Music: Fear, Bon Jovi
Stick To Your Gun, Bon Jovi
Lou stood outside the office, finding herself unable to move for a moment. If, when, she went in there, she’d be committing herself to becoming what she’d dressed as for the last few years… a boy.
Finally, she took a deep breath, straightened her vest and pushed her glasses back up on her nose. Stepping forward, she entered the office of Russel, Majors and Waddell.
“Can I help you, son?” asked the elderly man sitting behind the counter.
“Uh, I was…” Lou paused, cleared her throat and lowered her voice. “I was wonderin’ if you still needed riders for this here Pony Express.”
She held out the flyer with the advertisement looking for ‘excellent riders, orphans preferred’ to the clerk.
He asked a few questions and, in just a few minutes, Lou found herself signing the Rider’s Oath. It had been much easier than she’d expected. In what felt like no time at all, Lou was walking out of the office, a Bible in one hand, $5 in her pocket and directions to a waystation in some town called… Sweetwater.
“Well, Lightning, let’s hope the rest goes as easily as that,” Lou told her horse that night as she set up camp. Looking again at the directions the man at the head office had given her, Lou figured it should take about a week to get to Mrs. Shannon’s place. She sighed. “We’ll have ta ride hard, boy. If we push it we should get there the night before trainin’ starts. Can’t afford ta be late! This job could solve all our problems.”
Lou spent a lot of the trip talking to her horse, practicing using her ‘boy’ voice until she was nearly hoarse. She didn’t want to take any chances on being discovered.
Thinking about the reason behind her disguise caused a shiver to run down her back. Even after living on the run, wearing boy’s clothes for a few years now, Lou still didn’t feel safe from him. Since cutting off her hair and donning her disguise, she’d not stayed in one place for more than a couple weeks. Camping out or sharing a stall with Lightning, she’d sometimes gone days without speaking at all. That’s when she’d developed the habit of talking to Lightning.
Taking this job was a major risk, but she desperately needed to earn a lot more money, and fast, if she was to have any hope of getting Teresa and Jeremiah out of the orphanage before they grew up. Her biggest fear was the living conditions she’d face. Staying in a bunkhouse with a bunch of strange men scared her in ways she was loathe to examine.
Cresting a rise, Lou pulled back on the reins. “Well, Lightning, looks like we made it.”
She looked down on the waystation laid out below her. A stately white farmhouse with a fence around the front yard was the focal point. A barn with corrals full of horses faced the house. Across from the barn, next to the house, stood a smaller one room building Lou figured must be the bunkhouse. Even as she sat there looking down on the scene, a young man came racing into the yard, screeching at the top of his lungs.
“It’s do or die time,” Lou whispered to Lightning. “What do you think? Do we go on down or just keep riding?”
The horse nickered a soft response and took a step forward, toward the house. Lou laughed quietly. “Alright. The Pony Express it is.”
Digging her heels into Lightning’s side, she urged the horse forward, into a future that scared her as much as it excited her.
Lou lay back on her bunk, full for the first time in longer than she could remember.
“Man, oh man!” moaned the young blonde on the top bunk across the room from Lou’s. “That food was worth any trouble this job might bring.”
Silently, Lou agreed. Mrs. Shannon was one good cook.
“Sure was,” said the young man in the bunk beneath her. She stiffened at the sound of the masculine voice coming so close to her ear. She couldn’t remember his name, even though they’d all introduced themselves over the dinner table that evening. She really wished she could’ve grabbed the single bed, but the skinny Indian had already grabbed it.
Lou risked a quick glance around the room. The Indian and the bald guy were both seated on the Indian’s bunk, playing some sort of game with their hands. The exuberant blonde was in the other top bunk. Beneath him was a tall young man with a crazy look in his eyes that truly frightened Lou. He was sitting on his bunk, industriously polishing his gun. They were all stripped down to their longjohns in the warm bunkhouse, a fire in the fireplace keeping out the early spring chill. All except Lou, that was. She’d climbed into her bunk fully dressed, not even removing her boots. No one had said anything, but she’d definitely gotten a few odd looks.
