|The challenge was five stories, each story concerned with one of the five senses. |
The stories do NOT need to match the graphic
|As Lou is preparing for her wedding, she has a few questions that she needs to answer.
||Something Borrowed... Something Blue (Sound)
||I Want... Need to Know (Taste)
||Wanting... Needing Answers (Touch)
||Giving... Taking (Smell)
||Rain... Shine (Sight)
||Something Borrowed... Something Blue
Lou slid the soft blue ribbon against her cheek and smiled at the memory it brought back.
"You don't have to sneak around, Loulabelle. Go ahead and touch it if you like. It's not goin' to break ."
The younger woman's face lit up with excitement as she lifted the bonnet from its stand. Covered in ivory moiré the blue velvet ribbons gave the bonnet a heavenly look as though they were made from the clouds and the sky themselves. "It's beautiful, Emma."
"A friend of mine… Mrs. Seward, she always had a dainty hand when it came to millinery. She sent the bonnet as a gift."
Lou giggled as the ends of the ribbons tickled her palm. "I've never seen somethin' so pretty." She looked up at Emma. "It'll make the red come out in your hair…" Lou pressed her lips tightly together when tears threatened to spill suddenly. "I'm gonna… I'm gonna miss you somethin' fierce, Emma."
Leaving her vanity table, Emma crossed around the bed to stand beside Lou. "And I'll miss you too, Loulabelle… but it's not like I'm leaving the country… I'll be one territory over."
"Emma…" there was such a plaintive tone in her voice that Emma tucked her brush into the pocket of her robe and took her hand, "it won't be the same."
"The same isn't always the best, sweetheart." Emma set the bonnet back on its stand and pulled Lou down to sit on the edge of the bed. "Sometimes things change, takes you in a different direction from where you'd intended to go and in time you realize that it was meant to be and life… is so much better than what you'd had before."
Lou stared at their joined hands and bit back a sob. "No it's not! It won't be better Emma… cause it can't! I'm gonna need your advice and you're gonna be too far away to give it… I ain't had a woman friend for… for too long and it ain't fair. Just when I get used to it… you're movin' away to Omaha."
Emma grasped both of Lou's shoulders and held on. "Look at me… come on, look at me."
She turned her gaze, but the serious pout of her lips remained unchanged.
"You'll never lose me as a friend, Louise. Never." Emma softened her smile and gave Lou an encouraging look. "Leaving you behind is the hardest thing for me. I know the boys'll be just fine… they're like a litter of puppies all tryin' to get to the top of the heap and they'll stumble through things and find their way and hopefully listen to Mr. Spoon some of the times, but they don't have the worries you do… the challenges you'll face." She took Lou's face in her hands and brushed a kiss across her forehead. "You're the one I worry about, and not because I think you can't handle what life throws your way… it's because sometimes you're too strong for your own good.
"You want everyone to see you as an equal and so you take too much onto your own shoulders when none of them… not even Mr. Spoon would look down on you for accepting help."
Emma dropped her hands slowly into her lap and tilted her head to watch Lou's expression.
The younger woman was confused and hurt… and her face showed it all as clear as it could be. Louise opened her mouth once… and then she tried it again… and when finally she could speak she stood up and ran her fingers over the soft sleeve of Emma's wedding gown.
"How do you know this isn't a huge mistake, Emma?" She couldn't help the words spilling from her lips anymore than she could stop the feeling that she was being abandoned. "How do you know that marryin' Sam is gonna work?"
"Work?" Emma laughed a little and sighed. "No one can ever really know, Lou. Folks change and things happen, but the best thing you can do is be sure that you're both… there for each other."
"I guess… I know he's better for you than Evan." A shadow crossed Emma's face and instantly Lou was contrite. "Oh Emma… I'm so sorry, I didn't mean-"
"No… you're right, Louise… Evan wasn't the man I needed in my life. I wanted him to be that man, but when things got tough he left."
"And Sam?" Lou smoothed a wrinkle on the full skirt and answered her own question. "Even when you thought he'd hang you didn't give up and when Evan came back-"
"When Evan came back, Sam wanted me to be happy… he was willing to step aside and let me be with the man I loved."
Louise laughed. "And it was Sam all along."
Emma nodded and reached up to smooth a section of hair determined to find its way loose of her bun. "Yes… Sam."
Louise smiled at the warmth in Emma's voice.
"It was a long hard road for us," Emma started as she sat on the edge of the bed, bringing her knees up to her chest as she looked at the other young woman, "we'd tried once… more passion than love I'm afraid… but I think we both knew that there was something worth fighting for. When the Express started and I took you 'boys' into town, Sam said he wanted to come to dinner… I admit it was too tempting and so I did."
"It was fun, Louise… fun and passionate and it was so easy to think that was all that it was ever going to be. Then Evan came back and I thought I'd lost Sam for good. I thought I'd finally put up one too many walls between us and he'd give up."
