March 2010 Volley Challenges:
The light filtering in through the gauzy curtains hurts my head, or is it the wine I had last night catching up with me? The hurts and bruises and pains elsewhere . . . I know for sure where they came from. From the naked boy lying sprawled in the bed next to me, someone I thought of as a friend till last night.
I look down at my arms and wince, seeing his big handprints there, every finger's impression standing out purple against the white where he held me down. Ten bruises, five on each arm. From when I changed my mind, said I don't want this, I'm not ready. Please stop. And when he said, "I can't." And he didn't.
I drag myself out of the bed, fighting off the hangover, the nausea, and limp my way to where I'd put my safe, boyish clothes when I changed out of 'em. What I changed into . . . got torn when I came to my senses and tried to put the brakes on. I can't blame him, I guess. He was drunk, and I got him all excited and worked up, and then . . . Bottom line, nobody made me lay down with him, kiss him, let him kiss me … and go further than that before I tried to slow down the runaway train we were on. Most folks would say I asked for it, and didn't I? Didn't I have feelings for him, thoughts about him, before I chickened out? Can I blame him when I let it get that far? I didn't mean to tease . . . or did I? I just never dreamed he would ever force me to do anything I didn't want to, no matter how drunk he was or I was.
It hurts to put on the clothes again, but I can hear him stirring in the bed so I start hurrying, and get my gun off the dresser where it didn't do me any good when I needed it. Not that I coulda shot him . . . I was so confused, so drunk, so shocked at what was happening, I barely put up a fight or a protest, unless you call crying and trying to push him away a fight. He was so much bigger than me, and . . . and like that other time with my old boss back in St. Jo, he was like a wild animal on its prey. I was paralyzed, again, like a mouse in the grip of an eagle's talons, I cursed to myself.
I picked up my hat. "What?"
He's still half-drunk, I can see that, and he looks confused and worried. "Last night?" he says, and his voice is hoarse. "Things … got a little out of hand, I guess."
I don't say anything, what is there to say, to this my former friend and now somebody who hurt me and frightened me to the core of my soul.
"I didn't mean to hurt you," he's saying, and he's getting up, the sheet sliding down, and my stomach lurches. I pull the gun out and hold it in one shaking hand pointed in his general direction, while my other hand fumbles at the doorknob.
"Lou, you have to know that . . . that wasn't me, I was drunk, you . . . you seemed like you wanted it, and then I couldn't help it, Lou - -"
"Stay there, don't come near me or so help me I'll kill you," but my voice is shaking. We both know there won't be no killing today.
"You're acting crazy, Lou, you started it, didn't you? You came in here with me. You did plenty, and if things got out of control it ain't all my fault. I'm sorry, but you're acting like I raped you or something."
I swallow hard at the ugly word, trying to push the lump of tears that's rising up in my throat down. It feels like I was raped. My whole self screamed out no, even if I could only whisper it and cry while he did what he wanted to. My soul feels broken and raped too, like the last time, maybe worse since this time my trust was broken too.
And what now? I can't tell on him, not without giving away my secret. And with how it happened, who'd believe me anyway . . . I was too scared, too dizzy even to cry for help and nobody, nobody will believe a man like him would want to force a nothing like me to do anything; no one would believe he would have to, looking at him and looking at me.
I lower the gun, knowing it's pointless to argue it. No, it's already done and over. I'm going to have to go back to the bunkhouse, lay in my bunk in the same room with his, and act like nothing happened. I'll sink back into my disguise, that I let slip a little thinking I was among friends. But it won't be the same, not ever again; I'll remember from here out, I think as I watch him struggle into that familiar coat and hat, that I can't ever trust him or any man again.
Author's Note: Thanks to Raye and the LJ gang who read and commented on this story.
Author's Note: Raye and I both thought of a similar topic of "date rape." I was intrigued by the idea of a girl's feelings if a friend turned on her, and changed from a friend to someone who hurt her, especially if she had no recourse in the law or otherwise. Raye pointed out that the March prompt 'turn' would be perfect for that theme, and encouraged me to go for it, and she would finish her own different take. As far as who the former friend is, that's up to the reader to decide.
The old woman sat next to the fire place cleaning vegetables to go in the pot that hung on a hook over the fire.
"Hand me that sage," she said her voice hoarse.
Buck looked up at the roof of the shack the woman lived in and found the dried herb.
The old woman looked at Jimmy and then took the bunch from him. "Knew you'd be the one to hand it to me, this one wouldn't know sage from prairie grass." Her laugh was more of a deep chuckle.
Buck smiled at Jimmy, shrugging his shoulders.
"Ma'am, Marshal Hunter sent us over to see if you needed anything," Jimmy said.
"Nice man, the marshal. Had me one like him once, but he went on to meet the Lord," she said as she kept cleaning the vegetables.
Shaking his head Buck said, "He thought you might like to come to town. Some folks believe it's going to be a hard winter."
"What folks? Yours or his?" she asked squinting up at Buck and pointing at Jimmy.
Buck started to take offense. Taking a deep breath he calmed the anger growing inside him.
"Ma'am, some of the older people in town say this is the year for the big storms to come," Jimmy tried. He didn't put any store in the folk tales of the seventh winter being the worst. Though, it had gotten awfully cold lately, and they had already had their first snow.
"Ma'am?" Jimmy wasn't sure what she wanted to know. The woman looked to be a hundred if she was a year. He figured like most folks in town did that she'd probably lost her mind living alone like she did so far from town.
"Which older," she almost laughed again at the word. She knew she was the oldest person in these parts. "People?"
Buck had been taking in his surroundings when he spotted a buffalo robe on the bed. The woman noticed the direction of his gaze. "My husband gave me that when he built me this house. He said I deserved a fine place to grow old. You should have seen him. Looked about like you, young man." Her eyes looked back on a memory, and her voice carried the love she remembered, "Oh, my warrior was a handsome fellow. Got a trapper to show him how to build this log house for me." She looked back at Buck, "He walks the spirit plain now. I hope to join him one day."
Buck squatted down next to the woman. "Your husband was an Indian."
"My Lone Owl was not just an Indian. He was Kiowa, a fierce people you know." Buck could tell from the look of pride on her face it was a compliment and not an insult.
