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When The Leaves Fall
                  Continued

 

Chapter 5

Buck's strong emotions were nearly spent as he sat there at the elm, but an emptiness lingered that was only topped by his deep love for this woman he buried at this spot, so long ago. He gingerly touched the soil that contained her remains, and he whispered, "I love you, Laura Beth. I always have... if I hadn't been so blind, we could have grown old together..."

He leaned back against the tree, and looked skyward. The sun was beginning to set, and the first few stars began to wander out of hiding.

"You looked so beautiful, when I got back. I had no idea what had happened when I saw your old farmstead. You wouldn't say anything about it, and I didn't pry." Buck sniffed, then continued, "We had love for a while, though, didn't we? We loved a lifetime in those few weeks we had left, together..."
 
 

A leaf fell from a branch on the old elm, as Buck and Chris returned from the trail. Chris shook Buck's hand.

"Let me know when the wedding is... I'd like to be there," he said.

Buck gripped his hand a little tighter, and laughed, "You'd better be there, seeing how'll you'll be the best man, and all!" He winked, and Chris laughed, clasping Buck on the shoulder before riding on to Culverton. Laura waited for him with sighing anticipation, and he burst within like Fourth of July fireworks when he saw her glowing in the late afternoon sun, reflecting back the beauty of all creation. He loved her all over again.

She and her family now lived in a smaller home built a few yards from the original. He frowned at the burnt ediface that had been her home for years, but she said nothing, so he let it go with a shrug. He took her in his arms, and she kissed him with the pent up need of three long months, at once soothing him and exciting him.

"Whoo-ie, Darlin'! I'd go away more often if I knew I'd come home to this ever day!" he laughed. She giggled, and took him by the hand.

"I've waited for you long enough," she whispered in his ear, kissing him. She led him away, to their special place near the creek...
 
 
 

Chris shook his whiskey slowly, as if trying to call up images in the dark liquid.

"Had we gotten back one hour later, Buck would have rode over to Culverton for the night, and we would have drank and raised a little hell. He'd have passed out from booze and fatigue, and nothing would have been worse for wear." He looked up, then stretched. "But, then, I could be wrong. Maybe a trip to Culverton would have only delayed the inevitable. Instead, I went to find Marie, and Buck ended up, after a visit with Laura Beth, in Sandstone. As luck would have it, so was Jeremiah Corbin. And, to boot, Corbin was well liquored up by the time Buck arrived at the local watering hole.

"Yep," he finished, "liquored up and itchin' for a fight. And, y'all know Buck... next to some good lovin', nothing makes him happier than a good fight..."
 
 
 

"I shaid yew were a low-down, scum-suckin' excush of a man, Wilmington! Huh... that Taylor girl pickin' yer misherable hide over my good breedin'. Where she get off, eh? Why, I'm twish the man you are, and could have her shcreaming my name all night from mah bed!"

Buck narrowed his eyes. The personal insults only reflected an invite to a head-knockin' in Buck's books, which he would have gladly obliged in a good-humored aw-shucks kinda ass-whipping. But, the reference to his Lady Love was tantamount to lighting a short fuse on dynamite. The offending party better be able to put some distance between himself, and the coming explosion. Unfortunately, not only was Corbin not running, he was intent on fanning the fuse...

"Why, I have half a mind to go put mah brand on that little filly right now!" Corbin laughed coarsely.

Buck's nostrils flared, and he fought to maintain some control. It wasn't that he didn't really wanted to bust up the bar with Corbin's sorry face; he just wanted a cold beer and a quiet corner. He was a bit tired, and really didn't want to work up a sweat making kindling out of the furniture with Corbin as his ax.

"Now, listen Corbin. I been real patient with you, on account of you bein' drunk. But, you keep talking about my fiancé' like that, and I'm gonna plow a furrow right down the middle of town with your skull, you hear me?"

