“Boys,” Teaspoon drawled, dragging a large crate behind him as he exited the barn. The Express riders groaned in unison, each of them looking around the corral for a place to hide. But it was too late; Teaspoon had seen each and every one of them.
“Tsk, tsk,” Teaspoon clucked at them. “I’m only trying to learn you boys.”
“Learn us or kill us?” Cody whispered to Jimmy.
“So what’s today’s lesson about?” Noah asked warily.
“The Olympics,” Teaspoon announced, preening a bit.
Buck smiled at Ike as Teaspoon began his lecture. He already knew about the Olympics, as did Ike. They had learned about it first hand, many years ago.
“Mister Cross.” Sister Agnes eyed him sternly. “Your eyes will be up here,” she said, pointing to the chalkboard, “and your mouth will be closed.”
The rest of the students filling the small classroom twittered.
“Yes, Sister,” Buck mumbled, squirming in the hard wooden seat. He smiled when Ike stuck his tongue out at the nun’s back once she had turned back around to continue her lecture.
But as soon as the nun’s voice filled the room, Buck’s mind began to wander again. This time he was careful not to glance out the window and remember his old life. Those days seemed like a dream now. The days of running on the plains, galloping horses, sharing meals with his brother and mother. Even the torment he had suffered at the hands of a few cruel children was preferable to the life he lived now.
The nuns were fine, overly strict and obsessed with saving his soul. The rooms and meals were okay, both were bland and each was indistinguishable from the next. But once again, a few cruel children marred what could have been an interesting experience.
He had left the Kiowa to explore his white side after his mother had died. Red Bear had asked him to reconsider this decision but in the end, his brother had supported him, just like he always did.
Buck glanced around the classroom. Was this what all white people were like? Expected to behave like drones in a beehive? What made this life worth living? Nothing he had seen so far.
Although he appreciated Ike’s friendship, Buck wasn’t sure that it was enough to keep him away from his family.
He felt Ike nudge him and turned his attention back to Sister Agnes.
“The ancient Greek games, known as the Olympics were part of a religious festival honoring the Greek God, Zeus,” Sister Agnes told the class.
Buck was sure the nun would lecture them about the Greek’s heathen ways, just like she had lectured him about the Indian’s godless nature. But much to his surprise she did not. She simply continued to tell the class about the history of the Olympics and Buck, for the first time since he arrived at the orphanage, found himself fascinated by the nun’s words. There was something about the ancient Greeks that touched his soul.
“Although the ancient Greeks competed as individuals, we will compete as teams,” Sister Agnes concluded.
A buzz of excitement began to fill the classroom and for once, the nun did not shush them.
“The teams will compete in several events,” Sister Agnes explained. “We will have boxing, a discus throw, a long distance race and a sprint.”
“What about the girls?” Maisie Blackwell asked.
Buck smiled inwardly. Maisie could compete with all the boys in every category, even boxing.
“The girls will participate in events such as jump roping instead of boxing.”
When the buzz of activity grew louder, Sister Agnes raised her right hand, quieting the student. “Here are the teams for our Olympics,” she said brightly.
Buck waited patiently as she read of the names. Much to his dismay, Ike was not in his group. His eyes grew wide with horror when he heard whose team he was on.
“Maisie,” Sister Agnes said, “you will be with the Sanderson twins, Jeff and Joe. And Buck,” the nun smiled at him, “you will round out the group.”
It couldn’t be any worse, Buck decided. He was with Maisie who would dominate most of the events, leaving him to do the running. Which would have worked out fine but the Sanderson boys ran like the wind. Buck was on a team that had no need for him. It was symbolic of his whole existence these days, he thought glumly.
Maisie tossed her long brown hair, put her hands on her hips and glared at the boys. “I do not wear dresses, I won’t play with dolls and I ain’t jumping in some stupid jump rope contest,” she declared, daring the boys to contradict her.
Buck hid a smile behind his hand while the Sanderson twins exchanged frustrated glances. They were meeting outside, trying to decide on who would participate in what event. They had been trying for the past week to arrange this difficult task but Maisie’s stubborn refusal to compromise did not make this job any easier. And for some perverse reason, Buck found it all amusing.
“Are you gonna box?” Jeff exclaimed while Joe asked at the same time, “Are you gonna compete with boys?”
“Yes,” was Maisie’s response, apparently to both questions.
The twins exchanged glances and Joe answered for both of them. “Fine,” he said. “We don’t like to box much anyway.”
“Joe can do the sprint,” Jeff said wearily, “and I can do the long one.”
“And what will Buck do?” Maisie asked, looking at Buck from the corner of her eye.
“What’s left?” Jeff asked, frowning at Buck.
Buck stared at the ground. The Sanderson twins had never been cruel to him but they had never actually spoken to him either. As far as they were concerned, he was a non-entity.
“The discus,” Joe said finally.
