"Mornin' Pike!", said Buster, a balding, heavyset older man, as he came in the door.
"Mornin'." Pike replied, giving Buster a slight nod, then returned to his counting.
Buster walked to the counter and helped himself to a cup of coffee, then sat down in a wooden chair that creaked under his weight.
"You heard from Henry since he went back to the city?" Buster asked, as he sipped the coffee.
"Nope." Pike replied without looking at him.
"Well, don't worry son. A good man will come along, and you'll forget all about that cheaten' scoundrel."
Pike didn't reply. He went into the store room to gather needed items for the shelves. He returned a few minutes later as Buster stood gazing out the window.
Buster glanced at Pike, then back outside saying, "Looks like that new fella in town is heading over here. Guess he needs to get some groceries."
Pike glanced toward the window, then went about stocking the shelves.
Buster headed back to the chair, just as the door opened with a loud squeak.
Pike turned around to greet the customer and whispered a gasp at the sight before him. He smoothed his shoulder length black hair, and wiped off his tee-shirt, always wanting to look his best for customers.
In front of him stood a tall, stocky man with very long black hair, adorned with a feather. While both men were exactly the same height, he seemed larger than life, as he stood staring stoically at Pike.
The Native man appeared to be from another time and place. He was the epitome of images from movies, of a great war chief. He easily gave you the impression that he would win any battle he fought, and be the "most wanted" by wild west marshals and bounty hunters.
Without moving his head, the man's deep almost black eyes darted to the right, where he saw Buster staring up at him.
"Mornin'." Buster said with a nod, as the stranger fixed his eyes on Pike once more, without replying.
"Need food." The man said in a deep voice that reverberated through the store.
Pike, appearing in a complete daze at the sight of the man, muttered rather meekly, "What'll you have?"
The stranger pointed to different items without hardly uttering a word. Then, he jestured to a jar on the counter, full of beef jerky.
"Want that." the man said, as Buster stared at him, trying to size him up.
The new man was wearing buckskin pants and moccasins. Instead of a shirt, he had a small blanket draped over one shoulder, which crossed over his chest and back, then tied in a knot at the waist, on the opposite side.
Pike tore off a sheet of waxed paper and pulled pieces of jerky from the jar, until the customer held his hand up, indicating that was enough.
After Pike weighed and rang up the jerky, the Native man grabbed a piece and tore a bite off, almost as if he were an animal. He chomped on it, and after swallowing, picked at his teeth, then spit a speck of it onto the floor.
"Anything else?" Pike asked, as he bagged the groceries.
"Enough food." the man said. Glancing at Buster, then back at Pike, "Horse needs boarding. Bought house; land needs work".
Pike glanced down, acting a bit nervous. "I got a place." He looked up at his customer again. "He'd have plenty of room, 'cause I don't have a horse or anything. Just my dog Dweezil."
"How much?" The stranger asked.
Pike shrugged. "Nothing. The land's there, just going to waste. Might as well put it to use."
"You would do that? I am stranger."
Pike smiled nervously, and extended his hand. "Pike Dexter's my name."
The man stared at Pike's hand, then grasped it firmly. "Buffalo." The man said.
"'Scuse me?" Pike replied, looking puzzled.
"Eric Buffalo Hump. I am called 'Buffalo'."
Buster then stood up, and extended his hand. "Well, howdy Mr. uh, Hump. I'm Buster Gray."
Buffalo hesitated, then reached to take Buster's hand, barely grasping it as they shook. "Just Buffalo". he replied.
Pike wrote down directions to his home, and stuck them in one of the bags. They agreed that Buffalo would stop by that evening to see if it was suitable for his horse. Buffalo paid for his groceries, scooped up the bags, and headed out the door.
When he was outside, Pike hurried to the window and peered out, watching the man as he walked up the road.
"Now, Pike m'boy," said Buster, joining him at the window, "don't go gettin' worked up over him. I don't quite think he's your type."
"How do you know?" Pike asked, looking at Buster.
"He just don't seem, well, ya know. He just don't suit you, ok? B'sides, I hear the man's been married."
"So? Look at Dean. He was married, AND had kids. Now him and Henry are..." Pike didn't finish, as he recalled his three years with Henry, the man he thought he'd spend his life with.
"I heard this Buffalo guy's been married at least twice; maybe three times." Buster said.
Pike nodded. "I guess that comes straight from Widow Thrasher, right?"
"Uh hmm." Buster nodded.
Pike smiled knowing how inaccurate the Widow Thrasher's gossip is, and went back to stocking his shelves.
Before long the store was buzzing with chatter and laughter, mostly from Buster and a few other townsmen. They spent most of their days hanging around the store, playing checkers, and drinking Pike's coffee.
