Kid watched the woman as she passed by him and Cody as they walked toward the door of Thompkins store. Raven curls bounced free from under the blue bonnet. Her blue eyes danced as she smiled radiantly in his direction. Her hands clasped in front of her. Watching her and not where he was going he stumbled through the door. Cody's laugh could be heard over the sound of the angels voice as she spoke to Thompkins. Cody grabbed Kid's arm to get his attention. "Kid, we gotta get these supplies back to Emma." Kid swallowed hard as he pulled his gaze off the woman.
"You're worse the Cody" Jimmy stated shaking his head as he saw Kid glance one more time into the store.
Kid slowly walked to Katy, untying her, than mounted her just as the raven haired angel walked out of Thompkins store. A boyish smile spread across Kid's face as she made eye contact with him as she walked past him into the street. He turned in the saddle to watch her and nearly lost his balance, causing the others to laugh. Kid straightened in the saddle and looked at his laughing friends. "What?" He kicked Katy into a gallop and took off toward the way station so the others couldn't see his red cheeks.
As they all rode back to the way station with the buckboard full of supplies and Ike driving it, Buck looked fit to be tied. Ike saw the look on his friends face. Holding the reins in one hand, Ike patted his chest with his free hand to get Bucks attention. "What's wrong?" Ike signed when Buck looked at him. Buck just shook his head and looked at the other rider's around them. Ike got the message that he didn't want to talk about it with the others around. Ike nodded and left it alone for the moment. But he knew his friend well and knew it had something to do with Kid. Ike glanced at his friend again and saw the invisible daggers that Buck was shooting at Kid.
Buck knew Lou and Kid were broken up and it had been Lou's idea but that was a week ago and Kid was already looking at another woman. Buck had noticed that Kid had never looked at Lou the way he had that other woman, and that wasn't right. Lou deserved to be looked at with love and devotion. He had to shake his head to clear the thoughts. This wasn't his business.
After the buckboard had been unloaded and Cody's horse readied for his ride, Ike saw Buck standing near the corral leaning over the gate watching the new horses run, and walked to him, placing a hand on his friends shoulder to get his attention. Buck smiled his lopsided grin at Ike and saw the questioning look in his eyes and still found it amazing how he could understand Ike without a single word being spoken between them. Buck took a deep breath and said "The way Kid was looking at that woman at Thompkins store, he has never looked at Lou like that." Ike smiled knowing how much his 'brother' cared about Lou. They had spoken many nights about Lou, talks that were spoken in complete trust and understanding. Ike smiled at his friend and signed "Now it is your turn to tell Lou how you feel about her."
Buck shook his head and turned his back to the corral fence. "I can't do that, Ike, she deserves better." The last part almost a whisper. Pushing himself off the fence and walking to the center of the yard as the sound of running hooves broke the silence of the moment. "Rider comin' " Jimmy yelled from the front porch.
Cody ran out the bunkhouse door and ran to his horse and mounted it easily in one swift motion. He caught the pouch as Lou tossed it to him. "Have a safe ride Cody" Lou yelled after him.
Buck grabbed Lightning's reins and smiled at Lou as she dismounted. "I'll take care of him Lou."
"Thanks Buck." She smiled that same smile that always melted his heart.
Emma called out that dinner was ready as Buck was finishing with Lou's horse. After stopping by the water pump to wash his hands he entered the bunkhouse to see that Ike had saved him a spot near the edge of the table but as he approached, Ike slid to the edge of the bench leaving the only spot available between himself and Lou. Buck was the only one that noticed this and slapped his friend on the back in a silent thank you. As the food was past from person to person and the conversation around the table began, Buck took in the smile on Lou's face at something Jimmy had said. She was pouring milk into her cup. Ike passed the bowl with the bread rolls in it to Buck who politely grabbed one and sat it on Lou's plate then sat one on his plate. Lou smiled at Buck for the sweet gesture.
Ike smiled as he watched the two and shook his head at the idea that neither of them knew how the other one felt about them. He saw things many people didn't. He saw the way Buck would care for Lou's horse, and the way he would hold doors open for her, even the small politeness of placing a roll on her plate because her hands were full. Ike bit into his roll with the certainty that he was going to have to snap these two out of this and have them realize how they felt for each other.
Lou sat at the table listening to the conversation around her. Kid was ignoring her and would only make idle comments in her direction. She knew the breakup was for the best. He was constantly trying to change her and control her. She didn't want that. She stared at the man across from her and knew that a part of her would always care for him but she needed to move on but how could she do that with him always there. Her eyes filled with sadness at the thought of being alone. She looked down at her plate as she felt the moisture gathering behind her eyes. She took a deep breath and fought back the tears.
Buck watched Lou's smile fade into a somber expression as she looked at Kid. He swore he saw the glisten in her eyes that said tears were going to fall. Damn Kid, for putting her through this. Buck watched Lou take a deep breath and the tears seemed to have disappeared. He was so proud of how brave she was to sit acroos the man who had broken her heart and not want to shoot him.
