“The Sweat Lodge Treatment?” Lydia asked, her brow crinkled in question. “What’s that?”
“It’s where Teaspoon stuffs you in this little room with no air to breath and starts a fire, then makes it steam by pouring water over hot rocks, until you give in and tell him whatever it is he wants ta know,” Jimmy explained with a shudder. “It’s pure torture.”
“You don’t know Kid near as well as you think you do, if you gotta ask me that. He’s stubborner than a goat. ‘Bout the only person I know that’s stubborner than him, is his wife! It may be torture, but this time I think Teaspoon’s right. It’s the only way ta get them two talkin’, thinkin’ ‘bout the other and not their own problems.”
Lydia nodded slowly, thinking about just how Lu would refuse to ask for help, even when it was evident he needed it, the hours he’d spend alone, ‘thinking things over’. Yes, he was one of the most stubborn men she’d ever met in her life. If his wife was even worse, she wondered how they’d ever managed to get together in the first place.
“Lou wouldn’t let him get away with it,” Jimmy said. “Leastwise, not most times.”
“What?” Lydia asked, not following Jimmy’s train of thought.
“I could see ya tryin’ ta figure them two out. It’s simple. When one got stubborn in a bad way, the other one got stubborn in a good way. When one went silent, the other’n start talkin’ up a storm. When one ran away, the other’d chase. Until, somehow, they’d suddenly switch places.”
Jimmy paused a moment, filling his mouth with a large forkful of Rachel’s apple pie. He moaned in appreciation, closing his eyes to savor the flavor. He hadn’t had anything this good in years, probably not since he’d ridden off to war.
“Nice to see you enjoying my cooking.”
His eyes popped open in surprise as he stared at Lydia. “Your… your cookin’? I thought this was Rachel’s pie.”
“No,” Lydia said, shaking her head with a smile. “She had to leave early for school this morning. So, I told her I’d do the cooking today, to thank her for making room for all of us.”
Jimmy stared down at the pie on his plate for a moment, before raising his eyes to meet Lydia’s again. “Have you done any thinkin’ on what yer gonna do now?”
She sighed. “Yes. And I still have no ideas. I can’t do anything every other woman in this territory can already do for herself.”
“Now there you’re wrong,” Jimmy said, jumping to his feet. Reaching out he grabbed her hand in his, the pie on his plate still in his other hand, and began dragging her toward the door. “Come on!”
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, laughing at his boyish exuberance.
He flashed her a dimpled smile and said mysteriously, “To see a man ‘bout a job!”
“Hey, why so glum, you two?” Teresa asked as she herded Mary Kate and Carl back into the bunkhouse. She shook her head as she thought about the show her sister and brother-in-law had just put on. One would think they were still children themselves, the way they’d been acting. She was glad Teaspoon had stepped in and put a stop to their argument. But she was afraid he’d been a bit too late.
Mary Kate sniffed a bit, followed by a muffled sob from Carl.
Yep, he’d been too late.
Teresa sat down on the first bunk she came to, right by the door, and pulled the children down next to her, wrapping one arm tightly around each one.
“What is it?” she asked tenderly.
“Is Lu really my Pa? Is he really the Kid?” Mary Kate asked quietly.
“And does that mean he cain’t never by my real Pa?” Carl wailed.
Teresa sighed. It was as bad as she’d feared. Tightening her hug around the two children, she took a moment to think before answering slowly.
“Well, there’s Pa’s and then there’s Pa’s,” she said. “Some men can be a Pa without ever lovin’ or carin’ fer their children. That’s what your Ma’s and my Pa was like, Mary Kate. But then there’s men that can love children that ain’t really theirs like they was their own. That’s what the Kid, uh… Lu, is like.”
She looked down at the children to see if they were understanding what she was trying to say. Seeing that she at least had their full attention, she continued. “Carl, hasn’t the… er.. Lu always acted just like he was yer Pa born?”
The boy nodded. “Yes’m.”
“Then I’d say that means he’s yer real Pa, no matter what happens now. He may not live with you and yer Ma no more, but that can’t change how he feels ‘bout you or you ‘bout him.”
A slow smile began to relax the worry tightened features of the boy. Teresa then turned to Mary Kate, a much tougher nut to crack.
“And yes, Mary Kate, Lu is the Kid. He is yer born Pa.”
“Then how come he never come’d ta take care of me, like other Pa’s? “ Mary Kate interrupted, the questions spilling out of her one after the other without a breath in between. “How come he spent all his time raisin’ Carl ‘stead of me? Is it ‘cause I’m a worthless girl?”
Teresa gasped at the girl’s concerns. Where had she gotten such ideas? Certainly not from Louise or herself! Freeing her other arm from around the now relaxed Carl, Teresa reached up to push a few curly brown locks away from Mary Kate’s eyes.
“Oh, honey,” she whispered. “No! That’s not the way it is at all. Nobody’s explained anything to you, really, have they?” When she got her hands on her sister she was going to strangle her for leaving her to do the dirty work. Sighing, she began to explain. “Lu is the Kid. That means yes, he’s yer Pa born. But he didn’t know that ‘til just a couple days ago.”
“I don’t unnerstand,” Mary Kate said, a wounded look in her large blue eyes. “How could he not know I’m his?”
“You remember how yer Ma always told you yer Pa died fightin’ in the war?” Teresa asked, waiting until Mary Kate nodded slowly before continuing. “Well, she didn’t tell him she was expectin’ you. So, he left not even knowin’ you was on the way.”
Teresa held up a hand for silence as she could see Mary Kate about to ask another question, one she didn’t have the answer for.
“Anyway, when he went off ta war, Kid got hurt, real bad.” Mary Kate gasped, a hand flying to her mouth in shock. Teresa nodded. “He’s alright now. But, when he got hurt, he lost his memory. So he didn’t even know ta come back to yer Ma ta find out ‘bout you.”
