The house was silent, deadly silent, with the kind of silence that one could almost touch, that crept into your soul, suffocating everything on its way, reverberating stridently in the emptiness of a crowd. That morning at breakfast, Ike see sawed his curious eyes between his parents, who flanked him at the table. Buck kept picking at the scrambled eggs on his plate with a subdued expression whereas Ellen just sat motionless, her arms folded, and her gaze lost ahead of her. Ike was not really sure what was going on with his parents and Billy. His brother had locked himself up in his bedroom, and even though his mother had begged him to open and talk to her for hours, nothing had happened. Ike did not like this situation; he had never seen his parents look so sad, and the idea that Billy was the reason for their misery made Ike resent his brother.
There was a knock coming from the front door. "I'll get that," Ellen said, rising to her feet. For the first time that morning, Buck lifted his eyes from the plate and shared a look with his wife. Ellen just stopped for a second, smiled sadly, and then walked out of the kitchen to the hall.
As she crossed the living room, her eyes automatically shifted up the stairs. Ellen sighed when silence responded her wishes, and then she continued towards the hall. When she opened the door, Matt appeared in front of her. "Hi, Aunt Ellen."
"You're awfully early this morning, Mattie. Ike's still having his breakfast."
"I came to see you, Aunt Ellen," Matt said in a solemn way.
At Ellen's exclamation of surprise, Matt produced a bunch of daisies he had kept hidden behind his back. "These are for you," the boy said, stretching the flowers to Ellen. The woman took them wearily, wondering what this was about. These were the daisies Lou had in her back garden, and before Ellen could express her thanks or curiosity, Matt added, "I wanted to apologize for what I told Billy. I never meant trouble."
Ellen smiled, and softly caressed the boy's hair. "Honey, that's sweet, but you don't have to apologize."
Matt's face suddenly lit up. "That means you're not angry anymore, and you and Ma will be friends again."
Ellen hesitated, and when she was about to reply, noises coming from behind drew her attention suddenly. Steps resounded in the staircase, and her heart started pounding in her chest when she saw her son dashing down the stairs. "Billy…" she let out in a whisper, her eyes following him eagerly. The youth did not even acknowledge her even when Ellen repeated his name more loudly. He simply kept his eyes down, and once he had came down the stairs, he dashed for the door. "Billy, please, talk to me," Ellen begged, grabbing him by the elbow to make him stop. "Please."
Billy lifted his hurt eyes to his mother, and said, "You had many years to speak up, and now it's too late." And disengaging her hand from his elbow, he went past his mother, and started running off.
"Billy! Billy!" Ellen kept crying after him, but the boy never stopped. He just kept running, and when Ellen could not see him anymore, she shifted her eyes back to Matt. "Thank you, honey," she muttered in a trembling voice, and went back into her house, closing the door behind as the tears started flowing from her eyes once again.
Billy kept running wildly as if a pack of coyotes were chasing him. He was panting breathlessly, and sweating when he reached town. He slowed down, and started walking along the main street resolutely. With a confident gait he finally went into the jailhouse. He needed to talk to Teaspoon, but when he looked around the office, he only spotted the deputy, sitting back at a chair, his legs spread out before him. "The old man is at the back," the deputy said straightaway.
Billy just nodded and walked to the far end of the room. Apart from the deputy, the place was deserted, the cells empty, like usual. Despite its tumultuous past, Rock Creek was now a peaceful town with just petty problems from time to time. Teaspoon had been its marshal for many years, and even though he had gone past his retirement age, he was still reluctant to hang his guns. In fact, the job was not half as strenuous as it was a decade ago, and he hardly ever found himself in the middle of trouble. He stayed in the office most of the time, and sent his deputies to do the dangerous jobs.
Billy opened the door at the end of the room, and stepped out. A few years ago Teaspoon had built himself a couple of rooms as an extension to the jailhouse. That had become his home, which looked cozier than his old run-down lodgings, and even had a lovely garden. It was exactly there where Billy found him. With a clothespin in his mouth, Teaspoon was struggling to hang his wash on the line. When he saw Billy, he faltered and the wet shirt slipped through his fingers, and fell to the ground. "Damn," he muttered as he picked up the garment, which was now smeared in mud, and left it dangling carelessly on the line.
