March 2011 Volley Challenges:

Picture

Word

Quote

Song

Steam

Tears are the melting of the ice of the soul. (Herman Hesse)

"Can't Take That Away From Me" Gershwin

Searching by: Karen
by:
by:
Steamy Dreams of You by: Wendy M
Steam by: Paola
Daytime Nightmare by: Dee
Searching by: Karen
Saying Goodbye is Never Easy by: Wendy M
Tears by: Paola
Searching by: Karen
An Old Friend by: Miss Raye
Searching by: Karen
by:
Steamy Dreams of You
by: Wendy M

I step slowing into the nearly scalding water, wincing a little as it seeps around the scrapes on my tender flesh that I has acquired on my last ride. As I lower my body into the steamy bubble bath, my wince turns into a sigh as the hot water begins to soothe away the aches in my tired muscles. I lean back against the edge of the tub and close my eyes.

The sweet scent of lavender, coupled with the searing water, lulls me into a dream-like state. I am immediately transferred away from the sultry room, and back to the wonderful meadow where we last made love. I ponder everything about that day, as if it had happened yesterday. The way the sun's rays beamed down on your chestnut hair, making it appear almost bronze in color. Again I see the love shining in your blue eyes, and the adorable smile on your handsome face. I recall how you held out your hand to me, and I slipped my fingers into yours, and allowed you to guide me onto the blanket you had spread out over the colorful flower strewn ground. I shiver as I remember your tender kisses, loving caresses, and the way you whispered sweet nothing's in my ear. It makes me long to be in your loving embrace again.

Suddenly, I no longer feel tired anymore. I wash quickly, dry off, and get dressed; all the while my thoughts are on finding you and rekindling the special moments we shared that day in the meadow, once again.

Saying Goodbye is Never Easy
by: Wendy M

My heart pounded as I slowly made my way through the gates of the small cemetery on the edge of Rock Creek. My body trembled despite the warmth of the sun's rays beating down upon my shoulders. I had insisted upon saying my goodbyes to Teaspoon and Rachel privately, but now I wished suddenly that I had let Jimmy or Kid accompany me.

I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. I could do this. I moved over the rows of graves until I found the two wooden crosses that marked the fresh mounds where the others had buried the Pony Express station master and housekeeper.

Tears flood my eyes as I read the names and dates on each cross in turn, and wonder how any of us were ever going to get along without Teaspoon and Rachel. Teaspoon was much more than an employer to any of them. He was the father that most of them had never really had. From the moment we were hired on at the PX, Teaspoon had taken us under his wing, and taught us much more than how to be riders. He had taught us that sometimes families are not made up of bloodlines, but by respect, love, trust, and understanding.

Rachel had become a confidante, an older sister to us all, especially to me, and I will never forget her warm laughter, sage advice, and gentle understanding. She had helped me through so many hardships after Emma left, and I don't think I ever told her just how much her friendship had meant to me.

I fall to my knees on the soft dirt and place the hastily picked bouquet of wildflowers between the two graves.

"I miss you both so very much. We all do. I don't know how we're going to get along without you, but I swear to you, we will make you proud. The lot of us are leaving Rock Creek today and heading to someplace called Cross Fire Creek. It is a new settlement that falls under Sam's jurisdiction as Territorial Marshal.

He wants us to help 'civilize' it; can you believe that, Teaspoon?"

I let out a strangled laugh, almost certain that I can hear an echoing deep laugh in my ear.

"I'm not certain what our part will be in helping to 'civilize' Cross Fire Creek. Sam told us that seven men from Four Corners, New Mexico have been hired on to act as the law in the town. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what it is we can bring to the town. The best thing is we're all going together. Cody, Kid, Ike, Noah, Buck, Jimmy, and I. We're family and we're determined to stick together know matter what happens. I better go now; the others are waiting back at the station. I love you."

I rose quickly to my feet and strolled toward the gate, tears running unchecked down my face. I'm nearing the exit when I realize suddenly that I'm not alone. There are two figures standing just outside the gates; both are men I love more than anyone else in the world. One is my best friend, the other my lover.

I cross the short distance between us and step eagerly into Jimmy's arms. He wraps me in a tight embrace, holding me, as I weep, and I am aware of another's hand upon my head, stroking my hair, as the three of us mourn together the loss of Teaspoon and Rachel.