The discus? Buck thought in horror. His mortification only grew when Jeff began to snicker. He was too small, too slight to hurl that heavy object any distance.
“The discus? With his arms?” Jeff laughed.
“He can box and I can throw the discus,” Maisie offered and Buck could not help but be touched by the gesture. Yes, Maisie could throw the discus far further than he could but he also knew Maisie was anxious to prove herself. Something he understood. He just wished he could run the long distance race. He knew he could beat all the boys. Including Jeff Sanderson.
“He might get hurt boxing,” Joe said seriously giving Buck an assessing look and Buck’s shame grew. Maisie, a girl, could box but he could not?
“He is kinda small,” Jeff added. “’But if we all win our events we could still win the whole shebang.”
Buck felt his shoulders sag. It was just as he had feared. He was of no use to anyone. Coming here, to learn about the white world only confirmed his worst fears. He didn’t belong here, he had no purpose, and there was nothing he could offer anyone. The Kiowa may not accept him as one of their own but they never treated him like this, like he was worse than an invalid.
Buck chuckled at the sight. Maisie had been lamenting over the fact she had no one to practice her boxing moves with so Buck had asked Ike to help her out. Ike had agreed, but only after Buck had beseeched him.
It was quite a spectacle, Maisie with her quick jabs knocked Ike backwards every time a punch connected and with her bouncing feet, she easily avoided Ike’s parries.
Ike turned around and glared at Buck, he began to remove a glove when Maisie jabbed him. Not knowing that Ike was signaling her, trying to tell her he was done for the day, Maisie threw a right cross which caught Ike on the chin, sending him down to the ground.
“EEEE!” Maisie shrieked. “He’s dead! I killed him.”
Leaping to his feet, Buck ran to Ike’s side. He felt his friend’s chest rise and fall. “He’s not dead,” he hissed. But Maisie seemed paralyzed with fear. She had wrapped her arms around her body, her brown eyes glassy and unfocused.
Buck left Ike’s side reluctantly and shook her by the shoulders. “Listen,” he half shouted, “he isn’t dead. But he needs help. Go get some.” When Maisie stood there, still in a trance, Buck gave up. If Ike needed help, then he would have to get it.
He began to run, he ran up the hill from the small dirt circle he, Maisie and Ike and stamped out, and he ran past the grove of trees where some of the other children were practicing throwing the discus, probably the place he should have been. But he had already resigned himself to losing and losing miserably. He raced past the orphanage stables and past the Sanderson twins who were just exiting, obviously dirty and tired from finishing their job of mucking stalls. He ran until he was breathless and found Father Mason.
“Ike,” Buck gasped, “help… him…”
“Ike!” the priest exclaimed. “What has that boy done now?”
“Hurt,” Buck managed, slowly recovering his breath. “There was an accident. We need to get him back here.”
“We’ll go with you,” Jeff Sanderson interjected. He had been trailing after Buck upon spying his frantic run.
“Me too,” Joe chimed in.
Father Mason nodded. “You boys bring him back here. I’ll get Sister Caroline.” Sister Caroline was the nun in charge of all injures not requiring a doctor’s attention.
“Let’s go, Buck,” Jeff said and Joe nodded.
Together the three boys ran and they ran easily in stride. Buck in spite of his worries about Ike was impressed. He had thought he would easily defeat those boys if they were ever in a race. It was probably a prejudice he realized and he had thought himself free of such faults. But he had always assumed that an Indian would always be swifter than a white man.
When the three boys reached the spot Ike had fallen, Buck saw Maisie carrying Ike in her arms. Jeff, Joe and Buck all stopped in their tracks. Maisie was big for a girl but still it was a previously unimaginable spectacle to see her carrying Ike, a boy who was as large as she was.
“Um,” Jeff stammered, “you need any help?”
“No,” Maisie snapped. And she proceeded to carry Ike all the way to the orphanage. Jeff, Joe and Buck simply followed after her; all three of them too dumbfounded to speak.
Ike beamed at Maisie as she pounded one glove against the other, eyeing her opponent menacingly across the ring.
Buck took a seat next to his friend. “Came to watch your lady friend box?”
Ike grinned. *She insisted that I watch her. I wasn’t about to say no. Not when she had her boxing gloves on.*
“Uh huh,” Buck laughed. “Whatever so you say.”
*Why don’t you go throw your discus?* Ike signed at him rapidly.
Buck rolled his eyes and rose to his feet. This day was turning out even worse than expected. He would make a fool of himself and not even have a friendly face to look for in the throng of spectators.
“Buck,” Jeff shouted, hobbling to his side. “Buck, you need to get to the barn. The running race starts in twenty minutes.”
“Do you need any help there?” Buck asked feeling rather confused.
“No,” Jeff said urgently. “You are going to run it.” He stopped walking and Buck finally noticed he was limping, dragging his left leg.
“Now do you see?” Jeff asked impatiently.
“I’m going to run?” Buck asked unable to keep the happiness from his voice.
