Introduction

This story is about life after the Pony Express. Below is a skeleton family tree to hopefully reduce any confusion.

Hickok
Jimmy – Hannah
*Jasper
*Ellie
*Olivia
*Bonnie

McCloud
Kid - Lou
*Nick
*Kitty
*Hunter

Cross
Buck - Jennifer
*Sally
*Ike
*Lilly

Part I

Chapter One

Sally Cross bit her words back. It was no good, she knew that. Her words were useless against his words. Brooks Malloy, her tormentor knew just what to say in order to hurt her and he did it on an almost daily basis.

Brooks lifted a lock of her thick black hair, “So where is he?” he taunted her. “Where’s Jasper?”

Sally looked longingly at the schoolhouse, where Jasper Hickok was inside receiving his punishment. Jasper was always in trouble, for various infractions, talking, passing notes, you name it - Jasper had probably been punished for it.

She wondered what punishment Miss Dunne had meted out this time. Usually she made him write an essay. Jasper had an imagination like nobody Sally had ever met. He always made up the best stories, but he could never seem to be able to put his thoughts down on paper. Sally often tried to help him with that. She would try to write down the words Jasper told her, but it never quite came out right. Her words never captured Jasper’s stories adequately. Jasper frequently lamented the fact that Miss Dunne made him write so many essays. He often wished that she would just let him do sums, something he was more than able to do.

Jasper was also frequently punished for fighting. Sally knew that was why Brooks for bothering her now, because Jasper wasn’t there to make him eat his words. Even though Jasper was almost a head smaller and ten pounds lighter, he had never lost a fight with Brooks or with anybody for that matter. With his lighting quick reflexes and tenacious attitude, Jasper was a formidable opponent.

Suddenly Jasper bounded out of the schoolhouse, he glanced in Sally’s direction and immediately started toward her. Sally didn’t want Jasper to get punished again because of her, as he had so often in the past. She quickly tripped Brooks, so he fell heavily on the ground. She then grabbed a thatch of his blonde hair

“Careful Brooks,” Sally warned. “You know what us Injuns are good for.” She made a scalping motion, then quickly released Brooks before Jasper arrived.

Brooks quickly scrambled to his feet and pushed the girl down, “Stay down you dirty Injun, if you know what’s good for you.”

Before Sally could get up, Jasper slammed his fist into Brooks’ face. As Sally pushed herself up, she saw the look of Jasper’s face, he almost looked happy. He always got that smile, before he did something like that. On the outside, Jasper Hickok was just like his father. He looked just like him and possessed many of his mannerisms. But inside he was his mother’s son, a dreamer, who almost always looked on the bright side of life.

As Brooks went running to the schoolhouse, holding his bloody nose, Jasper held out his hand to Sally. “You alright?” he asked.

Sally took his hand, “Yeah.” She saw Brooks enter the schoolhouse and a few minutes later she saw Miss Dunne come marching out. She was heading straight toward Jasper.

“Jasper,” Rachel said sternly, catching him by the ear. “You know better than to be out here fighting.”

“I know,” Jasper said, trying to sound contrite, but unable to actually feel even an ounce of sorrow for what he had done.

Rachel sighed. She quickly looked over the situation and realized immediately what had happened. That awful Brooks Malloy had been bothering Sally again. She was about at the end of her rope with that boy. She had talked to Brooks and his parents any number of times, but to no avail. Neither Brooks nor his parents seemed to think there was anything wrong with his behavior. In fact, they had seen fit to question why a breed like Sally Cross was even allowed in school.

Rachel frowned at Jasper, “You’ll be doing an extra page of sums for me tonight, young man.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Jasper replied. He kept his face serious, until Miss Dunne went back to the schoolhouse. He then broke out in a smile. “Come on,” he said, tugging on Sally’s hand. “I got to show you something.”

Sally went with him happily. She would have gone to the moon if he had asked. She knew that such thoughts were stupid, especially since she was only eleven and Jasper was twelve. But she didn’t care, she had been in love with him for as long as she could remember. Sally considered Jasper her reward, compensation for all she had lost and all the hurt she still suffered.

Chapter Two

Sally sat on Kitty McCloud’s bed, patiently allowing her friend to fix her hair.

“So what do you think?” Kitty asked, handing Sally a mirror.

Sally gave her friend a weak smile. No matter what Kitty did Sally couldn’t ever hold a candle to her. Mary Katherine, Kitty to her friends was easily one of the most beautiful girls she had ever seen. Even at ten years of age, it was easy to see that Kitty, with her father’s blue eyes and dark curls, was a going to be a striking woman. Sally glanced at Kitty’s figure, feeling slightly envious when she saw that her friend was already starting to develop. It was obvious that she would be a buxom young woman, while Sally, a year older than Kitty, had as many curves as a stick.

Sally studied herself in the mirror, frowning at the reflection. She knew she would never come close to being as beautiful as Kitty. Her dark eyes were much too big for her small face, while her nose was too long and her mouth too generous. She despaired of ever being beautiful, like her mother, Jennifer Tomkins was.

Kitty saw her friend’s face and took the mirror away. She never could understand why Sally didn’t see what everyone else did, but she decided that it was because she believed the awful things Brooks and his horrid friends said.

“Girls,” Kitty’s mother, Lou McCloud called up. “I made some cookies. Are you hungry?”

Giggling the two girls rushed downstairs, eager to eat the fresh baked cookies Lou had made. As Sally took a bite of her cookie, she smiled at Lou. Ever since her mother died, five years ago, Lou had become a kind of surrogate mother to her. In fact between the Hickok clan and the McClouds, Sally felt like she had three families, something she was eternally grateful for. Her father, Buck Cross, had crawled into a shell after her mother had died giving birth to her youngest sister, Lilly, although one would ever guess it to look at him. From all appearances, Buck seemed to be the man he had always was. But Sally saw him when he sat by the fire for hours, just staring at it. It seemed that when her mother had left them, she had taken her father’s heart with her.

A few minutes later, thirteen-year-old Nick McCloud entered with Ike, Sally’s nine-year-old brother close on his heels. Both boys began devouring the cookies on the table. Sally glanced at the two boys, struck by how much Nick looked like his mother, except that he was already taller and heavier than Lou. While Ike with his dark eyes and black hair, like Sally, resembled his father. Soon the baby of the McCloud family began to wail, four-year-old Hunter was feeling quite left out, as he was the only one without a cookie.

Sally lightly slapped her brother’s hand away, as he reached for his third cookie, “That’s enough.” She then handed little Hunter one.

Ike scowled at her.