"How did-" Buck started but Jimmy cut him off, "We need to be getting back, Buck."
Buck waved Jimmy away. "How did you meet your husband?" he asked.
"Oh, my family came west with some of the first settlers. My folks and brother took sick and left me all alone in a wagon out on the prairie. I was all of fifteen, and scared to death. A storm came up blowing our wagon over. I was alone by then having buried my brother first, then my ma and pa.
"I won't ever forget that day they rode up. They were a sight to see. I huddled in a corner of that wagon and screamed when Lone Owl stuck his head inside." She sat up a bit straighter as she said, "I pulled my ma's frying pan out and swung it at him." The old woman laughed at the memories. "I missed of course and he pulled me out of that wagon. Oh, I did carry on so," she blushed at the memory. "He kissed me, and I knew why the good Lord took my family." She leaned in closer to Buck, "See he'd already found me a new one. We lived with Lone Owl's people for a long time. Then he built me this place, and I've been here every since."
"Did you have any children?" Buck asked wondering if she was the woman he thought she was.
"We had two girls and three boys. Only two of my boys lived to become warriors though. They stop by when I need something. One of my girls married a Cheyenne boy and the other died having her first child. I do miss them."
"What were you called by the Kiowa?" he asked his hope growing.
She blushed again. Jimmy smiled thinking it funny that a woman her age would blush. He stood there quietly waiting for Buck and the woman to realize he was still there.
"Lone Owl called me wife, the children mother, but the holy man said my name was Evening Song. He said he gave that name since I would sing to the children before they went to sleep."
"Walks Alone called you sister."
"Ah," she said smiling, "So she did." She looked closer at Buck, studying him.
"My mother was Songbird," he said.
"She was a beautiful maid when your father took her for a wife. I recall she had been widowed for a few months when the trappers came. There was a young one in the bunch, he was a handsome fellow. Fell in love with your ma, then Red Bear's father returned. The Crow had held him captive, and he had escaped. Your ma had to choose between the two men she loved. Since she had already had a child with White Wolf Hunter she chose to return to him. The young trapper was heart broken and left us." She was quiet a moment then added, "You know I do believe now that I think about it, he might have been that trapper that helped Lone Owl build me this fine home. He was a sad man, he and Lone Owl were always talking about the days when we were younger." She grew quiet then caught both young men off guard when she said, "Guess I best pack me a bag to take to town. I don't want to get snowed in out here all alone. If I did no one would find me until after the wolves had at my body."
She stood and shuffled across the room. Pulling a bag out of the dresser she packed a few of her belongs and then turned to say she was ready to go.
Buck thought back over the things she had told him as they headed for town. He wondered why they had told him his mother had been raped. As they reached town the old woman touched his arm to get his attention.
"She loved him so much, but she made her choice and had to live with it. White Wolf became jealous when he found out she was carrying you and took a second wife. Your ma cried herself to sleep for a long time after that. But the day you were born her tears stopped. They tried to take you from her and give you to someone else to raise, but she wouldn't have none of that. She said you were her son and she loved you very much. She told White Wolf you were made from love and she would never give you up. She said you were a gift from the Great Spirit to replace the love she lost when she was made to choose. You don't forget that, you hear?"
Buck's voice was husky with the tears he held back as he said, "Yes, ma'am."
Patting his hand she said, "Good."
by: Miss Raye
Author's Note: Warning... adult themes in this story
The Silver Spurs Saloon was full of people, near to bursting at points, and that many people in that small a space meant trouble. It didn't help that Jed seemed to have an endless supply of money for drinks and the women were attracted to men like that. Jed couldn't handle them all and encouraged, heavily, that the ladies turn their attentions to his friends.
Oh sure, the boys 'resisted'... they were shy, to a certain point, but when there's enough beer in your system and a couple slugs of whiskey thrown in for good measure, things get blurry. Things like rules and social wrongs and rights... they go down faster than a couple of fingers of bourbon. Not to mention... "Howdy boys... lookin' for a good time?"
Jimmy looked her over from head to toe and see the dim color of her hair, curls flattened at the back from too much time on it and her dress was low cut enough to make it almost seem like you'd seen heaven before you died and hadn't even had to pay for it. Sure the edges of her gown were frayed, but she had a willing smile that promised she'd been willing to do more.
For Jimmy he'd been in places like this before, the Judge wasn't big on it, but Brad had shown him the fun they could have... Brad usually let him pay for it, but Jimmy'd still gone. He'd gone because those ladies were so friendly... even to a man they'd never known before. These girls were right pretty and friendly too, but after a couple of glasses of that stuff that Jed had given them at the bar, Jimmy was in need of a little space and a little air... not to mention, a chance to relieve himself of a stomach full of drink.
He shook off Cody's questioning hand and stumbled past Ike and Buck at one of the poker tables. Both boys were eagerly watching the action as chips tumbled over the green felt. The door opened a few feet before him and he fought like a fish going upstream to get outside into the cool night air.
Lou slunk back against a post and pulled her hat down as much as she dared. It wasn't easy to stand around in all those people without having to join in and do what they were doing. She looked down at the glass in her hand, the liquid sloshed around in the bottom of the cup and finally she had to look away when the sloshing echoed in her stomach.
She didn't have to look at a mirror to tell she was green and more sick than she'd care to admit. "Oh my, you are a sweet thang!"
"Well, thanks, ma'am-"
"Oh no... don't you call me ma'am, darlin'... just call me yours."
There weren't any words after that. The flaxen haired hussy leaned her over-stuffed dress over the Kid's shoulder and gave him a glimpse of the wares she'd offered Lou only an hour or two before. Kid blushed all the way to the tips of his ears and looked away as she walked her fingers down into the open neck of his shirt.
Lou flexed her fingers around the glass and ground her back teeth together as the woman looked up and gave 'her' a smile from across the room. There was a challenge in her eyes... like she knew what her attention to the Kid would do. What her 'attention' would mean. Maybe it was what the Kid had said... about how she fancied men. Maybe that had given the woman an idea to... to...
