boy had seen his guns by the tremble in his voice. “Nope. I’m not in trouble nor looking to cause any.” Jimmy wished the boy would leave him to his thoughts, which were already inclined to ignore the boy and wander over the fence, across the plain, down the rise and to the little white farmhouse less than a mile away.

“Well what are you doin’ out here then?” the boy asked cheerfully, all fear gone.

Jimmy sighed, “Just thinkin’.” For the first time he really looked at the boy. There was no mistaking who’s son he was. Not with blue eyes like that.

“Oh.” The boy was quiet for a moment, then spoke again, “Funny spot for thinkin’; there ain’t nothin’ out this way.”

“It’s quiet,” Jimmy growled hoping and fearing that the boy would get frightened and scurry away. No such luck. The boy stayed where he was, staring at Jimmy with an open and pleasant face.

Jimmy almost jumped when the boy’s arm suddenly stretched out across the fence. “I’m Jed McCloud.”

Jimmy shook his hand and grunted in exasperation. Clearly this visit wasn’t going to be the same as the others. He’d been stopping by this fence for years now, wondering what was going on in the house he couldn’t quite see, trying to find the courage to ride down to the gate and up to the door. It had always been a risk, he knew that. Any time one of them might have seen him and his heart stopped at what would happen then. Would they welcome him with open arms or turn their backs to him? It was a question he couldn’t bear to have answered. This particular eventuality, however, had never occurred to him. “This your ranch, Jed?’

“Yes, sir.”

“Place like this must take a lot of work. Bet you got chores that need doin’.” Jimmy looked squarely at the boy, hoping he’d take the hint.

Jed’s face twisted a little, as though he’d been reminded of something unpleasant and he slowly shook his head. “Not today, I guess. Dad won’t want any of us underfoot. That’s why I cleared out. I could tell it was gettin’ to be about that time when he’d bundle us all off to Grampa Teaspoon’s for a few days and I aim to take care of myself this time around.”

Jimmy noticed then the bedroll strapped to Jed’s saddle. He could just imagine what Kid would think of his son taking off on his own, regardless of circumstance. “Guess you lost me there, son. What’s goin’ on that your Pa’s sending you away?”

Jed rolled his eyes. “Another baby,” he said disgustedly, “And with my luck probably another girl. I got more sisters than a body knows what to do with.”

Jimmy felt all the air rush out of him. He’d just imagined that everything had stayed the same since he left. He hadn’t thought of the house filled with children or Teaspoon styling himself as a grandfather. Suddenly the aches in his body felt sharper, his saddle less comfortable, his guns heavier. “How many sisters is that exactly?” he asked when his breath returned.

“Two,” muttered Jed, taking off his hat to scratch his head, “Mary and Alice. They’re both younger than me and more trouble than they’re worth. And this one’s likely to be just the same. They got a name all picked out for her too. Emma. Ugh.”

Jimmy chuckled. He could imagine Lou’s daughters and figured that there might be some truth to what Jed was saying. “Look, Jed, I sympathize, I got a passel of sisters myself, but your parents have a lot on their mind right now and you goin’ missing shouldn’t be one of them.” Jimmy looked at the uncertainty on Jed’s face and pressed further. “Besides, it might be a boy, and then you’ll want to get to see him first won’t you? Before those sisters of yours get to cooin’ and fussin’ over him?”

“Yeah. Wouldn’t want them to ruin him,” Jed said slowly, “It could be a boy, I guess. They got a name picked out for a boy too. James. It’s a heaps better name than Emma.”

Jimmy smiled, “It is at that. Well, son, you gonna turn around and head home or do I have to take you back there myself?” Jimmy couldn’t tell if it was fear or hope that made his heart jump up his throat at his words.

“Guess I can manage,” Jed answered glumly, “Pa gets awful riled when he don’t know where one of us is.” The young boy nudged his horse away from the fence and towards home. “Mister! Will you be out here thinkin’ again soon?” he shouted over his shoulder.

“Might be,” Jimmy shouted back, knowing full well it was a certainty he would.

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