“Time to ‘fess up, Kid,” Teaspoon intoned, satisfied mischief glinting in his eyes.
Kid shrank back slightly. It was the moment he’d dreaded for days, weeks, months even. While Lou’d been dealing with her own worries about getting married, he’d been worried, too. About what he was going to say right here, right now. Sighing, he cleared his throat nervously. There was no help for it. He had to tell the truth if he wanted to marry his Louise, and there was nothing else in this life he wanted more. But he refused to shout it out for the whole congregation.
His back itching from the curious looks of everyone in the church, including his beautiful bride, he leaned forward and whispered into Teaspoon’s ear.
Straightening back up, he waited with bated breath for Teaspoon to spill the beans. The old man just looked at him, nonplussed, one eyebrow raised in disconcerted disbelief.
He refused to look around at the curious, questioning looks he knew were coming from all those gathered beside him. He wasn’t worried too much about Lou. She’d already promised she wouldn’t laugh. But he figured his brothers would be rolling in the aisles in a matter of moments now.
Teaspoon, flustered, cleared his throat and flashed Kid a look that said, You’ve got to be joking!
Kid assayed a flattened, nervous smile and shrugged, closing his own eyes briefly as if to shut out the truth. What could he say? That was his name, the only one he had. And it was no joke. He wished to God it were.
“Louise,” Teaspoon said. Kid sucked in a breath and held it, waiting to hear those awful words. He could feel her tense in anticipation. “Do you promise to take….” Teaspoon paused and looked once again at Kid, who steeled himself for the moment of truth. “Kid….” Teaspoon said and paused for the expected reaction from those gathered for the ceremony, which was none too approving, even Lou wilted a bit in disappointment. Kid tried to hide his sigh of relief. Once the grumbles quieted, Teaspoon continued, “to be your lawful wedded husband?”
Kid glanced at Lou out of the corner of his eye and knew, by her expression alone, he’d have to share the whole story of his name before the night was out.
“Time to ‘fess up, Kid.”
The gentle, teasing words pulled Kid out of a light slumber faster than a bucket of ice water dumped over his head. He sighed.
“You promised,” Lou caroled sweetly, the fingers of one hand headed unerringly for his most ticklish spot, just in case he might still be a little comfortable in the warmth of their wedding bed.
Kid grabbed her dangerously wandering hand in one of his and set it on top of his chest, patting it gently, and sighed. He hugged her closer to his side with the arm wrapped around her shoulders and ran his other hand through his hair, trying to shake off the few remnants of pleasant lassitude left from earlier.
He turned and looked down at her face and couldn’t help but smile a little bit, albeit wanly, at the excited look on her face. It was the one real secret he had left and he had promised to share it.
“I know you told Teaspoon,” Lou said, “so you can’t go sayin’ you’ve forgot like everyone else has!”
“Don’t worry, I could never forget,” Kid muttered.
“Well?” Lou urged, pushing up slightly on one elbow to look him in the eyes. “Out with it!”
He took a deep breath and then blurted it out.
Lou stared at him, her mouth opening and closing but no words pouring out. She’d promised not to laugh, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t, and she just looked soooo funny. Her eyes narrowed as he began to chuckle and, as she tensed, he quickly grabbed her free hand resting on his chest and held it in place before she could do who knew what with it in retribution. Knowing her, it would hurt.
“I’m sorry, Lou, but….” he paused, gasping for breath. “You looked just like a fresh caught fish, gaspin’ fer water!”
“You can’t be seriousl,” Lou nearly screeched, staring at him in disbelief. “That’s impossible.”
Kid nodded, sobering. He’d been a newborn, but had heard his Ma and brother Jed tell the story so many times he could see it in his mind’s eye almost as well as if he’d been old enough to remember.
“Well, ya know I’ve tol’ ya how my Pa had a problem with drink. It’s why I don’t partake too much. Anyway, when times was good, it wasn’t a problem. But when things was bad, you could pretty much count on him losin’ himself in a bottle. By the time I was born, thing’s’d been bad fer awhile.”
“It’s a healthy, bouncing baby boy,” the midwife proudly proclaimed over the lusty wails of the newborn infant.
Lenora Rae Kidd raised her head wearily and blinked at the squawling infant. She sighed. He was the sixth child she’d birthed in the last five years, the third born alive. Neither of the others had survived their first year. She held out little hope for more from this infant. Turning her head, she asked after her only, other, living child, “How’s my Jed?”