"Aw hell," Lou muttered as she tossed back the rest of the whiskey and dropped it on the tray of a passing girl. "I gotta get outta here."
Ducking her head she shouldered her way toward the door.
Jimmy buttoned up and straightened his clothes before stepping out into the light of the street lamps. He had to blink once or twice to see who it was leaning back against the post just to the right of the door. "Lou?"
The young woman didn't look up. "Yeah..."
"What're you doin' out here? I thought you'd be-" he looked at the door, "you know... inside."
"I'm tired of it... too much noise... too much..." she struggled for the words and then when she couldn't quite think of what to say she just thumbed back at the door, "just too much."
"Yeah," Jimmy tried to step up onto the bottom step and had to put his foot back down when his balance and the amount of alcohol in his stomach ruled that out. Instead he settled for a steadying hand on the rail, "I needed some space too."
She gave him a grimace. "Why? I thought you'd be in there with the rest of 'em makin' fools of themselves over the women."
Jimmy looked at her for a moment, taking in the way the oil lamp gave her skin a warm glow. "Seems to me if I wanted to a make a fool of myself over a woman, I can do that right here."
Louise heard the thickness in his voice, heard the slight drawl of his words. Jimmy'd had his share of drinking that night, but she couldn't really fault him for it. They'd all joined in. "Yeah, well," she looked up at him from the corner of her eyes, "maybe I wouldn't mind it."
That wasn't what he'd expected to hear, she saw that written plainly on his face. "Well," Jimmy reached over into the shadows and lifted a bottle into the light, "maybe I got myself a bottle of that stuff that Jed likes so much."
Her stomach twisted a little at the thought, but she'd seen her father drown his sorrows in alcohol and he never seemed the worse for it. "Why not?" She took it from his hand and placed it against her lips. A few drops slipped out of the corner of her mouth and she saw the way Jimmy's eyes widened and the way he licked his lips. Was it wrong that she enjoyed his 'appreciation' just a little bit?
The liquor burning its way down into her belly answered her. With a smile she moved the bottle away from her mouth and wiped away the extra liquor with the back of her hand. "The more I drink, the more I like it."
Jimmy took the bottle back from her and smiled, wondering when the heart inside his chest had decided to run away from him. It pounded and throbbed and maybe it was wrong but the more he looked at Lou the more he saw how pretty she was and how much he liked the way he felt when she smiled at him. Lifting the bottle to his lips he drank a little bit of the liquor. It wasn't for the taste… and it wasn't for the burning it gave him in his middle… no, he drank because she'd had her lips on the bottle.
He closed his eyes and drank more… drinking her in.
The door to the saloon opened up and two men stumbled out into the light of the porch. The bigger of the two didn't like his friend leaning on him much and pushed him away, right into Lou.
She gasped and tripped up on her boots as the larger man bumped her with his hip and hands as he struggled to make his way out into the night. "Hey!"
Jimmy pulled the bottle away, spilling some of the brew from the lip and onto the floor. He looked up as Lou fell against him, unsure of her own balance. "Careful."
He wasn't quite sure who'd said the warning, but he didn't really care. Lou was pressed up against him from her thighs to her hips. "Ah hell," he knew he'd said those words. It didn't help him that she had her lips parted and her eyes were dancing with the light from the lantern above his head.
"Sorry, Jimmy… I, ah… lost my balance an'-"
"No need to be sorry, Lou." He laid his arm on her shoulder, the jug of liquor weighing it down. "I think I like bein' close to you."
She swallowed and the contraction of her throat mesmerized him. It was almost like he could see her breathe.
A lazy smile pulled at his lips and he leaned closer to her. "I think I like it a lot."
Maybe it was the way he looked at her, his eyes dark with all sorts of unspoken thoughts. Or maybe it was the way she felt warm from the soles of her feet and up to… other places. She didn't try to move away from him. She didn't want to move away from him. Not just yet.
"I ain't like them girls inside." She whispered the words through the thickness of her throat. "I don't wear them pretty dresses or put myself on display."
"Oh, I like what you got, Lou." His free hand slipped up along the side of her face, his palm softer than his fingers. The odd sensations of his touch did more damage than the liquor.
"I don't paint my lips none, either."
That's when he looked down at her lips and Lou couldn't hide the shiver that raced through her body at the thought. He must have felt it to, because he smiled… just the barest hint of a smile before he lowered his lips to hers.
'Oh dear heavens,' the words raced through her mind as he slanted his lips against hers and she tasted alcohol on his skin, 'what are we doin'?'
Jimmy started to move, turning a little at a time here and then there and suddenly they were in the shadows of the porch, nearly in the alley. Her hands climbed the wall of his chest and she felt him shudder against her. It was heady stuff, having this effect on men. Especially someone like him, tall… dangerous… she gasped as his lips broke away for a moment and he looked down into her face.
"I like kissin' you, Lou..."
She blinked up at him and couldn't say a word.
"…ah hell," he ground out the words and a muscle flexed in his cheek, "I've been wantin' to do this for awhile."
Pushing his hat off of his head, he felt the cord draw tight across his throat. Without the wide brim of felt he could see her face in the vague light given off by the lanterns on the porch. He wrapped his arm around her and she felt the heavy push of the bottle against her hip and the pull of his lips back against hers. She felt crushed against his chest but it didn't matter. It felt so good to hear him moan deep in his throat.
Maybe it was the distant thud of a door against a wall. Or maybe it was the raucous laughter from the upstairs cat-house window. Or maybe it was the sudden touch of Jimmy's hand against the insides of her thighs.
She pulled away, her head bumping up against the wall at her back. The smell of the alley pulled into her lungs with the sudden intake of breath.
He took the opportunity to ply kisses along her throat, mumbling against her skin. "You feel so good."
Her lips parted as she struggled to grasp her situation. The darkness. The alley. The liquor. Jimmy's hands. 'Oh my-'
His fingers bit into her thigh as he tried to nudge her legs apart. "Wait, Jimmy… wait."
"Wait?" His lips pulled at the lobe of her ear as he pushed her back against the wall. "We got a little time to ourselves, Lou… let's use it."
