Author’s Note: This is the first in a new series of shorts I’m calling The Whole Truth. It was originally supposed to be a novella, inspired by the Writers Ranch's WhatMight Have Been Challenge. But I just didn’t have time to put it together that way. This first piece starts in the second half of Requiem for a Hero, just after Lou and Kid consummated their relationship. What if Lou’s answer to Kid’s, “You alright, Lou?” had been different?
“You alright, Lou?”
No, she wanted to scream. No, she wasn’t alright. She hadn’t been alright for years now. She’d thought she was getting close to alright, that this.. whatever this was she had with Kid… was the next step toward alright. Now she knew it was a step in the other direction. And it was a step she couldn’t un-take. But how could she tell him that? How could she break his heart by telling him she regretted what they’d just done?
She opened her mouth to say something, but no sound came out.
“Lou?” he asked again, worried. He sat up and scooted across the bed to where she huddled at the foot, wrapped in the sheet. He reached out one hand to tentatively stroke it across her bare shoulders. “What is it? What’s wrong? Did I… did I hurt you?”
“I… I don’t know,” she whispered, raising her tear streaked face to meet his eyes.
“I tried ta be gentle, honest,” he murmured soothingly, as if trying to calm a skittish mare. He reached out and pulled her into his arms, hugging her close. She rested her cheek against the warmth and strength of his chest, relaxed into the up and down motion of his breathing, savored the feeling of safety she always got when he held her tight like this. But then she stiffened as voices from the past once again invaded her present peace.
“Don’t worry,” he taunted as he slammed against her frail, young body, tearing her open. “You’ll like it, eventually. I can tell. I can always pick out the ones who will enjoy this someday.”
“A couple hours ago, the most important thing on my mind was gettin’ on with… what we’d been puttin’ off fer so long,” Kid said softly against the top of her head, rocking her back and forth gently.
She half-laughed at that, trying not to cry. He’d been right, that bastard. He’d been right. She’d been so focused on how good Kid made her feel, safe and… and loved, she’d forgotten about what was right, and proper. She’d forgotten not to be a whore. She’d… she’d enjoyed it.
“Talk to me, Lou… Louise,” Kid pleaded. “Tell me I… I didn’t ruin things fer you.”
Ruin things for her? He’d been a virgin, that much had been obvious. She’d been nothing but a loose woman, a tart, enjoying a man’s attentions. She wondered if she’d enjoy it as much if Jimmy or Ike or Buck started kissing her, too. Would she want to do this with them, as well? That’s what he’d said, when he’d promised to train her for her new career. That she’d like it with any man.
The last, agonized plea finally broke through her inner ramblings.
“You didn’t do nothin’ wrong, Kid,” she said hoarsely, pushing away from the comfort he offered and climbing off the bed. She let the sheet she’d wrapped around herself, after, fall to the floor as she moved. What use did a whore have for modesty, anyway? “I did. I should never have come here.”
She walked over to where she’d left her saddlebags, shoulders hunched against the world, and began digging out her clothes.
Kid watched her for a moment, confused. Then, realizing she was getting dressed to leave, he leapt off the bed and rushed to her side.
“What do you think yer doin’?” he demanded, grabbing her arm to stop her motions and make her look at him. “I know maybe I fumbled things, didn’t know quite what ta do ta… ta make things right fer ya, but… but that ain’t no reason ta leave.”
Tears gathered once more in Lou’s eyes and she reached up to press the palm of one hand to his cheek. “I tol’ ya, it ain’t you, Kid.”
“Than what? What is it, Lou? Talk to me!” He shook with his distress.
“Yer good, Kid. Pure. I could tell that tonight. Heck, I could tell that from the first time we met. But the fact ya couldn’t tell I wasn’t… that was the final nail. Ya deserve someone better’n me, someone as good as you. I ain’t been good in a… long, long time.”
She pulled away from him and, turning her back on him, rapidly finished buttoning her shirt, her shoulders hunched defensively, hair swinging forward to hide her now tear streaked face.
“Like hell! I don’t know what yer talkin’ ‘bout, Lou, but ain’t no one more right fer me,” Kid shouted in a hoarse, fearful whisper, staring at her shoulder blades, poking sharply out through the fabric of her thin shirt as she seemed to quail away from his gaze.. “Yer the best thing in my life. Ever.” He paused to consider what she’d said once more. In a calmer, more quiet, almost frightened tone, he asked, “What do you mean by ‘the fact I couldn’t tell’? Tell what?”