Buck snorted once, and shoved Corbin aside, as he made way for the bar. Some of Corbin's toughs got up from their tables, but Buck pointed at them quickly.

"Trust me on this boys," he said, "You don't want no part of me tonight. I'm liable to hurt ya, and not even mean to..."

The men looked at each other, then at Corbin.

Now, sober, Corbin, if he decided to mess with Buck at all, would have let his men soften Buck up before trying to take him on, personally. But, drunk, Corbin found courage in stupidity. He tapped Buck on the shoulder, got his attention, then proceeded, in lurid detail, to describe what he intended to do with Miss Taylor. Buck listened for about a minute, then...

"Yep. That just about does it," he huffed. Corbin is unlikely to have seen Buck move, had he been sober. And, the alcohol probably anesthetized him somewhat, for which he'd be glad, later.

The punch Corbin took at the dance was a love tap, by comparison. Coming up from his seat and completely torquing his hips, Buck came, seemingly from the floor, with a rapid upper cut that lifted Corbin off the ground with an audible CRACK! Corbin sailed unconscious over a table, and Buck watched him land with a dull thud. Corbin did not move from his landing zone.

"Huh," Buck snorted derisively, "I bet that hurt."

He returned to his drink, listening as a series of chairs were moved and footfalls headed in his direction.

"Now boys," he lied as he sipped his beer, "I don't want no trouble..."
 
 
 

"Of course, I was hoping for some trouble," Buck admitted to Laura's grave. "And, well... I got some!"...
 
 
 

A small crowd of townsfolk, still up at this hour, gathered outside the bar to watch the ruckus. A viewer viewing the onlookers would have been amused by the wincing faces and the gritted teeth every time a crashing sound spilled from within. Within moments, there was relative quiet, and a single soul walked erect from the carnage within. Buck stopped outside for just a few seconds, and critiqued the evening for passers-by:

"That was fun... not as much as this afternoon, mind ya, but it was fun."

He walked on toward the stable to get his horse and headed back to the Taylor place. His next few days were filled with laughter and joy.

Corbin's was filled with self-loathing, as he was dressed down almost continually by the Old Man for his lack of character and strength.

"I'm glad your mother isn't alive to see you now," Silas growled, "I'd be asking her who your REAL father is! No issue from my bloodline resulted in as pathetic a specimen as YOU, I'm sure of it! Now, those cretins I hire... they have the excuse of inferior breeding. I expect THEM to fail. But, not you... NEVER a Corbin!"

And, the Old Man delivered a promise to Jeremiah.

"You take care of that Wilmington and the Taylor girl, Boy. If you can't, I shall! However," he sneered as he pulled his son's face close to his own, "If I have to deal with it, you'll find yourself another meal ticket, for I shall have no son, afterward! Clear?"

"Crystal," Jeremiah gulped.
 
 
 

"We found out later what happened at the Corbin's place... Silas kept a journal, which survived him," Chris told his listeners. "This we DO know... the stage was set. It took planning on the kid's part to hatch his scheme, but his plan was carried out with brutal efficiency, when it came, and Buck's life would be changed, forever..."
 


Chapter 6
 

Buck sat there under the elm tree, talking to his Lady Love, and the world... even the creek grew quiet, listening. Beauty would normally have been pitching a fit to move on, to find a good warm stable, but even he twitched his ears in the dark, as if urging Buck on.

In the dark, knees curled up to his chest and hat in his hands in front of them, he whispered "Yellow Rose of Texas" to the tender grave of his beloved. A tear trickled down his face.

"Do ya remember, Laura? I sang that to ya the day of the picnic... the day before we were to be married..."
 
 

If ever two young folk were destined to be together, west of Camelot itself, it was Buck and Laura Beth. But as Arthur and Guinivere were cursed in their love, so were Buck and Laura. Ill fate drove Arthur's Queen into Lancelot's arms, and ill-fortune drove Jeremiah Corbin across Laura Beth Taylor's path.