She wanted to argue. To tell him this wasn't the time, but he was insistent both with fingers and lips and it wasn't until she felt her breeches fall down below her knees that she really began to panic. "Jimmy, I-"
"I feel it too." He pressed closer and she froze as the coarse hair on his legs brushed up against her thigh. "I want…" he shifted a few inches over and she didn't need his words to tell her what he wanted.
"Jimmy, no…" Lou only had instinct left and she, the smaller and softer of the two bodies in the darkness pushed at him with her hips, thinking to move him back.
Instead he swore under his breath and dropped the near empty bottle at their feet. His hands closed around her waist pulling her tight against him and then up. Up, just high enough to fit. "Yes…"
The world around her was nearly silent except for the sound of his exertion and the blood rushing through her ears. It could have been minutes or hours, the actual passing of time had lost all meaning. There in the darkness there were only regrets and pain that had nothing to do with her body.
She bit back tears as she felt him stiffen against her, his eyes shut, his back arching as he found his release. She could only gasp each breath in and out of her mouth as she fought the darkness of her thoughts.
"Oh, yes…" he sagged against her, scraping her back against the wall, slivers digging into her skin as she tried to move away. Jimmy kissed the side of her face, his lips crawling along her flesh. "I'd been wonderin'…" his breath hummed into her ear, "what you'd feel like."
He didn't seem to mind that she didn't have anything to say. He didn't seem to care that her face was wet and it wasn't raining in Sweetwater. He didn't seem aware of much more than the effort it was taking him to get his breeches back up and his gun belt fastened around his hips. He left her to do the same, apparently unaware how her shoulders shook with tears.
Jimmy woke up staring at the roof of the bunkhouse, his mind full of drink and sunlight. It burned to open his eyes but he had chores to do. They all did.
He moved inch by horrible inch, the pain in his skull nearly incapacitating him with every impact on the floor. Something in his head was off, or the world was, he just couldn't tell which one. The bunks were in their normal places, some full and some not. There was something he should understand, some hidden meaning, but it was lost to him. It was all he could do really, to pull his gun-belt about his hips and fasten it with a flick of his wrist. The familiar motion didn't save him from the throbbing pain behind his eyes.
Brushing past Ike's bunk he had to swipe at the pink feathers dangling in his face. It had belonged to one of the girls at the Saloon. He knew that much, but putting a name to the memory was too much for him. Too much to remember what color she'd worn or whether or not she'd painted her lips.
"I don't paint my lips none, either."
Jimmy's eyes squeezed closed, the palm of his hand pressed to his forehead to try to ease the pain. The voice… the words… now that he tried to hear them they were lost in the pain. Lost in the momentary toss of his stomach.
The inside of his mouth tasted like cotton, dry and rough all at the same time.
The horses. He had to work with the horses this morning. It was his turn. Reaching up to the hook beside the door he lifted his hat from its place. The cord caught, pulling tight from hook to hat. The sight of it brought to mind the ghost of a feeling.
The front of his neck pulled tight as though his shirt cut into the flesh cutting off the air to his lungs. There was just something… a memory at the edge of his thoughts… the emptiness of his stomach seemed desperate to claw its way back up into his mouth.
Yanking the hat free he crammed it onto his head and winced as a door slammed in the distance. Emma's? Teaspoon's? He couldn't tell but he heard laughter in his head. Deep throaty laughter that spoke of pleasure and sin.
Again, his thoughts turned on him. A body pressed against his, searching hands on his chest. He couldn't see through the fog of the alcohol left in his brain but he suddenly felt as though he was drowning inch by inch as he reached for door.
"Jimmy?" Someone was awake behind him, moving around in a bunk. "I got something to ask you, can you wait?"
"Wait, Jimmy… wait."
Lou? He turned half expecting to see her blinking back at him, just barely awake, but her bunk was empty.
"Jimmy, no…" He turned back toward the door his eyes wide, his stomach in his throat and at his feet in the same moment. He remembered. Good Lord help him, he remembered, how could he ever forget?
The way she looked in the light of the lanterns, her sweet smile, the way she'd pressed the bottle to her lips. The way she'd fallen against him, lifted her lips to his, the way she'd shivered in his arms.
Bile rolled over his tongue and his clamped his lips together. What had he done?
Lou. He'd… up against a wall in an alley? The thought was horrifying… disgusting… and all his fault.
He didn't have time to answer questions. Not with those horrible thoughts rolling around in his head. He didn't care about anything but finding Lou. He had to know. Had to find out.
The door pulled open under his hand and the full light of day nearly brought him to his knees. He left the bunkhouse and as soon as his boot hit the dirt he felt like he was stuck in quicksand.
There, a few steps away, Lou.
She looked at him from hollow eyes. The light that had once been there was gone and he knew why… he knew who was responsible for it.
He opened his mouth to say something. To tell her he was sorry, but the words seemed empty… invisible and ridiculous. There were no words that could excuse the pain he'd caused, the trust he'd lost in a few minutes outside the Saloon. There was nothing left to say, nothing he could offer her except his absence.
Ike walked out of the barn leading Sundance by the reins and Jimmy snatched them away, swinging up into the saddle before Ike could take them back.
Emma looked over from the wash line, her eyes confused by his actions. "Jimmy, it ain't your run."
He turned Sundance around in a circle, looking at Emma with a thousand things on his mind and yet he lacked the courage to say anything. For what he'd done had no explanation. None at all. Lou hesitated on the edge of his vision, her face tight and drawn, and her hands balled up at her sides.
He'd done this… taken away that spirit and sass he loved so much. He'd taken it away and now…
He wheeled Sundance around and rode for the horizon, her hooves kicking up dust behind them. It was early in the morning and still the sun beat down on his head, searing at the skin on his face. He'd suffered with each blow his mother had taken from his father, his heart bleeding for every gasp and whimper from her lips and he'd sworn - taken an oath to do everything he could 'not' to be that man.
Somehow he'd lost the battle, drowned his promises in a bottle and a moment's desperate satisfaction.
And now, Lou was going to pay the price.
His muscles tensed and Sundance surged forward beneath him, her neck extended as her legs beat the ground with a savage rhythm.
Emma watched Louise closely, saw the dark hollows beneath her eyes and knew there was something horribly wrong.
