Friday, November 25, 2011

The Only Thing To Fear: The Beginning

Music:  Learning to Fall, Martina McBride

His face slowly lowered to hers, his lips slightly parted.  She could taste his breath as their mouths met and it was so sweet.  Her own breath caught in her throat as his lips gently moved over hers.  She sighed in contentment.  Suddenly his hands roughly grabbed her shoulders and threw her to the ground.

“You’re all grown up, Louise,” she heard him purr nastily in her ear. 

She opened her eyes as he sprawled on top of her, mashing his lips against hers so hard she could taste blood from where her teeth had cut into her own lip.  She tried to struggle, but couldn’t move her arms.  She twisted and turned to get away from him, but his hands and lips seemed to follow her everywhere.  The harder she fought, the less she could move.  She tried to open her mouth to scream, but he just shoved his tongue inside.  She felt like she was suffocating.

Then, it felt like he had slammed her into a wall.  Her head banged painfully against the wooden planks.

“Lou!” Kid exclaimed, staring down at her, where she’d fallen to the ground next to his bunk.  “Are you alright?”

Unable to calm her own fears that quickly, Lou’s eyes flitted frantically around the room, looking for the man who’d attacked her so violently, ripping the last remnants of her childhood from her.

“Lou,” Kid whispered, watching her wildly rolling eyes and panting breaths.  She didn’t wait to find out what else he was about to say.  She jumped to her feet and fled the bunkhouse, unable to face any of the boys while still in the grips of terror. 

She headed straight to the barn, where she slammed through the doors and into Lightning’s stall, flinging herself against the dozing horse’s side.  Great, gulping sobs wracked her entire body as she tried to get control of herself.

“Why!  Why now!  Why can’t he leave me alone?  Hasn’t he taken enough from me?” she wailed into the horse’s mane.  The animal’s calm acceptance of her grief and fear helped her get control.  As she fought free of the fear that had held her in its grip, she started to get mad. 

She stepped back from the horse and turned to take a swing at the stall door, ramming her fist into the boards as hard as she could.  “Damn him!” she growled, swinging again. “Damn him to hell!”


Lou froze in position.

“I have them too,” he said quietly.

She slowly raised her eyes to meet Jimmy’s.  She could see his face was wet with sweat, his hair in disarray, his shoulders stiff as if ready to face any threat, his gun strapped on even in the middle of the night.

“Beating the stall door to a pulp isn’t gonna help ya any, though,” he smiled weakly at her.  “I know.  I already tried it.”

He held up a hand to show her the healing scrapes along his knuckles.  “Why do ya think I wear gloves so much?”

Startled, she looked down at her own fists to find them scraped up and bloody.   Suddenly she could feel the sting of the wounds she’d inflicted on herself in her anger and fear.


“Don’t worry,” Jimmy soothed.  “There’s some medicine in the tack room.  Teaspoon made it.”  She wrinkled her nose in immediate disgust.  “But it works real well,” he finished.

That’s where Kid found them a few moments later, in the tack room.  Jimmy was handing her a pot filled with a foul smelling concoction that looked suspiciously like the bear grease Teaspoon had rubbed all over himself that first day they’d met him.

“Lou!” Kid exclaimed.  “Are you alright?  I was worried when ya didn’t come back…” he paused, obviously searching for a reason why she would’ve left the bunkhouse.

“He just had a nightmare and needed to beat up on some demons,” Jimmy said softly. 

Lou removed the wet cloth she’d been using to wash and hide her injured hands with.  “Jimmy offered to help me tend my injuries.”

“Ya didn’t do that when ya fell out of bed, didya?” Kid asked.

Lou shook her head in a shaky ‘no’, unwilling to explain any more.  Taking the pot from Jimmy, she began smearing the goop across her knuckles.

“Need any help?” Kid asked.  When she shook her head ‘no’, again, he accepted her silent request and turned to head back to bed.  “Alright.”

“Kid,” she said, unable to let him leave like that.  He stopped and turned to look back at her.  “Thanks for checkin’ on me.”

Kid nodded and left to return to bed.

“I’d better get back to bed, too,” Jimmy said.  “I’ve got a run in the mornin’.  You comin’?”

“Not yet,” she said quietly.  He nodded in understanding and headed back to the bunkhouse alone.

After he left, she went back to Lightning’s stall and curled up in the straw near the feed trough.  Here, with her horse, was the one place where she knew she was safe.  Within a few minutes, she was enjoying a dreamless sleep.


The noise of the boys coming into the barn to start their morning chores woke Lou the next morning. 

“Has anyone seen Lou?” she heard Buck ask.

“He left early to check on his horse,” Kid said.

Lou scrambled upright and looked around frantically for someplace to hide.  She couldn’t let them catch her in here in her longjohns.  As she cast around for some idea, her hand brushed a piece of cloth in the straw next to her.  Looking down, she saw her clothes neatly folded on the floor of the stall.

“Kid?” she whispered, even as she quickly scrambled into the clothes.  He’d saved her hide.  Shaking her head to get rid of the hay she’d collected in her hair in her sleep, she readied herself to face the others.  A moment later she stepped out of the stall, carefully closing the door behind her.

“Is he alright?” Kid asked, startling her.

“Uh, yeah,” she stumbled.