"Hey, Teaspoon," Billy greeted him when he reached him.
"What brings you here so early, son?" the marshal asked. "School won't start for another hour, will it?"
"Can we talk?" Billy simply said.
Teaspoon eyed him curiously, feeling that there was something going on. Billy kept a serious countenance that did not let anything on, and Teaspoon said, "Sure we can. Have you had breakfast yet?" The boy shook his head. "Let's have some grub inside then," Teaspoon exclaimed, tapping Billy on his shoulder as he smiled.
Later Teaspoon watched curiously how Billy cleaned his plate a second time. "You sure were starvin'," the marshal remarked casually.
Billy just shrugged the shoulders. He had not eaten a bite since lunch the day before, and even though he had not had much of an appetite, he realized how hungry he was as soon as he had started eating. After downing his third cup of milk, he remained quiet and looking deadly serious.
"So, tell me, what is that you wanna talk about?" Teaspoon asked.
Billy nodded. He hesitated for a few seconds, but then he started. His voice was a whisper as he explained his story but the tone gradually increased in intensity as he carried on, expressing his anger, frustration, and pain at the same time. When he finished the account of his shocking discovery, Billy simply said, "You knew about this, didn't you?"
"Yes," Teaspoon admitted. "Your parents considered it was better to wait before they told ya, and nobody else had a right to question that."
"My par… my mother and Buck lied to me for years and years, and I'm sure they didn't have plans to change that. Do you think that's right?" Billy asked.
"Well, boy, I can't tell you if they were right or wrong. That's a personal matter between you and your parents," Teaspoon replied, emphasizing the word parents pointedly. "I can't meddle in this, Billy. Givin' you my opinion wouldn't be right. All I can say is that they love you and have cared for you all your life. But, Billy-boy, this matter is somethin' you need to sort out with them alone. Right now you three are sufferin', you and your parents, and now that this is in the open, you need to air everythin' else."
"They keep going on and on about honesty, righteousness, and sincerity, and now I discover they are nothing but a couple of hypocrites!"
Teaspoon rose from his chair, and came to stand near the boy. Putting a hand on Billy's shoulder affectionately, the marshal said, "Billy, you need to know that one of the most difficult things for a parent is to make things right. And when children grow up, it's even more difficult. Many parents don't want to realize that their puppies ain't so young and small anymore. Their main aim is to protect their litter from everythin' that might harm them."
Teaspoon's words did not manage to soften Billy's attitude. He held his head proudly with a set jaw, and his hands balled up into fists. "They're gonna realize I'm not a stupid child now whether they want it or not."
Teaspoon frowned, worried, because for some reason there was something in the boy's speech that told him that things were worse than he might think. He cupped Billy's chin and made him meet his eyes. "What are you up to, Billy? Somethin' is brewing in you, right?"
"Teaspoon, what I'm going to tell you can't leave these four walls. Nobody can know, especially my parents," Billy said, rising to his feet. "I know you're a man of honor, and will never betray my trust."
"What is it, son?"
"I'm going to run away… I'm going to find my father… my real father," Billy repeated what he had already told Janey the night before.
Teaspoon did not change his expression, and kept silent for a few seconds, trying to digest what the boy had revealed. "That's a very serious decision. It might be a wild goose chase, and many people will definitely be hurt if you do that."
"You know who my father is?"
"Then I'll find out on my own. I'm going to do it, and nothing you say will change my mind," Billy stated firmly. "I can't stay… I can't be happy here anymore."
Teaspoon threw his hands to the sky in frustration. "Don't you realize what you're doin'? This ain't right and you're getting' me into a fix. I can't approve of that."
"You don't need to," Billy replied. "I've made up my mind, and it's my business."
Teaspoon shook his head. "Then what do you want from me? I doubt you came here just to talk to me when you already made your decision."
Billy did not speak straightaway, and lowered his eyes. "I… I need money, and I thought you could…"
"I don't really want you to give me the money. I just want to borrow some from you… enough to keep me going for a while until I get to Saint Louis. I plan to start off right now. I will need some clothes and a mount. I couldn't risk taking anything and being discovered before leaving. I promise I will pay you back, Teaspoon."