“But, how come Ma always told me he was dead?”
“Well, we don’t know all the story yet, but apparently his commanding officer thought he’d been killed, not injured, and wrote yer Ma sayin’ he was dead. And this was all before you were even born.”
“If Lu’s her born Pa and my fer reals Pa, does that mean we’re brother and sister?” Carl asked.
Teresa laughed, hugging both children to her. “Why not?” she grinned at them. “It’s as close to a normal relationship as any of us in this crazy family have. Yes, yer brother and sister.”
The two kids looked at each other a moment, before beginning to grin ecstatically.
“Maybe this’ll mean we can all live in the same house.”
“And go to school together.”
“I’ll teach ya how ta fish!”
“And I can teach ya how ta shoot.”
Teresa smiled as the two children began to plan out their lives together. It always amazed her how resilient they could be. Now that their worries had been laid to rest, they were back to their normal, exuberant selves.
“Where are you taking me James Butler Hickok?” Lydia laughed as she stumbled along after the tall gunslinger, struggling to match his long, hurried strides down the boardwalk. So intent was she on trying to move quickly, she didn’t notice he’d suddenly stopped and ran straight into his back.
“Whoa!” he said, dancing in a circle to keep from losing the pie on the plate in his free hand, but never letting go of his grasp on her with his other hand, thus dragging her in a comical tangle with him. “Phew!” He let out a sigh of relief as the slice of pie finally gave up its bid for freedom and settled back onto the plate. Looking down at Lydia, who by now was wrapped in his free arm tightly against his side, he grinned enthusiastically. “Here. I’m takin’ ya here.” He pointed at the plate glass window in front of them with his chin.
She turned her head to look. The sign read Jarvis’ Fine Dining and Baked Goods.
“I heard yesterday, his last cook done run off and got married. Rachel said he’s been after her ta come work for him, but she’s happy teachin’. I was thinkin’ you could start yer own dress shop, what with all that sewin’ and fancy needlework you do. But after tastin’ this, I figgered, why wait?”
“A… a cook? They’d actually pay me ta cook?”
“And bake,” Jimmy added, grinning. “Don’t forget the bakin’.”
She stared up at him, her eyes rounded in wonder and delight at the idea.
“Come on,” he said more softly, realizing just how closely they were entwined and feeling a sudden need to either get closer to her full, soft curves or put some distance between them. “Let’s go talk to Harrison Jarvis.”
She nodded and began to pull away from him, slowly. He nearly groaned in appreciation of the, most likely, unintentionally teasing brush of her body against his. Stepping back, she straightened her shoulders, pulled her bodice down in a businesslike fashion, and taking a deep breath, moved briskly toward the front door.
He watched her go in growing admiration. He’d always had a preference for soft brown hair and big brown eyes, ever since… well…. But lately? Lately he couldn’t get a certain pair of green eyes and head of long, silky black hair out of his mind.
Lydia poked her head back out the door and looked at him. “Either get in here or give me that pie,” she hissed. “I’ve got a job to interview for.”
Grinning, he quickly followed her into the dark, cool interior of the restaurant. He had a feeling he’d follow her just about anywhere. He shook his head, wondering where that notion came from.
Teaspoon sat on the porch, watching the evening sun slowly work its way toward the horizon. The supper dishes he’d set inside the sweat lodge door had yet to reappear. And, there’d been no sign of any progress toward communication between those two. He was worried. If they didn’t start talking soon, he’d have to try something else. But he wasn’t sure just what that something else might be.
A pair of soft, slender hands slipped over his shoulders, the fingers beginning to dig into the clenched muscles in a beguiling manner. He groaned in appreciation, leaning his head back against his wife’s chest.
“It’ll be alright,” she whispered. “You’ll see. They just needed some time alone, away from the rest of us to work some things out.”
“Did I?” he questioned. “Or did I make things worse by forcing them ta somethin’ they wasn’t ready fer yet?”
“They love each other,” she smiled, nestling her face next to his. “That’s a mighty powerful force. It’ll guide them in the right direction. Eventually.”
Reaching up, he patted her cheek, then pulled away as he stood up. He slipped one hand around his suspenders and tugged at it, sighing. “Might as well go collect the supper dishes.”
Teaspoon stepped off the porch wearily and trudged toward the sweat lodge. Polly watched her disheartened husband move away from her with a heavy heart. She, too, worried that Lou and Kid might let their stubborn natures overcome the love they so obviously felt for each other. But, she couldn’t give up hope. For Teaspoon’s sake, if not for her own.
Teaspoon approached the sweat lodge with trepidation. He was afraid of what he’d find, or rather what he wouldn’t find when he got there. But, nearing the entrance, he slowed as the sound of two voices, talking quietly wafted through the walls of the lodge to his ears.
“Rather than pay me by the job, like most marshals, Sam pays me a little less but keeps me on all the time,” came Lou’s quiet voice. “Not that there’s ever much time when I ain’t workin’ a case.”
“Tell me about Mary Kate,” he heard the Kid plead. “It’s hard to believe I have a little girl out there. I always wanted children.”
Teaspoon stuffed a fist in his mouth to keep from making any noise as he slowly snuck away, forgetting all about collecting the supper dishes. Almost dancing his way back to the porch, he joyfully announced, “It worked! They’re talkin’!”
Hopping up onto the porch like a man half his age, he slipped his arm through Polly’s and began swinging her around, singing as he moved. “They’re talkin’, they’re talkin’! By jove, they’re talkin’!”
Polly laughed at his excited reaction, joining in his celebratory dance, happy to see the worry roll away from him so quickly and easily. It really didn’t take much to make her Teaspoon happy, just the happiness of his boys. And girl.