Author's Note: This story falls during the Season 2 episodes from Requiem for a Hero to Daisy, but takes place mostly during Daisy. It is a sequel to What's Hidden..
Lou leaned forward over the horse’s neck, stretching her face into the wind kicked up by their rapid progress across the hard prairie soil. The pounding of the animal’s hooves soothed the ache that threatened to rip her heart out of her chest. Really, she’d already done that all on her own. She should’ve known better, known she wasn’t destined for a traditional life as wife and mother and never tried to reach for the forbidden. It was all her own damned fault. She pressed her face into the soft hide of her mount to wipe away the tears once more leaking down her cheeks.
No matter how hard she thought over the last few months, she could never quite place just when or where things went wrong. It had been more of a gradual slide down a very slippery slope.
At first, things had been blissful, all she could have ever asked out of marriage. He’d been loving, attentive, considerate. Christmas had come and gone in a haze of pleasure. It had been all walks in the moonlight and stolen kisses beneath the stars. Had been.
But then, the loving became claustrophobic jealousy. The attention drew too much notice from others. What had been considerate was suddenly over-protective. He struggled to accept the continued secrecy of their relationship, their marriage, even from their family. He wanted to be a ‘normal’ couple, to show his appreciation in public, to treat her like a woman. She’d tried to explain to him, so many times, why she needed time, space to get used to this huge change in her life. Not to mention why she couldn’t be ‘normal’. But it never seemed to come out right and the explanations began turning into fights.
The words of their increasingly frequent disagreements slithered through her brain yet again.
“You ain’t hidin’ a couple other husbands on me, are ya, Lou?” he’d asked half suspiciously, half jokingly after Barnett’s failed wedding.
It wasn’t long after that he’d started harping on her about doing what was proper, the way they’d been brought up.
“If we don’t do things to make things proper, something terrible could happen, and that scares me.”
He’d started pushing her to go public, at least with their family at the station. Said he was tired of hiding his feelings all the time. It wasn’t like the others didn’t already know the two of them were a couple.
Then, he was trying to tell her what to do.
“I’m taking this run! The Comanche are acting up. It ain’t safe.”
When she’d argued, he’d reminded her of the vows she’d made in that meadow.
“Why is it so hard for you to understand that I am the same person I was before you and I… you and I started… ridin’ double.”
“Because yer not the same person to me, Lou. Yer my wife,” he’d hissed. “Damn it, Lou, it’s my job ta protect ya now!”
Eventually she’d lost her temper with him.
“Why don’t ya stop bein’ my mama and stick ta bein’ my man?” she’d demanded as she took off for the run.
They’d always managed to get back on track. Until… well, until he’d thought she was expecting. That had been the beginning of the end.
”Three weeks earlier….
“Why cain’t ya just give me some room ta breath?” Lou practically screeched, pushing past Kid out through the open bunkhouse door. “All of ya, just leave me alone!”
Kid watched her, bewildered, as she stomped off toward the barn, still muttering under her breath.
“Looks like I just missed Hurricane Lou,” Cody teased as he walked up to the bunkhouse steps, looking back over his shoulder repeatedly at the annoyed woman he’d just passed. “What’s got her dander up this time?”
“I dunno,” Jimmy said, just as flummoxed as Kid. “We was just jokin’ around, and she flew off the handle like we was tryin’ ta murder her.”
“Sounds like her woman’s time to me,” Buck murmured from his bunk at the back of the bunkhouse. “’Cept the time’s all wrong. That’s only s’posed ta be once a month and this seems ta be all the time now.”
Kid blanched. No, it couldn’t be, he thought. They’d been so careful. He knew they needed to take things slow and he knew he’d been pushing her probably faster than he should’ve. But this would take all choices away from them, from her And it would be his fault. He had to fix things. But, how? Without a word, he jumped off Lou’s bunk where he’d been sitting and strode, practically ran, out of the bunkhouse. Unlike his errant wife, he headed toward Rachel’s place.
“I just don’t know what ta do,” he said, resting his chin on his hands, his elbows on his knees. He never felt quite comfortable on Rachel’s, well Emma’s actually, pretty white settee. And the current topic of conversation certainly wasn’t designed to put him at ease. He sat perched on the edge of the couch as if ready to take flight at any moment.