Buck and Laura were having a prewedding picnic at the Taylor place the day before the big event. Although a lot of invited folk stayed inexplicably away, many did come. It was a fine affair, with plenty of good cooking, music and merriment. In fact, Buck had the whole place in stitches singing and dancing an impromptu variation on "The Yellow Rose of Texas", all to Laura's delight!

Things were going very well, indeed, until Corbin and some of his boys showed up, uninvited.

"What are you doing here, Corbin?" Hank demanded. "We don't need you and your bunch spoiling a good meal!"

Corbin smiled humorlessly at the proceedings. He and his men were heavily armed, but the celebrants were not. He pointed that fact out to Hank, as he dismounted. He cavalierly walked over to the main table, and helped himself to a chicken leg.

"Mmmmm--MMMMM!" he stated. "Yes indeed, good food!" He tipped his hat at Mrs. Taylor who glared in trepidation at him. "My compliments to the cooks!"

"Mr. Taylor asked you what you were doing here, Corbin," Buck growled through clinched teeth. Laura held him close, but it was hard to tell if Buck was protecting her, or whether SHE was holding him back from attacking Corbin.

"Well, well... Mr. Wilmington. I do not believe I was talking to you, but since you've been kind enough to acknowledge my presence, the least I can do is answer you. I am here to give the happy couple a wedding gift," Corbin sneered, not the least bit sincere.

"We want nothing from ya!" Laura spat.

"Oh, but you DO, dear Laura Beth, because, you see, I bring advice to you and your man. Advice you need to hear... and heed." Corbin put a leg up on a stump, and pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit it. Taking a drag, he blew smoke casually into the afternoon air, and turned to face the couple. "See, some folks around here don't appreciate uppity women and their scruffy cowpoke courters. In fact, some folk dislike 'em enough that they may well burn their homes down around 'em..."

Buck's eyes flashed, "Oh, like what happened here, Corbin?" Laura was definitely holding him back now.

"Perhaps the unfortunate attack on the Taylor homestead might have resulted from this dislike, yes. Who's to say?" Corbin said with a shrug. "Anyway, I think it best that you two leave these parts as soon as possible. After the wedding would be good... right now would be even better."

Hank was furious. "I've given them a portion of my land to set up a stake, to build a future for themselves here!" he fumed.

Corbin just chuckled, "That's rich, old man, because I was just about to suggest you and the missus uproot and leave as well. As for them..." Corbin nodded toward the couple. "They stay here, they don't have a future."

Corbin dropped his half-smoked cigar on the ground, and stomped it out. He then ambled back over to his horse, and remounted.

Buck shouted at him, "You can forget it pretty boy... We ain't goin' nowhere!" he tried to get at Corbin, but Laura had a firm grasp on him, and Chris grabbed a shoulder to help hold him back.

Corbin pulled back his dress coat, revealing his side arm, which he unfastened.

"Oh, please, Buck... give me a reason to put you out of your misery," he laughed, mirthlessly.

"Now's not the time," Chris said quietly in Buck's ear.

"Sound advice," Corbin laughed again, and turned to ride away with his men...
 
 
 

Chris' face grew dark over his drink, and the world seemed to press down on him as he continued his tale. Even the air grew thick, like before a heavy thunderstorm.

"I don't know what got into Corbin. Chances are, after thinking about it, Laura Beth and Buck might have decided it was best not to risk it, to move on after all. Who knows? All anyone can say now is that Corbin had one last parting shot to make, and he made the best of it..."
 
 
 

After his horse took just a few steps, Corbin whipped him back around at the crowd. His men, puzzled, stopped, as well. Corbin spurred his horse in a slow trot back a few feet.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Wilmington. As added incentive, your hasty departure would most certainly avoid your lovely bride's being attacked again," he stated, as casually as one would comment on the pretty sunshine.

Buck's back was to Corbin at this time, Laura off to the side, helping her mother. Both froze in place, momentarily, then Buck turned ever so slowly in Corbin's direction.