"But he didn't…"
"No, Loulabelle, he didn't… and you know what it was that finally told me… finally showed me that I found the right man… when he told me about Jenny. How he'd lost her and how he'd been lost after she died."
"He told you all of that?"
"Sometimes," Emma began, her voice softening into a near whisper, "you find someone you feel like you can tell anything to… that they'll listen and not judge… and be there for you if you need a shoulder."
"Like a good friend-"
"Yes," Emma agreed, "a good friend and something more."
Lou saw the subtle color bloom on Emma's cheeks and she hid her own smile. "Someone who shares your life is the right one for you, Lou. A man that can shoulder anything beside you…"
"That's what you have?"
Emma looked at her young friend with a bliss-filled smile. "That's what I have with Sam."
They'd talked for hours and Lou had helped Emma dress for the wedding, helping her friend prepare for a life away from Sweetwater… prepare for life without her in it. Louise knew that she needed to let go… and let her friend marry the man that was in every way her match… her partner.
Louise rolled onto her back and felt a breeze flow through the room. She didn't hear the soft sounds of Buck breathing a few feet away, or the way the bed creaked when Noah would toss in the middle of the night, or Cody's snoring. Everything was different. They were in the bunkhouse. They were a mile away as far as she was concerned and the feeling was unsettling.
Lifting back the edge of the quilt she swung her legs down until her feet touched the worn rag-rug beneath. She listened, hoping her movements hadn't woken Rachel from her sleep. With all the preparations for the wedding, Rachel hadn't collected more than a few hours of sleep over the last week.
Carried in on the wind, the sounds of late night revelers and Army soldiers brought her fully awake, making it impossible for her to ignore the worries in her head and fall back into the darkness of sleep. The horses reacted at the rush of hooves in the night air, their voices calling out in some age-old greeting that only they understood.
The chill of the night wasn't any comfort and Louise pulled on her dressing gown as she moved into the hallway. The house was familiar in the light, but here in the wee hours of the morning, it was impossible to remember where everything was. The moonlight guided her down the stairs, but the pantry was foreign ground to her, so she had to use her best guess to avoid the creaks and groans of the floorboards beneath her feet.
Her mind was as restless as her body, her thoughts loud in her head, arguing back and forth over something she'd thought resolved… something she'd thought didn't matter. So why now? Why did it matter now?
Because, she thought, married is forever… married like Emma and Sam… like Teaspoon and Polly would be if they were honest with each other. Married.
|I Want... Need to Know
The next day passed by, seconds to minutes… minutes to hours… and then it was night… another restless night until…
Kid came home and Lou fell into his arms.
"Hey, what's all this about? Oh, you weren't worried I wasn't gonna make it here on time, were you?"
She brushed of his comments with a smile. "Of course not… What happened?"
Kid shrugged away her worry, knowing from the painful pull of his smile that his bruises must be a sight to see, even in the near dark of night. "Katy took a fall. She's fine... I woulda got here sooner except I had to stop in Dixon... pick these up." He opened up the velvet pouch and dropped two gold bands into his hand. "They match."
"They're beautiful!" And they were. She meant it wholeheartedly. They were everything a bride could wish for.
"Yep, just like you... Here, you take mine. I can't wait to get it back from you tomorrow." She took the ring and slipped it onto her thumb hoping that the metal would warm to her finger. She looked around him, waiting to see someone else in the darkness.
Her mouth was dry, the top of her tongue scratched against the roof of her mouth. "Where's Jimmy?"
"I don't know." He was lying to her. Lying and it hurt. She swallowed hard on the lump in her throat and asked again. "Somethin' happened between you two, didn't it?"
He looked away and returned his gaze with a smile. A sure sign that he wasn't being honest with her. "Now, Lou… don't you worry about that…" she didn't seem to really hear the sound of his words… "Tomorrow's gonna be the most memorable day of our lives."
Kid picked up his bed roll, but Lou stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Wait, Kid…"
"Yeah?" He gave her smile when the light from a nearby lantern caught on the ring, flashing gold in the darkness of night.
"I wanted to ask you… I… uh," she looked up at his expectant gaze and fought to remember her question, "I wanted to tell you that I need to know something before tomorrow."
He heard the tone of her voice and tucked his bedroll securely under his arm. "Sure… what is it?"
"I know I asked 'ya before and I know what you said… 'bout how much you hated your name," she looked down to avoid the look in his eyes, "how embarrassed you are of it… and I wanted to tell you that…" she swallowed and looked up at him, searching the blue of his eyes for the truth. "Tell me."
He turned away and she reached out again, this time the glimmer of gold catching her eye.
"Tell me, Kid… you can't think that I'd stop the wedding because of your name."
He shifted his balance and put his empty hand into his pocket. "Ain't that what you're doin'?" He shook his head. "What does it matter, Lou… I love you."
"And I love you, Kid, but think about it… sooner or later you'll need a name."