Rachel hid a smile behind her tea cup as she raised it to take a sip. She didn’t say anything for a moment, then decided to take pity on the bewildered and worried young man.
“I think ya need ta give her the space she’s askin’ for,” Rachel said quietly. “If it’s true, changes’ll come fast enough without ya pushin’ them on her. Let her deal with them in her own time and her own way, Kid. Just be ready ta help her when she needs it.”
“Are ya sure?” he asked plaintively.
Rachel nodded and patted his shoulder reassuringly. “And, Lord knows, I don’t have to ask if you’re ready to do the right thing by her.”
It was hard but he was determined to follow Rachel’s advice. He didn’t say a word as Lou rode off the next morning. She should only be gone for the day, back in her own bunk that night. Although the thought of her riding hard in her condition worried him, he figured she’d probably be alright.
By supper she still wasn’t back. Unable to eat, he settled in on the front porch of the bunkhouse, his eyes glued to the horizon for any sight of her.
“Here, ye’ll need some coffee if yer gonna keep vigil, son.”
Startled, Kid looked over his shoulder to see Teaspoon standing with a tin cup of coffee outstretched in one hand. At Kid’s look Teaspoon nodded and waved the cup his direction again. He could see the steam wafting up from the dark, fragrant liquid even as the savory smell reached his twitching nostrils. Gratefully, Kid accepted the offering.
He took the cup and lifted it to his lips, blowing gently to cool the still hot beverage before sipping at it. Already his thoughts and his eyes had returned to the horizon and his missing wife.
“She’ll be fine, Kid,” Teaspoon said gently. “Ain’t nothin’ special ‘bout this run. Probably just a sick or missin’ rider at the next station made them keep her fer an extra run or somethin’.”
“Probably,” Kid murmured in agreement. But the roiling in his gut disagreed mightily. So intent was he on keeping watch he never noticed Teaspoon’s heavy sigh or when the older man finally gave up and sought out his own bed.
He sat there through the long night, worrying about what had happened. He sat there through breakfast and on into the morning. Until Teaspoon finally had enough.
“Kid, I don’t pay ya ta watch the horizon. There’s stock needs feedin’. Now get to it!”
Kid reluctantly pulled his stiffened body up off the bench he’d been sitting on and headed toward the barn and his daily chores. But his eyes continued to stray toward the horizon at every possible chance.
“That does it,” he muttered angrily to himself as Rachel rang the lunch bell. “I can’t do this no more.”
“You can’t do what anymore?” Rachel asked, overhearing him.
“This,” he spit out between gritted teeth, waving his hand around to indicate himself and the current situation. “Sittin’ here, worryin’ like crazy, not able ta work. She’s movin’ inta the big house with you and findin’ somethin’ safer ta do. I can’t risk her… I can’t risk them, like this.”
Rachel shook her head mournfully as she watched Kid move purposefully into the bunkhouse and start opening up trunks and packing up Lou’s stuff.
Lou reveled in the feel of the fresh spring air as it rifled past her face.
“Come on, boy,” she urged Lightning. They were almost home. It had been a long run, double run, really. When she’d gotten to the next home station, all the riders had been down with some illness. The stationmaster had sent her on with orders to bring back backup riders. She’d ridden straight through the night, only to turn around and head back. She was just now finally almost home. She couldn’t wait to eat some of Rachel’s stew and collapse on her bunk. She figured she’d sleep straight through til morning, at the least.
“Kid, it’s Louise!”
Lou heard Rachel’s faint call from where she stood outside Emma’s house hanging laundry. She smiled at the homey feel of that alert. Lowering her head, she pushed Lightning ever faster and soon they were galloping up to the bunkhouse porch. Lou leaped off the horse’s back with more energy than she’d felt since the day before. There was just something about being home again.
She smiled as she saw her husband come rushing across the porch toward her.
“Hi, Kid,” she started to greet him, but was interrupted when he grabbed her up in a bear hug that like to break her in two. She could tell from the tension vibrating through his arms just how worried he’d been by her delayed return.
“Thank God yer alright,” he breathed in her ear loudly enough for everyone to hear him. “I’ve been worried about ya. Where ya been?”