After a few moments have passed, I pull back in Jimmy's embrace and wipe the tears from my eyes. I turn to smile softly at Kid, and see sorrow for those we lost in his blue orbs, as well as concern for me in them.

"You okay, Lou?" he asks softly.

"No, but I will be."

"We all will be." Jimmy says, and together the three of us walk away from the cemetery toward the station, and whatever the future holds in store for us.

Steam
by: Paola

Steam. It fills the room, creating a thin fog, steaming up the window and the mirror Lou hung in here. It's hot, almost suffocating, but I prefer it this way. I don't want to see myself while I undress. I want the heat to blur my mind, rather than to focus on my body, and what it has become.

It's been almost a month, since I came back home and I'm still unable to let my wife see me. I lower myself in the tub, wincing when the scorching water touches my sensitive and tender skin. I know I shouldn't do that, my burns have just healed, but I can't help myself. I need to do it. I have to cleanse myself before I can be near my Lou again.

I rub the washcloth over my hands and forearms, until it hurts. They've been so full of blood, these hands, so full of dirty things, that I can't touch Lou with them. For this reason I have to keep washing and scrubbing myself. I have to return the man my wife knew and loved.

******

I hear the slosh of the water, Kid is bathing again. He has been doing that since the day he returned, and he keeps doing it, alone. There's something in his eyes; shame, maybe, guilt…I don't know. It's something lost and broken that he doesn't let me reach. Is he afraid of me? 0r of what I would think of him?

He doesn't let me touch him; only at night, when I soothe his nightmares, I'm able to take him in my arms. But when he's awake, he keeps his distance, almost as if he is afraid to pass me some illness, or embarrassed and self-conscious about his body.

I know he's changed, that something hurt him deeply; I can see it in his painfully thin frame, in the stiff way he moves; I can feel it through the thick material of his undershirt, when I touch him while he's asleep. It hurts to know that he's afraid of my judgement, that he fears my disgust so much that he's shutting me out. I waited for four years for his return, but now it's as if he is still away, lost in that dark world that was his life during the war.

I hear him inhale sharply, he's hurting himself, but he doesn't stop. I saw the signs of his scrubbing on his hands and forearms, the only part of him I've had the chance to see. Why does he keep punishing himself? He's been in a war. I know he killed, and he did things he wouldn't do under normal circumstances. But he was fighting for something he believed in, and he was fighting to survive.

He came back to me, that is the most important thing. Whatever else is broken we can rebuilt it together. But to do that he's got to break the wall of guilt and shame that keeps him away from me.

I open the door as silently as I can, and I enter. The steam hits my face, leaving me breathless. The spring's night is warm but, despite it, he has prepared a scorching hot bath. Through the fog I can see him crouched in the tub, his back red and lucid from the heat.

I take a step closer, I have to see him. I have to see my husband and the wounds he's hiding from me. Then I saw them, the burns on him. They run all over his back and left shoulder, leaving behind scars and damaged skin. I can't help but gasp, what did they do to my Kid? How much did he suffer?

******

I hear the gasp and raise my head, only to find Lou's horrified staring at me through the mirror. I panic, she shouldn't have to see me like this! I leap out of the tub to reach the towel, my shirt; anything that can hid the ruin of my body from her eyes.

"Please Lou, go away." I plea.

*****

Tears rise in my eyes, he's crouching in front of me, pleading for me to go away from him. But how I could ever go away? I fall on my knees and reach out my hand to touch the scars on his shoulder.

He doesn't stop me, but he watches me with wide eyes, trembling like a wild, scared animal. When finally my fingers touch him, he closes his eyes, and holds his breath. I feel the skin under my fingertips, in some points it's thicker and rougher than normal, in others it's unnaturally smooth.

I run my hand over his shoulder, his arm, his back, and then I lower my head to touch him with my lips. He tries to stop me, but I grab his hands and continue, kissing his throat, his lips, and then finally rest my brow on his.

"Don't you ever hide from me, okay?" my voice is thick with emotion, but firm also. "I love you."

"Okay, Lou." He responds, nodding; he's still uncertain, as a lost child that doesn't know what to do, but his eyes are a bit clearer than before.

I kiss him fully on the mouth, and I start weeping out of joy, when he finally embraces me.

Author's Note: I want to thank Wendy for having betaed this story for me, thanks Wendy!

Author's Note: this story continues with 'Tears'...