"But, Billy, don't you realize what you're askin' from me? You know how I feel for your parents. And if you leave, they will surely come and ask me for help to find you… if not as a friend, as the marshal. How could I look at them in the eye if I'm the one who helped their son to leave? I would have to lie… to my friends, to my family."
"I'm also your friend."
"Billy, you're now askin' me to do just exactly what you accuse your parents of doing. I don't like lyin', you know that."
"Tell them the truth then. I don't care," Billy said, and paused for a second. "Teaspoon, if you were in my shoes, wouldn't you like to find out the truth about your roots… your origins? I think I have a right to know, everybody has a right to know where they come from."
"Talk to your folks then," Teaspoon replied in an increasingly loud tone.
"I can't," Billy retorted. "They might lie to me again. I can't trust them. I need to find out the truth myself. You're always saying that a man has to do what he has to do. I have to do that."
Teaspoon shook his head, but despite everything, he could not help but smile. "You're a very clever boy, Billy. You trapped me with my own words."
The boy lowered his eyes, and said, "Don't worry, Teaspoon. Forgive me for disturbing you. I'll manage. Thanks anyway."
Billy took a step towards the door, but the marshal stopped him by grabbing him from an arm. "Not so fast." Teaspoon knew that Billy was stubborn, and he would do what he intended with his help or without it. Billy would surely venture to the world without a single cent in his pocket, even if he had to walk all the way to St. Louis.
Billy looked at Teaspoon questioningly as the marshal walked to his sideboard and took some dollars from a china vase. The marshal walked back to the boy, and held the dollars up. "Come with me, Billy," Teaspoon said. Billy followed him to the garden and then the marshal addressed the boy again. "I have $40 here, but I ain't gonna give or lend you this money. But it can be you. You can earn it."
"With effort and honestly."
"What do I have to do?" Billy asked again.
"You need to test your patience… that's all."
"I don't understand, Teaspoon."
"It's very simple. This money," Teaspoon said, raising his hand with the dollars "is going to stay here." The marshal crouched and placed the money under a rock. "You know where it is, and can take it whenever you want to. Of course first you need to earn it."
"I told you. I'll do whatever it takes."
"I know that it'd be hard for you to go back to your place today, but that's what you're gonna do if you want the money."
"No," Billy stated, shaking his head energetically at the same time.
"Only tonight. That way you could think things through, see your parents, talk to them, and if tomorrow you still think you want to go, you just need to come here and take the money," Teaspoon explained, and after a pause, he added, "But if you take this money before the crack of dawn, you'll be stealin' it. Go back home tonight, and that way you can earn it honestly."
"I can't go back home… I can't and I don't want to."
"Then steal the money. Rob me… it's easy," Teaspoon exclaimed angrily as he turned on his heel and went back into his house.
Billy stood there, staring at the rock under which the money was hidden. He crouched, lifted it, and even touched the money. For a few minutes, he remained in that position, caressing the old dollar bills, and considering taking the money. Like Teaspoon had said, it was easy. Yet, he finally put the money back, raised to his feet, and run off, unsure how he was going to resist the temptation, or if he was going to set foot in his home ever again.
Billy decided not to go to school that day. He was in the mood for anything and least of all, for keeping still while listening to Mrs. Dunne's lessons. All he wanted was to run and run until there was no ground under his feet. The pain within his heart was too strong, and he would even sell his soul to the devil if he could make it disappear. Even though his intentions to leave and find his father were genuine, deep down he wished things could remain the same. This was a bad dream, and he really wanted his family to be just as they had always been. He loved Buck, and could not imagine calling somebody else Pa. He could easily forget that paper that had unburied a terrible truth, and turned his world upside down. Yet, he could not do that. It would not be right. There was a man out there whose blood was the same as his, a man who should have seen him grow up, and witness every step he took, a man who was his father. Yet, he was nothing but a stranger to Billy, a shadow, a ghost. All the boy knew was his name, a name on an old, yellowish paper.