Kid halted Katy in front of the Marshal's office. Dismounting, he pulled the freshly baked cookies out of the saddle bag and carried them into Sam. He sat the still warm snacks on the desk in front of Sam "Emma said you might want some of these." He said keeping an eye on the prisoner in the cell behind Sam. The aroma was teasing Sam as he unwrapped the towel that hid the savory sweets.
Taking a bite of the moist cookie he smiled. "Mmmm Tell Emma thank you." Sam said with a mouth full of cookie. Kid smiled and slapped Sam on the shoulder. "I will g…" Kid's words hung in the air as the raven haired beauty walked past Sam's office.
Sam noticed the Kids mouth hanging open and stared in the direction of his gaze and saw the woman. Sam stood up and said "That is Miss Anna Belle Martin. Her family just moved here." Sam realized Kid probably hadn't heard a word he just said. "Kid" He playfully shoved him to get his attention. Kid looked back at Sam. "Go talk to her." Sam said smiling. Kid nodded and walked out of the Marshal's office. Sam shook his head, sat back down and decided that those cookies looked too good to waste.
Kid watched as Miss Anna Belle Martin strolled down the sidewalk. He took a deep breath and approached her. He tipped his hat at her as a smile stretched across her face. "Hi" She said still with the smile on her face, "I'm Anna Belle." She continued extending her right hand. Kid swallowed hard and replied. "They call me Kid" Shaking her hand.
She liked his smile and thought he had very beautiful blue eyes. She had thought how handsome he was at the General Store when she had first seen him. She looked behind him and saw the horse he had ridden in on "That is a beautiful horse." She said.
"That's Katy." He glanced over his shoulder. "I ride for the Pony Express you should come out to the station and see the other horses." He replied after walking to Katy with the young lady following him.
"I'd like that." Her smile radiated in her voice. "Well I must be going. " Her eyes sparkled as she turned to leave.
"Anna Belle, Uhm, There is a Spring Harvest dance tomorrow night and I was wondering if.. well you know.. if you would like to go with me." Kid stammered through the request with red cheeks and his hat in his hand.
"I'd be delighted. That sounds like fun." Anna Belle's smile was sincere as she walked away.
The night of the dance arrived all too quickly for Lou. She hated these dances. She wished she could be danced around the floor in the arms of a man. She thought about just staying at the bunkhouse and catching up on some of her reading. But with every one going she decided to just go along and listen to the music.
The stars flickered in the sky and the moon was bright. The music floated in the air around her as she stood near the doorway watching the ladies dance across the floor in their beautiful dresses. She saw Jimmy with the young school teacher, and Cody with Miss Harper the dressmaker. She then saw Kid holding the hand of a beautiful brunette she had never seen before, and by the look on his face he was enjoying what she was whispering in his ear. He then pulled the woman on to the floor as a next song started.
Buck stood near the far wall watching the dancers. His eyes floated across the dance floor and stopped on Lou standing by the door, her gaze locked on Kid and Miss Martin. Buck's heart hurt for her, he knew she still had feelings for Kid but Kid seemed to have moved on mighty quickly. He watched as Kid whispered in his partner's ear and she giggled. He then led her toward the door, past Lou. He noticed the look on her face and the way her eyes glistened with unshed tears and he swore that she deserved better than the way Kid was treating her. He had to make this right, he pushed him way through the crowded dance hall.
Lou watched as Kid walked right past her with the woman on his arm, her heart seemed to drop and she felt tears well up in her eyes at the thought that she was so easily and quickly replaced. She needed some air, she stormed out the door and walked to the sidewalk. This night was horrible and she wanted to go home, she started walking toward the livery where the horses were kept. She was going to go home early. As she walked into the livery she heard giggling and as she rounded the corner she saw Kid and Miss Martin all wrapped in each other's arms. Her heart sank deeper into that bottomless pit. Kid saw her standing there. "Lou.." He started. Lou raised a hand to him to stop his words. "Glad to see you've moved on so quickly, Kid." She spat out moving toward her horse.
"Oh don't even go there. It was your idea for us to break up." Kid snapped back at her pulling himself away from the brunette.
Lou straightened the saddle on Lightning and then glared at Kid. "That's because you were smothering me and pushing me to get married when I wasn't ready." She said as she started to mount her horse.
"Well you're the one who is sleeping in a bunkhouse full of men that ain't relatives." Kid raised his voice at her.
Lou's eyes got big, "Are you saying that I am a.. a.. tramp?" She asked stepping closer to him.
Kid looked at her square in the eyes and merely said "You said it, not me."
Lou didn't hesitate, she took all the anger that had been building inside her for weeks now and balled her fist, punching him square in the jaw, causing him to stumble backwards and fall over a hay bale. Lou mounted her horse and rode off into the darkness.
