Author's Note: It's ten years after the end of the Express. The Civil War is over. But hings have not exactly gone according to plan for Lou and Kid. That doesn't mean they can't learn to fall in love all over again. Hope springs eternal.
“Where’s yer gun?” a surprised Jimmy asked the next morning when he saw Kid, Lu, coming out of the house burdened down with a pile of quilts and other linens, but no gun on his hip.
“Wha?” Kid grunted as he stuffed the bedding under the front seat of the already overpacked wagon. Turning to look at Jimmy, Lu completed the question. “What gun?”
Patting the butts of his trusty pearl-handled Colt revolvers, Jimmy said, “Yer six-gun! Other than yer mare Katy, it was yer most prized possession.”
“Guns are evil,” Lydia Cathers said, walking out the front door while still tying on her bonnet. “I won’t have them around my son.”
“Well, then I’d be prepared to meet my maker, lady,” Jimmy sneered, “’cause you won’t last two weeks out West without a gun.”
Lydia just sniffed and walked around the wagon to where Kid was waiting to help her up onto the seat. Jimmy watched her move, intrigued by the sway of her hips underneath all those skirts and half-wondering how much of her bustle was real. Shaking his head as if to rid himself of the image, he forcibly reminded himself he was supposed to dislike this interloper on Lou’s behalf.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, he called after her, “That is, if the Indians don’t capture you and turn you into a squaw, first!”
Mentally apologizing to Buck for the comment, Jimmy watched the Widow Cathers’ back stiffen as she turned to glare at him. He grinned, pleased to see that his barb had struck true. That grin began to fall away as the widow woman climbed back out of the wagon, pushing Kid’s hastily offered hand roughly away in the process. Lifting her skirts in one hand she marched determinedly toward Hickok. He swore he could see smoke coming out of her ears, trailing behind her as she moved.
Coming to a stop directly in front of the famed gunslinger who towered head and shoulders over her, she began emphatically poking him in the chest with one slender finger as she spoke.
“I’ll have you know I’m the best shot in the county,” she hissed at him. My father had me practicing with targets as soon as I was strong enough to hold a rifle. It was bigger than I was.” Glaring up at Jimmy she continued her diatribe. “Just because I can shoot doesn’t mean I approve of firearms. They stole my father from me… and then my husband. That doesn’t mean I’m not perfectly capable of protecting myself and my son, if necessary. Even without a ‘strong man’ to help!”
Without pausing for breath, she reached out, grabbed one of a startled Jimmy’s Colts and, swiveling on one heel, handily shot out the ‘a’ in the wooden letters that spelled out ‘Cathers’, swinging not so gently now from a pole at the end of the drive, a good 50 feet away. Handing the still smoking gun to a dumbfounded Jimmy, she turned almost violently back toward the wagon and marched toward her seat, her skirts swirling around her legs as she moved. An indignant, “Hmph!”, floated back toward the two men as she went.
Looking from Lydia Cathers’ stiff posture as she perched on the wagon seat to Kid, Jimmy pursed his lips and let out a long, low whistle.
“Well, I guess I can see what attracted you to her,” he smiled. “The lady’s sure got gumption. You’ve always liked the spirited type.” We both have, he thought, but kept the notion to himself.
Lu stared first at Lydia than at Jimmy, and back again, equally dumbfounded. Finally, he said, “Are you kidding me? I’ve never seen her act that way, not once in the nearly six years I’ve known her!”
Lu watched, still mystified, as Lydia shook her fist at Jimmy, who was scampering out of her reach after having stolen one of the delicious smelling cinnamon rolls she’d just pulled out of the dutch oven and had been in the process of frosting. Lu’s ears were still ringing from the shriek she’d emitted upon discovering Hickok’s perfidy. He almost expected her to take after the miscreant with a frying pan.
Those two had fought like cats and dogs since day one of this blasted trip, Lu thought. Somehow, Jimmy’s teasing, confrontational behavior didn’t really surprise him. Jimmy had insisted Lu call him that, not Wild Bill, Bill or even William. He’d said only family called him Jimmy and Lu was family. But Lydia’s behavior completely baffled the man. The calm, unflappable, almost emotionless, woman he’d known was gone. She’d been replaced by this short-tempered, stubborn, virago he was watching now.
