Sam, who’d been leaning back lackadaisically against the wall, his chair tilted back on its rear legs only, stiffened as the defense attorney began his attack on Lou. When the man got to the words ‘Louis Mallory’, the U.S. Marshal sat fully upright, pushing his hat back on his head to better scan the room. Who the hell was that man talking about? And why wouldn’t Lou have informed him if she’d met someone?
Teaspoon chortled into his hand, before reaching out to clap one paw on Sam’s shoulder.
“Oh, yeah,” he muttered around a smile. “There’s something I’ve been meanin’ ta tell you.”
Lu struggled not to groan as waves of pain washed over him. He felt blinded, unable to fully open his eyes even in the dim confines of the parlor/courtroom. He’d never been so miserable in his life.
He tried to pay attention to what was being said, but mostly just let Lou’s calm voice act like a soothing balm. That and her touch were the only things that seemed to break through this growing maelstrom of hurt in his head.
He heard his… the other his… name being mentioned and wondered briefly why. He’d had nothing to do with the case.
Then, he heard Lou calmly declaring he was her husband. Him, Louis Mallory. At that the courtroom erupted into scandalized comments and catcalls. He shrank from the noise even as he tried to lurch to his feet, desperate to reach his wife’s side, to stand with her and protect her.
Lu flinched as the judge began banging his gavel repeatedly against the desk, trying to get the courtroom back under control.
As people quieted down, Lu squinted toward the front of the room, picking out the blurred forms of Louise sitting in the witness chair, the judge leaning toward her, the defense attorney seeming to loom threateningly over her. He started to push his way through the crowd to her side, trying desperately to listen and understand what he was hearing.
“I’ve known this woman for years now, young man,” Judge Thayer was growling at the attorney. “And she’s one of the most honorable ladies I’ve ever met.” He put extra emphasis on the word lady. “So I’d tread carefully if I were you. Say the wrong thing and I might just toss you into the cell with your client for contempt.”
“Sir,” the lawyer began in a smoothly controlled voice. “I’m just trying to determine whether this woman’s word is… reliable. She says she’s married to this Kid fellow. But she’s been cavorting around with this Mallory guy. She’s lied about who she is and what she is so many times in her life I doubt even she knows anymore. How can we trust a word she says?”
Lu was so intent on reaching the front of courtroom, he didn’t see Lampton’s foot sneak out into the aisle and tripped over it, tumbling forward to land with a jarring thud on the floor, the back of his head bouncing against the polished floorboards twice.
“Lu!” Louise called frantically, jumping out of her chair and rushing to her husband’s side.
Groaning, Lu tried to pry his eyelids open. Looking up, he saw familiar and not so familiar faces peering down at him. Teaspoon. Sam Cain. Buck. Teresa. Louise. Suddenly, the picture in front of him seemed to bend and flex, like a photo being twisted in someone’s hand. Then, in snapped into place, sitting straight and proud, everything coming into sharp, detailed focus. The pain in his head disappeared between one blink and the next, as his mind was suddenly flooded with a lifetime’s worth of memories. Memories filled with these faces, and others, that meant the world to him.
Lou stared anxiously down into her husband’s face as the muscles in it contorted. His lips moved slowly. At first silently. Then with just a breath of sound.
She leaned forward to try to catch whatever it was he was trying to tell her. Teaspoon, the judge and the defense attorney moved closer, too, only to back off slightly at her quick glare.
“What is it, Lu?” she murmured, reaching out to run one hand gently across his forehead. “What are ya tryin’ ta tell us?”
Opening his eyes wide, he looked from her to the others around them, then back to her.
“My name ain’t Lu… Louis. My name’s Kid. Kid McCloud,” he finally mustered in a coherent voice. “And I remember everything.”
Having expended all his remaining energy, he let his head fall back into Louise’s lap and closed his eyes, letting the darkness that had been pressing in on him for hours bring a cool peace as it edged out the world around him.
Lou gasped as she watched Lu’s eyes slide shut, his hand going limp around hers and sliding out of her grasp. It was too much like other times when she’d lost loved ones. It felt too much like a death. Only this was a death she could not accept.