“I think I turned my ankle yesterday when we were running to see how Ike was,” Jeff explained.
Buck barely heard him; he was floating on air so high. But he did manage to ask, “Are you okay?”
“I’ll live,” Jeff replied dryly. “I have to throw the discus now so you have to win.” Jeff gave Buck a lopsided grin. “I probably won’t do as bad as you did but we need those points from you.”
Buck nodded solemnly. “I won’t let you down.”
It was almost an hour later when the Olympics concluded. “We won,” Maisie chanted gleefully. Joe and Jeff were clapping each other on the back. Joe reached a hand to Buck. “Nice job,” he said, shaking the Kiowa’s hand.
Buck smiled, his fingers running down the length of the blue ribbon pinned to his shirt.
“I knew you could do it,” Jeff told him happily.
“Hey Sanderson,” another boy shouted and Jeff turned to face him. “I can’t believe you won, with him on your team,” he added, looking at Buck.
“Ah,” Jeff said dismissively, “you’re just mad he beat you.”
The boy gave Jeff a shove before scurrying away but Jeff quickly recovered his balance. “See you, sore loser,” Jeff taunted.
Buck frowned. “I thought you hurt your leg,” he said once Jeff turned back to him. It hadn’t escaped his notice that Jeff had used both legs to make sure he remained upright.
“I did,” Jeff said quickly. “I’m gonna go get something to drink,” he said, moving away from Buck, dragging his right leg behind him.
“Wrong leg,” Buck called out.
Jeff stopped; then he turned around and walked back to Buck, normally this time.
“I don’t need you feeling sorry for me,” Buck told him coldly.
“I don’t, well maybe a little,” Jeff admitted. “I never really thought much about you but since you got on my team, then I saw the way people treated you. Maybe for the first time,” he added softly.
“So you shamed me even more by giving me this gift,” Buck spat out the words.
“You can call it a gift,” Jeff said. “I call it smart.”
“You won didn’t you? And I placed 6th in discus, a lot higher than you would have,” Jeff said.
“I saw the way you ran yesterday. You ran as fast as I did and you had just run almost a half a mile before that,” Jeff said quietly. “You are really fast.”
“What if I had lost?” Buck asked, adopting the same quiet tone as Jeff.
“Then you would have lost,” Jeff said. He grinned once more. “But I didn’t think you would.” He gestured to a table that was rapidly being covered with dishes of food. “I’m gonna get something to eat. See ya.”
“See ya,” Buck replied almost automatically.
“I don’t understand it,” Buck muttered to himself.
*Understand what?* Ike signed.
Buck explained briefly what had just transpired.
*Jeff just did what I would have done, * Ike offered.
“But you and I are friends, best friends.”
*What did we learn about the Olympics?* Ike asked.
“You were there,” Buck grumbled.
* Remember what the nuns taught us? * Ike signed. * The importance of the ancient Olympic Games was such that warring states would cease their conflicts in order to honor the ceremonies,* Ike quoted.
* It didn’t matter to Jeff that you were Indian, * Ike concluded.
“He said he just wanted to win,” Buck said softly.
* Maybe he wanted more, * Ike told him. * Or maybe he just became more. *
“Maybe,” Buck agreed, pondering Ike’s words.
Buck leaned back against a bale of hay, awaiting his turn. Teaspoon was making them run through all the events. Distance running was first. Kid was out there right now and Jimmy was leaning against a water trough, panting.
“I’m ready!” Cody called out beaming as he exited the bunkhouse. He quickly covered himself with his hands when the other riders began laughing at him.
“Cody!” Teaspoon bellowed. “What in tarnation is wrong with you? Go back inside and put on some clothes.”
Cody ducked behind a barrel sitting on the porch. “Buck told me the ancient Greeks competed nude,” he whined loudly before he stood up and glared at Buck. He then beat a hasty retreat and ducked inside the bunkhouse.
*Is this payback for him taking your medicine pouch?* Ike signed, sitting down next to him.
“Maybe it’s just my turn to pull a prank,” Buck replied easily. Or maybe Jeff Sanderson had taught him the value of friendship. He and Jeff Sanderson were never close, even after their Olympics. But they had learned to respect one another. Buck knew it was the same for Cody. Cody did not understand him nor did he really respect his ways, but he did respect him as a man. Buck’s experience at the orphanage had taught him that not everyone you were in close contact with was going to become your friend. Sometimes the best you could hope for was respect.
Buck looked beyond the furthest fence and thought about the Kiowa. Maybe that’s why he stayed in the white man’s world. Here he had gained a measure of respect. Amongst the Kiowa he was little more than a half-breed child born of rape, no matter what he did. Here he was afforded respect for his abilities as a rider and a tracker. Even from those who would never understand him respected him for his skills.
As Cody emerged from the bunkhouse, fully clothes, he gave Buck a baleful look and Buck smiled. Maybe Cody would give him some more respect, this time as a fellow prankster.