Tears
by: Paola

Author's Note: This story is the sequel of 'Steam'

Kid kisses me; tentatively at first, as if he is unsure of himself, or maybe of my reaction -it's the first time we really kiss since he came back - but then, slowly, the kiss begins to built up and I start to recognize my old Kid in it. It is sweet, tender, a little hesitant at first, but then it becomes more passionate and urgent. Kid's arms tighten around me and I grab his shoulders for support, feeling the new - still unfamiliar- texture of his skin, but not caring about it. Finally we separate, breathless, and Kid buries his face in the crook of my neck.

"Lou," he repeats my name over and over again, as if it is the only word his mouth is able to utter.

I take his face in my hands, gently, so that he can look in my eyes. "Kid, come with me." I say.

I take his hand in mine and guide him into our bedroom. He follows me silently, and I'm grateful he doesn't put up more protests. I take our finest sheets and wrap him in them. He has kept wearing his thick, sturdy undershirt without saying anything to me, scrubbing and irritating his delicate skin, as if he was punishing himself. But now that I know it I won't tolerate it again. No matter what Kid thinks of himself, I won't allow him to keep hurting himself. I'll go to the doctor tomorrow, to learn what's the best remedy for soothing his burns and the scars he has, I'll even buy the most expensive silk shirt Tompkins has at his mercantile if it's what is needed; but now I have to take care of his soul.

He doesn't say a thing during my ministrations, as if he was a small child, as if he was so exhausted that he doesn't even have the force to speak. I raise my head to look at him and I'm surprised to see some silent tears crossing his cheeks. He never cried, since the the day he returned he never shed a tear, he had sealed the pain and horror of the war inside of him, not letting me in, but now -finally- he seems to have found his releasing.

With a lump in my throat, I raise my hand to brush away his tears. But unexectedly he moves away from me.

"No!" he exclaims and turns his back to me.

*****

I let Lou bring me into our room, and she starts to nurse my old wounds. She wraps me in the linen sheets Emma sent us for our marriage. The fresh, smooth fabric is a relief for my scorched body. Her hands are light and delicate on me, as if she was treating some precious, fragile thing; I feel so overwhelmed by her love and caring, that I start to weep without even being aware of it.

I never cried. I've come back home to a wife who still loves me despite my wounds and my sins. I've survived while many other men haven't and I'm still whole; I still have the chance to make the life I dreamed of before leaving for the craziness of the war, so I shouldn't feel so sad and lost. I've no right to do so.

So when Lou raises her hand to wipe away my tears I back away.

"Don't look at me…" I said, but she isn't deterred by my words, or by my gesture.

She turns around to face me again and pull my head on her chest, softly caressing my hair.

"Weep Kid," she murmurs, "Weep as much as you want,"

I can't help but start to sob then, wrapping my arms around her. We lay on the bed; I spoon myself in the soft curve of her body, looking for the warmness and the relief only my Lou is able to give to me, and I finally let myself cry. The shame for my weakness and the guilt I feel at being alive when so many others are dead are still there, but slowly they are being washed away by my tears.

I hold on her tightly, while I let my tears fall on her chest, and slowly I begin to feel lighter for the first time in a very long while.

Author's Note: thanks again to Wendy for being my beta!

Daytime Nightmare
by: Dee

Emma watched out the window as Lou stirred the pot over the fire. Every couple of weeks it was Lou's turn to give her a hand with the laundry and the girl was good at it, better than any of the boys. It was hard work and not a wonder that even she didn't want to help with it.

There was something else though. Emma couldn't put her finger on it but Lou always seem to get jumpy when it was time to do the clothes that required hot water. Watching her she saw Lou staring off into space as the steam from the pot roiled around her.

*** ***

Lou swore this time she wasn't going to think about that day or the day a few months later when her world changed forever. As she put the whites in the pot of hot water the steam roiled up and as she looked through it, things changed. She was back at Wicks' doing laundry.

*** ***

Callie Mae came through the door of the backroom off the kitchen where they worked. Her arms were full of clothes from the women who worked for Mr. Wicks. "Dorry said to make sure you get the stain out of her new dress. Some cowhand spilled his drink on her last night."

Looking up at her friend, Lou noticed something was different about her, something in her eyes. "You alright, Callie?" she asked concerned.

Callie didn't look up. "Mr. Wicks said to tell you after tonight I won't be working back here with you. I'll be working up front with the others."

"It'll be better for you then, you won't have to work so hard."

