Kid nervously wiped his hands down the sides of his suit trousers. He was dressed in his Sunday best, a dark broadcloth suit with a black cloth tie around his neck. He’d never particularly enjoyed dressing up so much, but certain occasions simply called for the special clothing.
He smiled down at the woman at his side and offered her his elbow. She smiled up at him, happiness shining deep in her eyes, a halo of white flowers surrounding her face, more than content with the decision she’d made.
Tearing his eyes away, he turned and nodded jerkily at his children, and they were both his in all the ways that mattered. Mary Kate smiled her mother’s smile and turned to help Carl open the church doors.
Kid experienced a moment of déjà vu as he stepped through the doors, leading the woman at his side down the aisle. Hungrily his eyes searched for her, his bride.
“Relax, Lu,” the woman at his side whispered in her soft accent, tugging at his elbow to bring him back to the present. “You’d think you were the one getting married.”
“Sorta feels like,” he whispered back. She laughed as if he’d been joking, which he hadn’t, but then his brothers Buck and Cody, who’d arrived just that morning with his wife and children for a visit, stepped aside and she had eyes only for her groom. Jimmy stood at the front of the church, next to Teaspoon, looking a little pale and a lot nervous. His hands kept moving as if trying to caress the butts of his pistols which he’d left at home that morning.
The sight of his brother’s nerves calmed Kid’s. Until Buck stepped back yet again and his eyes fell on his petite wife, standing up at Jimmy’s side. She was his ‘matron of honor’ just as Kid was serving as Lydia’s ‘best man’. It was an unorthodox arrangement, but it suited them and their family. The townsfolk were slightly scandalized, but they were used to setting the town on its ears. What was important was standing by a friend’s side on this, the most important day of their lives.
That sense of déjà vu returned as his blue eyes met his wife’s brown ones. She smiled at him, biting her lip to keep from letting a full blown grin split her face in two. She’d always been shy about showing too much emotion in public, outside the family, a trait left over from all her days first masquerading as a boy and then working undercover for the Marshal’s office. He remembered her doing the same thing all those years ago when she’d been the one walking down this aisle toward him, while he’d waited nervously next to Teaspoon, eager to make her his bride, yet scared to death of the ramifications of the step they were about to take.
All these years later, he wouldn’t change anything. Because that would mean he wouldn’t have this woman, as she was now, at his side. And he might not have become the man she’d needed.
After what felt like an eternity, he and Lydia reached the front of the aisle and he passed his best friend off to his best friend and stepped back, out of the way, as the ceremony began. But he heard nary a word. His eyes remained on his bride’s the entire time.
They’d known after that trip to Fort Kearny six weeks ago that they were going to make it work between them. The last few weeks they’d worked out the details of how to entwine their lives, all their lives, together into one. It had taken a lot of late night discussions, a few arguments, and occasional threats from one or another of the hotheaded group, but eventually they’d decided to settle down together. None of them could see separating the children from each other, or Carl from Kid, the only Pa he’d ever known.
So, they’d bought a farm just outside of town, mostly with Kid’s savings that still sat in the Rock Creek Bank, and spent the last several weeks setting it up to hold two separate families. Each family had its own private living quarters upstairs, reached by separate sets of stairways at opposite ends of the home accessed through separate front parlors, one on each side of the front door. They shared a single kitchen and dining room at the back of the house.
For the moment Lydia was going to continue working in town at Jarvis’ Restaurant, Jimmy had agreed to take over for Teaspoon as the town Marshal. Lou would occasionally help out as deputy, when needed, but otherwise, he and Lou would start a horse ranch on the old farm they’d bought. Teresa hadn’t quite decided what she wanted to do yet, but she’d been spending an awful lot of time down at the telegraph office with Buck lately. Then again, she’d been making noises about leaving with Cody, ever since he’d arrived, about going back and joining his new Wild West Show as a sharpshooter. They’d just have to wait and see. Whatever she chose, the family would be there to help her make it.
Kid couldn’t wait to begin his new life with Lou and Mary Kate and Jimmy and Lydia and Carl, as a family. It was the sort of family he’d always dreamed of, even before he and Lou had married the first time, the sort he’d walked away from when he’d ridden so foolishly off to war, but in a way he’d never imagined possible.