She looked up at Teaspoon, tears streaking her eyes. She pleaded, “Do something.”
Teaspoon looked around a touch frantically. “Someone get the doc over here. Fast!”
Sam looked up at one of his deputies, leaning in over his shoulder to see what was going on. “Go get Mrs. Cain,” he ordered hoarsely. “Hurry.”
“Yes, sir,” the young man snapped out, already turning and pushing his way through the crowd toward the door.
“Come on, darlin’,” Teaspoon said gently, leaning down to slide one arm under Lu’s shoulders. “Let’s get him outta here.”
Sam quickly stepped in to help, Buck at his side.
Lou was pacing back and forth in front of the room the blacksmith had offered them at the back of his shop, wringing her hands in front of her. She hated this useless feeling. She’d much rather just go out and shoot her problems out of the way. But that simply wasn’t an option right now.
“He’ll be alright,” Buck tried to reassure her. “The Great Creator wouldn’t’ve brought him back to us only to take him away again so soon.”
“Wouldn’t he?” Lou said mournfully, raising her tearstreaked face to meet her friend’s eyes. “What have I ever done to deserve any special favors from him?”
“You exist,” Buck smiled softly, patting her shoulder. “That’s all you have to do.”
She hmphed, sounding oddly like a feminine Teaspoon, and resumed her pacing. Buck watched her go with concern. Teresa shook her head and walked to his side, placing one hand on his arm.
“Let her go,” she whispered to him. “There’s nothing you or I can do for her right now.”
“Lulabelle, are you in here?” came a strident call from outside the shop.
Everyone inside turned toward the door to watch a slender red head with slightly frizzy hair pulled back into a tight bun duck through the portal and into the dimly lit room. She paused a moment to let her eyes adjust to the low lighting and get her bearings. Slowly she scanned the occupants, scowling slightly as her eyes brushed over her husband’s lean frame.
“I’ve got a few choice words for you, Sam Cain,” she growled in a voice that sent shivers down the spines of all her knew her. None wanted to be in his shoes at the moment and even he seemed to shrink two sizes right in front of them all. “But first, I’ve got to talk to my girl!”
“Emma!” Lou cried, rushing into her friends opened arms. Emma sighed and wrapped her arms around the younger woman, holding her tight as she finally let go of all the grief and fear she’d been holding inside and began to sob. Emma reached up and gently caressed Lou’s head. “That’s right,” she whispered. “You just let it all out. Then we’ll talk everything over and figure things out.”
Teaspoon smiled gratefully at the woman who’d been his right hand and biggest help while running the Express station in Sweetwater.
“It’s good ta see ya, Emma,” he smiled, tipping an imaginary hat her way.
“It’s been a long time, Mr. Spoon,” she answered quietly, leading a still sobbing Lou toward a bench along one wall and urging her down onto it. “Too long.”
“Apparently,” Teaspoon agreed, glaring at Sam.
Emma cleared her throat as she joined her glare to Teaspoon’s. “Well,” she finally said. “We’ll deal with that later. First, tell me what’s goin’ on. Why’s my Lulabelle so upset? Silas,” she paused nodding at the deputy standing just outside the doorway, “wouldn’t tell me anything, except that she was here.”
The large room was quiet, except for the occasional snapping of the wood in the fire, the rustling of the women’s skirts as they shifted positions and whispering between Sam and his deputies as he got regular updates on the trial.
Emma stayed firmly attached to Lou’s side, even when she stood and moved toward the door, leaning on the doorpost to stare out at the now setting sun. Her tears had dried up an hour ago, but her grief lay heavy on her heart all the same.
The creaking of the door to the blacksmith’s personal quarters swinging open had everyone turning expectantly in that direction, an equal mixture of hope and fear written clearly across all their faces.
“Well?” Lou demanded before anyone else could gather their wits enough to say anything. “Is he going to be alright?”