“Come on, buddy. Time for yer shootin’ lessons,” Jimmy spoke up from Lu’s side.
Startled by the sudden sound, Lu jerked his head around to look at the man standing next to him. His long dark hair fell in thick curls to well below his shoulders. A thick handlebar mustache moved up and down as he calmly munched on the last bit of stolen cinnamon roll, then began licking the remnants of icing off his fingers.
Lu shook his head in disbelief. “Why do you insist on constantly provoking her like that?”
Jimmy shrugged as he handed Kid the gunbelt and revolver he’d bought for him the first chance he’d had. An unarmed Kid had been disturbingly like riding with a naked Kid, not something Jimmy wanted to contemplate.
“Dunno,” he said, smiling. “It’s fun, I guess. ‘Sides, she’s purtier when she’s angry. All them sparks shootin’ out of her big, green eyes. Makes a man wonder if she’d burn him.”
Lu, in the process of buckling on the gunbelt, then tying it down around his leg, choked back a laugh at that. He wasn’t quite sure he agreed with Jimmy about it being ‘fun’. But he had to admit, Lydia had certainly been more interesting to be around since they’d hit the trail.
Fingering the butt of the revolver now strapped to his side, Lu followed Jimmy back toward a stump a distance away from their camp. Carl, Jr, was already there, assiduously cleaning a rifle the way Jimmy’d shown him. Finally, Lu asked, “Why do you insist on this? I ain’t no good at shootin’. You’ve seen that plenty fer yerself. You’d be better off bringin’ Lydia out here to practice.”
“Yer plenty good, Kid,” Jimmy said. “You just need to remember is all. Teaspoon said the fastest way ta get you ta start rememberin’ was ta get you doin’ stuff you used to.”
Jimmy didn’t slow down as he spoke. That would mean he had to stop and look at Kid and looking at a Kid who not only didn’t remember him but apparently had lost most of the skills he’d had… from shooting to tracking to basic woodcraft… was almost more than Jimmy could handle. So, instead, he talked.
“You and me? We used to practice shootin’ together, all the time. It was.. well.. sort of a competition ‘tween us, ta see which of us was better.”
Lu stopped and stared at the famed gunfighter in shock.
“Better?” he croaked.
Jimmy stopped and turned to look at the shocked man. He laughed, walking back toward Lu and pounding on his shoulder. “Oh, you eventually admitted I was the better shot. But it was a close call there fer awhile.”
A short time later, Jimmy was ready to eat his words. He’d never seen a worse shot than Kid had become. He couldn’t understand it.
“No, no, no,” he muttered for what felt like the millionth time. “You’re squeezin’ yer eyes closed, not the trigger. Keep yer eye on the target or you’ll never hit it.”
“Like this, Pa,” Carl piped up, lifting the rifle to his shoulder, sighting down its length at the target, taking in a deep breath and slowly, gently squeezing the trigger. One of the tin cans Jimmy had placed on the stump 20 feet away went flying a second later. Looking back up at the man he considered his father, the child smiled, pleased with his feat. “See? Easy as pie.”
Lu sighed despondently. “I told you, I can’t shoot. Ain’t been able ta hit the broad side of a barn fer as long as I kin remember. I can use a rifle, barely. But that’s about it.”
“But,” Jimmy started to splutter. “But… you fought in the war.”
Lu laughed bitterly at that. “Accuracy didn’t matter much then. Didn’t take much aimin’ ta hit somethin’ wearin’ Yankee blue.”
Jimmy started to stiffen at the slur, then, taking a deep breath himself, decided to let it go. They’d fought on opposite sides. They’d known that was going to happen before the war ever started. No sense reviving all those old arguments, arguments the Kid wouldn’t even remember at the moment, now that the war was done and over. One side had lost, one had won. The end.