"What are you talking about, Corbin?" he growled lowly. All the blood was draining from Laura's face as she saw where this was headed.

"Oh, dear me! Perhaps the matter slipped her mind," Corbin continued casually, "See, when raiders struck this place, they hauled Miss Taylor off with them..." Buck looked at Laura in shock, as Corbin rattled on, "Rumor has it that, in the hours that they had her company, that a goodly number took liberties with her. I was thinking that your leaving these parts would probably forestall a repeat performance, if such ruffians are still 'round these parts..."
 
 

Buck's eyes were completely shut now, but he could still see that day as clearly as if he were reliving it.

"I was hurt Laura, that you felt you couldn't tell me, but I loved you. I loved you! I always thought, later, that Corbin must have
thought, if nothing else, to drive a wedge between us with his snide remark, but at the time, I only had one thought on my mind..."
 
 
 

"You son of a BITCH!" Buck screamed at Corbin. In a split second he turned to fetch his gun belt.

Time slowed to a molasses crawl in that instant. Corbin, now in fear, realized he had made a terrible mistake, and would pay for it with his life if he didn't act now, he pulled his gun and aimed at Buck's unprotected back. As he pulled the trigger, Laura moved between his Colt's business end and Buck. She took the shell that was meant for her lanky lover, and the impact knocked her back into Buck's legs, taking both of them down.

"What the hell's wrong with you?!?" shouted one of Corbin's hired guns at him. So distracted were the men that Hank Taylor got his rifle up to his shoulder.

"Look out!" shouted another of Corbin's thugs.

Three of the gunmen turned on Hank, but not before he got off one grazing shot that nearly knocked Corbin out of his saddle. Hank Taylor went down in a hail of hot lead an instant later.

Chris Larabee, even then, was handy with the pistol, and the chaos was all he needed to get his fast hands on his pieces. As Corbin spun his horse away in a gallop from the firefight, Chris sent four of his men to meet their Maker, a one-man retribution engine who plowed through the hired guns with steely precision. With only three remaining, and none of them figuring to have a dog in this fight, the rest turned tail and ran after their boss' son.

In the aftermath, Sarah Taylor wailed in agony over her dying husband, and Buck rocked back and forth on his knees, gently cradling Laura Beth's still form. Chris heard him whispering something softly, tears welling up in the big man's eyes. Hesitantly, Chris approached his friend.

In a broken voice, fueled by a broken heart, Buck Wilmington was singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" for his Love...

And, in a light breeze, another leaf fell...
 

Nathan sat with his jaw open, and Ezra sat in quiet sorrow. The gambler started to rise from his seat, and he quipped to Larabee, "Remind me, should I ever wish to end my own life, to ask you for a story as an added incentive."

"Leaving now, Ezra?" Chris asked.

"I should think so, Mr. Larabee, I am depressed enough as it is. If you spin any more yarns, I may well hang myself."

"Story ain't over yet," Chris stated, with a strange look in his eyes. Not sadness, Ezra noted, but more like... well, marvel.

"Oh joy," Ezra rolled his eyes, but sat back down. "Let me guess, you and the grieving Mr. Wilmington ride off into the sunset to exact justice on Mr. Corbin and his cohorts?"

Chris smiled a very strange smile at Standish, one that made the short hairs on the back of his neck rise.

"The time would come for justice, yes... but that time didn't come for a while. You wanna hear about love, Ezra? I mean REAL love?"

Ezra and Nathan both puzzled over Chris' remarks, but remained silent.

Chris sat back. "That is," he said, "what this story's really about, after all. And if you leave now, you will never get to hear it..."
 



 
Chapter 7
 

Nathan leaned over the table, resting on his elbows.

"Now, I'm confused, Chris... There can't be much more of a love story with Miss Taylor dead."

Chris smiled that little smile of his.

"I said Corbin SHOT her... I didn't say he KILLED her."