“Better get to work, then,” Kid rescued her.  “Breakfast will be ready soon.”

She nodded silently and turned to her morning chores.


Lou sighed.  It was Saturday and that meant bath night.  She’d quickly finished her chores and was now gathering her soap and towel.  She hated bathing in the pond.  It was still too chilly out and the waters remained frigid.  But she’d yet to come up with an alternative.

“Whatcha doin’?” Kid asked, walking in the bunkhouse door.

She swung around, startled by the sound of his voice, then relaxed as she realized who it was.  Turning back to her trunk, she finished gathering her bath materials.  “Just getting ready to go bathe.”

“But, Emma doesn’t have the water hot, yet.”

“Cain’t take any chances on gettin’ caught in the bathtub, Kid,” she said.  “I bathe out at the pond.”

“The pond?  Ain’t that a bit cold?”

“More’n a bit,” she admitted, shrugging.  “Cain’t see as I’ve got any choice ‘bout it, though.  Gotta get cleaned up.”

“What if I stand guard for ya?” he offered.

“What do ya mean?”

“I can keep watch, make sure no one walks in on ya.  It’ll be easy.  They’ll all think I’m just waitin’ fer my turn in the tub.”

“You’d do that fer me?” she asked, bewildered.

“Sure.  Why not?”

“Ya only promised not ta tell,” she said wonderingly.  “Ya never said anythin’ ‘bout helpin’ me.”

It was his turn to shrug.  “Do ya want me ta stand guard, or not?”

She stood there for a moment, searching his face, trying to suss out his thoughts.  Eventually she gave up.  “Sure.  A hot bath sounds nice for a change.”

An hour late, she sighed in pure bliss as she sank into the cowboy tub*.  It wasn’t very big.  She imagined the boys could barely fit in it sitting up.  But she was so small she could nearly submerge her entire body in the water.  The HOT water.

She didn’t even mind that the hot water was already slightly murky from those who’d used it before her.  She’d been the third person on the rotation Emma’d set up this week.  That mean Cody and Ike had used the same water before her.  She didn’t even want to think about what all they’d left behind in it.

With a slight shudder at that thought, Lou got to work cleaning up.  Used water or not, it was hot and she planned to enjoy it.  Just as she was pouring a bucket of water over her body to rinse off the soap, she heard a series of knocks on the kitchen door.  Kid’s warning that her time was nearly up!

Her eyes widened as she froze for a moment, then burst into a flurry of movement.  Jumping out of the tub, she quickly toweled off and slid into the clean clothes she’d left warming by the fire.  Moments later she walked out the kitchen door, nearly knocking Kid off his feet as he’d been leaning against the door.


“Oh! Sorry, Kid,” she smiled, reaching out a hand to catch his elbow and stop his fall.  “Didn’t realize you were busy holdin’ up the door.”

Kid just stared at her.  After a moment she began to get nervous and reached up to grab the edge of the towel hanging around her neck and rub it against her still damp hair. 

“Somethin’ wrong with the way I look?” she asked defensively.

Kid shook himself out of his torpor and smiled secretively at her.  “Only if you want ta keep yer secret.  Yer just too damned pretty ta be a boy right now!”

Lou felt herself start to blush and reached out to slug him in the arm for that comment.  He just tipped his hat at her and slipped into the kitchen, closing the door in her face.  Lou turned to head back to the bunkhouse.  As she entered the bunkhouse she caught the last of Ike signing something to Buck on the porch.

*What’s with them two?*

“Don’t know,” she heard Buck say.  “But whatever it is, reckon it ain’t none of our business.”


“Alright, boys,” Emma said as they finished up the last of breakfast.  “Here’s the list of chores that need doin’ today.  Everybody’s gotta lend a hand, even you Cody,” she added with a pointed look in the blonde rider’s direction that had the rest chuckling.  “Then, this afternoon, once Teaspoon gets back with my fixed buckboard wheel I’ll need all of ya ta help put it on.  Now, Buck, yer excused from chores today, other than tendin’ the stock, ‘cause ya’ve got a run.”

Lou reached out and nabbed the list Emma had set down on the table.  With the possible exception of Cody she was the best reader in the group and had by now become the chosen one when it came to reading things out loud.  Holding the sheet of paper up and looking over the tops of her useless glasses, she began.

“Wash breakfast dishes.  Peel potatoes for lunch.  Weed the garden.  Spread manure on garden.  Sweep the bunkhouse.  Change the tics in the bunkhouse.”

Finishing the list she looked up and asked, “So, who wants ta do what?”

“I don’t want ta do none of it,” Cody whined.

“That ain’t an option,” Buck smiled at him gloatingly.  Cody tossed the last piece of toast crust in his hand at his tormentor.

“I’ll sweep and peel,” Jimmy said.  “Anythin’ ta avoid spreadin’ manure.  It ain’t like I don’t deal with enough shit on a daily basis as it is.”

“I guess I’ll weed,” Lou muttered.  There was no way she was goin’ ta get stuck in the kitchen.

“I’ll spread the manure,” Kid offered next.

Cody groaned.  “Ya left me with washing the dishes.  Again!”

“You shouldn’t oughta wait until last ever’ time, then,” Lou smiled at him.  “Ya cain’t complain if’n ya never speak up.”