Sally slid off the stool, she was perched on and took her brother’s hand, “Thank you Aunty Lou, but I think it’s time me and Ike went home now.”

Lou wiped her hands on the towel she held and hugged the two children. “I have a casserole for you to take home,” she told them.

“Thank you,” Sally said as she accepted the dish.

When they arrived home, she found her father in the barn, tending to the horses he was raising.

“Supper’s ready,” Sally called out. She waited a few minutes, then tried to get her father’s attention again. “Pa.”

Buck slowly turned around, pulling himself together. He didn’t want Sally to see him like this. So once again he carefully hid his pain and faced his daughter, putting on a false mask of joy. “I’m coming,” he said, a shade too brightly.

As Buck shut the barn door, he took his daughter by the hand and walked with her to the house. He could see Ike setting the table and Lilly was already sitting in her chair, eagerly waiting for dinner to be served.

Sally looked up into her father’s face. She hated how he was always trying to hide his feelings. But she didn’t know what else to do, so she did the same. “You hungry Pa? Aunty Lou sent over a casserole.”

Chapter Three

“Done,” Jasper said, tossing his paper at his mother, Hannah.

Hannah pushed her curly red hair away from her face and checked over her oldest child’s work, while her girls, nine-year-old Ellie, six-year-old Olivia finished their own homework. Three-year-old Bonnie sat happily in her chair banging a spoon against a pot.

Hannah didn’t know how Jasper or anybody else managed to be able think in this bedlam, but they did. Jasper’s work was all correct. She handed her son back his paper, “Nice job,” she told him.

Jasper grinned at her. “Can I go out for a while?”

“Tell me first about school. How much trouble did you get in today?”

Jasper continued to smile, “Wasn’t too bad today. Just had to stay in for half of recess.”

“Why?”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Jasper protested. “Nick told a joke and I laughed.”

“And that was it?” Hannah asked warily.

“That’s it.”

“What about these sums?”

“Oh,” Jasper said in an offhand manner. “I had to do some extra work ‘cause I punched Brooks.”

“Again?” Hannah shouted. But she didn’t say anything else. She would have liked to punch Brooks herself. She had never seen such a mean spirted boy. He and his band of thugs went out of their way to hurt poor little Sally, like she hadn’t suffered enough in her short life. Hannah had tried to get her husband to do something about it, but Jimmy kept telling her that he couldn’t do anything, since no laws were being broken. But nevertheless, he had tried talking to Brooks’ parents. Hannah recalled that night. Her husband had stormed home in a complete rage. It was all Hannah could do to keep Jimmy from shooting the whole family. Since then, Jimmy had tried to stay clear of the matter, never saying a word to his son about the many beatings he gave Brooks.

“So can I go?” Jasper asked impatiently.

“I don’t see why not,” Hannah replied. “But don’t stay out too long.”

As Jasper ran for the door, his father came back in from his nightly rounds. Jimmy Hickok was the Marshal of Rock Creek and every night, just before the sun went down, he took a stroll through the town, to ensure that nothing was amiss.

“Where you off to in such a hurry?” Jimmy asked, as if he didn’t know.

“To the pond,” Jasper said quickly.

“Tomorrow I want you to come to my office after school.”

“Aw Pa,” Jasper complained.

“I need you to do some chores around there,” Jimmy explained.

Jasper scowled, he was sure that this was just another scheme his father had dreamed up to get him interested in being an officer of the law. But Jasper had no interest in following in his father’s footsteps, he just didn’t know how to tell him. “Can I go now?” he asked hurriedly.

“Yeah, but don’t be out too long,” Jimmy cautioned his son.

“I won’t,” Jasper called back as he ran out the door.

“So what have my girls been up to?” Jimmy asked, kissing the tops of his daughters heads.

As the girls began to chatter all at once, Jimmy glanced at Hannah and smiled. “And how’s my wife?”

Hannah returned his smile and kissed her husband, while her daughters nudged themselves and began to giggle. “Mush,” Olivia whispered to Ellie.




Jasper ran all the way to the pond, where he found Sally already there. This was their nightly ritual; from late spring once the ground had dried till late fall, when a blanket wasn’t enough to keep them warm, they met here every evening.

“You’re late,” Sally said with a smile.

“Sorry,” Jasper grinned, flopping down next to her. He recalled the first time he had found her here. It was a few weeks after her mother had died and Sally was out here all alone, crying her eyes out. At first he had come here, just so Sally wouldn’t be alone. But now he wouldn’t miss being here with her, where they could just be alone.

As Jasper lay back, he put his hands under his head. Sally lay next to him, in the crook of his arm. She looked at the stars that were just starting to come out and asked “So what’s today’s story gonna be about?”

“Pegasus,” Jasper replied. During the past few months, Jasper had been making up stories and telling them to Sally. This week’s story had been his version of the Greek myths.

Sally snuggled closer to Jasper and listened to his words. No matter what happened during the day, Jasper’s words always took her away.

Chapter Four

Sally smiled as she saw Jasper trudge into his father’s office after school. As she watched him walk into the building, she turned and stepped into her grandfather’s store. He had asked that she spend a few afternoons here, helping him out.

“Afternoon, Sally,” Mr. Tomkins boomed.

“Afternoon Grandpa,” Sally replied.

“You wouldn’t mind doing some inventory today?” the white-haired man asked.

“Not at all,” Sally said lightly.

As she took the list from her grandfather, Sally noticed the look he gave her. She didn’t think he approved of her necklace, he wasn’t keen on what he called that Indian nonsense and Sally wore that beaded necklace constantly. She had to, it was all she had to remember her uncle, Red Bear. He had died during one of the many battles the Kiowa had fought with the Army.

She recalled when he had given it to her, to make her feel welcome during her stay. The Cross family had all gone for a visit, a long time ago, before her mother died. Red Bear had sensed that Sally was feeling very awkward, as the other children kept looking at her and whispering among themselves. She couldn’t understand why. Her uncle had given her the clothes she was wearing, so she knew she was dressed just like them. But even though she looked like them, she knew she wasn’t really like them at all and everyone sensed it. It was always a source of despair for Sally that she never seemed to belong anywhere, not in the Indian world nor the white. She remembered her Aunt Lou saying that her father had often had the same feelings, but Buck never said anything about that to her. So Sally assumed that Lou was just trying to make her feel better.

Sally glanced up from the list she was marking and saw that Tomkins was still staring at her. He looked at her, startled, “Sorry,” he said. “But sometimes you remind me of you Grandma. You know you’re named after her.”