Billy shuddered at the idea of leaving everything behind, and facing the man who had fathered him. That was the right thing to do, though. He did not know what the whole story was, but he suspected that his mother had not done right by his real father. Why did she then have to lie? Why the secrecy? Billy had concocted an explanation to those why's, and even though he still had a few unresolved questions, his main theory was that his mother and Buck had met, cheated on his father, and then left. Billy believed there was no other reason to lie, and his father might be as clueless about his whereabouts as Billy was about the man's. So he had the moral duty to find him, and restore what his mother had broken.
After hours of walking and thinking, he found himself on his way to his place. It was a very hot day, and he was tired, actually, exhausted. He had not been able to sleep a wink the night before, and today he had been walking restlessly since the morning. The idea of going home did not appeal to him at all, but he would go straight to his room, and remain there all day like yesterday, and there was no danger of running into his parents. His mother would be busy in the kitchen, and Buck in the stables.
Billy discreetly walked into his house, and was surprised to hear some voices coming from the kitchen. His parents were there, and as he came closer on his way to the staircase, he could make out the words. The sound of his name drew his attention, and, moved by curiosity, instead of climbing the stairs he approached and leaned against the door frame while trying to overhear what was being inside behind the door.
"I know this is my fault," said Ellen. "I should have talked to Billy."
"Ellen, this is nobody's fault, and blaming yourself won't solve anything," Buck replied in a sullen tone. "We're together in this, and I'm as much to blame as you. We avoided the matter for too long."
"But how could I possibly talk to my son about something like this? He already knows, and I don't know how I'll explain the rest!" Ellen exclaimed, balling up her hands into fists.
Buck nodded, fully understanding what she meant. "I love him, Ellen. I love my son," he said in a serious tone, looking into her eyes.
"I know, honey," Ellen said softly, resting her hand over his.
"And… and… most of the time I forget he doesn't belong to me completely. He's my son in the same way as Ike is. I don't feel any difference… it doesn't matter I didn't create him. All these years mean more to me than anything else."
"To me you're his real father, nobody else."
"I still remember the first time I saw him… such a lovely baby, laughing cheerfully despite the alien place. I was taken to him at once," Buck said in a nostalgic tone.
Ellen smiled. "You fell for him way before you did for me."
"Well, he wasn't as hostile and cold to me as you were," Buck added with a crooked smile as they remembered old times. He paused, and in a more serious tone he said, "I don't want to lose my son. He's my life, and I'll feel like dying if I lose him. I'm scared… terrified, actually."
"I'm scared too," Ellen admitted.
Outside the kitchen, Billy was listening attentively, and feeling more confused than ever. The conversation between his parents had got to him. Teaspoon was right; he was not the only one suffering here. Right now he was divided into two, broken by conflict: he still thought he wanted to find his father, but he didn't want to hurt Buck and his mother. What should he do now? He did not know. A strange pressure was squeezing his chest and he felt like crying.
The door then swung open, and he found his parents before him, silently looking at him. Billy dared to lift his eyes to them, and simply said, "I want to know the truth, all the truth, the whole truth."
Ellen and Buck shared a brief look, and shifting her eyes to her son, Ellen nodded while saying, "Very well. Let's talk."
They settled in the living room. Ellen and Billy sat on the sofa whereas Buck took a seat across from them. He wanted to give them some privacy. After all, this matter mainly concerned the two of them, but at the same time he also wanted to be close enough. Bill looked at his mother expectantly, but she did not rush to talk. Her mind was trying to find the words, and the best way to tell her son, but soon she realized there was not a best way. The truth could not be disguised, and nothing could tone it down, so she started after that beat. "I was working for Mr. Fraser, the store keeper, when I met your… when I met William Capland. He was new in town, and told me he worked for a rancher on the outskirts of St. Louis. He seemed to be very nice. We courted for a few months, and then he asked your grandfather for my hand in marriage. I… I loved him. He was tall and handsome, warm and friendly, and we got on very well. Everybody liked him." Ellen paused. This was the easiest part. Billy was listening to her unblinkingly, and Ellen was afraid of hurting him when she continued her account. "We got married, and moved to live in a cottage on his employer's property. Things were fine at the beginning, but a few weeks after our marriage everything changed."
"Changed?" Billy echoed.