“I’ll help with the tics,” Kid offered.  “Cain’t spread the manure ‘til Lou’s done weedin’, anyway.”

Soon, the boys all went their separate ways.  Lou found herself humming as she pulled the weeds from among Emma’s vegetables.  There was something soothing about working with her hands in the dirt underneath the bright spring sunshine.  Not as soothing as taking Lightning for a gallop but, still, she was enjoying herself.

“You might wanna cut down on the hummin’,” Kid said behind her.  “The boys could get the wrong idea.”

“I’ve heard Jimmy hum a tune or two,” she shrugged, continuing to pull weeds.

Kid squatted down beside her and joined in the work.  “Yeah,” he said with a laugh.  “But he don’t sound near so pretty.”

Lou blushed.

“What was it you were hummin’, anyway?” he asked as they moved to the next row.

“Just an old tune my Grandpa used ta sing ta me,” she said, smiling in memory.  “It’s an Irish ballad.  He came from the old country, ya know.”

“The old country?”

“Ireland.  Grandpa McCloud came over with his wife and my ma back in ’45.  He’d been a horsetrainer for some lord back there, but lost his job during the potato famine,” she explained.  “They weren’t farmers, but with so many people desperate for work, the fancy lord found someone younger and cheaper to do his job.”

“Is he the one who taught you how to ride?”

Lou nodded.  “And, oh, how my Pa hated it.  Thought it was too unladylike.  The minute Grandpa McCloud died Pa banned me from the stables.”

Kid could see the turn in the conversation was making Lou uncomfortable by the way she refused to look at him and kept shifting around.  So, he changed tacks a bit.

“Could you teach me?” he asked.

“Teach you what?”  She stopped weeding a moment to look up at him.

“The song you were humming.”

Soon they were laughing and singing together as they finished the weeding and started spreading the manure on the young vegetable plants.

Near Banbridge town, in the County Down

*One morning in July
Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen
And she smiled as she passed me by.
She looked so sweet from her two white feet
To the sheen of her nut-brown hair
Such a coaxing elf, I'd to shake myself
To make sure I was standing there.
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
And from Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the sweet colleen
That I met in the County Down.

As she onward sped I shook my head
And I gazed with a feeling rare
And I said, says I, to a passerby
"who's the maid with the nut-brown hair?"
He smiled at me, and with pride says he,
"That's the gem of Ireland's crown.
She's young Rosie McCann
from the banks of the Bann
She's the star of the County Down."
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
And from Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the sweet colleen
That I met in the County Down.

I've travelled a bit, but never was hit
Since my roving career began
But fair and square I surrendered there
To the charms of young Rose McCann.
I'd a heart to let and no tenant yet
Did I meet with in shawl or gown
But in she went and I asked no rent
From the star of the County Down.
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
And from Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the sweet colleen
That I met in the County Down.
At the crossroads fair I'll be surely there
And I'll dress in my Sunday clothes
And I'll try sheep's eyes, and deludhering lies
On the heart of the nut-brown rose.
No pipe I'll smoke, no horse I'll yoke
Though with rust my plow turns brown
Till a smiling bride by my own fireside
Sits the star of the County Down.
From Bantry Bay up to Derry Quay
And from Galway to Dublin town
No maid I've seen like the sweet colleen
That I met in the County Down.

Suddenly a third voice, a sweet soprano, joined their harmony.  Both Kid and Lou stopped singing to turn and look.  Emma stood on the back step of her home, singing along.

“I always loved that song,” she said with a smile.  When the two young people just looked back at her, not quite sure what to do or say, she added, “Are you about done here?  Mr. Spoon’s back with my wheel.”

“We’ll be there in a couple minutes, ma’am,” Kid said.  Emma nodded and left them to finish their work.

“That was close,” Lou whispered. “Do ya think she suspects anythin’?”

“Naw,” Kid shrugged.  “She’d’ve said somethin’.”


Lou groaned as they finally managed to maneuver the wheel back onto the axle.  She was going to kill Cody!  Turning she looked to see who had distracted him.  A pretty woman sat in a buckboard talking to Emma.  Immediately she understood what had Cody so hot and bothered.

“So she looks nice in a dress,” Lou admitted, almost cringing when she realized she’d spoken aloud.

“She fills it out real nice,” Jimmy added. 

Lou glared daggers at him for encouraging Cody, only to realize he was just as…. enamored… as their blonde friend.  Turning to the young man next to her she realized he was staring almost as much as the other two.  In a devilish mood she asked, “What do you think, Kid?”

She had to fight not to laugh out loud when Kid jerked and looked down at her almost guiltily. 

“Safer not to,” he answered.

Lou smothered a giggle.  The same devil inside her pushed her to continue.  “So, Abigail McPherson is pretty,” she started.  At the astonished looks from Cody and Hickok she revised her statement with a glare.  “Alright, she’s beautiful.  But, can she ride?”

Kid’s astonished look almost had her doubling over in laughter. It was so much fun to needle these boys, she thought.  Especially when half the time they didn’t even realize they were being made fun of.

Then Emma came back and said Mrs. McPherson had been smiling at Lou and suddenly the joke was on her. 

“I guess she takes a shine to the silent type,” Emma smiled. 

Lou turned away quickly to hide her suddenly burning face.  Kid took a moment to get some of his own back and started tickling her.  That just pissed her off and she shoved him.  He should know better than that, she thought furiously.  What was he trying to do, give her away?