“I know,” Sally said. But that was all she knew. She really didn’t know much about her family, either side. Sally’s mother always broke out in tears when she tried to talk about her own mother and Buck never talked about his mother. So Sally decided to take a chance, “Why do I remind you of her?”

Tomkins smiled, “I think it’s the way you chew on your lip when you are thinking hard.” He noticed how pleased the girl looked at his words, so he continued. “You know when you’re a lot like your Ma too. She was strong, just like you.”

Sally shook her head furiously, “No, I’m not like her at all.” Unbidden, the tears began to flow, she wiped them away with the back of her hand, “Not one little bit.”

Tomkins awkwardly put an arm around her, “No Sally you are. Don’t you know that you are one of the strongest people I have ever met?” He hated the way some of the bullies picked on his granddaughter. He never knew how hateful the words he said in the past were until then, when he saw the pain they caused Sally. He guessed that it was true what people said, that being a grandparent made you look at everything different. Tomkins never realized how harsh the world was until then and he never wanted to soften it for anyone, the way he wanted to for Sally. She was a good girl, always trying to please him and her father. He realized now that this was tearing her apart, being that he and Buck were always at odds with each other.

Sally buried her head in her grandfather’s chest and sobbed. She didn’t notice that her father had entered the store a few minutes ago. Buck had stood silently, listening to the exchange between his daughter and his father-in-law. He never realized how much Sally suffered because of his silence. He had thought by burying all his pain, he would spare his children. But he understood now that they would benefit from knowing about his experience. He glanced at Tomkins’ face, from both their experiences. For once in their lives, Buck thought, he and Tomkins would have to get along. They couldn’t do it for themselves or even Jennifer, but he knew they would now, for Sally.

Buck placed an hand on his daughter’s shoulder, “He’s right, you know.”

Sally jerked her head up, startled. “I’m sorry Pa.”

Buck smiled at Tomkins, “Bill, you think you might be able to join us for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, I think I can mange that,” Tomkins answered.

That night, Sally, Ike and Lilly never heard so many stories about their mother and both their grandmothers and their grandfathers. Later on, after Tomkins had gone home, Sally, Ike and Lilly lay in bed with their father, who had begun to tell them about his childhood. Slowly, Buck described the pain he felt, feeling like he never quite belonged anywhere. Ike and Sally exchanged looks. They had never known that their father had felt like them.

Chapter Five

“Class,” Rachel said loudly. “The newspaper is sponsoring a contest and as part of your schoolwork, I expect you all to participate.”

As the children groaned, Rachel continued, “The theme of the contest is who do you most admire. I would like your first drafts in by the end of next week.”

That afternoon, as Nick and Jasper walked out of the schoolhouse, Nick turned to his friend and asked, “So who you gonna write about, your Pa?” Jasper frowned, that’s what everyone would expect from him. “I don’t know. Who you gonna write about?”

Nick grinned, “My Ma.” Nick knew that story was sure to win, who else had a mother who had pretended to be a boy and rode for the Pony Express. In Nick’s opinion, it even rivaled anything Jasper might come up with.

Jasper nodded, “That’s a good one.”

“I just got to beat Kitty to it,” Nick added. “You think Miss Dunne might let us work on it together?”

Jasper shrugged, his mind churning. Who would he write about? He admired his father, but he didn’t want to write about him. First, he didn’t think his father would approve. He didn’t like the idea of his reputation spreading any further than it had and second, Jasper admired someone else, not more than his father, but in a whole different way. He just didn’t know how to go about telling either party.

“You wanna go fishing?” Nick asked.

“Can’t,” Jasper said. “I got to go and help my Pa this afternoon.” He watched as his friend continued home and shouted to him, “Maybe tomorrow.”

As Jasper walked into the Marshal’s office, his father handed him a broom, “You can start over there,” Jimmy said, pointing his son to the back room.

Sighing, Jasper swept. But he was feeling quite absent minded and ended up having to sweep the back room out three times, until it finally met with his father’s satisfaction.

Jimmy watched his son, it worried him that Jasper was such a dreamer. If there was one thing he had learned was to expect the unexpected and he just didn’t know how to make his son understand that. Life was easy for Jasper and Jimmy hoped that it always would be, he just wanted him to be prepared for what may come.

Jimmy looked out the window and frowned, he didn’t like the way a group of men were acting out there. It was a bunch of young cowhands who judging by the look of them, had been in the saloon a little too long. “Jasper, start unlocking the cells,” he said, before he left.

Jasper did as he was told. He opened each cell door wide open and waited by the window, watching his father. He couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride as his father quickly scattered the group. Jimmy then picked out two men, most likely the ring leaders and he dragged them off to jail. As his father tossed them in the cells, Jasper quickly slammed the doors shut.

Jimmy flashed his son a smile, “We make a pretty good team,” he said in a pleased tone. But he was completely taken aback by his son’s reaction. Jasper looked furious. He then stalked away, going to the back room.

Jimmy checked to see that the cell doors were shut tight and then followed Jasper. “Well what’s gotten into you?” Jimmy demanded loudly.

“Nothing,” Jasper sulked.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that you don’t like me much,” Jimmy said, lowering his voice.

“I like you fine,” Jasper replied. “I just don’t like the way you are always trying to make me into something I ain’t.”

“What’s that?”

“You,” Jasper said.

“You think I want you to be like me?” Jimmy asked in astonishment.

“You’re always bringing me down here, so I can learn how to do your job. I bet you got it all planned out, how I’ll follow in your footsteps, just like you followed in Grandpa Spoon’s,” Jasper burst out. “Well I ain’t gonna. I ain’t gonna be your deputy.”

“I never wanted you to be like me,” Jimmy said quietly. “I just wanted you to have some focus. It worries me sometimes, the way your head is always in the clouds.” When Jasper looked at him disbelieving, Jimmy continued, “All I ever wanted you to be is happy. Safe and happy.”

“You really don’t expect me to be your deputy?” Jasper asked.

“Nope,” Jimmy replied.

“So why are you always bringing me down here?”

Jimmy grinned, “Believe it or not, I do need some help around here. Much as I hate to admit it, I can’t do everything myself.” He ruffled his son’s hair, “Plus I kind of like having you around.”

Jasper smiled, “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Jimmy said.

Jasper rose to his feet, “You got any more chores for me?”

“No,” Jimmy answered. “You got other plans?”

“Yeah, I got to write an essay for Miss Dunne.”

“Well, I don’t want Miss Dunne mad at me, you best start working on it,” Jimmy said.

Chapter Six

“You want me to read it over for you?” Sally asked, that night at the pond.