Buck stood outside the livery in complete shock. Had Kid just insinuated that Lou was a whore? How could he? He wanted to be sure she was okay, Buck took a deep breath and stormed into the barn to get his horse. He saw Kid wrapped in the brunettes arms and shook his head as he walked past them.
"Buck, what…" Kid started but Buck cut him off with a punch in the stomach. Kid fell to his knees and a smile spread across Buck's face as he mounted his horse. He had wanted to do that for a long time.
Lou sat on Lightening's back, tears flooding her eyes. She was grateful her faithful steed knew his way home because she couldn't see the road through the tears. When Lightning came to a stop in front of the barn, she dismounted and led the horse inside. Damn Kid for saying that to her. She removed the saddle and reached for the brush. With gentle strokes she began brushing the ebony flesh of her horse.
Buck had watched her ride slowly in the darkness and knew she was crying. He watched as she dismounted and walked into the barn. He stopped Spirit and almost rode back into town knowing Lou had returned safe, but he stared at the barn almost hearing her tears fall. He nudged Spirit toward the barn. He dismounted and led him into the barn. He heard the sounds of soft whimpers. He tied the reins to a post and walked around Lightning to see Lou leaning against the horse with her head down and her hands covering her face. He reached out and moved her hands away from her face seeing the bruises on her knuckles.
Lou looked at him and tried to turn away in embarrassment. He saw the despair on her face and the tears in her eyes. He knew he shouldn't be there but he couldn't just stand by and let her fall apart alone. He tenderly touched her cheek and felt her lean into his touch, that simple gesture made his heart flutter. His thumb wiped a tear from her cheek and he watched as all her resolve left her and the tears flowed faster. Not thinking, he pulled her into his arms softly laying her head on his chest as her tears soaked the front of his shirt. He wanted to say so many things to her, but he only stroked her hair. He swore to himself that if Kid ever made her cry again, he would be a dead man. He had to make a promise to her. He took a deep breath and with every ounce of love he had for the broken angel in his arms he whispered for only her to hear "I will always be here for you and if he breaks your heart again, I'll be there before the next teardrop falls."
She pulled slowly away from him not sure she heard him correctly. Kid had broken her heart and now Buck was here, saying more to her wounded spirit then Kid had ever said to her heart. Buck pulled her hand up to his lips and tenderly placed a kiss on her bruised knuckles. Lou's heart fluttered at the touch of his lips on her skin and almost wished for him to do it again. Lou opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Buck smiled a reassuring smile and she saw his chocolate eyes dance in the lantern light. She took a deep breath and willed the tears to stop falling. Buck slowly wiped another tear from her wet cheek and said "If you cry anymore tears, we're gonna be swimming in here." She smiled and wiped her eyes with her hands.
She sheepishly looked at him with embarrassment and said "I'm sorry"
Buck looked at her in shock "For what? You haven't done anything wrong." He wanted to pull her closer into his embrace but merely winked at her instead.
"I'm sorry because..because I didn't see this before." She took a step back and looked at the man before her. She had been so stuck on Kid that the small kindnesses this man had done had escaped her. She looked toward her horse remembering all the times she had come in from a run and Buck was always there to care for her horse. She thought of all the little things he did for her. She looked back at him and said "Thank you. I'm glad you're here." Her hand ached and she shook it to make the pain stop, and smiled at the memory. "I can't believe I hit him."
Buck's eyes got big and he smiled, "You hit him, too?"
Lou nodded then looked at Buck "Wait, why did you hit him?" she asked. Buck looked down at the ground like a child who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
He looked back into those brown eyes of hers and saw a bit of humor in them. He couldn't lie to her. "I followed you out of the dance, and over heard what he said. I was angry."
He saw the embarrassment wash over her cheeks. "You heard that?" She said in almost a whisper.
He touched her cheek "You don't deserve to be spoken to that way." He looked into her brown eyes and could barely restrain himself. He took a deep breath, it was now or never. He leaned forward and gently touched his lips to hers, hoping she wouldn't pull away, when she wrapped her arms around his neck and ran her fingers through his hair, his tongue grazed her lips asking for entrance. She opened her lips to him and their tongues danced with each other with passion.
She pulled away only to catch her breath. Looking into his eyes, she could see love reflecting in them. Passion filled the brown depths that seemed to read her soul. "What are we doing Buck?" She asked without removing her arms from his neck.
"Whatever you want to do!" he said in a husky voice.
She slowly pulled away and said. "I need to go slow, I think that is what messed up me and Kid. If that's okay."
Buck smiled and said "Yeah that is fine. Let's get the horses put up."
Buck could see the light in her eyes again and knew he would wait forever for her, he knew she needed time and space and he would give her everything she needed. As long as she was happy.
Buck could hear the sound of thundering hooves in the distance. He took a deep breath and said "We're not gonna be alone much longer."