“He’s fine,” the midwife’s assistant assured her. She continued carefully bundling the newborn tightly into a soft blanket. “I sent him into town to get your husband. They should be back any moment, in fact.”
“What are you going to call him?” the midwife asked, taking the carefully wrapped infant and tucking him into the crook of his mother’s arm.
Rae, as her husband called her, looked down at the child, trying not to notice his bright blue eyes, of a shade that indicated they might actually stay blue, cute little, chubby cheeks, pert nose and head of, already, unruly sandy brown curls. She tried to ignore the burst of affection that started to melt her heart.
The midwife shook her head sadly when Lenora Rae looked away from her newborn without comment, not touching him or cooing to him the way most new mothers did. She’d seen this reaction before, from women who’d lost too many children. It didn’t bode well for this baby’s chances.
“You really should feed him,” she said gently, trying to encourage Rae to interact with the child.
Rae didn’t respond, just kept her eyes glued to the front door of their small cabin.
The midwife shared a concerned look with her assistant, who tried next.
“So, what are you going to name him?”
This got Rae’s attention for a moment. She turned to look at the assistant for a brief instant before looking back toward the cabin’s door.
“His Pa’ll name him when he gets back,” she said quietly, almost emotionlessly. She herself saw no reason to name a child that probably wouldn’t live long enough to be baptized. Nonetheless, she did bring the now whimpering, rooting child to her breast.
It didn’t take the midwife and her assistant long to finish cleaning up the room and they were packing away the last of their supplies when the door burst open, letting in a blast of cold, wintry air along with an eight year old boy and an obviously drunk man.
Rae’s eyes clamped tight on her husband’s face, then closed in disappointment as she realized his condition. It was hard to miss as he stumbled over the threshold and nearly fell to the floor. Her son, Jed, caught him by the arm though and managed, somehow, to keep him upright.
“Hear ya popped out another one,” he mumbled, continuing to stumble his way across the small room to the bed near the fireplace.
“You’ve another, healthy son,” the midwife announced brightly, bending over to take the now sleeping babe from his mother and tuck him into his father’s arms.
The tall, slim man looked down at the infant and grunted. There was no mistaking the child’s parentage. His father’s features were molded on his face in miniature, easily visible despite the scrunched, wrinkled redness of his newborn state.
After a moment, the man nodded. “Yep. It’s another Kidd, alright.”
With that, he handed the child back to the midwife and made for the door at a near run. Moments later, the sounds of retching could be heard wafting through the still open portal.
“So… what’s his name?” the assistant asked, confused. “We need something to report to the pastor so he can write it in the parish records.”
Rae, starting to fall asleep, exhausted from her work that day, mumbled, “You heard him. The boy’s name is Another Kidd.”
“Things got better after that, Pa sobered up and stayed sober for several years. Til the drought came,” Kid shrugged. He’d already told Lou that part of his life’s story. “He and Ma always felt guilty about my name and just called me the Kid. The nickname sorta stuck. After awhile most folks forgot I even had ‘Another’ name.”
“That was an awful lot of babies ta lose,” Lou said quietly. “Is that why yer Ma was so sickly?”
Kid shrugged. “Maybe. Or she lost the babies ‘cause she was sickly. I don’t know which. She lost two more after me.” Lou winced slightly as he hugged her tightly to him, a touch too tightly. But she didn’t interrupt him. “Then, they just stopped comin’. But she never got any stronger. And after…. after Pa left, she just seemed ta lose the will ta live.”
Lou pressed a soft kiss to Kid’s chin and snuggled closer to him, willing to provide the physical contact he seemed to need right then.
“Well,” she smiled against his chest, “we both know I’m stronger than I look. And, thanks ta Buck’s herbs we don’t haveta worry ‘bout babies comin’ too fast. Which just leaves one thing to deal with.”
The mischievous tone of her voice pulled Kid the rest of the way out of his not so pleasant memories. He looked down at her suspiciously, not sure if he was more afraid to ask what she meant or not to know.
“And… what would that be?”
“Promise me,” she whispered, hiding her smile against his neck, “promise me…. we’ll never name any of our children after you. I don’t know if I could handle another Another Kid!”
She squealed in delighted laughter as he retaliated with a vicious round of tickling. But, when the tickle fight was over and both lay there panting, he promised, smiling the entire time. There would never be Another Kid.