“I want you to read it, but you don’t have to check it,” Jasper said. The words had come easily this time. He guessed it was because he had finally told his father. He believed for so long that his father would be disappointed that he didn’t want to be a lawman, when he had found out different, the words had just come pouring out.

When he had told his mother, she had smiled and said maybe that’s why he couldn’t ever write his stories down. Writing them on paper would make them real and once they were real, he wouldn’t be able to take them back, Hannah had said. Then he would no choice but to tell his father about his dreams because he would be able to see his son’s talent for himself. Jasper had been confused by her words at first, but he understood them now. It was his fear that had held him back, not lack of skill or talent.

As Sally read his words, she was surprised. Jasper had finally put his wonderful stories down on paper. She was also surprised by his choice. He had written about her father. Sally read about how much Jasper admired him for his ability to straddle two worlds. She wondered how he had known about all that. She hadn’t even had a chance to tell him all the stories her father had told her. She supposed that Jasper must have heard these things from his father.

“It’s wonderful,” Sally said, handing the paper back. “I never knew you admired my father so much.”

Jasper grinned at her, “Oh, I admire this person, but I didn’t write about your father.”

“But it’s all about someone caught between two worlds,” Sally said, feeling completely confused.

“You think your father is the only person whoever felt that way?”

“But you said you admired him.”

“I admire you,” Jasper said.

“Me?” Sally asked in amazement.

“I admire the way you never let people get you down,” Jasper told her. “I admire the way you stand up for yourself and your brother. I admire the way you are able to look beyond the way your grandfather treated your father and still try to get to know him. I think you are the just about the most special person I have ever met.”

Sally was unable to speak. The lump in her throat was just too large.

“And I love you,” Jasper said, kissing her.

Part II

Chapter Seven

Sally anxiously shifted her weight back and forth. Jasper was finally coming home. He had been gone all summer, working with William Cody and his show. A few years ago, Cody had gotten involved in these exhibitions, giving people back East a flavor of the ‘Wild West’.

Jimmy Hickok came to stand beside her, “Stage running late?”

Sally nodded.

“I can’t wait to see that boy again,” Jimmy said. Except that he wasn’t a boy anymore, Jasper was now seventeen years old. Jimmy could scarcely believe that he hadn’t seen his son since he had taken him to see Cody. When he was there, Cody had tried again to persuade him into acting in his show, but once again he had said no.

Back when Cody first started his show, he was desperate to have Wild Bill Hickok be a part of his cast. When Jimmy refused, Cody had asked Jake Colter to pose as Wild Bill, something that tickled Jake to no end. But later on, even after he was fired from Cody’s show, Jake kept the persona of Wild Bill, he enjoyed the respect the name afforded him and in the end, it had gotten him killed. Jimmy frowned, Jake was always careless. Why else would he have had his back to the door? Jimmy had been so hurt by his death, it should have been him, in that saloon in Deadwood. But at least Jake’s death had put an end to the legend of Wild Bill Hickok and Jimmy aimed to let it lie.

“Neither can I,” Sally replied.

Jimmy grinned at her. Ever since they were little children, Sally Cross and his son, Jasper, were close. He and Buck were both just waiting for the day when they announced that they were getting married.

Just then the stage pulled in and a few moments later, Jasper Hickok stepped out. As Jimmy stared at his son, it hit him hard how much he had grown. Jasper looked so much like he did at that age.

“Pa,” Jasper shouted, as his father wrapped him in a bear hug.

“Good to see you boy,” Jimmy said.

“I can’t breathe,” Jasper gasped, his father was squeezing him so hard.

Jimmy released his son, “Sorry.” He looked Jasper up and down, “You look good.”

Jasper grinned at his father, “So do you.” Age seemed to agree with his father. His hair was still brown and the few wrinkles he had acquired, only added character to his father’s handsome face. He looked around for the rest of his family, his mother Hannah and his three younger sisters.

“Your mother and sisters are at home, cooking up a storm,” Jimmy explained. “All in your honor.” He caught his son still looking around and said, “She’s here.”

“Who?” Jasper asked innocently. But then he spotted her.

Sally had moved discreetly out of the way, not wanting to spoil the father-son reunion. She was waiting just outside of her grandfather’s store. She flushed as she saw the look Jasper gave her. He always had the ability to do that to her, make all sensible thoughts just vanish.

“Sally,” Jasper whispered, hurrying to her side. He began picked her up and twirled her about, Lord, how he had missed her.

“Ahem,” Jimmy said, clearing his throat. When Sally pushed Jasper away, Jimmy continued. “Supper will be ready around six. We’ll see you then.” He knew the two young people would want to be alone for a while. “You too Sally,” he added.

Jasper draped an arm around Sally’s waist, “We’ll be there.”




Sally lay next to Jasper, by the pond, listening. It was their spot and it had been for a long time. She recalled the many nights she and Jasper had come here as children to talk. But long before Jasper left, they did much more than talk. Their kisses had changed from the hard, puckered kisses of childhood to deep, passionate kisses that left both of them breathless and longing for more. But every night, Jasper tore himself away from her and practically ran home, leaving Sally feeling very confused. She would never have denied Jasper anything and he knew that. So she never could understand why he always left her. She knew he wanted her, just as much as she wanted him. But then, she never could figure him out. No matter how long she knew him, Sally knew she would always be surprised by Jasper.

“And they even let me write some of the acts for the show,” Jasper explained. “Uncle Billy asked me if I wanted to come back next summer.”

“Really?” Sally said, trying sound excited. But she hated the idea of Jasper leaving her again.

“But I don’t know if I’ll go,” Jasper told her. “Mr. Schultz said I could start working for him full time.” Mr. Schultz was the newspaper owner and Jasper had been working for him as a typesetter and had written a few articles, before he left.

“Maybe you could do both,” Sally offered. “Write about your adventures with the show for Mr. Schultz.”

Jasper propped himself up on one elbow, “That’s an idea. So what did you do without me?”

“Not much,” Sally answered. She told him how she worked in her grandfather store. Mr. Tomkins had been sick lately and now near as involved in the business as he used to be. So between Buck, Sally and her little brother Ike, they maintained the store.

She looked up at Jasper, “I missed you.”

Jasper cupped her face with his free hand, “Not half as much as I missed you.” He leaned over her and began to kiss her, softly at first, but it quickly grew out of control.

As Jasper rolled on top of her, Sally wrapped her arms and legs around him, hoping this time Jasper wouldn’t pull away. But he did. He ripped himself out her embrace and went to the pond, splashing the cool water on his face. Sally sat up, watching him, feeling vaguely unsettled. She longed to ask Jasper why he did this, but the time never seemed right. Before, she kept quiet because he was leaving soon and did so once again, because this time he just got back.