“Well, she’ll love Ike then,” she heard Jimmy opine.

She’d had enough and, since the wheel was back on the buckboard, she pushed past Kid and stomped back toward the bunkhouse. 

“You don’t need my help, no more,” she tossed over her shoulder.

“What’s with him?” she heard Cody ask, bewildered.

“Leave him alone,” Emma ordered, “and finish this wheel.  I need to be able to drive the buckboard tomorrow when we go into town for supplies, or there won’t be anything for you to eat!”


“I just don’t know what ta do, Katy.”

Lou stopped abruptly as she overheard Kid talking to his horse.  She’d come out to the barn to get some alone time.  She’d had enough of the innuendos and double and triple entendres the boys had been tossing around over supper.  They were still all agog over Abigail McPherson.

“I cain’t treat her like a woman, I might give her secret away,” he continued in his monologue.  “But, I just don’t have it in me to treat her like a boy.  She’s…. she’s just too special for me ta act like that with her, around her.”

Lou sighed.  Seemed it was time to have a little talk with him.

“You don’t haveta ‘treat’ me like anythin’,” she said quietly.  Kid spun around to stare at her, surprised.  “Just be my friend.”

“And how do I do that?”

“Be there for me when I need help, like ya been doin’,” she admitted with a small smile.  “Help me celebrate when things are goin’ well, help me pick up the pieces when they don’t.  Let me do the same fer you.”


She walked up to him and boldly laid her fingers over his mouth to silence him.  “I ain’t sayin’ forget, I’m just sayin’ don’t let it matter.  React to the situation, not the person.”

Kid laughed quietly as he wrapped his own hand around the fingers she’d pressed against his mouth. “I ain’t likely ta ever forget, Lou.  Now that I know it shines through in everything you say and do.  I’m surprised I didn’t figure it out before.”

“Maybe you were too blinded by the Abigail McPhersons of the world to notice the Louise McClouds,” she offered, stepping back.

“Lou,” he started to say when Cody burst through the barn doors.

“Come up to the bunkhouse, quick!  Ike’s back and there’s trouble!”


Lou sighed as she took her turn looking out the window, keeping watch for Nickerson’s gang.  It had been a long night and the night wasn’t half over.  She was glad for Emma’s hot coffee.  It was the only thing that was keeping her awake right now.  She looked across at Ike, stationed at the other window.  He looked so down.

“You’re doin; the right thing, Ike,” she reassured him.

*Am I?* he signed.

“You can’t just let him get away with this,” Lou said.  “Just think of all the people yer savin’.  Anyone dies tonight, it’s ‘cause they chose ta put their lives on the line to ensure justice is done.”

Ike just stared at her for a moment, before starting to sign again.  *They woudn’t have to if I’d just done what I should have the first time.*

Lou looked at him quizzically.  She moved over to stand beside him at the window.  In a quiet voice she asked, “What are ya talkin’ ‘bout, Ike?”

*I had him in my sights,* he signed.  *I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I couldn’t, Lou.  Now people are going to die because of my cowardice.*

Lou put her hand on his shoulder.  “It’s not cowardice to not be able to shoot an unarmed man.  It’s what separates us from killers like Nickerson.  You should never be ashamed.”

“Riders comin’!” they heard Buck’s shouting from his post in the barn.  “Riders comin’ fast!”

“Get ready,” Lou said.  “I’ll get Kid and Emma.”

As Nickerson’s men came riding into the home station, guns blazing, Lou returned to hunker down next to Ike and begin shooting at the invaders.  The firefight seemed to last forever, as she took aim again and again.  In the few minutes it took the rampaging riders to make their passes through the yard, Lou had to reload her pistol twice.  As usual, the details of the fight escaped Lou’s memory almost as soon as it was over.  She only remembered the intense focus on aiming and firing her weapon over and over.  In the end, though not happy to have ended anyone’s life, she felt a quiet sense of satisfaction to note that she was responsible for felling as many men as any of the other boys.  She’d held her own.

Looking around, she noticed Ike heading determinedly out of the house.

“Oh, shit!” she muttered as she realized what he was probably up to.  She hurried to follow Emma and Kid out of the house into the yard to meet up with the others.

“What happened ta Ike?” Teaspoon asked.

Lou looked around, noticing she’d lost sight of him.  “Emma, you seen Ike?”

Emma nodded.  “Headin’ toward the stable.  He’s gonna try an’ make it to Blue Creek by hisself.  He don’t want this trouble comin’ down on us.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Lou muttered under her breath to herself, unheard by the others as they all turned to head for the barn.


“Ike, we’re your friends,” Lou reassured him as they huddled behind the barrier of a fallen tree, hiding from the cutthroats Nickerson had hired to stop them from getting Ike to Blue Creek to testify.  “We’re stickin’ by ya.  We ain’t gonna let ya face trouble by yerself.”

Ike started to sign something to her, but she placed a hand over his to stop him.  “No, Ike.  Don’t.  We’re all orphans, to one extent or another. If we don’t stick up fer each other, ain’t no one else gonna do it.  Just accept it.  And return the favor when the time comes.”

Kid came running up to them bent in half.  “How’re ya doin’ on ammo?”