Leaving her basket behind, she moved to her side and placed her hands on Lou's. She opened her mouth to ask the younger woman a question but Lou's intake of breath froze her in place.
Eyes widening in horror, Louise began to shake as a single shot rang out through the still of the morning air.
Author's Note: Sometimes when someone tells me something 'can't' be done... I just have to do it
The challenge was to find a plausible setting/timing for this...
He watched as the children piled out of the back of the wagon. He was glad to see that they all stuck together -- no one was left out, left alone, left vulnerable to the many people in town waiting for a chance to hurt someone. As he turned to go back to his own wagon, a movement caught his attention. One of the women from the wagon was approaching him.
"Excuse me, Mr. …" she waited.
Ike turned and smiled. He managed to let her know that he couldn't speak, but had a friend who could help. She followed.
Ike turned the corner and attracted Buck's attention as he slowly approached the buck board.
"Where've you been? Teaspoon's fit…" Buck stopped speaking when he noticed the small woman standing beside his friend. He quickly climbed down from the back of the wagon, tipped his hat, and offered his hand.
"Sister," he said. "I'm Buck Cross. This is Ike McSwain. We ride for the Pony Express."
"Sister Pauline," the nun said, shaking Buck's hand before taking hold of Ike's.
"How can we help you?" Buck asked with a glance at Ike.
The nun smiled. "I've noticed that Mr. McSwain here has taken an interest in our wagon load of children. Everytime we come to town he's over in the shadows watching. I just wanted to know why."
Ike quickly explained to Buck who translated. "He just wants to make sure they are all taken care of."
"Are you related to one of them?" the nun asked.
Ike shook his head.
"Then why?" said Sister Pauline. "Do you doubt our care?"
"We used to be them," said Buck, before Ike even had a chance to answer.
Ike nodded. He explained and Buck once more gave his words voice, "I just wanted to be sure they were all safe and none of them went through what we did."
The nun looked at Buck. "Can you explain further?"
Buck nodded. "Ike and I are friends because he kept some locals from beating me to death on one of our trips to town. He doesn't want any of your charges to experience that type of beating." He paused to check with Ike to make sure he was correct, and to be certain no one else was paying attention to their conversation.
Ike smiled and nodded.
The nun thanked them As she left she made a comment that caused Ike to blush.
Buck waited until she had turned the corner. "Is that why you always make sure it's your turn to get supplies when they come?"
"Sister Pauline was right; you are a type of guardian angel."
by: Miss Raye
"Now, mind me, son," his mother's tone but there was a softness in her eyes, "You go straight to the storehouse and come straight back. No dallying in the fields looking at the horses."
"Yes, Ma." He'd walked out of the house dragging his feet in the dirt, but it wasn't because he didn't want to mind her… or that he didn't want to follow her instructions. It was the siren call of the horses in the field that bordered their property. The man who lived on the other side of the fence had a passel of the prettiest ponies he'd ever seen.
Well, not that he'd seen many in his six years, but those fancy stepping horses had to be the best in the whole wide world and the only time he got to see them was when he was outside on an errand for his Ma.
The storehouse sat off to the side, a few feet from the fence and the edge of their rented property. Lifting the heavy wooden bar that held the door closed against coons and the like, he set it aside and stepped inside the cool interior.
The floor was bare in spots and he tried not to notice it. His ma had sold off some of her potatoes and yams to the big farm next door. He didn't mind the potatoes being gone, but he did love her yams. That was a sore spot for him, losing those yams, but he'd seen the way her lips had tightened into a line when the man had lifted them with his dirty fingers and turned them over and over as though his Ma would cheat someone.
Still, she said they needed the money.
He looked from one side to the other for the basket she had asked for, but he couldn't see it. He turned his head one direction and then turning toward the other he stopped and looked up. One of the dried bunches of herbs that she had put up from her garden was hanging right over his head.
It looked close. Almost close enough to touch. He remembered the first time Jed had to stoop to get inside the shed. His shoulders had looked big enough to fill the doorway as he went through. He had moved around inside as if he'd knock something over with the bulk of his body.
Kid had stared at him with a mixture of disgust and envy all at the same time.
"I'm gonna be tall as you someday, Jed." The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
"Right." Jed had lounged against the side-wall, the top of his head brushing into the herb bunches, nearly knocking them to the ground with his height. "That'll be a long time from now, silly."
Jed had picked out a few potatoes and put them in his pockets to take in to their mother, but Kid had stood there, watching him go, blocking out the light with his body.
Now, maybe… just maybe. Standing up tall in his shoes he tried to pull up from the soles of his shoes to the top of his head. He stretched his spine until he was sure he was going to pop his head right off his neck… and then he felt it.
The tiniest brush of feeling in his hair was enough for him.
He knew all at once that he was growing… taller and taller and one day, he'd be the one stooping through the entrance to Ma's shed.
Spotting the basket in the corner, Kid picked out a fat onion to bring out to his mother. He was getting bigger every day. He paused as he turned back toward the door. He was growing and if his pants were any indication, he was growing like a weed. He took one step… then another as he moved toward the door, but he slowly… bit by bit… stretched up on the balls of his feet until he swore he could feel the brush of something on his head.
A big boyish grin lit up his face.
"THERE'S A CABIN UP AHEAD ABOUT 4 MILES, LETS GET HIM THERE!" The wind was frigid and the snow was blowing as Jimmy tried desperately to tell his traveling companions about the cabin. "A COUPLE OF INDIAN WOMEN LIVE THERE. ALREADY TALKED TO THEM AND TOLD THEM ABOUT TEASPOON." His teeth were chattering and he was frozen clear to the bone, but they had to keep moving. They had to keep moving for Teaspoon's sake.
They were all cold, tired and desperately worried about Teaspoon. He was on a drag behind Buck's horse and his fever was way to high. The coughing fits were coming closer together and made it harder for him to catch his breath. When he breathed, the air rasped in and out his lungs with an audible wheeze and coughing ensued.
Several times Teaspoon hollered out, calling to Jimmy, Amanda, Polly, or Sam and a variety of other names they didn't recognize. His skin was pale and his chest heaved with the effort to breath.