Annoyed by his lack of discretion almost as much as she was pleased by his concern, she pulled back and muttered, “Workin’.”
Kid didn’t get the message. “When ya didn’t come home last night Jimmy had ta practically tie me down to keep me from ridin’ after ya.”
Lou glared at him. “Glad someone around here’s got some sense.”
She pulled away and turned toward her horse, ready to start cooling Lightning off and settling him for the night so she could get some rest herself. But Kid wouldn’t let up.
“Lou!” he called excitedly, grabbing her arm to slow her down.
“Uh, Kid, I don’t think now’s such a good time,” Rachel said, hoping to put off the coming explosion. Kid never heard her.
“Got a surprise for ya,” he said, tugging Lou toward the big house.
“Can’t it wait ‘til after supper,” Lou sighed, exasperated.
“Nope,” Kid shook his head, his eyes bright with a fevered form of excitement that half scared, half amused her. “Jimmy, could ya take her horse?” he asked, tossing the reins to the other rider. “Come on,” he added, beginning to tow her toward the big house in earnest.
“I’m comin’. I’m comin’,” Lou muttered, stumbling over her own tired feet trying to keep up with his rapid pace.
On the porch, Kid paused, turning to Lou.
“Alright, close yer eyes,” he said softly. And, despite her exhaustion, the fading anxiety mixed with excited nervousness made her want to kiss him silly. Instead, she just closed her eyes as he’d asked and let him lead her into the house. He carefully guided her into what she knew was the parlor and stopped, positioning her so she faced one of the front windows. She could feel the sunlight pouring in through the glass, warming her face. It was so pleasant she just wanted to curl up and go to sleep.
“You can look now,” he said softly.
She slowly opened her eyes to see a bed set up in the corner, blankets hanging from the ceiling, pulled back for now, but obviously designed to be closed for privacy. Her breath hitched as she tried to absorb what she was seeing.
Trying to keep her temper, she asked very, very quietly.
“What’s this about, Kid?”
He looked at her, suddenly nervous at her tone.
“Well, see… things are changin’, and yer not gonna be able ta ride fer the Express much longer and I didn’t think it was a good idea fer ya ta stay in the bunkhouse now….” his voice trailed off at the growing fury in her eyes. He added, quietly, “I… I couldn’t take worryin’ so much over ya…both.” His last word was lost in the sudden storm of her words.
“You low down, mealymouthed coyote. Who the hell do you think you are? You got a lot of nerve movin’ me in here!”
She picked up the glass vase he’d set by the bed filled with Black-eyed Susans, her favorites, and threw it at his head before turning and throwing herself back out the front door.
He watched her go with a leaden lump growing in his chest, flinching as she slammed the door behind her. He slumped down on the bed he’d so lovingly made for his wife, hoping to share it with her soon, to begin planning their family. He heard the door open and close again and soft steps approach him. Looking up, he saw Rachel watching him with a worried face.
“What do I do now?” he asked, not really expecting an answer.
Despite her exhaustion, Lou found she couldn’t relax enough to sleep after that awful trick Kid had pulled on her. She still couldn’t believe he’d tried to change her life like that without even consulting her about it. This… this was one of the many things she’d feared about marriage, she thought to herself, trying to drown out the part of her heart that saw his actions as worried concern simply taken too far.
As a young child she’d seen it all happen before, her father slowly tightening the noose around her mother, all in the name of love, until it was so tight she couldn’t move without arousing his wrath over her ‘endangering herself’. She’d seen love turn to abuse in the most insidious way possible. She’d stood at her mother’s side when it had all gotten to be too much and helped her run, far and fast.
She didn’t really think Kid could ever be like that. He didn’t have the same hate in him, the same greed and possessiveness her father’d had. But she’d fought so long and hard to achieve her freedoms just the thought of losing them could send her into a panic!
Yet, she longed for the sort of loving relationship she saw Sam and Emma building. Obviously not all marriages were like her parents. Emma had no problem letting Sam worry about her, in private and in public. And Sam never crossed the line in trying to protect her. Emma wouldn’t let him.