Lou nodded and they walked out of the barn to meet the others who were all returning from the dance. Neither of them saw Kid which was fine with them, they didn't want to see him right now any way.
As they were all getting ready for bed, Kid walked in through the bunkhouse door. Jimmy saw the bruise forming on his jaw and wanted to know the story behind it. Kid walked over to his bunk he stared at Lou who sat in her bunk above his. He pulled his jacket off and threw it on his bed, still not taking his eyes off of saw anger in Kid's eyes and for the first time she was scared of him. Buck saw a look of fear in Lou's eyes and stood up, he walked up behind Kid and said, "Hey Kid I wanted..." Kid spun around and punched Buck in the stomach.
Ike jumped off his bunk and pushed Kid to the floor and pulled his fist back to punch him when Lou stopped him. "Don't Ike, Just let it go." She said causing Ike to look at her then at Buck who gave him a nod. Ike's green eyes showed the anger that was needing a release, as he pulled himself to his feet, leaving Kid on the floor. Ike and Lou both sat down on either side of Buck and watched as Kid staggered to his feet and walked out the door.
Cody broke the silence by saying "Damn, that was interesting."
Jimmy agreed and needed the facts. He sat down on the bench across from the threesome.
"Okay spill it. What happened?" Jimmy asked.
Lou looked at Buck, Buck looked at Lou and winked at her. "Kid said something about Lou and I punched him in the stomach, This was his payback I guess." Buck said.
Ike looked confused, he knew his 'brother' very well and knew that it had to be something pretty bad for him to hit Kid.
Jimmy knew that Buck needed a pretty good reason to hit somebody, he looked at Lou and asked "What did he say?"
"It doesn't matter Jimmy. It was handled." Lou said defensively.
Jimmy watched as Lou pushed a piece of hair behind her ear, he saw the bruised knuckles and smiled, realising what had happened he was very proud of Lou for standing up to Kid. "Okay, Buck punched him in the stomach, that means you punched him in the jaw. Way to go Lou, You've done what we've all wanted to do at least once." He smiled and stood up. He walked to his bunk and laid down.
Buck smiled at Ike as he stood and placed a hand on Buck's shoulder. They all returned to their bunks and tried to sleep. Buck stared at the ceiling reliving the evening and smiling at the memory of the kiss he and Lou had shared. He turned his head to look at her bunk. Even in the flicker of the single lantern burning in the corner he could see tears glistening in her eyes.
Buck had seen the tears in Lou's eyes last night and knew kid had upset her. All Buck could think of was how to make her happy. He wanted to replace the frown she was wearing today and wanted to turn it into a smile. Ike watched two of his best friends mope around the yard and decided enough was enough.
Ike had a plan to get his friends together for a special evening. First he had to get some information out of Lou. He saw her by the corrall. He walked to Emma's flower bed and plucked a daisy from the soil, he walked to Lou and tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. She smiled at him and he could see the fatigue in her eyes. He knew she was crying last night after she was in bed and thought noone else saw her. He smiled back at his friend and extended the flower in her direction. She pulled the daisy to her nose and inhaled its frangrance. "Thank you Ike, that was nice." she watched his eyes twinkle.
"Is that your favorite flower?" He signed to her.
Lou thought about it for a mere second and answered " My favorite are the wild flowers that grow out by the swimming hole. The purples and the blues, all the different colors, it's like a rainbow on the ground. But this is nice. Emma may not be happy with you picking her flowers though." She watched him shrug his shoulders and saw a mischievious glint in his green eyes.
Ike smiled and walked away to finish his chores. He went to hook up the buckboard for a trip into town. Buck walked out of the barn and saw the ear to ear grin on his 'brothers' face and knew he was up to something. He remembered that look from their days of pulling pranks in the Mission School. On the ride into town,Buck eased his horse up next to Ike and asked him " What is on that devious mind of yours?"
Ike shrugged and signed "I don't know what you are talking about"
Buck smiled at his friend and said "I hope I am not in the scheme you are concocting."
Once they got to Thompkins store, the boys scattered in different directions. Ike walked into the store and wandered around until he saw just what he needed. He nodded his head as he picked up the bottle and carried it to the front. After paying for it he slid it into his pocket and met the others out side.
He needed to talk to Emma and get her help but he couldn't do it with the others around. He waited until they got back to the station and all the items were unloaded from the buckboard. He watched as Emma went into the house and the boys scattered in different directions. He ran up the steps and knocked on Emma's door. She opened it with a smile and invited him in. "What can I do for you Ike?" She asked
Ike took out his pencil and notebook and and scribbled on it his plan. Emma smiled as she read his words and told him "Tell Buck that I need his escort to the womens social tomorrow evening. He has to dress nice. Then I will invite Loulabelle in here for a tea party. Yes that will work fine Ike." She smiled at the thought.