Lou checked her pockets.  “I’m alright.  But I think Ike’s runnin’ low.”

Kid seated himself between the other two and dug in the saddlebag he carried for another pouch of bullets, which he handed to Ike.  The bald headed young man nodded his appreciation as he began reloading.

“Now whatta we do?” Lou asked.

“Send out the boy,” one of the bandits yelled across to them.  “He’s the only one we want.  The rest of ya can go.”

The riders looked at each other.  Jimmy laughed.  “Whatta ya say, guys?”

In an instant, silent decision all turned simultaneously and started firing again.

“We may have to leave someone behind to cover our trail again,” Kid muttered quietly to Lou.

She looked at him in angered shock.  “No, Kid!  We already left Cody behind.  We can’t do it again!”

“We may not have any choice ‘bout it, Lou.”

Suddenly Jimmy turned and shouted, “Damn it, Ike!  Why didn’t ya kill Nickerson when ya had the chance.”

Lou glared at Jimmy who after a moment of silence seemed to get the point.  “I’m sorry.  We’ll get out of this somehow.”

“I’ve got an idea,” Kid said and began to lay out his plan to use the nearby wash to reach a rock wall that would allow him to overlook the outlaws and hold them down while the others escape.

“It’s suicide, Kid!” Lou exclaimed aghast.  It was bad enough to leave someone behind.  She was still hurting with worry for Cody.  But, to leave Kid behind?  She wasn’t sure if she could do it.  It was in that moment, she knew for sure he was more than just a friend.  More even than the brothers the others had become.  She wasn’t sure what that more was, but she wanted the chance to find out.

She found it hard to breathe as frustration wrapped its steel arms around her and squeezed tight.  There were so many things she wanted to say to him, and couldn’t.  Not without giving up all she’d fought so hard for.  And she couldn’t do that.  She just couldn’t.  But that might mean she’d lose him for good.  He could be as confident as he wanted, there was a good chance he’d never come back from this.  She might never see him again.  “We ain’t leavin’ ya here.  Not after Cody.”

His voice noticeably softened as he turned to her, “I’ll be right behind ya.”

Even though he’d noted her concern, that didn’t stop him from doing what he thought was right, she complained to herself.  Danged, stubborn, enfuriating, endearing, loveable man.

She didn’t know how, but she managed to stick with the others as they fled for Blue Creek leaving Kid behind to provide cover.  The entire rest of the ride she kept looking over her shoulder, hoping to see Kid, even Cody, catching up with them.  The closer they got to Blue Creek with no sign of the two missing riders, the more it felt like someone was ripping her heart out of her chest, one piece at a time.  Even arriving safely and seeing Marshal Cain keeping watch for them wasn’t much of a relief.

“You alright, Ike?” he asked.  Ike nodded, almost as if he were ashamed to be healthy and whole.  “Where’s the Kid and Cody?”

Lou froze.  She couldn’t answer.  She was too afraid she knew what the real answer was and she couldn’t face it.

“Hopefully bringing up the rear,” she heard Buck say.

“Damn!  If anything happens to those kids Emma will…”

“Don’t worry, they can handle themselves,” Jimmy interjected, meeting Lou’s eyes as if speaking directly to her and not the Marshal.  His attitude really grated at her.  How could he be so nonchalant about this?

As the others followed Jimmy and Ike into the Marshal’s office, Lou found herself staring longingly down the road, hoping desperately to see Katy come racing down the street or to hear Cody’s typically exuberant yell.  Nothing.  Her shoulders fell as she turned to follow the others.


Lou found herself wandering down the boardwalk in the wake of Buck, Jimmy and Marshal Cain.  She watched with incredulity as Buck, supposedly Ike’s best friend!, allowed himself to be distracted by the pretty young lady he’d run into.  He ended up trotting after her like a bewitched puppy, loaded down with her packages.

“We’ll be at the hotel restaurant,” Marshal Cain had said with an indulgent look.

“But if ya don’t make, we’ll understand,” Jimmy had added facetiously.

Lou looked at him in growing anger.  How could he be taking all of this so lightly!  Finally she just couldn’t keep quiet anymore.

“You’re amazin’.”

Jimmy grinned.  “So I’ve been told.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she gritted out, fighting to keep the tears of anger and fear at bay, her voice getting louder and more angry as she continued.  “Kid and Cody are missin’, maybe dead.  Ike’s got a price on his head.  Who knows what’ll happen before the trial and yer actin’ like ever’thin’s great. What’s the matter with you?!”

This finally got Jimmy’s attention and wiped the smirk off his face.  He turned to face her, his eyes boring into hers as he responded with equal amounts of anger and, she saw as she looked deep into his eyes, fear.

“The way I choose to handle my problems is my business!”

Lou unconsciously pulled back from him in the face of his blazing fury.  As he noticed Lou’s response, he reigned his anger in and quietened his tone.

“And unless you forget, they’re my friends, too.”

“Sorry, Jimmy.  You’re right.”

He nodded, acknowledging her apology, then turned and walked off toward the hotel restaurant.  Lou felt the tears she’d been fighting all day start to boil over.  Damn it!  She’d really hoped not to lose control.  She quickly turned away, toward the wall, trying to hide her reaction from the Marshal.

“You alright, Lou?” 