Ellen nodded. "I… I… it was then that I really got to know the man I had married. He… he… he didn't treat me well," she whispered in obvious shame.
Billy stared at her mother with big eyes. "Did he… did he hit you?"
Ellen's eyes filled with unshed tears as she looked back at her son. "Everything… anything made him explode with rage. He wasn't the man I thought I had married. He was a stranger to me, and I couldn't understand why. This wasn't the life I wanted. It wasn't the fairy tale story I believed I was going to live when William and I got married. I tried to ask my parents for help, but you know what your Grandpa Frederick is like. This was my life now. I'd made my bed, and I had to lie in it, was all he said," Ellen said bitterly. "Soon I found out I was expecting you. I was so happy, and I secretly hoped a baby would change William. Actually, things got better, he left me alone during my pregnancy, but… but…in the meanwhile I found out something else."
"You found out what?" Billy asked.
"He was also involved in some murky business with his boss. Please, honey, let's not go into detail about this," Ellen begged. She did not want her son to know the kind of activities his father was involved in because it would only bring about shame. When Billy nodded, she added, "I was miserable, and the only thing that made me happy was you. When you were born, I was in total bliss despite everything. You were the most beautiful baby, and I never thought I could love somebody so much. William was a proud father, I could tell you as much. Yet, shortly afterwards he returned to his old habits. I made peace with myself, and I knew this was my fate, and there was nothing else to consider. Coming to terms with the situation made everything easier."
"I'm sorry, Ma," Billy muttered, taking her hand in his in a comforting gesture.
Ellen smiled. "But then one day when you were crying desperately like all babies do, he hurt you! He turned against you, something I had feared since the moment you were born! I couldn't allow that! My son was untouchable, sacred, and then and there I knew I had to escape, and keep you safe from that heartless monster! I made my decision while Dr. Smith was seeing to the bump that beast had caused you! Fortunately, you were fine, and among tears I told the kind doctor about my situation. I begged him to let us stay at his surgery just that night. He was aware of my situation at home from other times he had treated my injuries, and he had suspicions I had something up my sleeve, but he didn't pry."
Ellen stopped to breathe out, overwhelmed by the memories which she had tried to forget over the years. "Funnily, William was waiting outside the doctor's office. Like usual, all the way from home to town he had kept apologizing and promising that he wouldn't do it anymore. Dr. Smith told him that you should stay at his place overnight because he wanted to make sure everything was fine. William didn't protest, and of course I stayed with you."
At this point Ellen kept quiet, and Billy urged her, "What else, Ma?"
"I didn't want to get the doctor or his wife in trouble. William could be very bad news. I would slip away in the night without telling anybody. So I did. The night was cold, and walking and carrying you was more exhausting than I had thought. I realized then what a fool I was. I just had a few coins in my pocket, and had no food or anything. I was so desperate that I hadn't given a single thought to how we would survive out there. Fortunately, you still nursed, which was a relief. I kept away from the roads because William must have found out about us by then, and would be looking for us. I shivered just thinking what he could do to me if he found us. I walked through forests and fields, drinking from streams, and feeding on wild berries. I was running out of energy, but my problems didn't stop there. As I was resting under a tree, a group of Indians appeared unexpectedly. I tried to hide, but you started wailing, and before I knew what was happening, the Indians came to us, and took us captive to their camp."
"Were they Kiowa?" Billy asked, his eyes shifting to Buck.
"That's right," Buck replied.
"I was so scared, Billy. I couldn't understand a word of what those people were saying. I was treated roughly, but after what I had gone through with William, that was nothing in comparison, especially when they brought me some food. I was ravenous, and even though I was still frightened, at the same time I felt safe. William wouldn't find us here. And even though I didn't know it at the time, being captured was the best thing that could ever happen to me."
"Because you met Pa?" Billy asked.
Buck and Ellen shared a smile, both relieved that for the first time since the revelation the boy had verbally acknowledged Buck's position in his life. "When I learned that there was a white woman and a baby in the camp, I approached you, and talked to your mother," Buck explained. "Logically, your ma wasn't the most amiable person under those circumstances. Actually, she was quite rude." Ellen couldn't help but chuckle, and Buck continued, "You did just the opposite to your mother, Billy. You were such a cute, lovely baby, and we really hit it off, if I can say that about a young baby."