Soon Jasper returned to her side, he held a hand out to her, pulling her to her feet, “You ready?” he asked. “I bet supper’s ready.”

Sally nodded. “I’m starved.” Soon she told herself. She would get to the bottom of this soon.

Chapter Eight

“Well if it ain’t my old friend, Jasper,” Brooks Malloy sneered. He had heard that Jasper had returned last week

“Brooks,” Jasper said pleasantly. He quickly glanced around, making note that no one was around. He had offered to make his father’s nightly rounds for him this evening, as his foot was bothering him. He was almost done too, when he spotted Brooks. Jasper had decided to make sure that Brooks wasn’t up to anything and sauntered over there.

“Hear you’re a big shot now. Acting in Buffalo Bill’s show and all,” Brooks said disdainfully.

“Well it ain’t all his show, yet,” Jasper replied

“So where’s your squaw?” Brooks asked.

Jasper glared at him, “Ain’t got no squaw.”

Brooks shot Jasper a hate filled look, “Where’s your whore then?”

Jasper quickly flattened the young man with one punch. “Don’t you ever talk that way again,” he said, seething. He turned and walked away from Brooks’ prone body.

Brooks glowered at Jasper’s retreating figure. Jasper had been gone all summer and maybe just maybe he would have to fill him in on what he had missed.

“Jasper,” Brooks called out, rising to his feet. “Listen, I’m sorry.”

Jasper turned back around and studied Brooks face intently.

“I ain’t got no cause to talk like that about Sally,” Brooks said. “It’s just...”

“What?” Jasper asked.

“Well,” Brooks said slowly. “I just don’t think it’s right, the way she is making a fool of you.”

Jasper scowled hard at Brooks, hating the way his heart began to beat quickly.

“But Sally has spending a lot of time with that new fella, Paul,” Brooks continued, enjoying the flicker of pain that crossed Jasper’s face. “I think I saw him heading to the pond a little while ago.”

“So,” Jasper said, trying to sound bored. But inside he was fuming. The pond was Sally’s and his special spot. He didn’t want to think about why Sally was meeting someone else there.

Ever since Paul moved to Rock Creek, six months ago, Jasper had begun to doubt Sally’s love. Not that she ever gave him cause, it was because Paul or as Sally called him, Hawk, was Indian. He had been adopted by the Manning family after most of his tribe was massacred and he was left as an orphan. Paul was having a very difficult time adjusting to life in Rock Creek. Seems where the Mannings lived before, there were very few people and no school, thus Paul had little experience with the white man’s world. So Sally had befriended him, trying to help him to fit in.

She also spent many an hour helping him with his reading and Jasper hated every second she spent with him. Lately he became afraid that Sally would find someone else, someone more like her, someone like Paul. Jasper knew how much Sally valued her heritage. He even hoped that spending some time with Cody’s show would help him learn more about the Indian culture. But all it had done was make him realize how much he loved Sally and how much he didn’t want to lose her.

“It’s probably nothing,” Brooks said. “But I figured you ought to know.” He lowered his voice and added, “You know what they say, birds of a feather.”

Jasper gave Brooks a hard shove, “Shut up.” He left Brooks lying in the dirt, smirking at him, as he hurried away.




Sally sat by the pond, waiting nervously. Jasper always came, he never forgot. But maybe this time he did, a nagging voice from inside her head said. You know, the voice continued, he ain’t been the same for a while now. Much as Sally hated to admit it, the voice was right. Sometimes she thought Jasper didn’t love her anymore and maybe he had found someone else this summer. But then he kissed her like she was the most precious thing in the world and she knew that wasn’t it. Still she knew something had changed. She could tell from the way he talked to her, Jasper held back in a way he never used to. It was like he had a secret he couldn’t tell her. But Sally decided to bide her time, after all he just got back and if nothing else, Sally was patient.

“Sally,” a voiced called out.

Sally turned quickly, “Jasper?” she said anxiously.

“No, it is me,” Paul said sadly.

“Hawk,” Sally replied. “I’m sorry, I was just expecting someone else.”

Paul sat down beside her and pulled out a book, “My mother gave me this and I know it is special to her. I would like to be able to talk to her about it.”

Sally took the book from his hand, it was The Song of Hiawatha. “I don’t know,” she smiled. “It would take an awful lot of work to get through this one.”

Paul took her hand and squeezed it, “But you will help me?”

Sally squeezed his hand back, “You know I will.” How could she let him down? She knew how hard it was to fit in and she did all she could to help make him feel better. Poor Hawk, he had lost his family and though he appreciated the Manning’s kindness, he felt awkward and out of place even in his own home, something even Sally had never felt.

“Can we start now?” Paul asked hesitantly.

“We can start,” Sally said. “But I don’t know how long I can help you.”

“Jasper is coming?” Paul finished her sentence. “I will go, when he comes.”

Sally nodded, “Fair enough. Okay, let’s start then.” She listened as Paul slowly pronounced each word on the page. He had made a lot of progress since she first met him. But try as she might, Sally couldn’t keep her attention on the words Paul said. Her mind kept wandering to Jasper. Where was he?




Jasper leaned against the barn by his home, breathing hard. He was right, that wretched Brooks Malloy was right. As soon as he left him, Jasper hurried to the pond, he was already late and he wanted to spend as much time with Sally as he could. But when he saw her there with Paul, Jasper had turned right back around and ran home. He couldn’t believe his eyes, Sally was holding his hand. He felt physically sick. Never in his wildest dreams could he ever imagine that his fears were actually coming true. But there it was, Sally with someone else.

He waited by the barn, until he saw that it was dark inside his house and then he quietly crept in. Jasper fell into his bed, but he couldn’t fall asleep. He had lost Sally and no matter what he did, there was no way he could make the ache in his chest go away.

Chapter Nine

Sally frowned as she checked the inventory, she just couldn’t get the numbers to come out right. She slammed her fist on the counter in frustration.

“What’s your problem?” Ike asked.

“Nothing.”

“You’ll see Jasper at the dance,” Ike said trying to reassure his sister. He knew the reason why she was so out of sorts, Jasper had been avoiding her. He noticed how Jasper went out of his way not to speak to her and that was the oddest thing he had ever seen. For as long as he could remember Jasper had been utterly devoted to Sally. Even those who disapproved of their relationship often stopped to stare at them, the gestures and looks that those two exchanged could even soften the hardest of hearts. Ike recalled once what his little sister Lilly said after watching Sally and Jasper at dinner once. She had turned to him and asked him if that’s what love was and even Ike, cynical as he was, had said yes.