“Let’s try it one more time. Reload,” Jimmy said, patiently, reaching out to lay a hand on Carl’s little shoulder to keep him from running toward the targets. “No, son. You never come between the shootin’ line and the targets until the all clear is given. It ain’t safe.”
Looking up at the tall man with awe, Carl gave an obliging, “Yes, sir.”
Moments later, Jimmy felt like throwing himself directly into the Kid’s line of fire, just to end his misery. Six shots… and nothing hit. Shaking his head, he started to move toward his brother to show him, yet again, how to do it right.
“Not like that, Lu,” Lydia said, exasperatedly. “No wonder you can’t hit anything you aim at.”
Lydia lifted her skirts in both hands and marched up the slight slope to where the men had set up their shooting range. Reaching out, she grabbed the revolver out of Lu’s hands and looked it over for a moment. Holding it at eye level, she opened the barrel and spun it around expertly, checking the gun’s balance and load. She held her hand out and demanded, “Five bullets, please.”
Carl rushed up and counted out the ammunition into her palm. “One, two, three, four and five.”
“Thank you, son,” she paused to smile down at her offspring, ruffling his hair with the same hand that now held the bullets for the revolver. Turning back to the business at hand, she quickly loaded the weapon, then let it fall to her side, held in a relaxed grip. “Watch and learn,” she said briskly. “Let the gun become an extension of your hand. Pay it no more head than you would a fist in a fistfight. It’s a tool, nothing more. You can’t be afraid of it, or it’ll bite ya, just like a dog. Simply clap your eyes on what you want to hit, breath deep and think about hitting the target. Don’t think about all the steps to get there, just think about the results. Let your body do the rest.”
Putting actions to her words, she paused for a moment, breathing deeply while staring down the tin can targets with a ferocity that would have put any of the numerous gunfighters Jimmy’d faced down to shame. He shivered a bit at the sight, whether in fear or excitement he couldn’t say. Then, with a suddenness that had the men jerking in surprise, she lifted the business end of the sixgun until it was leveled directly at the targets and began firing, never raising her arm above hip level. In rapid sequence she fired the weapon six times, hitting each of the remaining two targets three times.
Turning back to face the men, she let a rare smile grace her face, giving it a radiant glow. She lifted the weapon in front of her face and gently blew the remaining smoke away, before holding it out to Lu.
“Simple,” she said, before gathering her skirts in her hand once more and heading back down the hill. “Hurry it up. Dinner will be ready in about ten minutes. Anyone late to dinner doesn’t eat. Carl, come along,” she flung over her shoulder. “You need to wash up.”
“What a woman,” Jimmy marveled admiringly as he watched her go, her son tripping along at her heels, chattering with every step.
Lu looked up from the revolver he was dutifully reloading. Following the direction of Jimmy’s gaze, he shivered slightly. “I don’t know. She’s starting to scare me.”
Lu settled into his seat by the fire, a cup of coffee in his hand, and laid his head back on the saddle behind him, his eyes closing.
“Tired?” Lydia asked softly.
Without opening his eyes, Lu nodded. “I’ve never felt this exhausted in my life. I swear Hickok’s tryin’ ta kill me.”
Lydia laughed softly, an appealing sound similar to tinkling bells, a sound Lu had heard rarely in their five year acquaintance. Opening his eyes, he looked directly at her as she spoke.
“He’s just trying to keep us, you really, safe.” she said. “It’s actually rather sweet.”
In the two weeks they’d been traveling, Jimmy had had Lu training not only with that blasted handgun he was beginning to hate, but also on a variety of other survival skills that often baffled the southerner. When Lu’d asked him why, Jimmy’d just said he was re-teaching him a bag of tricks he must’ve lost along with his memory. The comment had been as confusing as it had been enlightening.
Looking at Lydia, Lu noticed her sharp features softening a bit as she thought about their companion, who was currently taking first watch well beyond the hearing of the two seated at the fire.
“I thought you didn’t like him,” Lu said.
“He… grows on a person,” Lydia said softly, looking down into the contents of her own coffee cup. “And he seems to truly care about you, which means he can’t be all bad.”