He felt blessed to have this second chance. Oh, things wouldn’t be perfect. Life was always full of twists and turns, troubles and triumphs. But, from now on, he and Lou would go through them together, holding tight to each other always.
Today, he found himself mouthing his vows again, even as Jimmy took his for the first time. He stared intently into Lou’s eyes, hoping she could feel the depth of his emotion at this moment, his commitment. When she began to blush beneath his gaze, a slight smile quirked the edge of his lips.
The ceremony was short and soon the bride and groom were enjoying their first kiss as husband and wife. Though a much less passionate one then the ones he and Lou had caught the two in several times since their return. The day they’d arrived back from Fort Kearny, they’d ridden into the old station well after dark and, rather than wake the others up, had quietly taken their horses into the barn to stable them for the night before heading straight to bed. He wasn’t sure who’d been more surprised, himself and Lou or Jimmy and Lydia when they’d walked in on the two literally rolling in the hay in one of the stalls, they’re mussed clothes plenty of evidence of what they’d been up to.
“Lydia?” he’d gasped.
“Jimmy!” Lou’d laughed chidingly.
“We’re gettin’ married,” Jimmy had sputtered as he tried to shield Lydia behind him, her beet red face hidden in his not quite clad shoulder.
As the guests began to clap, Lydia took Jimmy’s elbow this time and the couple practically flew down the aisle. Kid held out his arm for Lou, who curtseyed more neatly then he’d ever before seen her do then slipped hers through his. They moved more sedately down the aisle, like the long married couple they were supposed to be. Except they ruined the impression with the constant, mischievous and heated glances they kept throwing at each other, nearly tripping over the threshold they were so caught up in each other. Teaspoon laughed and pushed them on through the door and out into the sunny Saturday morning.
“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” he asked in a low voice, holding her hand clasped tightly to his forearm with his free hand.
She tilted her head up to look at him in the dim light of the interior of Jarvis’ Restaurant where they were holding the reception for Jimmy and Lydia’s wedding. The newly married couple was already twirling around the area cleared for dancing, Carl riding happily in their arms between them. Carl and Lydia were both laughing at something Jimmy said. Mary Kate was happily ‘dancing’ nearby, riding on the toes of Buck’s boots as he swung her around the dance floor.
Smiling softly, almost shyly, she said, “You may.”
Taking one hand in his, his other hand snuck out to circle her waist as he pulled her out into the body of dancing celebrants. Holding her as close as was socially permissible, closer perhaps, he enjoyed the feel of having her in his arms, knowing she was his and he was hers. When the last notes of the song trailed to a momentary quiet, he reluctantly let her step back from him, his arms already feeling empty without her in them.
She just smiled and stepped into his side quietly, warming his heart in the process. Together they strolled toward the table laden with punch and cake for the guests.
“Cake, madam?” Kid asked, bowing gallantly, holding a plate of the white frosted cake Rachel had made especially for the wedding out toward Lou. He frowned in concern when she paused, her hand held halfway out toward the plate, and blanched. Her hand flew to cover her mouth. She leapt to her feet and raced out the door. Setting the plate down on a nearby table, he quickly followed her.
“Lou?!” he called, worried. He bent over next to her while she wretched into the bushes in the alley behind the restaurant where they were holding the reception. “What’s wrong?”
She just shook her head frantically, while continuing to heave. A moment later, apparently done, she took the handkerchief he handed her and wiped her mouth.
“What’s wrong?!” he repeated a bit more forcefully.
“Nothin’ a few months won’t cure,” she said, smiling up at him.
He tilted his head, frowning in confusion. What could make her sick for several months? And why was she smiling about it? Then, it suddenly dawned on him.
“You’re….. you’re…. you’re….” he stuttered, unable to quite get the words out.
Lou nodded, beaming beatifically at him. Reaching out, she grabbed his hand and pressed it to her still flat abdomen. “Yes. I’m……”
He laughed and pulled her to him, one hand cradling her cheek, the other staying pressed over where their baby nestled safely beneath its mother’s heart. Unable to find the words to express his feelings, he used his lips to communicate them instead. After all this time, he’d finally found the woman who could be his lover and his friend. And, not only had she been his the entire time, she was willing to give him a second chance. How much luckier could a bloke get, then to start his life all over again? And this time, he swore to himself in a silent vow all his own, he wouldn’t mess it up or forget a minute of it.