“It’s tonight?” Sally asked quietly. How could the dance have snuck up on her so soon? But she knew why, it was because Jasper hadn’t asked her to go with him. When they were younger, Jasper would always extract a promise from Sally that she would save the last dance for him and as of last year, Jasper had been escorting her to all the town events. But not this one.

“Yeah,” Ike said. He never could understand why girls got themselves into such a state about something as useless as a dance, but they always did.

Sally went back to counting cans, but she still couldn’t concentrate. What’s wrong Jasper, why won’t you talk to me?




Sally sat frozen in her chair. How dare he? How could Jasper bring Betsy O’Connor to the dance? She glared at his back, willing him to turn around, but he didn’t. Jasper held that O’Connor girl in his arms and whirled her about the floor. Just when she had given up all hope, Jasper looked back and just as quickly turned back around.

Sally stood up abruptly and pushed her way through the crowd, she had to get out of here. But before she got to the door, Paul entered.

“Sally,” he said joyfully. He was feeling very awkward about attending this social function, but his parents had been so happy at the idea of all them going out together, that he couldn’t bear to disappoint them. But seeing Sally made coming here all worthwhile.

“Hawk,” Sally greeted him.

“You are not leaving, are you?” he asked.

When Sally heard the disappointment in his voice, she said, “No.” She realized that he must be feeling very uncomfortable, especially when she saw some of the townspeople nudge each other and point to him.

Sally glanced in Jasper’s direction and when she saw him look at her again, she tossed her head and looked at him defiantly. Two could play that game. Sally took Paul’s hand and asked, “Would you care to dance?”

“I don’t know how.”

Sally smiled, “It’s easy, I’ll show you.” She led Paul onto the floor and tried to teach him the simplest of dances. She was so absorbed in making sure he didn’t trample on her toes that she didn’t see Jasper approaching rapidly and he was breathing fire.

“Get away from her,” Jasper said, his voice taut with rage.

Looking at Jasper in confusion, Paul quickly released her. “She was-” he began. But he didn’t get a chance to continue, Jasper punched him the nose, sending the young man to the floor.

“Jasper!” Sally exclaimed loudly. “What on earth has gotten into you?” She trailed after him, as he stormed away.

Jimmy, Hannah, Buck, Kid and Lou just gaped at them, along with all the other people at the dance, even the musicians had stopped playing at this point. They weren’t sure if they should interfere in this argument, afraid that anything they might do would just make things worse.

“Jasper,” Sally said again, unmindful of the many eyes that were upon her.

Jasper turned to face her. “What?” he shouted angrily.

But by this time, Sally had also lost her temper. “Who do you think you are?” she cried. She picked up a cup of punch from the table and threw the contents in Jasper’s face. “Maybe this will cool you off,” she said, before she marched out the door.

Jasper chased after her, catching just outside the building. He grabbed her with both hands and pushed her up against the wall. He stared into her face longing to apologize and beg for her forgiveness. But something in the way Sally looked at him compelled him to kiss her.

Sally pushed at his chest weakly, but she was no match for Jasper’s fury. She was shocked by how he was kissing her. Jasper’s kisses were often demanding but never hurtful, but this time they were. It was as if he was trying to punish her for something.

“Jasper,” Sally whimpered.

Hearing her anguished voice made Jasper realize what he was doing. His softened his kisses, teasing Sally’s lips until she kissed him back.

As Sally kissed Jasper, she tasted the sticky sweetness of the punch that dripped down his neck. She clung to his body, kissing him until her head began to swim.

Jasper felt Sally’s knees start to buckle and he held her tighter. All he wanted to do was pick her up and carry her away. But before he got the chance to do anything, he felt someone grab his shirt and pull him away from Sally.

Paul yanked Jasper away from Sally, causing him to suddenly let her go. Sally fell hard to the ground. Paul glared at Jasper and then he hit him in the face.

Jasper sat on the ground, his head spinning. He looked at the crowd that had gathered to watch. He felt like a complete fool. He stood up quickly. “I’m sorry,” he muttered to Sally, who had scrambled to her feet. He then disappeared into the night.

Chapter Ten

Sally longed to run after Jasper, but it was as if her feet were rooted to the ground. She would probably still be standing there if she hadn’t felt someone put an arm around her and lead her away.

“It will be alright,” Kitty murmured. She sat by her friend on bench outside the social hall, glaring at the crowd until they quickly dissipated, most going back into the building.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Sally whispered.

Kitty smiled at her. It was so obvious, why couldn’t Sally see it? “He’s jealous,” she said.

“What?” Sally asked in amazement.

Kitty looked at her knowingly, she had heard an earful from her brother about Jasper. “Jasper has got it in his head that you want someone who is Indian, so when Paul came along, it was enough to make him crazy.”

“How could he be so stupid?” Sally exclaimed. She had loved Jasper her whole life.

“You know,” Kitty said thoughtfully. “You have always looked at Jasper like he was a prize or something. I think that’s why this whole Paul thing has got him rattled. He ain’t never had to compete for your affection before.”

Sally looked at her in puzzlement, “I don’t understand, Hawk is just a friend.”

Kitty shook her head, “Jasper doesn’t realize that. He’s afraid of losing you.” She looked beyond her friend, to where Paul was being led away by his parents. “And I think he has cause to be scared. Paul is falling in love with you. You sure you don’t feel anything for him?”

“Love Hawk? What a ridiculous notion,” Sally said, dismissing the idea as soon as she heard it. She stood up and announced, “I need to find Jasper.”

Kitty waved her off, “Go on, I’ll tell your father.”




Dejected, Jasper walked by the old Pony Express station. He saw his Grandpa Teaspoon sitting outside. It was a rare occurrence to see the old Marshal out as Teaspoon rarely left his home anymore. He hated to see the pity in people’s face when they saw him. He was an old man now and his body showed it. He could barely walk and he just couldn’t seem to stop his hands from shaking. But what Teaspoon hated most was how people treated him, like he was as infirm mentally as he was physically. He knew he was still sharp as a tack. Why else would Jimmy still come to him for help?

Teaspoon glanced over at Jasper’s face, that boy looked like he needed some advise. He called out to him, “You mind sitting with me for a spell?”

“No,” Jasper replied, still feeling blue as he took a seat.

“So what’s going on with you and Buck’s little girl?” Teaspoon asked abruptly. He was an old man now, so he didn’t feel the need to make idle chitchat with a person before he made his point. He didn’t think he had enough time to do that anymore.

“Nothing,” Jasper said, looking down.