Jimmy carried Teaspoon's gun, talking him into giving it up when he awoke one night to find Teaspoon in a particularly high fever. Teaspoon was waving his gun and hollering at his riders to take cover. He fired several times into the dark night, thinking they were under attack.
They'd gotten caught in a late season blizzard after 2 weeks out, chasing after a gang of cattle rustlers and murderers out of Blue Creek. Sam had gone on with the rest of the posse, while Jimmy, Buck and Lou, and Ike was put in charge of Teaspoon.
Buck looked forward through the trees, then back at Teaspoon.
"Should we stop awhile, get him to drink something?" Lou glanced from Teaspoon to Buck, "Check on him, make sure he's alright?" She was leaning towards Buck so he could hear her above the wind.
"No. We need to keep moving." Buck pulled his coat up tighter around his neck. "We need to get him outta this weather." He quietly and desperately wished for a stand of evergreens or a dry creek bed to build a shelter and a fire. But all that was close were tall birch trees, nothing that would offer cover and protection from the wind.
Lou nodded in agreement and they set off. Jimmy leading, Lou beside Teaspoon and Ike bringing up the rear.
They hadn't traveled more than 20 minutes when the snow started falling heavier and the temperature seemed to drop another ten degrees. Buck squinted through the heavy snow, trying to see Jimmy. He could just make out his shadowy form, some five to eight feet in front of him.
"JIMMY!" Buck hollered, but only Lou, who was close, heard him. She pulled up beside him.
"WHAT IS IT?" She looked at Buck, a frightened look on his face.
"THE SNOW, IT'S COMING DOWN WAY TO FAST. I CAN'T SEE JIMMY!" He glanced forward, but could no longer see Jimmy's shadowy figure. Fear clenched at his chest and he pulled his gun and aimed for the heavens and fired three times.
Buck and Lou's horses came to a sudden stop. Buck turned and could see Ike beside Teaspoon. He waited several minutes while he reloaded his gun.
It took Lou several minutes to catch up with Buck. "WHERE IS HE BUCK?! I DON'T SEE HIM…" Her voice caught. She was cold, shivering and tired.
Buck raised his gun again and fired 3 more shots. After several minutes, he saw a shadowy figure emerging in front of Lou, but to the right of him. "THERE HE IS," Buck pointed past Lou. "HERE, TAKE THIS," and he shoved the reins to his horse in Lou's hand and jumped to the ground.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Lou shouted. She watched as Buck took his rope from his mount and tied it around the pommel of his saddle.
He approached her saddle with the other end. "WE"VE GOT TO STAY TOGETHER, OR SOMEONE WILL GET LOST!"
She watched as he approached Ike, she could see them talking while he tethered Ike to the travois, but couldn't make out what they were saying. The wind howled and her teeth chattered. She longed to lie down and sleep.
Jimmy saw what was happening and tied himself to Buck's mount, just as Buck had done to Lou. "WHEN I HEARD THE FIRST ROUND OF GUN SHOTS, I TURNED TO SEE WHAT WAS HAPPENING AND ALL I SAW AROUND ME WAS A WALL OF SNOW." Jimmy said to Buck as he approached his mount.
Buck put his hand on Jimmy's shoulder and leaned in, "I GET THE FEELING ITS GONNA GET WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER." They both scanned the area. "LET'S GET GOING," and they both mounted their horses and headed for the cabin.
As they continued on, a heavy layer of snow was covering the travois and Teaspoon.
"BUCK!" Lou shouted, reining in her horse, causing the ropes to pull and Buck's mount to stop. "TEASPOON WILL…." Was all Buck heard as he saw Lou drop to the ground and hurry toward Teaspoon.
Buck dismounted and followed. "LOU, YOU HAVE TO GET BACK ON YOUR HORSE!." He reached her side as she started to wipe the snow from the blankets that covered Teaspoon. "LOU!" Buck pulled her from her task and turned her to look at him "THE SNOW WILL HELP KEEP HIM WARM, LOU! WE HAVE TO KEEP MOVING!"
But he knew when he looked in her eyes that she was not listening. She was in another place, somewhere deep inside herself. She was no longer shivering and her face was as red as if she had been standing in the blazing sun, instead of fighting for her life in a blizzard. Her lips were blue and the centers of her cheeks were white.
She moved to push him away and return to Teaspoon and the task of removing the snow. "GET AWAY, I NEED TO HELP HIM…'
As she wiped at the snow and fought with Buck, Jimmy came up along side of them. "BUCK?!" Jimmy yelled trying to pull Lou from Teaspoon.
Buck could hear the question in Jimmy's voice.
"SHE'S TO COLD JIMMY, WE NEED TO GET HER WARMED UP." He continued to try to pull Lou from Teaspoon. "HOW CLOSE ARE WE TO THAT CABIN?" Buck hollered.
"CLOSE ENOUGH TO STILL FREEZE TO DEATH," and he hit Lou across the chin and she fell limp across Buck's chest. "COME ON! I'LL CARRY HER WITH ME."
Buck stood and picked up Lou in his arms and followed Jimmy. When Jimmy was mounted, he handed Lou up. "WHEN SHE WAKES UP, IT'S UP TO YOU TO TELL HER WHAT HAPPENED." Buck looked serious as he shouted up to Jimmy.
"IF WE ALL DON'T FREEZE TO DEATH BEFORE THEN." Jimmy looked down at Buck, worry in both their eyes.
With all four horses still tied together, they continued on.
Lou woke to the smell of biscuits, bacon, eggs and cinnamon. Her body was stiff and she could hardly move for the blankets and furs wrapped around her. She shifted to sit up and was startled to hear Buck's voice.
"I wouldn't move much more than that, at least till I get your clothes and step out of the room so you can dress." Buck came and knelt down beside her where she lay in the heaven of soft furs.
"Where are we?" She asked. Looking around the room at all the storage bins. Beside her were 2 mugs with liquid. She reached to pick up one and drink but the smell stopped her. "What is this?"
Buck thought she sounded stronger than she looked. "Herbs in a tea. We've been giving you a spoonful at a time for a while now. We made it to the cabin in the woods." He watched her as she scanned the area. "Teaspoon's in the other room, his fever is still very high and Calm River Flows is tending to him," he finished with a glance toward the door.