Ike smiled and knew his plan would fall into place tomorrow.
The day dawned with a sense of new beginning. Ike smiled as he stood on the bunkhouse porch, inhaling the crisp fall morning air. He had things he had to accomplish today and he wanted an early start. After breakfast he found Buck in the barn spreading hay in a freshly cleaned stall. He placed a hand on his brothers shoulder and after getting his attention signed "Emma wants you to accompany her to the social this evening. You gotta dress nice."
"Oh man are you serious? I hate dressing up." Buck scowled
"It'll be fun, you'll see!" Ike signed trying to hide a grin.
"If you say so" Buck mumbled as he tossed another pitchfork full of hay into the stall.
Ike had to finish his plan and used the excuse that Emma needed him to pick up something from town. He mounted his horse and rode out to the swimming hole. from his mount he could see the wild flowers that grew on the prairie below him, Lou was right it did look like a rainbow on the ground. He picke the blue and purple flowers then gathered some yellow ones. He kept them away from his nose to keep from sneezing. He rode back to the station house and was happy that noone was around. He dimounted infront of Emma's house and knocked on her door.
He was greeted with a smile when she opened the door. He handed her the flowers. She nodded. "I'll put these in water until time." She smiled, " Go get Lou and tell her to come over here with her dress."
Ike nearly flew down the steps with excitement. He was a genius and this was going to be a great night. Now to go get found her in the bunk house and tried to keep his smile hid. he signed that Emma wanted her prescence in the house and that she had to bring her dress.
"Why?" Lou asked
Ike shrugged his shoulders and walked to his trunk, he opened it and found the bottle of honeysuckle perfume that he had bought the day before. He knew it was Bucks favorite scent. He stood and handed her the bottle. She looked at him strangely and signed "Trust me!" and placed the bottle in her free hand theat wasn't holding the dress. He opened the bunk house door for her and she thanked him. He watched as she walked to Emma's house. He saw Buck leave the barn and walk toward the bunkhouse.
"Are you sure Emma wants to go to this social tonight?" Buck asked hoping he didn't have to dress up.
"Will you trust me? go get ready." Ike smiled "Then meet her at the house."
Buck hated to dress up but he would do this for Emma. She was like a mother to him and he didn't want to dissapoint her. He was glad the bunkhouse was empty, with Kid and Cody both on a run and Jimmy and Teaspoon in town with Sam. He could take his time although he didn't want to keep her waiting. He pulled his dress pants on and buttoned his nicest shirt. He ran a hand threw his hair and took a deep breath as he walked out the door and started toward Emma's.
He smiled when he saw his brother on the porch holding some flowers. Ike's smile was contagious and Buck couldn't help to catch it. Ike handed the flowers to Buck and raised a hand in the direction of the front door. "I'm going Ike." Buck said as he knocked on the door.
Lou sat at the beautifully decorated table in her blue dress. She smoothed her hands down the front of the material and smiled at how soft it felt. Emma had told her to stay put as she ran upstairs. Lou looked at the candles on the table and the two covered dishes sitting there and wondered what was going on. She reached for the cover on the plate in front of her to remove it when she heard. "No ma'am Miss Loulabelle, You can wait one minute" Emma said smoothing a hand over her hair.
"I don't understand what is going on Emma" Lou said fidgeting in her chair.
Emma smiled as she heard a knock on the door. "Patience, my child" She said as she reached for the door and pulled it open.
Lou heard Buck's voice and turned in her chair to see him dressed in his finest clothes with a look of confusion on his face. Emma extended her hand to the direction of the table where Lou sat. Buck saw Lou sitting at the table with candles and covered dishes and knew they had been set up by the best. He smiled at Lou, and offered her the flowers "I guess these are for you. I think we've been set up."
Lou reached for the flowers and smiled. Ike walked into the house and lit the two candles. Emma stood at the door and smiled at the confusion on Buck's and Lou's faces and the pure happiness on Ike's face. She had never seen the boy smile so big.
"You two enjoy dinner; Ike will accompany me to the social." She said.
Buck watched his best friend and brother close the door quietly behind him as he exited the house with Emma, swallowing hard he turned back to face Lou who was looking at him expectantly. "I … uh… I knew he was up to something."
"I guess this is the reason he gave me the perfume… it must be your favorite scent." Lou said with a shy smile as Buck took his place at the table.
Buck leaned closer to Lou as she raised her wrist for him to smell, he got a crooked grin on his face when he recognized it. "Yeah honeysuckle is my favorite and you look very beautiful Louise." Lou blushed and looked down at the plate in front of her.
They sat in silence for a few minutes while Lou served them the dishes Emma had prepared. "I guess I should thank you for the flowers … I wondered why Ike was asking me what my favorite flower was."
"He handed them to me at the door, so I guess you should really thank him." Buck replied with a sheepish grin, Lou just shrugged her shoulders.