It was a slow day business wise, so around 2:00, Pike said, "Buster, will you watch the place, and lock up when you're ready to go home?"
"Sure Pike." Buster replied. "Where you runnin' off to?"
"I've got some chores to get done." Pike replied, as he took the store key off his ring.
Buster looked up at Pike saying "Uh-huh, I'll just bet you do. You got company comin' and....."
"I got chores to do". Pike interrupted, as the other men stared up at him.
Pike handed Buster the key and headed out to his truck.
At home, Pike tidied up, and did a few other tasks. He then watched the clock, waiting for the appointed time of Buffalo's arrival. Just before 6:00, not wanting to appear anxious, or give himself away, he called Dweezil, his dog, and headed outside for a game of fetch.
At 6:05, Buffalo arrived on his very spirited, white horse.
Still trying to act very casual Pike said, "Oh, is it 6:00 already?"
As Buffalo dismounted, he looked toward the westward sun and replied, "It is."
Buffalo glanced around the property, as Pike motioned for him to follow. He led him to a large open field, with a five foot high wooden fence.
"Do you think this would hold him?" Pike asked.
"It will." Buffalo answered with a nod.
They both leaned against the fence, and gazed across the field.
"You can keep him here as long as you want." Pike said.
Buffalo nodded then asked, "You do not use land?"
Pike picked at a loose piece of wood on the railing, saying, "We were thinkin' of growing a crop of corn, and a few other things, but never got around to doin' it."
Buffalo glanced back toward Pike's house. "You and your woman?" he asked.
"No. Me and Hen..." Pike paused then went on. "Henry. We were gonna finally do it this year but uh, --he moved away." Pike stared across the field.
"Henry?" Buffalo said. "Henry Hart, man I buy house from?"
Pike nodded. "That was his Grandfather's place. Henry lived here with me for three years. He moved away, nine months ago."
Buffalo studied Pike for a few seconds. Pike glanced at him then looked back out over the field.
Buffalo then said, "You Two-Spirit?"
Pike felt a bit hopeful by Buffalo asking him directly, and replied with a nod, "I am a Two-Spirit."
Buffalo seemed to tense up, and stared across the field saying, "I have known three wives."
Pike's sighed, now thinking the Widow Thrasher's gossip was accurate this time, and said, "So, you're married now?"
Buffalo inhaled very deeply. "Do not need wife."
Again, Buffalo tensed up, and drew a deep breath. "None."
Pike nodded. "Where are you from, anyway?"
"Why you ask? People ask questions and I get angry. I hurt many men for questions and things they say." He stepped back from the fence and pointed at Pike "You are indian, yes?"
Pike nodded. "Sioux."
"You live white man's way now. You forget respect. I owe you no answers."
Buffalo turned and started walking toward his horse.
Pike followed after him. "Buffalo wait! I was only trying to be friendly. You asked me a few questions, too!"
Buffalo spun around quickly, looking furious, causing Pike to take a step back.
"Do not need friends. Do not need your land for horse!" He yelled, as he grabbed the reigns of his mount and leaped up on it's back.
Pike walked over to the horse and looked up at Buffalo.
"You're wrong Buffalo. You may not have friends, but you DO need them. Come inside and eat. I made supper. I thought you might not have everything unpacked and would like a good home cooked meal."
Buffalo ignored him, turned the horse, and took off.
Pike watched him disappear down the gravel drive. He sighed and went inside.
In the kitchen, Pike picked up a plate from the table and walked to the stove. He pulled a clay pot from the oven, and filled his plate with venison roast, potatoes, carrots and onions. He then sat down at the table and pushed the food around with his fork. He let out another sigh and took a bite.
A few minutes later he heard very heavy footsteps on his porch, then a pounding at the door.
He went to open it, and was stunned to see Buffalo standing there.
Buffalo inhaled very deeply. Staring past Pike, he said "I am Commanche from Texas."
Pike smiled, and stepped aside so Buffalo could come in.
Pike led Buffalo into the kitchen where he fixed him a plate. He set it down on the table and pointed to the chair, inviting his guest to sit.
Buffalo looked at the chair, then at the plate on the table. He snatched the plate up in one hand, grabbed silverware and a glass of tea with the other, then headed to the living room as Pike followed, puzzled by his new friend's behavior.
Buffalo sat down in the middle of the floor. Pike quickly grabbed his plate and sat a few feet away, directly in front of Buffalo.
The man stabbed at the meat with his fork, and took his first bite.
While still chewing, Buffalo said, "You cook good."
Pike smiled. "Thanks. Glad you like it."