Too little, too late.  What excuse could she give him? What would the boys say in a situation like this?  Who was she kidding?  The boys would never be in a situation like this.  Finally, she took a leaf from her brother Jeremiah’s book.

“Yep.  Been ridin’ hard.  Just got some dust in my eyes, that’s all.”  When that didn’t get him off her back, she added.  “Go ahead.  I’ll catch up.”

After he left, she felt her way around the corner into the nearby alley.  There she sank to the ground and let the tears flow.  Sobbing, she lay her head on her knees, wrapping her arms around herself, as if to hold it all in.  It was a relief to let go of the pain and worry, finally.  But she knew she needed to get control of herself.  Slowly, the sobs slowed and she was able to wipe her face dry.

Once she felt she was presentable, she headed back out onto the street and down the boardwalk toward the restaurant.  She knew her eyes were still red-rimmed from her crying jag, but there was nothing she could do about that.  She just hoped the guys didn’t notice.


Lou stared down at the plate of steak the waitress had just set in front of her.  She had no appetite but knew she needed to eat.  It had been a long night and day of fighting and riding with nothing to eat.  She could feel Jimmy’s and Sam’s eyes on her, but simply couldn’t make herself care.  She’d rather just sit here and be numb.  To let herself feel might mean another break down and she couldn’t afford that.

“If they’re not back by mornin’, I’ll send out a posse,” she heard the Marshal sigh.

“They can take care of themselves,” Jimmy put in.  “They’re probably just hidin’.”

This got her attention and she looked up from the plate of food in front of her.  She couldn’t keep her mouth shut.  “What if they’re not?” she said, giving voice to the fears that had been circling her head ever since they’d left Cody and Kid behind.  “What if Nickerson’s men got ‘em?  What if they’re laying somewhere, hurt?  What if…”

She barely even heard as Jimmy interrupted her.  ”What if? What if?  Why don’t ya start thinkin’ everythin’s gonna be alright, instead of thinkin’ the worse?”

Lou looked down again, knowing she tended to be pessimistic about life.  But maybe she had good reason, she thought.  Life had handed her mostly lemons so far.  Why should she expect anything better?

“What if ya start doin’ that for a change, hunh?

“Hickok’s right,” the Marshal put in.  “Maybe we’re worryin’ ourselves over nothin’.”

Lou was considering this when a sudden thump on the table startled her.  She looked up sharply to see Cody’s shining smile.

“Ain’t no maybe about it!”

She started to smile, then saw Kid walk up beside her and her small smile of greeting turned into a warm, face eating grin of welcoming joy.  As he smiled back down at her, the rest of the world around them seemed to disappear.  She jumped to her feet, intent on hugging him close and never letting him go again.  She hadn’t realized just how precious he’d become to her until she’d almost lost him.  Yet, as she took a step toward him, something Cody was saying about food brought her back to reality and she remembered where and who she now was.  Putting her head down, she opted instead to give Kid a greeting punch in the arm, as she’d seen the boys do sometimes, instead of the hug and kiss she wanted to give him.  All was right with her world again.


“Marshal,” Kid asked as they walked out of the courthouse the next day, “where are the horses stabled?  Figure we should head back as soon as Ike’s free to go.”

“Ain’t gonna stay fer the hangin’?”

“That’s yer job, not ours,” Buck said.  “We done our part, got the witness here safely and made sure he could testify.”

Sam nodded in understanding and started to point in the direction of the livery stables when Lou spoke up.  “I’ll show ya, Kid.  It’ll take half as long with both of us saddlin’ them up.”

She ignored the questioning look from Jimmy as she pushed past him to lead Kid toward the stables.

Once inside she quickly closed the barn door behind Kid and threw herself into his arms, giving him the tight bear hug she’d wanted to give him the night before.

“What’s this all about?” he asked, laughing as he wrapped his arms around her in response.

Looking up into his eyes, she said seriously, “I thought you were dead!  I thought you were dead!”

She could feel the tears starting to well up again as she relived the pain and fear and buried her face in his chest. 

“Don’t do that to me again!  I can’t lose ya.  I just found ya.” she mumbled into his leather shirt, simultaneously inhaling the smells of horse, fresh air and man that were so distinctively Kid.

“It’s alright, Lou,” he whispered, tightening his arms around her and resting his chin on her head.  “It’s alright.”

Reaching down he lifted her chin so he could look her in the eyes.  “I ain;t got no plans on bein’ lost.”

Smiling tenderly he leaned down and gently pressed his lips to hers.

Chapter 5: The Revelation

*A cowboy tub is similar to the old clawfoot tubs, just much, much smaller.  I knew I had to include it in a story sometime, when I ran across one in an antiques store in Abilene, KS, earlier this year.  The picture doesn't do a very good job of showing just how small this tub is.  Maybe three feet long and 18 inches deep, max.

*Star of the County Down

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Only Thing To Fear: The Kiss

Music: I'd Lie For You, Meatloaf
Tell Him, Celine Dion

Lou watched as Kid took off on another run.  Things were finally settling into a routine at the home station.  It had been a week since she’d helped the other riders capture the men who’d shot and robbed her.  Teaspoon, when he’d learned about her cracked ribs, had first read her the riot act for riding out with the others injured, then insisted she sit out a few rides to heal up.  Just this morning he’d announced he was putting her back in the rotation.  It would be nice getting back out on the trail again.  Sitting around the station, with only limited chores to allow her ribs to heal, was giving her too much time to think.