The look Callie gave Louise caused her to shiver. "Don't you know what kind of place this is, Louise?" Callie's voice had an edge of something to it that Louise couldn't place. It was like the time her mother had lost Jeremiah at a fair.

"It's a boarding house for ladies," Louise replied simply. Something was different about Callie but Louise couldn't put her finger on it.

"Quit being such a little girl, Louise. You know that's only what they call places like this in polite society." Callie shook her head when Louise just stared at her. "This place is a whorehouse, plain and simple. Wicks has decided it's time I earn my keep up front since Ruby went and got herself in the family way."

"But I thought you were going to marry Henry?" Louise replied, her work forgotten for the moment. She walked over by her friend. "What about him?" Her Ma had told Louise about places like this, Louise figured she had just forgotten since she was so desperate for work when Mr. Wicks found her.

Callie wiped the tear on her cheek away as she started gathering her things. They shared the room, her and Callie, not just to work but to sleep too. "Henry won't want me now." It was so simply said that Louise was not certain her friend has spoken. Callie looked at Louise, and she saw the concern in her friend's eyes. "You have to find a way to leave. I think he's about to throw Emmeline out. I heard him saying that she's drinking too much to be of any use to the customers. You don't want what happened to me to happen to you. Get out…"

The door opened and Mr. Wicks walked in before Callie could finish. "Callie you best get upstairs, put your things away and change. Customers will be arriving soon."

Callie nodded and with a backwards glance after she had passed Mr. Wicks mouthed, "Get out, now."

When Callie was gone Louise looked up at the man that had until now been so kind to her and Callie. She shivered again as he stared at her. "Emmeline is going to live with her brother in Texas soon, Louise. I'll be needing you up front then."

"But…but…but who will do the laundry?"

He laughed at her. "I'll hire a couple of new girls to do that. It's time you started doing more around here, my dear, now that you are older."

"I'd prefer to do the laundry. I could even do the cooking and the dishes…maybe even help Miss Sophie cleaning." Louise didn't want to sound like she was begging but even she heard the plea in her voice.

"Sophie can do her job just fine. She doesn't need your help." Mr. Wicks watched her for a moment, then added, "I'm going to lock the door tonight, there is a trail drive in town and we don't want you to get hurt now do we." He walked over to her and ran his hand down her cheek. "We wouldn't want them thinking you're on the menu just yet." He smiled at her as he turned and left.

Louise thought she was going to be sick. She had almost lost the lunch she'd had hours ago when he'd touched her. As she heard the key turn in the lock to the room her mind and her heart warred with each other. One said this was a very bad dream and she'd wake up soon; and one said she had been a fool.

*** ***

Lou's head snapped up as she heard a voice call, "Rider coming! Lou, you're up!"

Lou ran to Lightning and swung up on his back just as Cody came thundering into the yard.

"Ride safe, Lou!" he called as he handed her the mochila.

Lou didn't hear him for she was concentrating on Lightning and letting the gelding run as fast and as far as he could. She never noticed the tears falling or the sobs she let loose when she was far enough away; she just rode. She kicked Lightning to go faster and faster, hoping that as he ran she could put the past and her nightmares behind her.

An Old Friend
by: Miss Raye

Lou stopped in the doorway of the barn, her hand braced against the worn wood of the frame as she leaned on it for strength. Inside, lit by lanterns, a man knelt amongst fresh hay, his head bowed. "Kid…" he barely moved at the sound of her voice, "you want me to sit with you? The boys are tucked in and I was heading off to bed, but-"

"I'm fine."

The air crackled with cold at her back, warring with the familiar warmth of the barn. The animals within gave off enough heat to make it feel like the kitchen when bread was baking. She tugged the sides of her coat closer to her body and nodded. "I know… but I'll sit with you until-"

"Go to sleep, Lou." He barely looked over his shoulder at her, but she could see the tracks of tears on his cheeks. "Please."

She nodded, even though he'd turned away from her. "All right, Kid… I'm goin' inside, but if you need me…" She let her words drift off, but still she watched him for a long moment before she turned away. She knew that when he needed her, she'd be there, waiting.

*** ***

The barn was unusually quiet; the soft puffs of breath from the horses were barely audible in the room. To Kid, the sound was deafening. Every little twitch, every labored breath, every moment thundered in his ears and constricted around his heart.

"Hey, girl."

Katy lifted her head a little, struggling to turn toward his voice even as she shuddered with the effort.