"Buck came to see us every day. At first, I was stiff and cold to him, but then I warmed to him as well. After all, it was nice to have somebody to talk to. And well, you can imagine the rest, honey," Ellen explained, feeling shy on telling about her private matters to her son. Things between Buck and her had been really awkward at the beginning. When she started feeling attracted to him, she still refused to do anything. She was a married woman, and it was wrong to entertain certain thoughts about a man who was not her husband. Yet, she was as good as a widow because she would never return to William's side. And even if she could, she could not contact him for a divorce. William would never allow that, and would surely force her back to the same situation. Yet, one day Ellen could not control her growing feelings anymore, and she and Buck started what they couldn't stop from happening anymore.
"Did you contact my… William again?" Billy asked, and when Ellen shook her head, he frowned and added, "But didn't you sort out your matters with him." Ellen and Buck shared a tense look, and Billy could hear in his head what they were not saying. "So you… and you?" he exclaimed pointing from his mother to his father.
"Buck and I joined our lives in an Indian ceremony. Soon afterwards we decided to return to the white world, and came to Rock Creek. In my heart we were married, even though our wedding would never be accepted in this part of the world. Apart from the family, nobody knew. My real marriage was nothing but a lie. Marriage means love, respect, and trust, which I didn't have with William. My husband is Buck, your father, the man who loved and cared for us."
Billy stared at his mother with big eyes. This was too much to digest, and he would need more time to come to terms with all this. There was something he had to confess as well, so he said, "Ma, I need to tell you something." Ellen nodded, and Billy continued, "I was very angry yesterday, and I even thought of going to find, you know, him. I'm really sorry."
Ellen took her son's hands in hers. "Look, honey, what I want you to know is that what happened ain't your fault. Maybe I shouldn't have married William, but I don't regret it, because you're now part of my life." Ellen paused, and then added, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I was so scared. I feared you'd react the way you did. It's understandable you feel curious, and want to know about your roots, but you wouldn't have found William."
"Why?" Billy asked.
"He's dead. A few years ago he was involved in some ugly business. He murdered a young lady, and was sentenced to death," Ellen explained. She had learned about William's life from her father. Despite his dislike to Buck, and their situation, her father had never let off where she was. Ellen had contacted him when she started to live in Rock Creek, and even though the old man had almost had an attack to learn that his daughter was living in sin, he had kept her whereabouts a secret from everybody. Apparently, after their escapade William had been totally livid, and tried to find his wife and son for months, but when his attempts failed, he just let go, but Ellen's father knew that his daughter's life was in danger if William got wind of where she was.
Ellen sighed, and looking into her son's eyes, he said, "I love you, Billy."
"I love you too, Ma," the boy replied, and leaning over he hugged his mother with more intensity than he had ever done. When he pulled away, he looked at Buck, who had not moved from his seated position, and the boy added, "Thanks, Pa. Thanks for loving us, and keeping us safe. I love you."
Buck smiled, and lifting from his seat, he came up to his son and wife, and without a single word, the three of them joined in a warm, deep-felt embrace.
It was very early in the morning when Teaspoon woke up. It had been a restless night as he had not been able to stop thinking about Billy, and his situation at home. He was not sure he had done the right thing. Maybe he should have refused to give the boy the money straightaway, but Teaspoon had the hunch that Billy would have eloped anyway, even without a single cent. All the marshal hoped was that the time at home had made the boy reconsider his intentions.
Once out of bed, Teaspoon walked to his small kitchen. He scratched his head as he threw a casual look out of the window, and to his surprise he saw Billy there. The boy was before the stone Teaspoon had hidden the money under, and after a few moments' hesitation, he lifted the rock, and took the money. Teaspoon panicked, fearing the worst, but for a moment his feet did not respond, and he found himself stuck to the spot. Then he saw Billy walk to his door, and after knocking, he opened it a crack, and said, "May I come in, Teaspoon?"