She knew she needed to thank Kid for not spilling the beans, but wasn’t sure how to go about it without coming off as too girly or silly.  She decided, however, that she needed to have something ready to say when he got back.  With a sigh, Lou turned back to her morning job of mucking out the stalls.  At least it was easier than lugging around the feed pails, like she’d been doing.

Lightning snorted as she walked into his stall, leaning over to nudge her side in search of the treats he knew she regularly carried for him.  Lou set the shovel aside and dug the apple cores out of her pocket, laying them on her open palm so he could lip them up.  She laughed as his soft nose tickled her hand.

“I know,” she whispered.  “You’re getting’ restless, too.  Won’t be long now.”

With a last pat on his nose, she gently pushed him away and retrieved the shovel to begin working.

Even as she scooped the horse manure into the nearby wheelbarrow, to be dumped later onto Emma’s large garden, Lou’s thoughts turned back to the Kid.  He was the first thing she thought of each morning, the last thing at night and still occupied many of her thoughts throughout the day. 

Now, though, it wasn’t just him, but fear of what he could do to her.  When he was around, she worried he’d do or say something to give her away to the others.  When he wasn’t around, she worried she might do or say something to give herself away.  Why’d things have to get so hard just as she was settling in to this new life?

With a sigh, she dumped the last shovelful of manure into the wheelbarrow and then began to spread clean straw along the stall’s floor with a rake.

“So, what do ya think, Lightning?” she asked the horse.  “Are we still gonna be able ta make this work?”

The horse whickered to her and nodded its head up and down.

“Is that a yes?”

Again, Lightning nodded his head.  Lou laughed.

“Alright, boy.  Have it your way,” she smiled, patting his haunches as she headed out of the stall.  “We’ll stick around.”


As Lou lay in bed that night, listening to the other boys talking, she smiled.  There was something real homey about sharing the bunkhouse with the boys, despite how nervous they still made her sometimes.

Ever since their run in, and subsequent fight, with that band of outlaws, they’d all begun sharing bits and pieces of themselves with the group.  All except Lou, that is.  She enjoyed listening to the others’ stories, though.  Tonight, Cody was rambling on about his Ma’s world famous Christmas mincemeat pie.  Lou smiled as his story reminded her of her own mother.

“Whatcha makin’, Ma?” nine-year old Louise asked curiously, standing beside her mother at the stove.  She’d never seen her mother cook before.  Her father hadn’t allowed it.  But she’d been seeing a lot of new things ever since her mother had suddenly rushed the three kids out of the house on a bright Monday morning a couple months ago.  Their father had just left on a business trip that was expected to last several weeks.  Their mother had sported a black eye and was holding one arm at an odd angle.  They’d ridden out of the compound on three of her father’s best horses, never looking back.

“Somethin’ called mincemeat pie, honey,” her mother said.  “Assuming I’m followin’ this recipe Mrs. Coughlin gave me right.”

Mrs. Coughlin ran the restaurant at the hotel where Louise’s Ma had gotten a job cleaning rooms.  They lived in a small one room shack behind the hotel.  It was smaller than Louise’s whole bedroom had been back home, but here Louise was free to run and play, shout and cry, go to school and make friends, without worrying about what her father might say or do.  She liked her little trundle bed that she shared with Jeremiah much better than the big canopy bed her Pa’d never let her jump on. She was even enjoying helping her Ma with the chores.

Pa had insisted they weren’t supposed to do things like cook and clean.  That’s what the help was for.  The only things she’d been allowed to do at home was study with her tutor, learn to ride horses and sew.

“Louise, darlin’,” Ma asked, “what’s next in the recipe?”

Louise squinted down at the handwritten note and read out, “Add one cup brandy and si… sim…”

“Simmer?” Ma suggested helpfully.

“Simmer for thirty minutes.”

“Good thing Mrs. Coughlin said we could substitute apple cider,” Ma smiled down at Louise, “cause there’s no way we could afford to get brandy.”

Louise smiled back up at her Ma and said conspiratorially, “I like cider better anyway.”

They laughed together.  Louise was feeling so relaxed, she finally asked her mother the question that had been worrying at her ever since they’d left Pa.

“Ma,” she started out, “why’d we leave Pa?”

“Well, honey,” Ma said, putting a lid over the pot of simmering mincemeat and squatting down to look Louise in the eye, “there’s lots of reasons.  But mostly, I had to do what was best for you and Jeremiah and Teresa.”

“Cause Pa hit us?”

Ma nodded sadly.  “Your Pa used to be a good man, Louise.  Or, at least I thought he was.  But, he has a need to control everything around him, including people.  And honey, you can’t control other people, only yourself.”

“Couldn’t you tell Pa that?”

Ma laughed softly.  “Sometimes, people have to learn things the hard way.  They ain’t willin’ ta learn by listenin’ ta other folks, they just gotta live with the consequences of their actions.”

“I hope I don’t ever have to live with con-see-qwen-sees,” Louise stumbled over the long, unfamiliar word.  “They don’t sound like any fun atall.”