They were quiet for a few minutes until Pike said, "Will you get mad if I ask what made you move up here?"
Buffalo shrugged. "Do not know. Had big fight, got knocked down, woke up in strange land."
"Amnesia?" Pike said.
"You must've gotten hit over the head, and had amnesia. Your memory has come back, 'cept you can't remember exactly how you got here."
Buffalo shrugged again "I wake up at Hart house. Buffalo like house, had money, bought house."
"Do you remember what were you fighting about?" Pike asked, as he took Buffalo's empty plate to re-fill.
"Names." Buffalo answered. "Some men call names. Buffalo get mad and fight."
"What kind of names?" Pike asked as he sat down again.
Buffalo stared at Pike but didn't answer. Pike thought it best to leave the subject alone.
After eating a few more bites Buffalo said, "People here, they know you are Two-Spirit?"
"Yes." Pike answered with a nod.
"White man not shame you for it?"
"They don't all understand it, I'm sure, but no one has ever said anything."
"Hmm." Buffalo said, chewing another bite.
After Buffalo finished eating he sat the plate down saying, "You never had fight because they laugh or call you names?"
It dawned on Pike what Buffalo was getting at. He smiled and said, "Everyone here knows exactly who I am. Most don't come right out and say it, but they all know. They're my friends, and would never call me names."
Buffalo seemed to be studying Pike for a few moments then said, "Outside, you said who you are, like you are proud."
"No sense denying it." Pike replied with a shrug. He looked Buffalo square in the eye. "Denying it would be living a lie, and would make me miserable. Dean, the man that Henry is with now, did that. He married a nice lady, had kids and tried to deny who he is. It wound up making them both very unhappy."
Buffalo gave a slight nod, showing that he understood exactly what Dean must have gone through.
Pike studied his new friend, then moved a little closer to him.
"Buffalo, if we keep denying who we really are on the inside, we can never have peace." He paused a moment then said, "Is that why you got into so many fights?"
Buffalo straightened his back and inhaled deeply, but didn't answer.
Pike went on. "You should be proud of who you are, no matter 'what' you are. Your walk in this life will be in balance if you accept it for yourself. When you accept it, many others will too, and all your anger will be gone."
Buffalo stared at Pike with his jaw clenched tightly.
Pike looked intently into Buffalo's eyes. "You are exactly the same as me. I knew it the second I saw you."
Buffalo said, "When I come in store, you felt you had always known me? I was familiar to you?"
Pike nodded. "You knew it too, didn't you? You recognized something about me, but you tried to ignore it; fight it."
Buffalo gave a slight nod.
Pike went on. "You've lived your entire life hiding it, haven't you? You were ashamed, because of what some people say about Two-Spirits, weren't you?"
Buffalo nodded again. "The say it is bad, so I live in lies. Marry women but,...." He looked down.
"But you were miserable. You knew it wasn't right for you."
Buffalo nodded. "I try to make it be right for me. I not happy, I leave one woman, find another, and another, but still, no peace in heart."
"But, you do want to be happy, don't you?" Pike asked.
Buffalo shook his head. "Too much sorrow inside. Do not know how to be happy."
"Well, maybe I can help you learn."
"Say it Buffalo. Tell me who you really are. It will be the first step in healing all your wounds."
"No! I can not!" Buffalo snapped. "I can not be what you want."
"Buffalo, it's not what I 'want', it's who you are. The biggest battle you've ever had, is the one you're having with yourself. Stop fighting it, and be happy by letting the real Eric Buffalo Hump come out."
Buffalo stared at him. Then, inhaling deeply, as if he had to muster up the courage, he held his head up saying, "I, ....I am, ....Two-Spirit."
Pike smiled broadly. Buffalo glanced down for a moment, then looked at Pike and returned the smile.
Moving beside Buffalo, Pike repeated, "You are a Two-Spirit, just like me."
There was now a sparkle in Buffalo's eyes. "It is fine to be Two-Spirit. I feel good."
"It is fine." Pike repeated. "I feel good too."
Pike slowly reached his arms around Buffalo and hugged him. Buffalo hesitated, but after a few moments, placed his arms around Pike.
After a long embrace, Pike moved back just enough to gaze in Buffalo's eyes.
Pike repeated Buffalo's own words "It is fine to be Two-Spirit." Then, he slowly brought his face closer and barely kissed Buffalo's lips.
Buffalo looked down and whispered a shy
sounding snicker. Pike took his chin, raising Buffalo's head up again
and kissed him once more, deeply and passionately for several moments.
Then they sat holding each other, feeling that once and for all,
everything was perfect in Big Eden Montana.