Nathan and Ezra both took renewed interest in Chris' story, and listened intensely...
 
 
 

Buck nearly leapt from his skin when Laura coughed and groaned in pain. Chris' eyes got wide as saucers. He squeezed Buck's shoulder.

"I'll fetch Doc Mason from town!" he said, as he ran to get a horse.

Buck simply nodded, then said softly, "Hurry, Chris..." then louder: "Hurry, Chris! Hurry!"

He turned his attention back to Laura Beth, who was in obvious pain and laboring for breath.

"Hold on, Sweetheart! Chris has gone to get some help," he said. Laura simply looked up at him with a glazed expression...
 
 
 

"I only had ya with me a short enough time as it was, Laura... I couldn't have born losing ya right then," Buck said. He looked back up at the stars, blazing silently in the night skies, and breathed in deeply. "The news wasn't all that good, as it was..."
 
 
 

Hank Taylor was dead, and Laura was in horrible shape. She had lost a lot of blood, and was very weak when the doctor arrived, just behind Chris.

Doc Mason tended to her wound, as best he could, but told Buck he could in no wise operate... the bullet was lodged in such a way near her spine that he'd do more harm that good by trying to remove it. She rested fitfully in bed a short while later, as Doc Mason pulled Buck aside.

"Son, I ain't gonna lie to ya. By all rights, she should be dead. Ta be honest, she's living on will alone," the old sawbones said.

"That's mah girl," Buck breathed softly, looking back at her room.

"Don't get too relieved just yet, Mr. Wilmington. You need to know some things..." Mason looked at the floor, gathered his thoughts, then looked Buck squarely in the eyes. Buck's blues focused on the doctor's face, tracing every nuance he found there. He's never concentrated on anything harder.

Mason continued, "She'll never be the same, again, Buck. She may never walk, if she lives out the day. And..." the old man swallowed hard, "I know y'all were gonna get married, but... even if she lives, she probably won't ever be able to bear children. I'm sorry."

The older man patted the younger man gently on the shoulder, shook his head, then took his leave...
 
 
 

"I ain't never hated a man as much as I hated Jeremiah Corbin," Buck said, sitting under the tree, feeling the flushed heat in his face rising once more. "He was a dead man, as sure as I was standing in that doorway. I was headed out the door, aimin' ta get on mah horse, ride right up to Old Man Corbin's place, and find that bastard son of his, and finish it right there. In my eyes, he might as well have killed ya, because he robbed us of happiness, of our lives and dreams together." Buck was quiet for a moment, then he smiled, "Shows ya what I knew..."
 
 
 

Buck did indeed turn toward the front door, and it is unlikely that even Chris could have stopped him. But, the man who would have waded through the hardest blows, the deadliest hail of bullets, without flinching, stopped cold at the softest voice calling his name.

"Buck," he heard her barely audible whisper, as she fought for enough air to talk.

He walked slowly and quietly into her room, and sat gently on the edge of her bed, taking one of her hands tenderly in his.

"How you feeling Darlin'?" he asked quietly, gazing into her pain-racked eyes.

"Like dancing," she whispered, smiling softly, then tried to laugh, but it became a short series of coughs.

"Don't try to talk, Sweetheart," he shushed her, but she was having none of that. She grew serious, grabbing his collar with surprising strength for one so near death. She made him look her in the eyes.

"Don't" was all she said, but it spoke volumes to him. He started to argue, but she shook her head at him. "No!" she whispered fiercely.

"Laura," Buck attempted to reason, "he tried to kill me, and damn near killed you. I HAFTA deal with him..."

She reached up and took his face in her weakened grip. But, though he physically could have shook her off easily, he was emotionally bound, and would not have broken that soft grasp with any effort he made. Her eyes blazed as much as his had a moment ago.

"No."

He looked in her eyes, thinking or a more persuasive argument, but her gaze lost its hard edge, and loving tenderness replaced it.