"Shhh… shhh…"

He gently smoothed his palm along the familiar length of her neck, brushing back her mane as he reached her ear.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it?" He smiled, the muscles in his throat closing down. "You've been a good friend."

A soft thump brought his eyes up in the dim light of the room, along the back wall in two of the stalls stood a pair of paint mares, two fine examples of Katy's lineage. Their curious stares and nervous movements made it even harder to look down at her. She had been so quiet the last week or so, she'd made hardly a noise or motion when he'd come to see her. Her life a quiet day-to-day existence in the last year since he'd judged her too fragile to saddle up for a ride.

He'd done everything he could to make her happy, including her favorite treats as often as he could manage an apple from their stores.

But, these last few weeks had been the hardest. Her movements had slowed and the bright look in her eyes had dimmed slowly. It was hard to admit it to himself… he never admitted to anyone else… that Katy was old.

Tracing his fingers over her hip he found the old scar from the bullet Sam had dug from her so many years before. He remembered the moment clearly in his head. The fear, the despondent sobs that had torn from his throat, the exultant relief that he'd felt in one dark night. Now, tears of another kind crept silently over his cheeks. There would be no miracle here. There would be no more time.

No more Katy.

She drew in a great breath, her sides inflating like the bellows at the smithy. Kid watched as her eyes slowly slid closed and the air slipped from her nostrils. He laid his head on her side and listened as the drum of her heart faded against the shuddering silence of his tears.

Searching
by: Karen
Author's Note: The first portion is from the picture, then the word "steam," next the quote (tears are the melting of the ice on your soul), and finally the song ("Can't Take That Away from Me"). Each section is divided by ****

He stood quietly looking at the mountains before taking stock of his supplies. He was going to need more that the little he had if he was going to make it not only to the mountains, but over them. He took a deep breath as he gathered his belongings - a half-filled water bag, a near empty pouch of dried meat, a worn buffalo hide, and his older brother's knife. Maybe he could get some supplies from the people at the walled village.

He quickly packed his belongings back into the bundle he'd been carrying and once more stood; his decision made. He would go to the walled village and offer his work for some water and food, then he would tackle the mountains and find her. "I'm coming Little Bird," he said as he turned to face the sun which was beginning its descent into darkness.

He started walking, leaving the tracks that had led him from the ruined village of his childhood to this place, and searching for the path that would take him to the walled village of the women in black. He arrived shortly after dusk.

He was unable to make his offer because the woman who opened the gate to him did not ask him what he wished; she simply ushered him into a room where another woman sat. This woman also did not ask him why he had come. She studied him closely for a few minutes, and then instructed one of the boys who was there to take him and clean him up.

He was then taken to a room where he was left alone. He sat on the strange item in the room where the boy had placed his belongings and waited. Soon he realized that no one was coming so he climbed onto the floor and went to sleep.

The next morning he was awakened by bells ringing. A third woman dressed in the black clothing of the village came and took him to a building where food was served. After he ate, he was taken back to the office he had visited the night before. He was shown the belongings they had taken from him and told that they would be returned to him when he left.

"Do you understand?" the lady asked.

The boy nodded.

"What are you called?"

He answered first in Kiowa, and then in the language of the white man that Little Bird had taught him. "Running Buck," he said.

"We will call you Buck," she said. "Buck Cross." She once more studied him before asking. "How old?"

Buck thought for a while. "Twelve summers," he replied.

"When were you born, summer or winter?"

"Just before the first thaw," he said. "I think you call it February."

The lady nodded. "So you'd be almost 12 years old," she said. "Do you wish to stay with us?"

Buck nodded. "I need to find my friend who was taken from the village, but I need more food and supplies before I try to go over the mountains."

"You'll need more than food and supplies," said the lady. "You will need to know our language and ways if you wish to go over the mountains. I will put you in with Sister Martha. You can stay until you feel ready to leave."

Buck once more nodded.

At first, Buck thought he had made a mistake by agreeing to stay. He was not accepted by either the whites or the Indians, and he struggled not to upset the nuns because he wasn't willing to accept their beliefs. He just wanted to learn enough English to be able to be understood by the white men he would meet when he once more went in search of Little Bird.

Time passed, and soon Buck realized that he would never be able to find Little Bird. It had been too long; her trail would be gone. He resigned himself to learning what he could about the white world; perhaps it would be useful when he returned to the village. Maybe he could act as an interpreter and earn a place of respect on Red Bear's war council.