The doctor shrugged his shoulders, moving toward his bag sitting on a table cluttered with the tools of the blacksmith’s trade. “Hard to tell,” he said matter of factly. “Mebbe so. Mebbe no. It’s hard to tell with head wounds. Could wake up any minute right as rain. Might be he’ll sleep a day or a week or a month, then be fine.”
“Or?” Buck asked, stepping up behind Lou, putting a calming hand on her shoulder.
The doctor sighed heavily. “Or he might never wake up at all.”
“What about his memory?” Teaspoon asked. The doctor only shook his head, indicating his lack of knowledge yet again.
Swinging his coat around his shoulders, he slid his arms into the armholes as he spoke. “There’s nothing more I can do for him right now. He reopened a nasty headwound that looks to be a few years old. I cleaned that up and sewed it shut again. Keep it clean. Try to get some food and water down him. Call me if anything changes.”
Without another word, he walked out of the building, his shoulders slumped in defeat.
“Come on,” Louise whispered, brushing a lock of sandy hair off his forehead. Absently she noted that he needed a haircut. He’d never looked good when he let it get too long, unlike some of their brothers. She reached once again for the spoon sitting in the bowl resting in her other hand. “You need to eat something, Lu. You gotta keep yer strength up.”
Carefully, she used the overly large spoon to pour a precious few drops of the warm, nourishing chicken soup between his lips. Setting the spoon back in the bowl, she reached out and massaged his throat to get him to swallow the salty liquid. “That’s it,” she whispered. “Get strong and come back to me.”
A mélange of sights and sounds swirled in front of Kid’s face so fast the colors blurred and trying to track any one image made him dizzy, until he finally gave up. But he couldn’t seem to close his eyes to block it all out.
“What’s yore name, son?” a doctor with a heavy Alabaman accent asked him. “Where are you from?”
“Boy’s, I’m here to learn you my bag of tricks,” Teaspoon declared, strutting up and down in front of him. “And you will learn ‘em good.”
“Take care of my girl, Lu,” Carl gasped weakly. “Promise me.”
“He’s not responding to any of the stimuli, doctor,” the woman in the white dress said softly. “I don’t’ know if he’s ever going to wake up.”
“Because where I was brought up,” Lou said, a mischievous grin popping out, “I was taught when a man comes proposin’, it’s supposed to be on bended knee!”
“Louis Mallory, what do you think you’re doin’?” Lydia smiled down at him, holding out one hand in an offer of aide. “Get up off the ground. It’s not like we’re in love or anything.”
“Pa, Pa! Come look!” Carl, Jr, yelled, running from the creek a middling sized fish flapping from one hand. “I caught a big one. It’s thiiiiiis big!”
“Here, Kid.” He turned at his name to see a young girl with long blonde curls walking toward him, a shiny brooch with a large square green stone at its center held out to him. He lowered the slingshot he held to his side as he waited to see what she wanted. “Pin this on please?” she asked in a deep southern accent.
“Are you really my Pa?” a teary-eyed Mary Kate asked.
“Well, excuuuuse us,” Noah smiled.
“Didn’t know you was… busy… Kid,” Cody teased.
“Son, you might as well accept that you’re never going to remember who you were. Get on with your life,” his major said, patting him on the back sympathetically, before walking away.
“Noodlin’s easy as pie, Lu,” Carl said, leaning forward, neck deep in the creek, both hands under waater. “And when yer done you got a right tasty supper just sittin’ there waitin’ ta be fried up finger lickin’ good.”
“No!” Buck yelled frantically as he swung around to face Kid. “If the Kiowa see a gang of white men comin’, Ike’s dead. Do I have your word?”
“And, well,” Lou paused for a long moment, hand held out toward him. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
“You want to move west?” Lydia asked incredulously. “Why?”
“Matter of fact, this is somethin’ of a relief,” Teaspoon smiled, looking back and forth between Kid and Lou, who was hugged to his side. “I always thought there was somethin’ squirrely goin’ on between you two.”
“Bad news,” Teaspoon muttered.
“How can ya tell?” Buck asked curiously.
“Cause good news always comes at a decent hour.”