She made to sit up and Buck held her back. "Let me get Soft Morning Sky before you get up. She has your clothes." He made to stand and Lou grabbed him by the arm.
He sat back down and looked at her.
"How long have we been here," she asked. "And tell me who undressed me," she finished sternly.
Buck smiled. "You've been out almost 4 days and it was Morning Sky and her mother, Calm River Flows, that undressed you and got you warmed up."
"I don't remember…" she started, looking at Buck. "I remember the snow, the wind and being so cold…" She rubbed her chin, thoughtfully.
"Jimmy got us to the cabin," Buck started slowly. "Morning Sky and her mother are Lakota. Their tribe was wiped out in a massacre and they fled deep into the woods. They've lived here almost a year. Calm River Flows is a healer. Her father was a descendent of a great Medicine man."
He sat and watched Lou as she took in the cabin and the information he gave her.
"I'll have Morning Sky get your clothes," he smiled. "Then we'll get you something to eat," and he rose and left the small room.
Lou dressed into her clothes and walked from the small room with the warm fire into a larger room. As she entered she stopped and stared.
Her eyes fell upon a huge fireplace with rows of herbs hanging to dry. There were tins and wooden bins everywhere with seeds, nuts, roots and dried fruits. Vegetables were in wicker baskets along the wall with barrels filled with more drying reeds and stalks with seed heads.
Crouched at the fire was a young Indian girl. She was tending to the food that Lou had smelled cooking. At a small table sat Jimmy, Ike and Buck.
"Bout time you got out here," Lou heard Jimmy say.
She smiled and turned and saw Teaspoon sitting in a pallet covered with furs and blankets, just as she had been. He was pale and the firelight glistened in the fine layer of sweat that covered his face. His hair was matted in places, his eyes were closed but Lou could hear his labored breathing from where she stood.
Hovering above him was the Indian woman Buck had told her about. She had draped a canopy above and had a steaming pot of herbs at his head. The sound of his breath scared her as she stood and watched Teaspoon struggle to breath. She hadn't noticed when the elder Indian woman had come up next to her.
"Your Teaspoon is doing well. He will be well soon." She wrapped her arm around Lou's waist and walked her toward the table with the other riders. "You sit and eat. He will be awake soon. I will make you more tea."
Lou sat next to Ike and watched Teaspoon. Morning Sky came and brought her a plate of food, but she didn't notice until Ike touched her arm.
*You need to eat. Teaspoon won't like it you get sick worrying about him.* Ike handed Lou a fork and she took it, glancing at Teaspoon again before she began eating.
Before Lou had finished eating, Teaspoon began coughing.
Quickly and quietly, both the women worked. One raising Teaspoon on a soft mound of furs, the other applying a plaster to his chest and starting a new bowl of hot water to steep, full of herbs, at his head.
After what seemed like hours to Lou, Teaspoon quieted.
"He is much better. The coughing helps to clear his lungs. The cough is no longer tight." Calm River Flows turned to look at the others. "You must sleep. He will wake soon."
The boys all found places to sleep in the large room, but Lou was still seated at the table. She quietly watched Teaspoon, worrying about the man who had been like a father to her. She listened as he breathed, paced through the night, concentrating on his breathing, waiting for a change.
Close to daybreak Jimmy stirred and joined her at the table. They were sitting quietly and watching Teaspoon when Lou turned to look at Jimmy.
"Somewhere in the muddle of my thoughts, I remember you hitting me, Jimmy," and absent-mindedly she reached up and rubbed her chin. "What was that about?"
Jimmy looked at her and for a moment she thought she saw stark surprise on his face.
"You were cold. Practically frozen," he started, stammering to explain. "You were off your horse and fussin' over Teaspoon." Jimmy glanced toward Teaspoon. "Buck said you were to cold, we needed to get you warmed up…"
Jimmy and Lou both jumped at the sound of Teaspoon's voice. They were up instantly and at his side.
They peered down at him and smiled.
He looked at Jimmy, then turned to Lou and reached for her hand. "Just tell her it was hypothermia that made her do it. Fussin' over me, trying to get me well," a small smile across his face. "That's why he hit you, to get us to the cabin faster. Before we all froze to death in that weather," he finished with less energy, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.
"Are you all right?" she whispered, trying to sound confident, willing her voice not to crack.
Teaspoon smiled in return. "I will be."
by: Miss Raye
Teaspoon watched the Kid pace back and forth along across the porch, his head down and shoulders tight with worry. It was probably the twentieth time that finally wore him down.
Kid continued his walk along the porch, turning around by the end, nearly bumping into the rocking chair runners as he swung.
"Son?" Teaspoon clasped a hand over Kid's forearm and shook him gently to get his attention. "You want to talk about it?"
"Talk?" Kid shook his head, a smile flickering up between the frowns. "I think there's been too much talk already."
"Hmm… ain't never been my experience."
"Well you've never seen L-" Kid paused mid step and mid-word, "ladies when they're all riled up."
The older man gave him a look that spoke volumes. "Oh, I think I have… and a few of left their mark on me," he tapped at his temple, "if you know what I mean."
Kid seemed to consider it for a moment. "No… it's fine, Teaspoon, I just have to work myself around this problem that I have."
"And it's about a woman."
Kid nodded slowly, almost as though he was
Teaspoon's face lit up. "Sure, Kid… after all, I have known my fair share."
Even that little reassurance, Kid didn't seem to want to stop. "I dunno-"
"What seems to be the, uh, issue, son?"
With a huff, Kid leaned up against the wall of the bunkhouse and hung his head. "I just don't understand the… way she's all happy and sweet sometimes and then in a moment," he looked up, his lips pressed together for a quick frown, "she won't say a thing and it looks like I stepped on her toes and her puppy all at the same time. I just don't understand it."
Teaspoon folded his arms over his chest. "Son, I can see how upset you are… but what you have to realize is that it's just nature."
"Huh? Natural? What?"
Teaspoon took a deep breath in and let it out as if he was preparing for a monumental task. "Son, when it rains in the spring and snows in the winter, would you say somethin' is wrong?"