A few months after he decided that he should abandon his quest for Little Bird, Buck became friends with Ike McSwain, the mute bald boy from the mission school. Ike saved Buck when some older boys from town were beating him because he had spoken to a girl. As they recovered, they became fast friends.

It took three years, but soon the two boys were able to leave the mission in search of employment. They tried a few different jobs before winding up at the Pony Express station in Sweetwater. It was here that Buck's search for Little Bird suddenly returned.

When there was some Indian trouble, people in town started to look at Buck with suspicion. The local shop keeper, Mr. Tompkins, did what he could to stir up the hatred which lead to a difficult few days, and on more than one occasion people from town had decided that it was alright to physically abuse Buck. After one particularly savage beating, Emma called the doctor out to the way station to have him looked over. She was instructed to have him soak in a tub of hot water and rest.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Are you sure you're alright?" Emma asked as she poured the hot water into the tub while Buck sat on the edge of the bed waiting. "You're being more quiet than usual, and that's a hard thing to do."

The young Kiowa nodded. "I was just thinking," he said.

"About what?" inquired Emma as she added a second bucket of steaming hot water to the tub.

Buck sighed. "How much *steam* looks like mist," he said, as he moved behind the changing screen in order to disrobe. He'd already tried to talk Emma out of this, but had lost the argument when Ike said he'd come hold him down while Emma undressed him if he didn't do as the doctor said.

Emma paused as she studied the steam rising from the waiting tub. "I'd never really noticed before, but you're right," she said. She turned to face Buck. "Any reason mist is special?"

"Not really," Buck answered. "It just reminded me of the first time I saw Little Bird. I'm not sure what made me think of her, but…" he let the sentence drift.

"Who's that?" asked Emma, as she added a little cool water and tested the temperature of the water in the tub.

"She's the reason I'm here," said Buck. "I…" He once more stopped speaking and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He hadn't even told Ike about Little Bird -- how he'd lost her, and his failed mission to find her.

"You don't have to say anymore," Emma reassured him. "I didn't mean to pry."

Buck took a second deep breath. "Can we talk about it after I finish?" he asked. "I'd really like to tell you about her; I'd just like to clean up first."

Emma smiled. "That's fine," she said. "I'll go start some coffee; you take as long as you like. Doc said you should soak to help ease the soreness."

Buck nodded.

Once Emma left the room he quickly finished undressing, eased himself into the still steaming tub of water and thought back to his first glimpse of the girl who would end up changing his life.

An hour later, Buck got out of the tub, dried off, dressed, and went in search of Emma. He found her in the kitchen. As he entered, Emma poured him a cup of coffee and joined him at the kitchen table. "You sure?" she asked.

Buck nodded. "The steam reminded me of the mist coming off the water when my half-brother, Red Bear, carried this scrawny, scared, half-starved girl a few moons younger than me across the river. He'd found her in a burnt out wagon a few miles away and brought her to our mother. "Mother and I cleaned her up. I named her Little Bird because she reminded me of these baby birds I'd found a few months before.

"Once she realized we meant her no harm, Little Bird quickly became part of the village. She was more accepted than I was by some of the people. She went to live with my mother's older sister when it became obvious that we liked each other." Buck stopped long enough to take a sip of his coffee.

He then took a deep breath and continued, "We were both in nearing our 12th year when the council decided that we could be promised to each other. If I passed my tests of manhood, we could be wed." He once more paused to drink some coffee.

Emma waited quietly.

After a few minutes, Buck continued, "It was while I was gone on my first hunt that she was taken. I tried to find her, but ended up at the mission instead. From there I ended up here. I haven't thought about her in a long time. Ever since I decided that I'd never be able to find her I do my best not to think of her; it hurts too much to remember how I left her down." He once more stopped speaking.

"Any idea where she is?" Emma asked.

"With her family back east," said Buck. "I learned that much while at the mission. I just don't know how to find them. I don't have anything besides her name."

Emma nodded. "Her white name?" she asked.

"Camille Watson," Buck said, "but her family was from her mother's side so her name is different than theirs."

Emma once more nodded. "Would you mind if I looked into it?"

Buck shook his head. "If you want to waste your time trying to find someone who went back east over six years ago, I don't mind."

"Any idea where I should look?"

"All I learned was that she left St. Jo and headed for her aunt's house. I think someone mentioned Boston, but I'm not sure."

Emma cleared away the cups. "I'm going to do a little poking around," she said. "If I manage to find out something, I'll let you know."