After several minutes of strained silence Buck finally broached the subject as to why Ike had set them up. "Lou I can tell you're uncomfortable here with me, if you want to leave or if you want to me to leave I will. Ike was just trying to help me out but I don't want you to feel like you're being pressured into staying."
"I want to stay Buck. I was wondering about something though." Lou said quietly, a faint blush staining her cheeks.
"You know you can ask me anything Lou." Buck replied with the smile that always made Lou's heart skip a beat.
"Well did … did ya… did ya really mean what you said in the barn the night of the dance?" Lou squeaked out blushing furiously refusing to meet his eyes.
Buck got up from his spot at the table and came around to kneel beside her. Reaching up to cup her face in his hand he forced her to look in his eyes. "Louise I meant every word of it. I swear to you I would never hurt you like Kid did; I swear to be there to stop the next tear drop from falling if you let me," Buck smirk before continuing, "Hell even if you don't let me be there in the way I want, I'll always be here for you Louise, if for nothing more than a shoulder to cry on. You deserve to be treated with every bit of love and devotion in the world. I would give you that, but you deserve better than a breed and I understand if you don't want to be with me for that reason."
Lou reached up and placed her finger tips over Buck's mouth, her eyes filling with tears. "Buck Cross I don't want to hear talk like that. You should know me well enough to know that I don't give a flying fig about you being part Kiowa. You are the nicest, sweetest, most caring man I know. And if that kiss in the barn the other night is any indication of the love you have for me I sure as hell ain't stupid enough to pass that up."
Buck let out a laugh at Lou's bluntness, "I really do love you Louise and I would like a chance to prove that to you."
"I believe you Buck and I may not love you like that yet but I really do care a lot about you Buck and would like a chance to develop that."
Buck got up off his knee and offered his hand to Lou. "May I have this dance?"
Lou laughed and took his hand, "There's no music Buck."
"Sure there is just listen to the sounds of the night, to the crickets chirping, frogs croaking at the pond, the nightingale singing, and you can even hear a few coyotes on the prairie, there's plenty of music to dance to." Buck whispered quietly.
Lou stepped into Buck's arms as he guided her around Emma's parlor. Her head resting on his shoulder, she closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation of Buck's arms around her in a comforting hold swaying gently to the music of the prairie. Something so simple that is so often overlooked. Lou let out a contented sigh knowing that this is the way life was meant to be. After several minutes Buck slowly brought their dance to an end. Lou looked up at him and met his soft brown eyes staring intently into hers. Buck slowly lowered his head down to hers, his lips meeting hers in a gentle but passionate kiss.
Lou's arms wrapped around Buck's neck on their own accorded and Buck's arms tightened around her back pulling her closer as their kiss deepened. Just as he was about to deepened their kiss even more the front door opened and in walked the one person who had no clue that Lou was a girl, Teaspoon.
Teaspoon hadn't meant to interrupt, he didn't know anyone was there, but he sure didn't expect to see Buck kissing a woman that he hadn't met. He was usually pretty good at knowing when the boys were smitten with some lady, but then Buck had been acting different lately. So he cleared his throat to get their attention. Buck straightened his body and looked over Lou's shoulder at the fatherly man who stood mere feet from him. Buck didn't know what to say.
Lou turned at the interruption and saw the look on Teaspoon's face go from surprise to shock. He looked as though he was about to pass out. Buck rushed to his side and sat him in the closest chair. "Uhm… Buck, L-lou w-what is going on here?"
Buck poured the man a glass of water and handed it to him as Lou spoke. "We …uhm.. well Ike and Emma were letting…" Teaspoon raised his hand to stop Lou in mid sentence.
He pulled his hat off of his head and looked at Buck then at Lou and shook his head. "Why didn't I see this? I mean you were a woman all along and I didn't see it." Teaspoon was flabergasted and Lou smiled at his confusion.
"I had to lie Teaspoon, I mean, I had to save up money to get Jeremiah and Theresa outta the orphanage, this was the only honest work I could get." Lou tried to make the man understand. "You're not gonna fire me are ya?" Quiet tears began to form in the corners of her eyes.
Teaspoon looked at Lou and smiled "Why would I do a darn fool thing like that fer? As long as you ain't got no more secrets 'cause this old ticker can't handle too many more shockers like that."
Buck smiled at Lou and saw her cheeks turn a brilliant shade of red. Teaspoon smiled and said "Red is a good color on you Lou… what is you're real name?"
"Louise" She stated walking o him " Thank you for not firing me"
Teaspoon stood up and smiled at her and grabbed her hands " Well your welcome hun, I was beginning to wonder about you two though, I thought ya'll were… you know, well I can see you're not so that image can be replaced with this lovely image of you in this dress, Miss Louise." He raised her hand above her head and spun her around to see the dress unfurl. Lou giggled at the spin.
Buck smiled at Lou's laugh.