“This war is goin’ ta force everyone ta take sides,” Jed said, almost desperately, trying to convince Kid. “You ain’t with me, yer gonna be ridin’ against me.”
Ike looked at him with a tortured face, obviously struggling not to cry as he gestured desperately. *You can’t interfere. Trust Buck. These are his people. He knows what he’s doing!*
“I been takin’ chances all my life,” Ulysses told the Marshal. Turning to Kid, he added, “Virginia boy, you wanta chance it with me?”
The slaver stopped him. “Well, here’s a whip. Let’s see that arm of yours.” Kid looked up to meet the eyes of his brother, Noah, being dragged to the whipping post in chains.
“How am I supposed to raise a baby on my own, Lu?” Lydia practically sobbed, looking down at the precious bundle in her arms. “I can’t even take care of myself!” Looking up at Lu, tears in her eyes, she asked the question he had no answer for. “How could he have done this to me?”
Doritha, her beautiful blonde hair curled into ringlets, her face and clothes dirty, moved toward the outlaw a step at a time, hand outstretched, too far away yet for Kid to do anything. “That’s all I got left. Just give it back.”
He was staring down at Noah’s dead body in a wagon. Jimmy’s voice cut through him like a knife. “Then I guess it was just an accident that Frank was on the other side of this massacre?”
Jesse, his eyes alight with the fervor of youthful belief in right and wrong, turned toward him in anger. “Did you ever think that he knew better than you? That he was right and you shoulda helped him, no matter what?”
Kid looked up through bleary eyes at Jed on a horse, his gun pointed at Kid, a grimace across his face as he shouted. “I’ll kill ya! I swear Kid! Yer my brother…. but I ain’t gonna hang.”
He could feel the rough rasp of the rope as it wrapped itself suffocatingly around his neck. He looked up to meet the eyes of The Hawk. “If you’ve got an explanation, now might be a good time.”
Lou looked away, unable to meet his eyes for a moment as she struggled to maintain control. The ring he’d just tried to give her dug into his palm as he clenched his fist around it in his own struggle. Looking back up at him, she asked, almost plaintively, “What are we gonna do?”
Hinton looked at him, his black face gleaming with sweat in the hot summer sun. Kid tried to move, but the chains around his ankles held him in place. Hinton said in a deadpan voice, “Go to hell.”
The sound of bullets whistled past his ears, the cannons firing in the distance made the earth tremble. The smell of blood filled his nose, making him want to vomit. The screams of the wounded hurt his ears. Lu hunkered down behind a log, peering over its edge, wondering why he’d ever wanted this. Carl nudged his shoulder. “You got any shot left, Lu? I’m out.”
The more he tried to escape, the faster the memories came, piling in, one on top of the other. One second he was swinging a sledgehammer, breaking rocks in a mine prison, doing hard time. The next he was staring at Louise in a saloon girl dress, furious that she would bare herself like that to all the men in the town. Then, he was riding along, being teased by a young, curly haired Indian brave who appeared to be a friend. There were celebrations and moments of somber reflection, laughter and tears, weddings and funerals, too many funerals. Jed…… Ike…. Doritha… Noah.. Carl. And so many others. Too many to count. He tried to escape the pain, but it was all around him.
“I think we should call the doc, Louise,” Teaspoon said, watching as the drawn, worried woman he considered a daughter tried desperately to keep her husband from thrashing his way out of bed and crashing to the floor. “Somethin’s goin’ on.”
“Why?” she grunted, swerving to avoid being hit in the face by one of Kid’s arms as it swung wide at an imaginary foe. “You heard him. Ain’t nothin’ he kin do we ain’t doin’ already.”
Emma gasped as she realized Kid was calming. “Lulabelle,” she said urgently. “Keep talkin’.”
“What?” Lou said, swinging her head around to look at the older woman.
“I think he’s calmer when you talk.”
Lou looked down at the man on the bed in front of her. “Is that it? Do you like hearin’ my voice?” she asked in wonder. “Oh, I’ve got so much ta tell ya. So many things you’ve missed.”