Oh, how she wanted to have Emma’s strength. Yet she had no idea how to do it. The only thing she really knew how to do was to run away when things got too scary for her. And she didn’t want to run away from Kid. Not ever again. Somehow she had to find the strength to stay. If he’d just back off a little and give her time to adjust.
After what seemed forever tossing and turning in her lonely bunk, she climbed down and marched across the room, ignoring the boys busy with their various evening pursuits, and out the door. As expected, Rachel was ringing out the day sitting on the porch swing with a cup of tea in her hand. Lou crossed the yard to join her.
For a long time, they sat there saying nothing, simply enjoying the quiet peace of the deepening twilight and the uncomplicated nature of each other’s company.
Eventually, Rachel broke the silence.
“So, you never said what exactly made you so late,” she said. “We were all worried about you, ya know? Even Teaspoon was talkin’ about mountin’ a search party if ya weren’t back by dinner.”
“I know,” Lou muttered, nervously shoving an unruly hank of hair behind her ear and looking off into the distance to avoid meeting Rachel’s gaze.
“Lovin’ a woman like you ain’t easy,” Rachel said with a small smile, letting her hand fall comfortably to Lou’s leg on the seat next to her. “Kid’s doin’ the best he can. He’ll learn. Give him some time.”
Lou looked away without answering.
“Lou, you comin’ in?”
She stiffened at the sound of Kid’s voice as he called to her from the bunkhouse porch.
“I’m talkin’ ta Rachel,” she growled back. “I’ll be in when I’m done. Do you mind?”
Kid’s shoulders slumped and he nodded before heading glumly back into the bunkhouse.
Rachel shook her head. “Don’t you think yer bein’ just a little hard on him?”
Lou turned her head stare at Rachel in astonishment. “After that trick he pulled today?!”
Rachel nodded. “He’s just tryin’ ta do the right thing.”
“I’ve been livin’ in the bunkhouse fer about a year now. Are you sayin’ that that’s the wrong thing?”
“No, of course not. It’s just that sometimes things…. change,” Rachel said, trying to tiptoe around what Kid had told her without letting on that she knew.
Lou looked down at her hands clasped in her lap in front of her. In a small voice, she asked, “What if you don’t want ‘em to?”
“Hmh,” Rachel grunted, smiling a touch sardonically. With a half laugh she added, “You don’t always have a choice.”
Lou shook her head vigorously, as if trying to shoo away a fly. “Maybe not. But I got one here and I plan to keep things the way they been,” she said firmly, before standing up and walking away.
Rachel watched Lou cross the yard toward the barn with a frown on her face.
“Just what are ya plannin’ ta do ta make that happen, young lady?” she asked worriedly. “How do ya think ta keep a baby from changin’ yer life?”
Only the wind answered her.
“Kid,” Rachel said after breakfast the next morning, “help me with the dishes?”
“Uh, sure,” Kid said, looking longingly over his shoulder as the other riders filed out of the bunkhouse, Lou in the lead. He’d been hoping to make things up with her, somehow, this morning.
Rachel tossed him a towel and he began drying the plates and bowls as she handed them to him.
“Kid, are you sure Lou’s… expectin’?” she finally asked hesitantly, not sure how or if she should tell him her suspicions.
Kid sighed. “’Bout as sure as I can be without seein’ a doctor,” he said, setting a plate aside and picking up a tin cup. “She ain’t had…. had her courses since ya sent us off ta Red Fern. She’s suddenly highly emotional, more so than normal. And.. well, she looks more like a woman every day, if ya know what I mean. Not ta mention her appetite lately.”
“There could be a number of reasons for each of those changes,” Rachel said quietly.
“But all together?” he asked. “At the same time?”
Rachel sighed. That’s what she’d been afraid of.
“I think ya need ta talk to her,” she said heavily. “Let her know ya know and yer there for her, that ye’ll help her deal with all the changes comin’. If ya don’t…. well, I think she’s goin’ ta do somethin’ she’ll regret the rest of her life.”
Kid set the bowl he was drying down on the counter very carefully and turned to look Rachel full in the face. “What are ya sayin’, Rachel?”
“I think…. it’s just somethin’ she said last night, ‘bout plannin’ ta keep things the way they been. I… I think she’s goin’ ta get rid of the baby.”
“Have you seen Lou?” Kid asked urgently.