Lou took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. She stepped farther away from him, as if afraid of his reaction, but turned to face him. “I weren’t no virgin, Kid.”
“What are you talkin’ ‘bout, Lou? You knew about as much about what we were doin’ here as I did,” Kid spluttered in confusion. “Believe me, even I can tell the difference there.”
Lou wildly whipped her head from side to side in denial, sending her lengthening curls flying out about her face.
“And it ain’t like ya exactly had the chance ta go playin’ round, what with pretendin’ ta be a boy and all,” he continued, unfazed by her physical denial.
“Stop,” she whispered fiercely. “It was… before.”
“But….” he paused, looking sharply at her as tears continued to trickle from the corner of her eyes. “Before? You were just a child.”
“Twelve,” she admitted in a small voice. “I was twelve. It… it was my birthday.”
And that’s when he knew what he’d feared hearing her say was true.
“You… you didn’t want it, did ya? You were…. were… forced,” he gulped.
She nodded jerkily, looking away from him, unable to meet his concerned gaze. She crossed and re-crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself tightly, as if afraid she might fly to pieces if she let go.
Kid took a small, hesitant step toward her, raising one hand to tentatively brush the strands of hair that had caught on her eyelashes and wet cheeks back behind an ear. His thumb trailed the rest of his fingers and gently wiped away the tears dripping.
“It weren’t yer choice, Lou, that don’t make you…. bad… or nothin’,” he whispered.
She raised her head to glare at him. “He said… he said he picked me over the other laundry girl ‘cause he knew I’d enjoy it! That… that I had what it took ta be a real workin’ girl.” She stumbled over the words, stuttering through the explanation. Then intense pain flashed across her gamine features. The last sentence came out like a soft exhalation, barely audible, but indelibly heard. “And I did!”
“I can’t believe a twelve-year-old would know enough about what was goin’ on ta truly like it,” Kid muttered, disconcerted but trying not to frighten the already skittish woman before him.
Lou frowned sharply at him. “Not then. He only… hurt me. Now. Here.” She waved a hand toward the bed they’d just left behind. “This. Us. I liked it.”
A small, shy smile cleared Kid’s features. “So did I.”
“Yer a man,” she muttered. “Men always like it. He tol’ me that, too.”
A scoffing sound erupted from Kid’s throat at that, but this time she was the one who continued without waiting for him to say anything more.
“Ya deserve a woman ya can love, a woman who can stand at yer side, be yer wife, have yer kids,” she whispered painfully. “That woman ain’t me.” Lou forcefully gulped back sobs as she imagined Kid’s future, a future she no longer could be a part of.
“But… but I love you, Lou,” he whispered, pulling her close to him and resting his forehead against hers, his eyes boring into hers. “I don’t want some other woman. I want you.”
“You don’t know what yer sayin’, Kid,” she muttered. “Good girls, the kind ya marry, they don’t like… that… the way I did. They don’t enjoy it.”
“Just how would you know that? You ever been married?” Kid asked shortly.
Lou turned her face away from him, breaking eye contact. “My… my Ma tol’ me how it was, between a husband and a wife. A wife don’t enjoy it, she just…. just endures it so’s there can be little ones. A man goes ta the saloon and workin’ girls fer the fun stuff.”
Kid chuffed a laugh. “That ain’t what my Ma said,” he scoffed lightly. Now it was his turn to blush. “And I seen enough ta know she enjoyed relations with Pa just fine.” Then he added in sudden inspiration, “And did ya ever watch Emma with Sam? They sure enjoyed kissin’ each other just fine. And the way she was smilin’ the day after the weddin’? And blushin’? That ain’t the look of a woman who’s just endurin’ somethin’.”
Lou remained silent, unresponsive.
Kid suddenly straightened to his full height. “I know exactly what I’m sayin’, Lou. You may not be like Emma, or Abigail or any of the other ladies in town, but yer the most kind, loving and pure soul I’ve ever met. And I’ve only got one question for you.”
Kid paused to catch his breath, not quite believing what he was about to say, but sure it was the right time and place, deep down inside, where it mattered.
“What’s that, Kid?” Lou asked, a little uncomfortable as his silence lengthened.
“Do you love me?”
She stared at him for a long moment then jerkily nodded her head.
“Then get yer stuff,” he said briskly, turning to where his own clothes lay in a jumbled pile near the bed. “And pack up.”
“What? Why? Where are we goin’?” she asked in confusion, watching him dress even more quickly then she had.
Kid grabbed his hat and plopped it on his head before taking her hand in his and holding on for dear life.
“We’re headed into town ta find the preacher.”