Buck smiled at her as he stood. "Could you please not tell the others?" he asked. "I'd rather they didn't know about her."

Emma nodded. "I won't tell a soul," she said. "I just want to see if I can find out how she is, and let her know you didn't forget her."

Buck thanked Emma and returned to the bunk house. He reassured everyone that he was fine and turned in for the evening. As he slept he dreamed of what might have been and awoke not only rested but refreshed with a new outlook on life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Months past and Buck forgot about his conversation with Emma. That's why he was surprised when she asked him over to the main house one evening after supper. As they walked across the yard, Buck tried to recall anything he might have done to upset the lady he thought of as the mother to this strange new family he'd managed to find.

"You didn't do anything," Emma said, before he could ask. "I have something I need to show you." She put down the dishes she had carried from the bunk house and indicated that Buck should do the same with his load.

"Sit," she said, as she pointed to the couch and handed him an envelope she pulled from her apron pocket.

Buck simply stared at the envelope.

Emma smiled and shook her head as she took the envelope back and retrieved a folded piece of paper. She shook it open and handed it to Buck.

Buck glanced at the letter and then returned his gaze to Emma. "This is addressed to you," he said.

Emma nodded. "I want you to read it," she said as she sat next to him.

Buck took a deep breath and began reading…

Dear Miss Shannon,

I was surprised when Attorney Lawson approached me with your letter. I'm not sure how you managed to find me.

Buck stopped reading at looked up at Emma. He blinked to try and keep the tears in his eyes from falling. "You…" he started to ask, but had to stop. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. "You found her?" he finally managed to ask.

Emma nodded. "You want me to read the rest to you?"

Buck simply nodded and handed the letter back to Emma.

As she took the letter, Emma patted Buck's shoulder. "I think she must have had the same reaction," Emma said softly, as she wiped a tear from Buck's cheek.

"Why?" Buck managed to ask.

"You'll see," Emma said and began to read…

I wanted to get back to the village, but soon realized that I had no idea where it was located. I had traveled many days during which I was bound and blindfolded.

I always knew that Running Buck would try and find me, and it has pained me to think of him alone in his quest. I am happy to learn that this is not so. Please give him the information you used to contact me.

Emma paused to show Buck the letter and how the ink was blurred before she continued…

I apologize for the unreadable section above. My aunt told me not to rewrite the entire letter, but to explain that I was so happy that I could not contain my joy, and it spilled out in tears. She also asked me to thank you since these tears have made me a happier person than I have been in years. Her exact words were, "these tears are the melting of the ice on your soul."

Please give Running Buck the information needed to contact me, and tell him I eagerly await his correspondence.

Sincerely and with much thanks and happiness,

Camille Watson, also known as Little Bird

Emma folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope. She once more handed it to Buck. "The information you need to contact her is on the back," she said. She squeezed his hands before she stood. "I'll give you some time alone. Take as long as you need."

"Thank you," Buck managed to say.

"You are welcome," said Emma, as she picked up the dishes she'd carried over and headed to the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Buck joined her. As he set the tub of dishes he had carried over on the kitchen table, he asked, "Do you think I could trouble your for a piece of paper, a pen, and some ink?"

Emma pointed to the smaller table located across the room where her writing supplies were all set up. "Take as much as you need," she said.

Buck once more thanked her and went to write a letter to Little Bird. It felt good to know she was well. As he started to write, he realized he felt at peace for the first time years.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Buck sat thinking. After a few minutes he started to write. He was thankful that he'd learned to do this; he wouldn't want anyone else to read what he wrote…

My dearest Little Bird,

I am glad to know that you are well. I tried to find you, but was unable to follow your trail without more supplies than I was given by the elders upon leaving the village. I got lost when I went in search of more. I am sorry it took me so long.

I wish we were able to get together soon, but do not see how that is possible. I will work on saving my money to be able to come to you if you wish. I will not if you do not wish it. I understand if you not longer wish to have contact with me since I let you down. I just wanted t let you know that I treasure the time we had together.

We may never meet again, on the bumpy road to love, but I'll always keep the memory of the way you hold your knife, the way we danced till three, the way you changed my life. No they can't take that away from me.

I look forward to your reply. Hopefully it will be to tell me about your life since you were taken from me, and not to tell me that you have thought it over and do not wish to have any more contact with me since I was unable to keep you safe or rescue you.

With my deepest apologies,

Buck Cross, also known as Running Buck

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