"Come on in, son," the marshal replied, gesturing at him with his hand. As the boy stepped inside, Teaspoon looked at him warily. The marshal offered him some coffee, but Billy refused politely. Teaspoon poured himself a cup, and as he sat down at his table, he asked, "What brings you here so early?"
"I came to give you this back," the boy replied, leaving the money on the table next to Teaspoon. "Thank you."
Teaspoon took a sip from his coffee as his eyes seesawed from the money to the boy. "So I gather you ain't leaving."
Billy shook his head as he sank down on one of the chairs. "I talked to my parents. I know everything now."
"And how do you feel?" Teaspoon questioned, studying the boy closely.
"I don't know, Teaspoon. I'm kind of overwhelmed by this matter. It's as if I have to rediscover myself now. "
"Son, you're the same person. You're a nice boy with a good heart. Your parents raised you right, and you just need to think you got a good family who loves you. A plant grows from its roots, that's true, but it's thanks to the extra care that it doesn't wilt. Remember when your ma brought a rosebush back to life? She watered it every day, added good soil to its pot, pruned its withered leaves, and one day the bush was one of the most beautiful in your garden. Do you understand what I mean?"
Billy nodded. "I love my parents, Teaspoon, and I now understand what they did for me. I was saved from a terrible destiny, and my father… I can't even express in words what my father, the only father I've ever had for real, means to me. Yet, I feel kind of weird. I need time to think everything through."
"It's logical, Billy."
Billy rose to his feet. "I better take off. Thank you for everything," the boy said, motioning to the money on the table with a nod of his head.
Teaspoon also got up from his chair, and patting the boy on the back, he added, "Let me be honest with you, son. If you had run off with this money, I ain't sure how I'd get by for the rest of the month. I'd have had to borrow some money from your parents."
Billy chuckled. "Speaking of my parents, you should know you need to get ready to celebrate a wedding. They plan to get married for real very soon."
"That's good news. I'm glad for them."
"Me too," Billy agreed in a whisper. "Goodbye, Teaspoon, and thanks," he added before walking out of the door.
The marshal kept smiling, and Billy was already away when the old man said, "Ride safe, son. Ride safe."
Ellen smiled from ear to ear as she walked next to her eldest son along the small makeshift aisle in her back yard. After fifteen years of happy union, she was finally going to marry Buck for real. Apart from the births of her two sons, this was the happiest moment of her life. They had decided to hold the ceremony on the ranch, a private event with just the family. Even though right now she did not care what people would say about them, and their long-term 'illicit' relationship, she also knew that they still needed to keep up appearances. They were already a peculiar couple with their so different backgrounds, and Ellen was aware that some people looked down on them for that reason. She couldn't care less, but she had to think of her children. It wouldn't do them good to hear malicious comments about their parents in Rock Creek.
Ellen smiled at the familiar faces right and left as she walked on. She noticed Billy blush and grin when they went by Jane, and she smiled at him. Ellen knew that there was something going on between these two. Lately her son and Janey spent too much time in each other's company, going for long walks, getting together to work on their schoolwork, or just hanging out around the ranch. Billy had not told Ellen a word, but the woman had the hunch that her son was having his first experiences in romance. It had never been a secret for anyone that Billy was too fond of Janey, and fortunately for him, it seemed that the girl reciprocated his feelings. Ellen was glad for her son. Billy was still trying to come to terms with the truth he had discovered a couple of weeks ago, and it wasn't easy for him. So this new thrill in his life would help him to overcome his insecurities in a very complex moment in his life.
A soft wail at the front drew Ellen's attention, and to her glee she saw Lou with Ginnie on her lap, sitting next to her husband. Ellen had feared that Louise would not come to her wedding. After her unfortunate remarks a couple of weeks ago, Ellen had tried to approach Lou, and apologize, but Louise had not made it easy for her to do it. Whenever Ellen had knocked at the door, Kid or one of the McCloud children told her that Louise was busy, having a bath, taking a nap, or any excuse that prevented her from talking to Ellen. And if she saw her around the ranch, Louise just turned on her heel as soon as she saw Ellen coming to her. So Lou's presence here surely meant something even though she never turned her face to look at Ellen when she walked to the front.
