Tuesday, April 17, 2012

For Better, For Worse

Author's Note:  This little snippet falls sometime in the scant weeks between the series finale, 'Til Death Do Us Part, and the end of the Express late in 1861.

*Not Enough, Lacuna Coil
*Once You've Learned To Be Lonely, Reba McEntire
*This is Love, This is Life, Bon Jovi

Lou looked around the table at the forced smiles of her friends, her family, as they gamely chewed the last few bites of the rubbery roast she’d served up for dinner that night.  Jimmy had surreptitiously tossed his biscuits under the table to one of the ubiquitous dogs at the station.  Kid was soaking his in a glass of milk before gnawing off small bites.  Teaspoon was uncharacteristically pushing his food around on his plate, a morose look on his face, without really eating anything.  Rachel had already politely excused herself, saying she had papers to grade and wasn’t really hungry anyway.  Lou was so sick to her stomach she couldn’t bring herself to even take a bite of the latest meal she’d ruined.  So, she just sat there watching everyone else pretend to enjoy the meal not even Cody would’ve willingly downed.

She could feel the frustration building and building in her head, until it felt like her eyes would burst out of their sockets if the pressure weren’t released soon.  Suddenly, it was more than she could take.  With a stifled sob, Lou jumped up from the table, knocking over the bench she and Kid were sharing in the process, tossed her napkin down on her plate and ran out of the bunkhouse.

Letting the door slam behind her, she raced out of the Express yard, out onto the wide open prairie.  She ran and ran, pumping her legs as hard as she could, propelling her body forward, trying to escape the pain that seemed to be squeezing her heart right out through her throat.  She ran until she couldn’t breathe anymore, her aching lungs begging her to slow down and let them fully inflate.

The entire time, tears coursed down her cheeks.  If it were only supper she’d ruined, she could handle that.  But she’d ruined her, and Kid’s in the process, life thinking she could be a ‘normal’ woman.  She didn’t know how to fix things now, not without hurting even more than she was.

Collapsing onto a fallen tree overlooking the creek, she finally let the sobs she’d been struggling to hold back take over.  Her entire body quaked as she cried out all her fears and disappointments to the great big, empty sky.

As she gasped for breath between rounds of body shaking wails, she damned herself.  She’d made the choices that had led her to this lonely spot in the middle of the prairie, all by herself.  She’d thought she’d earned a second chance.  But her second chance was proving to be a disaster!

The thought of what it would take to fix things, leaving Kid, going back to a lonely existence as just plain “Lou”, instead of Louise, brought on a fresh round of laments.  She cursed herself for being so dependent on him for her happiness.  She cursed him for not being there with her when she needed him the most.  She cursed herself for wanting him there to see her at her weakest.  She cursed the world for being so unfair.

Eventually, her energy flagging, the crying jag tapered off to occasional whimpers and quiet tears.  Leaning back on the fallen tree trunk, Lou looked up at the stars starting to appear in the sky above.

“You ready to talk about it?”

Lou jerked at the sound of her husband’s voice.  Sitting up, she quickly began wiping her eyes dry with the backs of her hands, trying to hide the evidence of her despair.

“Wha… what are you doin’ here?” she whispered.

“Well, see, this woman I love more than anythin’ else in the world was upset ‘bout somethin’,” Kid said softly, hunkering down on his knees in front of her, reaching out to still her motions with one hand and using his other to wipe her face dry with a handkerchief.  “I kinda figured it might be a good idea ta find out why.”

Lou looked deep into his comforting blue eyes and suddenly couldn’t keep her misery to herself anymore.

“I’m a faaaaailluuuuureee,” she wailed as a fresh wave of sobs shook her body.  “I’ll never make a decent woman, let alone a good wife or mother!”

Kid gently pulled her against his shoulder and just held her as she broke down again.  He nuzzled her neck, wrapped one arm around her, hugging her tight to his chest, and gently stroked her hair with his other hand.