“You love her don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“You tell her?” Teaspoon asked.

“Not lately,” Jasper answered.

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to hold her back. She might feel obligated to stay with me, when what she really wants is to be with someone more like her,” Jasper explained.

“What makes you say something as stupid as that?” Teaspoon asked.

“She’s been spending an awful lot of time with Paul Manning,” Jasper admitted.

Teaspoon sighed, when he heard the pain in Jasper’s voice. “She has feelings for Paul?” He had heard about Sally and that new fella Paul. Most townspeople seem to think it was a good thing, being that they were both Indian. But what they didn’t realize was that Jasper and Sally were the ones meant for each other. They were nothing but two lost souls without each other.

“I don’t know,” Jasper said forlornly.

“You best not be paying any mind to idle gossip,” Teaspoon cautioned. He hated to see his grandson sound so defeated. “You look into Sally’s eyes, the truth is right there. She loves you, always has and always will.”

“I acted like a damn fool at the dance,” Jasper told him, shamefaced.

“It’s been my experience that women usually like that kind of thing,” he said, grinning. “It let’s them know how much you care.”

When Jasper remained silent, Teaspoon patted his shoulder, sympathetically. “Just think about what I have said. Because if you keep this up, you are gonna lose her. And I don’t know how lucky you are, not everyone has my kind of luck, finding love six times.”

“I will,” Jasper promised. It was the least he could do for his grandfather.




Jasper sat at the pond, pondering Teaspoon’s words as he tossed pebbles into the water. What kind of moron would pay any attention to something Brooks Malloy said, except him, Jasper thought glumly. Grandpa Spoon was right, if he kept this up he was going to lose Sally, if he hadn’t already. He didn’t know how he would ever make this up to her.

“There you are,” Sally said, coming to sit beside him. “I’ve been here twice since you left the dance.”

“Sorry,” Jasper replied, continuing to throw stones into the pond.

Sally sat close to him and leaned her head against his. She put her hand on his eye, which was rapidly swelling. “You alright?”

“Yeah.”

Sally said. “I’m sorry about Hawk.”

“No,” Jasper said quickly. “I’m the one who should be sorry. I made such an idiot of myself about him. Then I go and bring Betsy to the dance. I don’t know what got into me.”

“It’s okay. You might be an idiot, but you are my idiot,” Sally said, snuggling closer to him. “Next time talk to me, instead of punching someone in the face or trying to make me jealous.”

Jasper looked at her and he did what he grandfather asked. He gazed into Sally’s eyes and what he saw amazed him. All he saw was love, just like he always did.

“Why would you think that I wanted to be with Hawk?” Sally asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Jasper shrugged. He didn’t know how to explain this particular fear to her, that was the whole problem. He had told Nick, who had scoffed at the notion of Sally loving someone else, so he had become afraid that Sally would do the same thing. Right now he needed her to take his fear seriously.

“Does it matter to you that I am Indian?” she continued.

Jasper stared at her, aghast. “No! How could you ever think that?”

“Then why would you think I wanted to be with someone just because he is Indian? I don’t even notice that you’re white,” Sally said. “You could be green, yellow or purple for all I care. All I ever wanted was you, no matter what shade you come in.”

As Jasper sat quietly, mulling over her words, Sally sat upright and unclasped the beaded necklace she always wore around her neck. She looped the beads around Jasper’s neck and fastened the clasp.

Jasper fingered the beads, “What’s this for?”

“I’m staking my claim,” Sally said, kissing his neck.

“What?”

“I want everyone to know that you belong to me,” Sally said, continuing to kiss him. “You’re mine, Jasper Hickok, don’t you ever forget it.”

“Sally,” Jasper whispered hoarsely. He was only human and the way Sally was kissing him was driving him wild.

“I love you,” Sally said

“I love you Sally,” Jasper said, kissing her back.

Chapter Eleven

“I can’t wait to see Uncle Billy again,” Sally said wistfully. “I can’t even remember the last time he came to Rock Creek.”

“Neither can I,” Jasper replied, scattering a layer of clean straw in the Cross barn. As he wiped the sweat from his brow, he wished that he hadn’t been so anxious to help Sally muck out their barn. He was a complete mess.

“Thanks for helping me,” Sally said, noticing Jasper’s state. At Sally’s urging, her father and younger siblings had already gone to the Hickok house to see William Cody. Sally had offered to stay behind and finish the chores, knowing how eager her father was to see his old friend. She had assumed her brother would stay behind and help her, but Ike had dashed off the minute he found out where Buck was going.

But a short time later, Jasper had come by, realizing that Sally was home alone. He had come for a different purpose, but instead here he was, cleaning stalls.

Jasper grinned at her, “So come here and thank me properly.”

As Sally embraced him, she noticed a distinct odor. Wrinkling her nose, she tried to pull back.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Jasper asked, knowing full well what was wrong.

“You stink,” Sally announced, realizing that Jasper was playing.

“I what?” Jasper laughed, pulling Sally closer.

“Stop that,” Sally chided him.

Jasper released her, “So draw me a bath.”

“What?”

“You heard me woman,” Jasper said, trying to sound stern. “Draw me a bath.”

“I guess I’d better,” Sally said frowning. “I can’t have you showing up for dinner, smelling like that.” The McClouds, Crosses and Codys, were all having dinner at the Hickok place.

“Now that’s more like it,” Jasper said, giving Sally a playful swat on the bottom as she left the barn. He followed her into the house, where Sally filled the tub in the kitchen.

“I’ll get you some of Pa’s clothes,” Sally said, running upstairs.

When she came back down, she saw that Jasper had undressed and was just stepping into the tub. As she looked at him, Sally flushed. She couldn’t understand why, especially after some of the things she and Jasper had done. But those things were done under the cover of darkness, this was the first time she had seen him unclothed, in broad daylight and she couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from him.

Jasper felt Sally’s eyes on him and he was pleased by her reaction. He slid into the tub and held out his hand, “So ain’t you gonna join me?”

“What?” Sally yelped in astonishment. Was there no end to Jasper’s foolishness?

“You know, I noticed that you don’t smell too fresh yourself, but I was just too polite to say anything. So how ‘bout we save some time by washing up together?” Jasper said lightly.

“Honestly Jasper, don’t you have any shame?”

“None whatsoever,” Jasper replied.

Sally stared at him for a moment, then she quickly stripped her dress off but left her shift on, while Jasper watched, amused by her shyness. Slowly Sally stepped into the tub and took a seat across from Jasper. She ducked her head, rinsing her long dark hair, noting that Jasper had already doused his head with water.