"Buck, you can't," she stated. "You're a hard man, but you're not a murderer. I'm not worried that you might die seeking revenge for Corbin's actions, Buck..." she wheezed, fighting for the strength to continue, "and you would probably die trying to reach him. But, I am worried that you'll lose your soul if you succeeded."

Her expression was soft, gentle, as she held his face. "I fell in love with a good man, Buck, a good man with a good heart! Corbin has hardened you, though, like a rock inside. If ya managed to kill him now, your heart would be hard forever, and I would die for nothing."

"Ya ain't gonna die!" he pleaded with her, locking her gaze with his.

"I shoulda died already, Buck... you're the only thing keeping me here. I love you, my husband... if you'll still have me," she looked into his eyes, found the love still there for her, "and I want to protect the good man you are from the likes of Jeremiah Corbin."

Buck, kissed her hand as she still held it to his face. She smiled at him, and caressed his now whiskered features with her palm and fingers, and he leaned into her touch.

"Do you love me Buck?" she sighed at him.

"How can you ask a thing like that of me?" he replied, "you KNOW I do!"

"Then, if you can't find it in your heart to release your hatred for your own sake, do it for me... Don't go, Buck... stay with me."
 
 
 

"And, I did, Laura," he said to her marker, as the hurt welled up in him again.
 
 
 

Nathan sat back, more satisfied. "So, Miss Taylor lived! But the grave you said was there..."

Chris nodded, "It's her's. But, that didn't come right away. She was spared a bit longer, and made as much of a life with Buck as she was able, in the time they had together."

"And when you said she saved his life in more ways than one..." Nathan added.

"Yep. She saved his life by taking a bullet for him, and she saved his heart by loving him. But, she saved the best for last, and that's what made Buck the man his is today."

Ezra coughed softly, "You're forgetting something. What about Corbin?"

Chris' face grew dark once more, "Yes. Corbin... well, I'm sad to say that the wheels of justice turned very slowly in Sandstone those days..."
 


Chapter 8

Chris bent back over his drink in thought, composing how he wanted to say what was on his mind. He squinted at Ezra and Nathan as if peering inside each man, putting his thoughts into a perspective they would understand.

"The people of Sandstone really weren't that bad, but they needed Corbin money, and, when someone's been good to ya, it's hard to believe that someone is a gross sinner like you and me..."
 
 
 

Young Chris Larabee stood in stunned silence as the Sheriff laughed at him.

"Arrest Jeremiah Corbin? What are you, a damned fool? The only reason you and that long drink of water, Wilmington, ain't in my lock-up now is because Corbin's alive." Guffawed the alledged lawman slapping his knees in front of Chris.

"Sheriff," the surprise gone out of him, replaced by a simmering anger, "I just told you that Corbin and his boys shot up the Taylor place. They killed Hank Taylor and seriously wounded Laura Beth..."

"Yeah," the Sheriff stood and squared his shoulders, "and I heered that you killed four of Corbin's men, too. In self defense, I suppose."

"Yeah," Chris said slowly, "in self defense."

Micah Stonemason had been the local law for 11 years. For most of those years, he been a good man, but he'd lost some of his edge, and, not wanting to toil endlessly on some farm, he wanted to keep his job for as long as possible. For that reason, he welcomed Corbin's money and hired guns, who made his job easier... since they chose not to indiscriminantly shoot up the place. Micah was in his winter years, and he wanted them to pass quietly. So much so, that he wasn't willing to make waves with his benefactors, unless her really had no choice. As for his "indiscretion" with the Taylor girl... Hell, all the boys
were having a little fun, and everyone KNEW the Taylor girl was itching for a good breakin'. She wasn't roughed up too badly, in his estimation, and she got off pretty lightly, in some folks opinion.

Of course, if Buck had been able to read his mind, Sandstone would have needed a new badge toter.

As it was, Chris was having a hard enough time fighting the temptation to dig a hole in this side of the street and burying Stonemason up to his shoulder blades. In Chris' mind, the man was only fit to work as a hitching post, now.