“Shhhh,” he whispered in her ear.  “No matter how bad it is, there ain’t nothin’ we can’t handle together.”

Lou pulled back to look into his face, horrified. 

“But that’s just it!  We shouldn’t be together!  I ain’t cut out ta be no kinda proper wife to ya.  I ruined my chance at that when I first lopped off my hair and started dressin’ like a boy.  Maybe even before that… when I took that job at Wicks’ place!  Now, I cain’t do nothin’ a good wife should do.” 

Lou pulled away from Kid to stand up and begin pacing back and forth in front of him as she enumerated her deficiencies. 

“I cain’t cook.  I ain’t got the patience ta stay in the house cleanin’ all day. I’m so durned contrary I’m constantly arguin’ with ya, over ever’thin’.  And, Oh God!” she suddenly wailed as another thought hit her.  “What about babies?  I’m hopeless!  I can’t even pin on a diaper right!”

She collapsed back onto the log in defeat.  Kid smiled gently at her, even as he pulled her closer once again, tucking her head into the hollow of his shoulder.  Resting his chin on the top of her head, he looked out over the prairie, not really seeing anything in front of him, but rather Lou as he’d known her over the last couple of years.  Lou riding tall, tall as any man he’d ever known.  Lou fighting and arguing over every little thing right along with the rest of the boys.  Lou determined to do her job as well, if not better, than any of the rest of them.  Lou arguing against the least bit of what she termed coddling.  Lou pushing him when he needed to be pushed, comforting him when he needed comforting, loving him no matter what.  His Lou, so full of life and determination, independence and love.

“Lou, I had my chance at a ‘proper’ woman who’da made me a ‘proper’ wife.  I walked away from her, if you’ll remember.  I wouldn’t know what to do with a wife who never pushed me to be better than I am, who accepted every word that came out of my mouth as if it came from God.  A woman who needed me to constantly take care of her and protect her would be more than I could handle.  I love YOU, Lou,” he said vehemently, pulling back to tilt her chin up so he could look her in the face as he made his declaration.  “I love your temper and your stubbornness and your impatience.  I love everything about you.  And if that means our marriage ain’t exactly ‘normal’, well, so what?  There ain’t a one of us that’s lived in that bunkhouse I’d call normal ta begin with.”

Lou let out a watery chuckle even as she pressed herself closer to him, taking comfort from his tight hold and quiet words.

Unable to meet his eyes, she whispered, “But, what if I never learn how ta cook proper?”

“Well, then we’ll either havta get rich enough we can afford a cook or I’ll havta learn,” Kid laughed.  “And you can muck out the stalls everyday!”

“Promise?” she whispered, a ray of hope breaking through the dark morass of her own doubts and fears.

“I swear.  For better, for worse.  ‘Til death do us part.  Remember, Lou?  I meant what I said.  It took me long enough ta get ya to the altar, I ain’t goin’ ta let ya walk away now!  No matter how many biscuit bricks I gotta eat.”

The couple laughed together.  Lou took the handkerchief from Kid and carefully dried her face, then blew her nose.  Looking up at him, she added mischievously, “Maybe we should just let Jimmy use ‘em fer target practice.”


Teaspoon watched the young couple walking arm in arm back into the station’s yard.  He was glad to see Lou looking so much happier than she had at supper.  He knew she was having trouble adjusting to her new place, here at the station, in town and in Kid’s life.  The changes that came with marriage were hard on any newlywed, but much harder on a free spirit like his Louise.  She’d been so emotional lately, he was really hoping she hadn’t started breeding yet.

The grizzled Marshal sighed deeply, deciding to wait until tomorrow to share his bad news with the young couple.  Things were about to get a lot harder, for them and the rest of the remaining Express family.  Word had come that morning that Russell, Majors and Waddell were shutting down the Express in a couple of weeks.

Thanks to the ladies at the Writers Ranch for another great graphic!

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