*No,* Ike signed. *I think Teaspoon sent her to town with Jimmy for supplies.*
“If you see her, tell her I’m lookin’ fer her, would ya?” he asked. “I gotta talk ta her.”
*Sure,* Ike signed, shrugging.
“Hey, Kid,” Buck called from the other end of the barn, “I think I heard them pulling up behind Rachel’s place a few minutes ago.”
Lou grabbed a sack of feed from the back of the buckboard and started to move around the end of the conveyance toward the side of the barn.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“What would you do if you were in my position?”
Jimmy looked pointedly at the bundle she carried. “I would put that feed bag on the pile.”
Lou shook her head, smiling slightly at his joke. “That’s not what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.”
She sat down on the pile of feedbags, hugging the one she’d been carrying to her chest.
“You mean the feller with the funny name that lives in the bunkhouse?” Jimmy asked.
Lou nodded and flashed another mini-smile his direction. He grunted, glad his jibes had brought some joy to her face. He didn’t know what was up, but it was obvious something was wrong these last few days.
“Aw, Lou, what’s the trouble?” he asked, turning back and grabbing a crate off the buckboard. “I thought you two was regular lovebirds.”
Lou shrugged as he sat the crate on the ground by her feet. “We are. …. We were. I don’t know. Somethin’s changed.”
Jimmy paused in his unloading to face her. “I know. Ever since you been looking and actin’ more like a girl, he’s been wantin’ ya more and more for himself.” He smiled a bit and shoved her shoulder when he added, “I can’t say that I blame him.”
“That’s sweet, Jimmy,” she said.
“You know the Kid,” she said by way of explanation. Jimmy laughed. “He can’t have his wi… uh, woman doin’ a man’s job, livin’ a man’s life. Not for very long, anyway. It would drive him crazy.”
Jimmy rested his hand comfortingly on her shoulder, even as he wondered at her stumble. What had she really been about to say? It certainly hadn’t been ‘woman’.
“This is more than just him wantin’ ta treat ya like a lady, Lou. That’s what ya said ya always wanted,” he said, sitting down next to her.
She nodded. “It’s all just happenin’ so fast. I feel like I can’t breathe. I just… I just need ta get away fer awhile. Stop my head from spinnin’.”
She wanted to be a wife and mother, longed for it with every fiber of her being. But she liked who she was now, who she’d managed to become as that ‘feller with the funny name’ as Jimmy so aptly put it. As a rider she was strong, independent, capable of protecting those she loved as well as herself How could she still do that, be that person and be a woman? Hell, she couldn’t even walk properly in a dress anymore. She kept tripping over the hems. How was she supposed to be able to take care of herself, let alone the others, like that?
She supposed she could just give in, put on those pretty dresses, let Kid buy her jewelry to wear, walk down the street on his arm, go to dances with him. It wouldn’t be hard, really. But could she survive if she did? Would she still be her? Or would she have lost herself in the fantasy, much like her mother had? Would she still like who she was on the other side of that door? She just didn’t know.
“Tell him that,” Jimmy suggested.
She shook her head. “It’s too late. The time fer talkin’s over. I’ve gotta do somethin’… at least buy me some thinkin’ time.” Lou stood up and flung her arms around Jimmy’s shoulders, hugging him tight, clinging for a moment as if afraid he’d disappear, as if he were the part of herself she was most afraid of losing. “I just don’t know if I can do this.”
Well, he hadn’t gotten to talk to her, but he’d sure gotten his answer, Kid thought from where he stood, frozen, around the corner of the barn. He hadn’t heard all of their conversation, but he’d heard enough. She was planning on getting rid of their baby. How could she?! He knew things were moving faster than they’d, either of them, ever expected or wanted. But…. kill their child?! He’d thought better of her than that. That wasn’t the action of the woman he’d thought he’d fallen in love with!
He could feel the rage growing in him to explosive levels and knew he had to get out of there before he did or said something they’d both regret. Turning around, he raced into the barn and began saddling Katy. Soon, he was galloping away from the station and the woman he suddenly didn’t think he knew anymore.