"Well, Mr. Larabee," Micah said, "I got conflictin' stories on the dust up out at the Taylor's. Corbin's men say your friend Wilmington instigated the whole affair..."

Chris' face grew dark and dangerous, and the Sheriff hastened on with his remarks, "Of course, most folks I've spoken with to date say it was hard to say who was at fault, that it was just a misunderstandin' got out of hand."

"It wasn't a misunderstanding, Sheriff. Jeremiah Corbin was aiming to shoot Buck in the back!"

"So you say."

"So everyone that was there would say if they weren't liars or completely gutless!"

Now, it was the Sheriff's turn to redden.

"You'd best watch your mouth, young man. Folks have been known to get shot over less."

Chris got close to Micah, and spoke very quietly, but very clearly, and Stonemason did not misinterpret the challenge, "If I ever get shot here, Sheriff, it'll have to be in the back, because there's no one in these parts who'll take me face to face."

Chris then turned his back on the man with the tin badge long enough to remount his horse. Chris then left the mouth-agaped man with a parting thought: "Of course, I'd honor the man with guts enough to try. At his funeral." Chris tipped his hat, and rode away...
 
 
 

Buck shook his head in the dark, still in disbelief.

"Ya know, Laura," he said softly to her memory, "I knew the whole town was in Corbin's back pocket, but for some reason I thought... I just KNEW... that someone would speak out against your Pa's death. Then, when Chris came back from town and told me about his talk with the Sheriff... Honey, I knew we were all alone, then." Buck was quiet for a moment or two, then smiled at happier times.

"But, ya know, we still had a good life, Laura Beth. We didn't really need anyone but each other. But having your Ma and Chris around sure helped..."
 
 
 

Chris and Buck sat at by the barn, sipping some coffee and looking up at the stars and a full moon.

"The thing that gets me, Chris, is her being unable to walk much. She used ta could shimmy up that old oak out yonder like a monkey!" Buck chuckled.

Chris smiled in the moonlight, "Buck, she wasn't supposed to be able to walk at all. Be thankful for what you have."

Buck banged the back of his head softly against the wooden walls of the structure behind him, and closed his eyes.

"Yeah, but dammit Chris! She could run like the wind and climb like a kid and swim like a fish! She's miserable now, 'cause she can hardly... MOVE!"

Chris shook his head sadly, "Buck you keep looking at the 'can't's' in this situation. Ya need to focus more on the 'can's'."

Buck frowned at the thought, trying to surround it in his head, then turned to his best friend, "What?"

Chris grinned, "Try looking at what Laura Beth CAN do, at what she loves doing, rather than what she CAN'T do. I mean, some of the things she CAN do will make her happy."

Buck got a silly grin on his face, "Yup! Some things she can do are right fun, too! Why the other night we..." He stopped in the midstream of the thought, then laughed, "Now, I like ya Chris, but I'm still enough of a gentleman not to discuss EVERYTHIN' in front of ya!" Buck winked, and the two young men shared a laugh.

"Can she still ride?"

Buck laughed again, "Depends on what ya mean..."

Chris whacked Buck across the left arm with his hat, and chuckled some more, "I meant on a HORSE, farmboy!"

Buck grew quiet, but still wore the faintest smile on his face, "Her legs are too weak to climb in the saddle, Chris. It's still a bit much for her."

Chris sipped his coffee, and offered a thought, "Hmmm. It's a shame. I mean, she doesn't have ta CLIMB into the saddle. She only needs to GET in it."

Buck sat stone still for a moment.

"Damn!" he exclaimed and hopped up. "Chris," he whooped, "You're a genius!"

"Hmmm?" Chris asked, taking another sip of coffee.

"I got an idea!" Buck laughed as he danced a jig
 
 
 

Chris laughed at the memory, "I still get amazed at the things that go through that man's head!"
 

Chapter 9

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