Ellen locked eyes with Buck, who stood next to Teaspoon, both surrounded by the beautiful flowers that had grown in her small back yard that spring. When she reached them, she let go of Billy, as Buck took her hands in his, and whispered, "You look beautiful."
Ellen smiled sheepishly. She was not wearing anything special, just one of her best dresses, but Rachel had done her hair, embellishing it with small wild flowers. Her looks were not different, but she understood what Buck was saying. He was also wearing the same Sunday suit she had seen him in so many times, but he looked different, even more handsome.
Teaspoon cleared his throat, and then the wedding started. The couple kept sharing looks and smiles as the marshal conducted the ceremony in his very special way. Soon they were exchanging vows, and wedding rings. A spontaneous applause broke out behind them when Teaspoon declared them husband and wife, and they kissed. After their deeply-felt kiss, the family came to greet them. Teaspoon was the first one to congratulate them, and next came their children, who hugged and kissed them effusively. Ellen smiled at her youngest son. At his young age, Ike was of a fresh simplicity. She had struggled to explain the wedding and the reasons for it, and he had surprised her with his response. He had asked her many questions, but when his curiosity had been satisfied, he had accepted their special circumstances like with everything.
After receiving everybody's congratulations, Ellen held her breath when she saw Kid and Lou approach. Kid shook hands with Buck, and gave her a peck on her cheek. "Thanks, Kid," Ellen said smiling as she cast a look at Louise, who bore a very stern expression on her face. Lou shifted the young child on her hip, and leaned across to kiss Buck, and when she looked at Ellen, she stood still and in a curt tone she said, "Congratulations to both of you."
"Thank you, Lou," Buck replied.
Teaspoon's voice resounded in the place, announcing that they should start the celebration, and eating. A table had been set up in the yard, and they would enjoy a special wedding lunch in the open, enjoying the warm weather this spring.. At Teaspoon's announcement there was a ruckus as the younger children dashed to the table, and gathered noisily around Rachel, who was carrying a tray out of the house. Billy and Janey also followed, but walking slowly side by side, and when they reached the table, they purposely sat next to each other, and unbeknownst to everybody, Billy took her hand under the tablecloth as soon as they had taken their seats.
Buck chuckled at the energetic gang his younger child, and his cousins were, and said, "Let's go then, or there won't be a bite left for us."
"You'll have to excuse me, but I'm not staying," Lou announced, surprising the newlyweds.
Kid made an unhappy gesture while Buck asked, "Why?"
"Uh… Ginnie is getting a cough again. I don't want her to come down with a cold, so I'd rather stay indoors," Lou explained clumsily.
"But Lou, we can have our lunch inside," Ellen offered.
"Thanks, but don't bother yourself," Lou replied. "Thanks anyway." And before anybody else could say anything else, she had turned round and was walking away. Yet, Ellen shot after her, calling her name repeatedly. She couldn't let things between her and Lou remain so awkward. Ellen missed her friend, and she would do anything to restore their friendship.
"Lou! Lou! Lou!"
Louise stopped despite herself. She looked behind her, and saw Ellen, holding the edge of her dress in her hands, running towards her. When the woman reached her, Lou asked, "What do you want, Ellen?"
"Louise, I want to apologize, and…"
"There's no need," Lou cut her off, and turned to leave, but Ellen stopped her intentions by grabbing her by the shoulder.
"Please Lou, I'm really sorry for what I said about you and Kid. I was upset and I… I don't know what came over me. I didn't mean what I said to you, honestly," Ellen said in an emotional voice.
"I think you wouldn't have said that if there wasn't some truth behind your words," Lou replied in a curt tone.
"Please Lou, I was just too distraught, and…"
"Look, Ellen. I'm not angry with you, just very sad because I've realized that you ain't the person I thought you were. It's too bad you think so little of me. I came here today because Buck is my friend, and I'm really happy for you two. But don't ask me to be your friend, because I really can't… I just can't. Please if anything, respect my wishes."
Ellen nodded sadly, and this time Lou walked away towards her own house. A voice summoned the bride, and Ellen started back towards the table where all the family was already settled. This was her happy day, but also the moment she had lost a part of herself, her best friend, and despite her joy today she felt a bit lonelier.