Jasper grabbed a washcloth from the pile of clothing Sally had brought down and took her foot in his hand and proceeded to wash it. Sally lay back against the tub, enjoying the sensations Jasper’s cleansing stirred in her.

Suddenly Jasper grasped her hands and pulled Sally on top of him. “Stop,” Sally laughed, splashing Jasper with a handful of water, “We’re gonna be late.”

“I can’t think of a better reason to be late,” Jasper replied, kissing her. “Can you?”

“No,” Sally murmured, wrapping her long limbs around him. “I love you Jasper.”

Both Sally and Jasper were so lost in each other, they didn’t hear Buck calling them outside.

“Sally,” Buck shouted. “Jasper.” He looked around the barn, surprised to find it empty. He then headed to his house, continuing to call out their names.

“There has been a change of plans. Cody is gonna treat us all to dinner,” Buck said, stepping into the house. He stopped, staring at the two young people in the tub. “At the hotel,” he finished lamely.

Chapter Twelve

Buck glared at the two young people in front of him. At least they had the sense to stop what they were doing and get dressed, he thought. Sally and Jasper had leapt out of the tub and dressed so quickly, puddles were still forming around their feet. The minute he realized what was going on, Buck had stepped back outside and waited for what he thought was a sufficient amount of time for Sally and Jasper to pull themselves together. He had just entered his home, a few seconds ago.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” Jasper began.

“Sorry,” Buck roared. “I give you permission to court my daughter and this is what you do?”

“Pa,” Sally said weakly. “It ain’t what you think.”

Buck turned his wrath on his daughter, “So explain to me what is actually going on.”

“I love your daughter, Sir,” Jasper said quickly. “And if she’ll have me, I’d like to marry her.”

Buck crossed his arms in front of him, “Marry her? Well you had better after what I just saw.” But his words didn’t sound quite so stern anymore, especially when he saw the look of joy that crossed his daughter’s face when Jasper said those words.

“So ask her properly,” Buck commanded Jasper.

Jasper got on one knee and took Sally’s hand, “Sally Cross, I love you more than anything. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Quickly Sally dropped to her knees beside Jasper and placed her arms around his neck, “Yes,” she whispered, unable to say anything else.

“Well?” Buck said expectantly. “Come here and give me a hug.”

Sally ran to her father and flung her arms around him. “You too, Jasper,” Buck said. Soon he found himself embracing the two people he had just been scolding.

“Now go and fix yourselves up, we have a dinner to get to,” Buck said gruffly. “Sally you go upstairs. Jasper can use the mirror down here.” He wasn’t about to let those two go off by themselves again.

Jasper raked his hand through his sandy brown hair and grinned at his future father-in-law, “You ain’t gonna let Sally meet me at the pond anymore, are you?”

Buck raised a brow at the impertinence of the boy. But then what else would he have expected from Jasper, he had always been like that. Buck shrugged his words off, he knew how much Jasper loved his daughter and because of that, he would forgive the boy anything.

“You’d better believe it,” Buck said. “So I guess you two will be getting married sooner rather than later,” he added, picking up Jasper’s bantering tone.

“I reckon,” Jasper said, still grinning.

Buck glanced at the stairs, where Sally was just descending. His baby looked so grown up, with her hair pulled up and wearing her new green dress.

“You take good care of my girl,” Buck said with a heavy heart, knowing that she was no longer his girl, she was Jasper’s.

“I will,” Jasper said, suddenly serious.

Buck nodded, knowing that Jasper spoke the truth, he had always taken care of Sally. He walked toward his daughter and took her arm, “Your mother would be so proud.”

“I wish she was here,” Sally said.

“She is,” Buck said quietly. He often felt Jennifer’s presence, especially around his children.

He looked at Jasper, as the young man took his daughter’s other arm, “Just do me a favor,” Buck asked, trying to lighten to the mood. “Let me be the one to announce this at tonight’s dinner.” It wasn’t often that he got to upstage Cody and he wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass.




After dinner, Buck announced to the group assembled in the hotel dining room that Jasper and Sally were getting married. As soon as he finished speaking, chaos broke out. Hannah, Lou and Cody’s wife, Louisa had broken into tears of joy and once they had recovered themselves, they had started planning the wedding. Buck had just been recounting his tale to Cody, Jimmy and Kid.

“You caught them doing what?” Kid asked in amazement.

Buck shook his head, “You heard me.”

“Where does your boy get his ideas?” Cody asked, staring directly at Jimmy, but getting only a scowl in response.

Buck smiled at Jimmy, “If it had been anybody else’s son, I would have shot him.” He glanced over to where his daughter was sitting beside Jasper on a window seat. Jasper was talking to Nick, holding Sally’s hand. Buck was mildly surprised to see Jasper exercising some restraint. He was almost always causing some kind of public spectacle with his daughter. But Buck never once objected, as Sally thrived on the attention Jasper lauded on her.

“See what you have to look forward to, with all your girls,” Cody laughed.

Jimmy grimaced, dreading the day.

“I just hope you’re as lucky as me,” Buck said solemnly. “I couldn’t ask for a finer son-in-law than Jasper.”

Jimmy nodded, suddenly overcome, “And I couldn’t ask for a better daughter-in-law.”

Cody pulled a face. This was getting too much for him. He glanced over at Teaspoon, who was now asleep in a large, overstuffed chair. “How’s he been doing?” Cody had come to see the old Marshal as soon as Jimmy had written to him, telling him how poorly Teaspoon had been feeling of late.

“Better today,” Kid answered, following Cody’s stare. “I think seeing you has cheered him up a lot.”

Jimmy leaned back in his chair, “So how long are you gonna grace us with your presence, Cody?”

“Well I had only planned on staying for a couple of weeks,” Cody replied. “But I think I’ll stick around for the wedding. The way those women are going, they will have everything ready before the month is over.”

“Poor Sally,” Kid laughed. “I don’t think she is gonna have much say in her own wedding.”

“Oh, I don’t think she cares,” Buck said, looking over at his daughter when he heard her squeal. He noted that Jasper had given up on acting respectable and had pulled Sally into his lap, where she was now laying against his chest. He watched as Jasper undid the tight bun Sally had fashioned her hair in earlier and ran his fingers through her dark locks, all the while continuing to talk to Nick. Ellie and Kitty were sitting on the ground talking about the wedding clothes. Buck noticed how Sally just nodded whenever either Kitty or Ellie asked her a question, as if they were asking her about their own weddings rather than her own. “For her it’s the marriage that’s important, not the wedding.”

“Then she is in for a long and happy life,” Cody said seriously.

The End

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