"I guess everyone else knows you are Louise." Teaspoon asked reaching for his hat.
Lou nodded her response.
"Well, then, I apoloigize for the interruption." He smiled and replaced his hat as he walked out the door.
Buck walked toward Lou and pulled her into his arms. "Wow, I felt like a kid who just got caught with his hands in the cookie jar." His smile made Lou's heart skip a beat. She stared into his brown eyes and asked " Where were we?" Buck answered by pulling her closer and placing his lips on her to finish the passionate kiss that had been so untimely interrupted.
Buck pulled away from Lou to catch his breath and listen as horses approached the house. He wanted more time with Lou in his arms. He never wanted to let go but knew he had to as he took a deep breath and said " Our family returns and before anymore interruptions, I wanna say that I have enjoyed our evening together."
He watched as Lou's cheeks turned red and her thoroughly kissed lips formed into a smile as she said "Me too."
They heard foot steps on the porch but the door never opened. Laughter from the front porch brought them to the door. Buck opened the door and saw all their family gathered on Emma's porch. He saw the panic on their faces as Teaspoon reached for Lou's hand and led her out onto the porch.
Emma smiled and Ike slapped his brother on the back as Buck explained to the others how Teaspoon found out Lou's secret. Jimmy laughed and Cody just shook his head. Teaspoon smiled and said "I definitely like her looking like this." Emma excused herself to go inside and Teaspoon followed at her request. Buck sat down on Emma's porch swing and Lou sat beside him.
Jimmy stared at Lou in her dress "Wow, Lou.. you look … WOW!" he stammered at her. Buck shoved him on the shoulder. Jimmy peeled his eyes away from Lou and smiled at Buck "You are one lucky man, Buck."
Buck smiled at Jimmy and winked at Lou. "I know"
Kid stood by the barn door and watched Buck and Lou. She was smiling a smile that he had never seen. She was happy and that thought broke his heart. He loved her but wasn't in love with her. He could see the passion and love that Buck had in his eyes when he looked at Lou. Kid felt bad that he had hurt her and knew he needed to kill the tension between them. He took a deep breath and walked to where Buck and Lou sat on the porch with the rest of the riders.
Buck saw Kid approaching and watched as Ike stood and knew he would back him up if he needed it. Kid saw Ike and the others look at him with apprehension. He was a bit concerned when Jimmy placed a hand on his Colt. Kid raised his hands to ease the tension. " I want to apologize, to everybody ... for my attitude. And to Lou... for what I said. I hope you all can forgive me. I was a jerk. But I would rather be your friend again." He took a deep breath and smiled as Ike sat back down and Jimmy took his hand off of his gun. Buck stood up and offered kid his hand.
"Apology accepted, we can still be friends." Buck said with a smile as Kid shook his hand.
Happy days turned into happier months,it had been three months since the night that Ike had set them up. During that time Buck and Lou were officially courting and couldnt be happier. They had become extremely close and Buck knew that Lou was the only women he would ever love and was ready to spend the rest of his life with her. If he was still living in the Kiowa world he would know how to go about asking for her hand in marriage and he had the general idea how to do it in the white world but he wasn't completely confident so he went to his brother, who was responisble for them being together in the first place.
"Ike would you... I mean... I was thinking about..." He stuttered as he tried to ask his brother for help with this delicate mission.
Ike smiled at Buck and nodded with a knowing smile as he signed " I will go with you to help you pick out a ring for Lou"
Buck was thankful that Ike knew him well enough to know what he was trying to ask.
Ike slapped his brother on the back and signed "It's about time."
Buck's cheeks turned red as they mounted their horses and rode into town. They halted the horses in front of Thompkin's store. Buck was nervous as they walked into the store. Thompkin's watched as they made their way to the jewelry case near the edge of the counter. He was curious and asked "Can I help you boys with something?" as he walked toward them.
Buck took a deep breath and swallowed hard "I am ... looking for... a ring." The words didn't seem like they came out of his mouth. He watched as Thompkin's smiled. The man may have been harch with Buck a few times but Buck knew he was a good man.
"What kind of ring?" Thompkins asked already knowing the answer. He watched as Buck's cheeks turned red.
Ike smiled as Buck tried to say the words.
"An engagement ring." Buck said in a low voice almost waiting for Thompkin's to say something rude. But instead the man smiled and opened the jewelry case.
"You didn't shoot him did ya?" Thompkin's asked.
Buck and Ike looked at him puzzled. "Shoot who?" Buck asked
"Kid of course, You didn't shoot him to get to Lou did ya?" Thompkin's asked with a smile.
Buck leaned forward and asked "You know about Lou?"
"Well yeah, I have known for a while, Ever since she hit me with that fryin' pan, I've had my suspicions. Look, I'm not trying to cause any problems. I won't say anything. I value my life to much." Thompkin's smiled at the gun toting boys. He pulled his attention back to the ring case.