As the others quieted down and drifted off to sleep, Lou continued to lie stiffly in her bunk. Once she could hear the crickets louder than the snuffling and snoring of her bunkmates, Lou slipped out of bed and headed to the latrine.
Sitting on the rough board seat, Lou let a sigh of relief escape. She’d been waiting soooo long to get out here. But, with the way the boys had been hazing each other, she’d been afraid to come out earlier. Twice, they’d barged in on someone in the outhouse, once on the Indian and once on the crazy-eyed one. After he’d pulled his gun from the holster on the floor at his feet and threatened to shoot them they’d stopped. But she hadn’t trusted they wouldn’t still try it on her if given half a chance.
Once finished, Lou headed straight back to the bunkhouse and crawled back into her bunk, still fully dressed and completely exhausted. Pulling the blanket up to her chin, she fell quickly asleep.
“Don’t you touch me!” she growled, poking the muzzle of her revolver out at her tormenter.
“Hey, hey, calm down,” said the man who’d been prodding at her. “Mrs. Shannon just tol’ me ta come get ya up fer breakfast.”
Lou sat up, wiping the sleep out of her eyes without ever letting the muzzle of her gun waver from the sandy haired, blue eyed young man. “What time is it?”
“Almost eight,” he answered, backing away from the bunks with both hands raised. “You mind puttin’ that away?”
Looking down, Lou realized she still had her revolver pointed at him, locked and loaded.
“Oh! Sorry,” she muttered, carefully levering the hammer back to the safe position. “I don’t like bein’ surprised.”
“No problem,” the young man said amicably, smiling at her. There was something about his smile that put her at ease, she thought wonderingly. “Better hurry though, if ya want ta get anythin’ ta eat. Cody’s just ‘bout finished off all the eggs already!”
With that, he took off for the table. Lou stared after him, trying to figure him out.
Lou leaned back against the corral fence, once again worrying about how she was going to pull this farce off. The old man who’d introduced himself as “Teaspoon”, and what kind of a name was that?, was busy quizzing the Indian on arrows. If he asked her about anything like that, she was done for.
She hunched in on herself, pulling her hat low over her eyes the closer he came, trying to make herself as invisible as she possibly could. Maybe he’d miss her and move on to the friendly young man next to her.
She stifled a sigh as he came to a stop in front of her. No such luck. He stopped directly in front of her, looking her up and down. She re-crossed her arms in front of her chest, uncomfortable with his perusal.
“You sure you can cut this work?” he asked gruffly. “Look to me to be a mite puny.”
Lou relaxed a touch. This was a challenge she could handle. She wasn’t a sharpshooter, didn’t know Indian sign, though she’d like to learn, and most definitely couldn’t track worth a damn. But could she ride? Hell yeah!
She lifted her head just enouogh to glare at Teaspoon for even daring to think she couldn’t. Then, with a put upon sigh, she took off her glasses and handed them to the grey-haired old coot.
With a quick three-step run she leaped over the horse trough to land smack dab in the middle of the waiting horse’s saddle. Kicking the horse into a run, she let it move for a moment to build up speed. As the horse hit its stride toward the other end of the field, she reined it in a circle and began heading back toward the corral fence where the others were watching. Halfway there, she suddenly hopped off in mid gallop on one side of the horse, only to leap agilely over the saddle to the other side, then land herself back in the seat just in time to jump back over the trough.
She pulled the horse to a skidding halt in front of Teaspoon, dismounting in mid-stride. Sauntering back to her spot by the fence, she held her hand out for her glasses.
Pausing for a second to consider, Teaspoon passed them over to her. As she wrapped the ends around her ears, he admitted, “Puny…. but spry.”
Lou sighed in silent relief. She’d passed the first test.
Chapter 2: The Crush
- Background Info
- Short Stories
- Sweetwater Romance
- War Correspondents
- Who Am I?
- The Whole Truth
- The Home Front
- Fighting For Love
- You Were Always There*
- The Only Thing To Fear
- Starting Over
- The Gift
- The Courtship of James Hunter McCloud
- To Ride The Cyclone*
- Writers Ranch Challenges
- TYR Fan Videos
- Other TYR Websites