“Consequences,” Ma pronounced the word slowly and carefully so Louise could hear it better, “are just the results of what we say and do.  They can be both good and bad.  I made some bad choices when I chose to marry your Pa,” she said ruefully rubbing her arm still wrapped in a bandage, “and I have to live with the consequences of that decision.  I left your Pa so you and your brother and sister wouldn’t.”

“Then I’m never gonna get married,” Louise declared decisively.  “Then I won’t have to suffer the consequences.”  This time she got the word out without stumbling over it.

Ma pulled Louse toward her in a hug.  “Oh, honey, don’t swear off marriage and men just because I made a mistake.  There are good men out there, like your Grandpa McCloud.  You remember him?”

Louise nodded.  Grandpa McCloud had died the year before.  But she still remembered his warm hugs and how his beard would tickle her neck when he kissed her.  She’d loved sitting in his lap and listening as he read her stories or playing checkers with him.  He’d been the one to teach her how to ride.

“When you grow up and meet a young man you can’t keep out of your thoughts and who makes your heart race, just stop and think about your Pa and Grandpa McCloud,” Ma smiled.  “If he reminds you of Grandpa, than get to know him better.  Alright?”

Louise nodded, still a bit uncertain, but willing to take Ma’s advice.  Ma smiled and stood up. 

“And darlin’, once you’ve found that special young man, don’t let him get away ‘cause yer too busy playin’ games.  Tell him how ya feel.  It may work, it might not.  But you’ll never know unless ya tell him.”

“Yes, Ma,” Louise responded dutifully, not sure she really understood what her Ma meant.

“Thanks, Ma,” Lou whispered.  Now she knew how to thank Kid for his silence.  Just tell him.  As soon as he got back.


It was nearing sunset.  Chores were done and the boys were finishing up supper.  Kid had come in from his run earlier that afternoon.  He’d left the table early to go check on his horse, Katy.  He’d said something about her having an odd gait on the last leg of their run and wanting to make sure she was alright.  Lou’d slipped away as quietly as she could a few minutes later.

She opened the barn door and peered into the gloomy depths.  She didn’t call out because she didn’t want to attract the attention of anyone in the bunkhouse.  Not seeing Kid, she walked into the barn and closed the door behind her.  She made her way to Katy’s stall and found the paint contentedly munching from her feed trough.  Lou smiled as she noticed Kid had placed an extra portion of oats there.  He took such good care of his horse, just like Grandpa McCloud had always taught her to do.

Sighing, she moved on to the tack room.  Kid wasn’t there either.  Finally, she decided to head out to the corrals behind the barn.  There, the Kid was leaning against the corral fence, just watching the sun set with a smile on his face.  He looked so relaxed.  She could feel her pulse rate picking up as she neared him.

When you meet a young man who makes your heart race… Lou smiled as her mother’s words ghosted through her mind.  The Kid certainly did that.  But the jury was out on whether he was mo re like Pa or Grandpa.   She was definitely leaning toward Grandpa at this point, though.  Kid certainly seemed to be more a McCloud than a Boggs.

Walking up to him, she gently touched his arm to let him know she was there, before stepping back.

“Kid?” she asked tentatively.  She’d decided what to say but saying it was turning out to be a lot harder than she’d expected.  Why was it always so hard to talk to him?  She  never had this problem with the other boys.

“Yes, Lou?” he turned and smiled at her.

Taking a deep breath, as inconspicuously as she could, she blurted out, “Thank you for keepin’ my secret.”

“I didn’t promise,” he reminded her.

“No,” she agreed.  “But ya coulda said somethin’ and ya didn’t.”

Kid looked away for a moment, pondering something, then looked back down at her.  “Ya got a right ta make yer own way,” he said.  She smiled at his words, her heart warming even more toward him.  “I won’t tell.  I give ya my word.”

Definitely a McCloud, she thought.  Something else her mother’d once told her entered her mind.  Don’t play games, Louise.  Tell him, show him what you feel. On impulse Lou looked around to make sure none of the others had come out of the bunkhouse and around behind the barn.  Then, she leaned in and quickly, shyly pecked Kid on the cheek.

As she was pulling away, already blushing at her own effrontery, Kid turned his face and caught her lips with his.  Oh!  It felt so good.  The soft brush of his skin against hers.  The way the whiskers on his cheek abraded her smooth face.  The movement of his lips as he gently slid them across hers.  Her breath caught in her throat.  She hoped this moment lasted forever.  At the same time, she hoped it ended quickly.  She couldn’t breathe.  This was nothing like anything she’d ever experienced before in her life.  She didn’t know how to handle it, what to do, what to say.

She pulled away to catch her breath.  Unable to meet his eyes, afraid of what she’d see there, she stared at the ground.  Now that the kiss was over, memories, awful memories, began to crowd into her brain.  She quickly pushed them away.  She wouldn’t let that man ruin this moment for her.

“Uhh,” she muttered, trying to think of something to say to relieve the silence that was becoming uncomfortable.

Kid smiled at her again.

“It’s gonna take some gettin; used to,” he said.  “Now that you’re a girl.”

This brought her full attention back to him.  She laughed slightly.  Nothing about her had changed.  Nothing at all. 

“Ah, always been a girl, Kid,” she said, then turned to walk back toward the bunkhouse.  Hah!  Let him chew on that, she thought with a private, wicked smile.

Chapter 4: The Beginning