"How about this one here?" Thompkin's asked pulling out a ring with a simple gold band and a small red jewel in the center. Buck looked at the ring and although it was nice he didn't think it suited Lou.
Ike looked into the jewel case and pointed to a ring that looked like it was made from a rainbow. It had brilliant pinks and blues and when the light danced on it, the colors seemed to change. Buck was mesmerized by the colors. He picked up the ring and smiled knowing it was perfect. "Thanks Ike, this is perfect." Buck handed the ring to Thompkin's and he agreed that it was a great ring.
"She'll be happy with this; it'll be like having a rainbow on her finger." Thompkin's smiled as he took the money from Buck and placed the ring into a red velvet bag. Buck slipped the ring into his pocket as he walked out of the store.
Buck laid on his bunk that evening lost in thought. A ring, no beginning, no ending, the symbol of love and promise, that's a ot to carry in his pocket. He planned to give it to her for Christmas which was only a few days away. He just hoped that Lou was as ready to move forward with their relationship as he was. He looked up to her bunk and smiled at his sleeping angel. A year ago he never would have thought this day would be possible, but now he couldn't see his life with anybody but her.
The bunk house was decorated with handmade wreaths and a small tree in the corner that was waiting to be strung with the popcorn that sat in a bowl in the middle of the table. Cody grabbed a handful of the freshly popped corn and shoved it into his mouth. Jimmy elbowed him in the ribs, "Cody if you don't stop eating all the popcorn there ain't gonna be enough to go on the tree."
"But it's good" Cody disclaimed with a mouthful of the snack, causing the others to laugh.
Buck was nervous as Lou sat beside him. He had bought her a special present and didn't know how to give it to her. He wanted her to be happy. He had never been so nervous in his entire life. He pushed a piece of popcorn onto the needle and pushed it down the string.
Ike could see how nervous Buck was and knew that the ring was burning a hole in his pocket, wanting to get out, so he decided to help the situation. He sat down his string of popcorn and walked to his bunk. He reached under the mattress and pulled out his harmonica, he began playing a Christmas song and everyone began to sing along. He looked at Buck and winked at him. Buck swallowed hard and stood up, he tapped Lou on the shoulder and extended his hand,
"May I have this dance?" Lou smiled and placed her hand in his. He pulled her into his embrace as Ike's music floated through the bunkhouse. Teaspoon couldn't sit still so he stood and asked Emma for a dance, she obliged and Teaspoon spun her into his arms.
Cody looked at Jimmy and smiled. "Jimmy would you like to dance?"
Jimmy didn't even smile as he tipped the bowl of popcorn on to Cody's head. "No"
Kid was getting used to the idea of Buck and Lou being together. He still cared about Lou but could see the love for each other in their eyes. He smiled at the mess of popcorn on the floor and Cody's head.
Ike liked the site before him. His best friend was dancing with the woman he loved. The man and woman he respected as his parents were laughing and dancing across the floor. His friends were making a mess with the popcorn that he was thankful he wouldn't have to clean up. He watched as Buck reached into his pocket.
Buck's hand was shaking as he reached into his pants pocket. He rolled the ring around between his fingers. He looked deep into the chocolate depths of Lou's eyes and saw how much love filled them. This was his chance, in front of all his family, to do this. He closed his fingers around the ring in his pocket and asked Lou
" Louise, I wanted to ask you something," His voice cracked as she looked at him. He looked across the room at Ike for encouragement, then back at Lou.
She smiled at him "Sure Buck you can ask me anything." Lou smiled at him.
He held the ring out to her and asked " Can I have this dance, for the rest of my life? Will you marry me?"
The room was silent waiting for Lou to answer him. Lou covered her face with her trembling hands and wiped her tears away. "Yes Buck, I will marry you." Everyone in the bunkhouse clapped and cheered as Buck slipped the ring on her finger.
"Well I'll be, I figured we'd be digging out of a blizzard before that boy bought her a ring." Cody joked shaking the popcorn out of his hair.
"Even Santa had his doubts." Kid said with a smile.
Buck threw them all a crooked smile before pulling Lou into his arms. He wiped a tear off her cheek with his thumb before gliding it across her lips. He replaced his thumb with his lips as Ike's harmonica music continued to dance around them.
Pulling away from the kiss he smiled at his fiancé and said "I love you, Louise McCloud"
Lou smiled as happy tears rolled down her cheeks. "I love you too, Buck Cross."
Buck would see many more happy tears in Lou's eyes. From the tears she shed at their wedding on Valentine's day, to the tears the both shed at the birth of their first son, Isaac Bear Hunter Cross, the raven haired boy named after both of Buck's brothers and The man he considered his father. Along with the many other children that followed. Though many happy tears flowed, Buck kept his promise to her. He was always there before the next one fell to wipe them all away.
Author's Note: thanks rororogers