Lou inhaled deeply, loving the scent of the morning air after a storm had passed through. Limping about from her fall off Lightning the night before, she moved out into the yard, running her eyes across the station complex. The lines they’d used to tie down the windmill were still in place and the temporary gate repair to the corral had held, despite the increasingly violent storm.
Looking toward the barn, she noticed a few boards out of place and headed over to begin fixing the damage. She quickly tied her lengthening hair back with a strip of sinew used to repair saddles. She was growing it out for Kid, not that she’d ever told him that. But that meant it had gotten to the point where it was long enough to get in her face while working, without being long enough yet to put up properly. She patted her hair. Soon, she thought.
Within moments she was immersed in the soothing work of sawing and nailing new boards in place.
She turned to look up at the sound of her name. Kid stood in the barn doorway, hands shoved deep in the pockets of his trousers. She couldn’t figure out the expression on his face.
“We need ta talk.”
She nodded and stood as he approached her. She wondered why he stopped several feet away from her, though. That wasn’t like him. Usually he got as close to her as he could. especially when they got to the making up part of a fight.
“Lou…. please, don’t do this. We can figure somethin’ out. Don’t get rid of our baby. Please,” he begged.
“I know ‘bout the baby. And I know ya don’t want it changin’ yer life. I’ll…. I’ll stay here and take care of it. I can take over some of Teaspoon’s job as handyman. He needs help now, anyway, since he took over marshalin’ in Sweetwater.” The words came out in a hurried rush, as if he were determined to get his whole plan out before she had a chance to object.
“What the hell are ya talkin’ ‘bout, Kid?” she asked, exasperated. “What baby?”
“I know yer… yer expectin’. I seen all the signs. I watched my Ma go through them often enough,” he said. “And… and ya tol’ Rachel ya had a plan ta keep it from changin’ yer life. I know bein’ with child will mean ya have ta admit ta bein’ a lady. But we can keep it here. Just don’t go in town. Hide when others come around. We can figure out ways so ya can go back ta ridin’ after the baby’s born. Please.”
She gasped in horror as she finally figured out what he was saying. One hand crept down to cover her flat belly. “You… you think I’d actually kill our baby in order ta keep my secret?!”
“Well…. that’s what ya said, ain’t it? I mean….”
“If you could think that ‘bout me, ya don’t know me at all!” she raged at him. “I can’t believe I’ve been…. dancin’… with someone… that could believe I’d do somethin’ so despicable! Let alone that I’m married to him!”
She frantically pulled out the ring hanging on a chain around her neck, ripped it off over her head and threw it at him. It bounced off his chest and landed in the dirt at his feet. “Take it! Far as I’m concerned, this marriage is over. Ain’t like it’s ever been registered or nothin’. And no one but us knows it ever happened. Burn the damned certificate and leave me alone. You ain’t the man I thought you was.”
A shocked Kid watched, frozen in horror, as she ran out the other end of the barn. He could already hear the sobs pouring out of her. What had he done?
By now she’d cried so many tears over her lost love that she was plumb dried out. But that hadn’t relieved the continuing ache threatening to tear her apart from the inside out.
Suddenly, Lightning’s harsh breathing punched through her fog of misery and she pulled back on the reins.
“Sorry, boy,” she muttered as she slowed him to a walk and began to look for a place to camp.
Within the hour she’d settled Lightning down with some oats and plenty of green grass to nibble on and seated herself by a roaring fire. She huddled there on her side, curled into herself, head leaning on the saddle behind her. An embroidered handkerchief lay tightly clutched in one hand next to her heart. She’d been making it for Kid. But now it was all she had left of him. She bitterly regretted throwing her ring back at him in anger. It felt like she’d lost a limb in losing that talisman.
If only that fight had been the end of things, there might still have been a future for them. But oh no, she’d had to go and make things worse. Now…. now, she couldn’t even stay at the station with him anymore. Once he learned what she’d done, accidental or not, he’d never forgive her. And she couldn’t bear to see the hate in his eyes every day.
“We just went too fast,” she murmured to herself. Lightning’s ears flickered at the hoarse sound of her quiet voice. “And now we can’t never go back ta the way things were. There’s no startin’ over from this.”She shivered in the spring coolness and wished her heart could freeze as cold as winter ice to save her from this fiery grief.
Love & Loss