Even as the others watched, he stopped his frantic movements, a wild animal soothed by the calming music of the forest.
The dulcet tones of a single woman began to pierce through the fog of pain that surrounded him. Suddenly she was everywhere.
“What’s the matter, Kid?” She stared up into his eyes, her face warped with a grimace of pain and…. fear?. “Never seen a girl before?”
Staring at him from across the table, she said, “Wait too long and the right time might pass ya by.”
Dressed in a pretty pink frock with white lace, standing on the stairs in Emma’s parlor looking down at them all, his brothers crowded around and behind him. “She knew all along.”
She was riding at his side, fighting at his back, cheering him on, calling him out.
“Kid, wait up,” she called out from behind him, running to catch up. “I’m ready to talk.”
Standing at his side in a cemetery, dressed in an elegant brown and white dress that had seen some hard use recently, she sighed. “He died saving my life. He died for us.”
Her short hair curled around her face becomingly, a grin of extreme happiness on her lips as she stared up into his eyes, kissing a golden ring. “With this ring, I do thee wed.”
Lying in a bed, her long hair swirling around her shoulders, exhaustion written in every line, she looked down at the bundle in her arms. “It’s a girl, Kid. A beautiful baby girl.”
Together they watched a little girl race across the Express yard, her long brown curls flying out behind her as she laughed. “She’s so much like you.”
“Don’t leave me, Kid,” she begged, staring up at him as he sat his horse. “You promised never to ride on without me again. Please, don’t’ leave me.”
Teaspoon sighed as he ran a hand over his eyes. It had been one of the longest nights of his life. He’d been able to do nothing but watch as Lou had fought the battle alone, using every ounce of will in her small frame to keep Kid with them.
Once they’d realized her voice calmed him, she’d spoken non-stop, for hours. She’d finally petered out, too hoarse to continue, around dawn. By then he’d been resting peacefully, breathing deeply and steadily. She’d fallen asleep, her head resting on Kid’s chest, her hand lying atop his next to her cheek.
Teaspoon suddenly straightened in his seat, pushing his hat back, his eyes alert as they narrowed on Kid’s hand. Even as he watched, the younger man’s fingers twitched again. And again. Then they began to twine around Lou’s, closing tightly until her hand was inextricably trapped in his grasp.
“Lou!” he sputtered out in a quiet shout. “Lou! Wake up!”
Kid slowly surfaced to the world. He sighed with pleasure at the feel of the soft bed beneath him. He started to move, to stretch the kinks out as he greeted the morning, until his hand encountered the smaller, softer one resting atop it. Slowly, he wrapped his fingers around and through hers and he smiled, not yet opening his eyes. It was so pleasant to wake with his wife by his side.
A frown marred his forehead. Why was Teaspoon in their bedroom?
“Lou!” The call came again, more urgent than before.
This time, Kid felt Lou’s head shift on his shoulder as she sleepily turned to look in Teaspoon’s direction.
“What?” he heard her yawn.
“He’s wakin’ up.”
Even as Teaspoon spoke, Kid slowly opened his eyes, almost afraid of the pain that would come with the morning light. But there was no pain. Only the pleasant lassitude of someone who’s waking from a good night’s rest.
He ran his eyes across the ceiling then slowly, turning his head, down the wall to the side until he found hers. Blue eyes met brown, a collision of time, thought and love. He tried to tell her everything he was feeling in that moment without saying a word because he didn’t have any words to describe it.
She stared back at him for a long moment. Then her own eyes widened in sudden understanding, and a touch of fear.
“Kid?” she asked tentatively, one hand reaching out to cup his cheek. “Kid, is that you?”
He nodded, a slow smile forming on his lips. “It’s me. All of me. Somethin’ finally got knocked straight ‘cause it’s all there. Everythin’.”
She gasped in delight, even as he pulled her across his chest to bury his face in her neck. Soon, though, his own eager lips found hers in a kiss of celebration. The couple was so caught up in each other, neither one noticed Teaspoon’s excited whoop of jubilation in the background.