Kid pondered on the older man's words. "No… it seems like that's the way things are."
Nodding, Teaspoon continued on. "Same thing with women, son. They go hot, they go cold… it's just the way of things… best thing you can do is bask in the light when it happens… and hunker down and wait when cold blows through."
The Kid stood there, looking at the station master for a long moment before he shook his head. "Never mind." He started pacing again, the heels of his boots scraping on the floor boards.
Emma crossed over to the bunkhouse from her laundry line, stopping by Teaspoon as Kid wore a rut in the porch. "Something wrong, Mr. Spoon?"
The older man sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Nothin' really, Emma… boy just doesn't understand the nature of things."
Author's Note: This is a preview of a longer story, "A Pirate's Heart", where Lou is the daughter of a ruthless pirate, Cap'n Blackheart Boggs ... and her adventures with a straight-laced Navy Captain Kid, and a wild, untamed pirate Captain Hickok, her father's former first mate. Here, Lou has ended up on Cap'n Hickok's ship and is serving as "cabin boy" ... somewhat unwillingly.
Lou carried a load of linens from the ship's laundry into the captain's cabin, and laid them down. She glanced over at the small trundle bed next to Cap'n Wild Bill Hickok's bed. That was where she was going to sleep for the foreseeable future, and she shuddered slightly, starting to fold up the sheets. The door to the captain's inner chamber flew open with a bang, and Jimmy strode out, loose-limbed and seeming to take up the entire cabin with the force of his manly personality. The young captain was perfectly at ease even though he was wearing only long john bottoms, and his muscled, tattooed torso was still wet from his bath.
"Hurry it up with those towels, cabin boy," he said merrily, and Lou gritted her teeth, flinging a towel at him irritably.
"For God's sake, cover yourself up," she said, trying not to look but finding her eyes drawn curiously toward the captain. He was rubbing the towel vigorously over his hair and neck, and she read the tattoos on his glistening back, turning her head slightly to follow the images of anchors and dragons and ropes, along with words that circled down and disappeared into the damp long johns that clung to his firm bottom.
"Finished reading?" he said mockingly, as he caught her stare in the small mirror mounted on the cabin wall.
She shrugged insolently. "Not much of a plot," she sneered at him.
"Most of the ladies find it interesting," he said.
"I'm sure they all get paid plenty to say so, at least."
He got into the bed and stretched. "Get me my captain's log, over there," he said with a yawn. She stomped over and got it, and handed it to him. Her heart ached a little as she let it go; it was the same log her father had used for so many years, and seeing Jimmy turn it over in his hands and reach for a pen and ink to make entries into it, chronicling the adventures of what had been her father's ship, hurt unbearably. She crept into her small bed, curling her knees up, and sighed.
She stiffened, and snapped over her shoulder, "Don't get any ideas, Jimmy. It's not your company I'm looking for."
He flung the book onto the table and sprang from the bed, strong and graceful and fast as a shark erupting out of the ocean, all flashing muscle and sinew, and was on top of her with a suddenness that made her gasp, one knee on either side of her hips, supporting himself on muscled arms directly over her. "Is that right, pet? What if I'm a little lonely, though?" he taunted.
She trembled, at the lawlessness and danger flashing in his eyes. He lowered his face to an inch from hers, and she was paralyzed as his long hair brushed the sides of her face and his muscled form flexed over hers, not touching her. "I thought pirates . . . pirates never harmed a lady they captured," she gulped.
"I didn't capture you. You came on board willingly," he pointed out, still hovering over her. "And Cap'n Blackheart Boggs' daughter is more pirate than lady, unless I miss my guess."
Staring up at him, she said evenly, "If you force me to do anything - don't go to sleep after."
He stared down at her, respect shining in his eyes, for a long moment, and then, to her amazement, he leaned down to kiss her cheek gently.
"Not to worry, pet. Forcing women isn't my way. No ... I'll wait ..." he grinned wickedly at her. "Until you beg me for it."
Reassured that the storm had passed, she pushed him away and turned her back to him. "You'll wait a long time, sailor."
"That's captain to you, matey," he reminded her. He lay beside her a moment more, looking down at the curve of her hip and her delicate profile turned away from him stubbornly. "I have a feeling it'd be worth the wait," he murmured to himself, before getting up and returning to his roomy captain's bed that seemed a lot roomier and emptier tonight for some reason.
author's note: The leadup to this scene and the conclusion of the story will be told in "A Pirate's Heart"
As he crawled into the back of the wagon for the trip to town, Buck contemplated his situation. His hope that things would be better in the white world was slowly fading. It seemed he didn't fit here any better than he did in the village. The ride into town confirmed this when none of the other children included him in their conversations.
As he walked through the town lost in thought, he didn't notice that he had wandered away from all the others and the protection the presence of the nuns provided. That is, he didn't notice until it was too late, and he was already surrounded.
"Where do you think you're going?" the man in front of him asked.
Buck glanced around to see if he could find an answer to that question. The problem was that his wandering had lead him away from the shops in the direction of the school. He dropped his gaze and shrugged as he answered truthfully, "I was just walking."
"I bet you was," said the man. "Just walking towards the school house where you thought you could find yourself some poor, unsuspecting girl."
Buck took a deep breath. "No, Sir," he said. "I wasn't even paying attention to…" his sentence was cut off when the man hit him in the stomach driving his breath from him all at once.
As Buck doubled over, he sensed the others moving in. He tried to defend himself, but quickly realized it was useless. He offered up a short prayer that it at least be over quickly, and then he allowed himself to fall to the ground where he had some chance at covering himself.
Suddenly there was a break in the storm of kicks, and Buck felt someone pulling him to his feet. He opened his eyes to discover that one of the boys from the mission was there to help, and that two of his attackers were momentarily out of commission.
The boys put their backs together and once more prepared to weather the storm. Just when they were about to go down, the nuns arrived with the sheriff in tow. The boys were assisted back to the wagon while the men were ushered to the jail.
Once back at the mission, the boys were placed in the same room to recover. As they recuperated from their injuries, Buck taught Ike how to communicate using Indian Sign, and Ike showed Buck what it meant to have a true friend.