"I've been livin' with 'the Kid' for years and-"
"Living with it? Don't you understand, Kid… of all of us, you're the only one that doesn't have a bank account and-"
"I don't trust banks-"
"They wouldn't give you one if you did!"
He was shocked, leaning back in the face of her frustration. "They'd need a name, Kid. They'd need a name for an account and you don't have one."
"I've done just fine takin' care of my money and you," his expression brightened, "if I need to put it in the bank, I'll put it in your account."
She turned away, leaning her arms on the corral fence. "That's not the point, Kid-"
"Then what is?" He leaned in closer to hear her words. "What's the point?"
"You want us to get married so we can live like a normal couple? So you don't have to worry 'bout me livin' like a man… livin' a lie?"
He brushed her hair back from her ear. "I want you to be happy, Lou."
"What about a house?" Her eyes were suddenly glittering with tears as she bit back a sob, her mouth suddenly dry and her tongue made of cotton.
"Sure… a house. Of course, Lou." He gave her a smile and reached out to pull her in for a hug, but she shrugged him off.
"How are we gonna get a bank to let us buy one, Kid? They got no problem with a man that can't write his name… they'll let him sign with an X on the line, but they'll print his name beneath it. They'll put his 'name' down for him when he can't… but that ain't our problem, Kid… not us."
He pulled her against him then, fought her until she let herself fall against his chest her forehead bent down against his coat as her fingers fisted in the warm duck cloth. "We'll make it work, Lou… somehow we'll find a way to do all those things… I promise you that-"
"No…" her voice shook as she choked on the dust rising from his clothing, "… don't make promises that we can't keep." He relaxed his hold and she leaned back to look up into his eyes. "You and me… we've been up and down and sideways about so many things. Love, 'dancin'', gettin' married… we've talked it out time and time again, but we never talked about the real things… the life things that everyone goes through. Maybe-"
"Are you sayin' you wanna wait?" He voice cracked as he grabbed onto her arm, his eyes wide and worried. "Is that what this is, Lou? You got too many questions to marry me?"
"No… I didn't say that, Kid… but I think we need some answers before we can honestly vow in front of our friends and families that we'll be there for each other, that maybe we should know who the other person is."
He dropped the bedroll at their feet and took her arms in his grasp and pulled her into the light where he could see her startled gaze. "All you need to know is that I love you more than life itself, Lou. That's all that matters here."
"This ain't no dime novel, Kid. This is real life and when it comes to makin' a life for my family it matters to me… we can't keep paintin' over the cracks, Kid. Keep doin' that and the buildin's libel to fall in on our heads."
He opened his mouth to argue and then he stopped. "We'll talk about this after the honeymoon, Lou. We've got the trip all planned and everyone's in town for the weddin' and we can't-"
"We can… and we will, before the weddin', Kid." She stepped back away from him and looked up into his face. "It's not much to ask, Kid. It's not much by half."
"This is silly, Lou…"
"You know everythin' there is about me, Kid. You know what my father did, you know what Wicks did to me… my life is an open book for you, Kid… can you say the same?"
He gave her a look. "It ain't the same thing, Lou… it's nothin' compared to what you went through... so why are we botherin' with it at all?"
"It ain't nothin', Kid. It means somethin'… to me… and if it means somethin' to me… then it should mean somethin' to you."
She held up her hand. "Just think about it, Kid. Think about how much it means to me… it means that we'll have shared ourselves with the other. There's nothin' about your name that could change the way I feel about you."
"They why does it ma-"
"It's a secret, Kid… and you expect me to let you in on everything in my life. I don't see what's so different about this. I want to be with you, but I want to know who you are. That ain't too much to ask and that's the last I'll say about it tonight. So tomorrow, when we get up there in front of Teaspoon and he asks if I'll take you to be my husband I'll expect him to say your name."
She walked away before she gave in and told him it didn't matter. She walked and walked until she was out of breath and then she walked some more. The saloon was open and she didn't care who saw her. She'd resigned from the Express so no one could say a thing about her having a drink and she avoided the stares of curious customers and saloon girls.
"What'll ya have, Lou?"
The girl nodded, a smile following fast behind. "A couple'a fingers comin' your way." She returned in record time and set the glass down before her. The honey colored liquid sloshed up one side of the glass and then the other, almost spilling over the edge. "I've seen grooms come in here the night before a weddin'… but never a bride."
Lou lifted the glass and took a hearty sip of it before hissing in a breath. "Well, I'm not your normal bride, I expect."
The girl took the seat next to her and poured Lou another glass from the bottle. "No, I guess yer not, but then again… nothin' bout this town is much for normal. I was thinkin' of comin' down to the church to see the show, but the reverend don't think too much of saloon girls comin' inside them walls."
"Don't let him stop you, we've got Teaspoon doin' the ceremony so Reverend Wilcox won't have no say." Louise poured the rest of the brandy down behind her lower teeth and let out a sigh as the liquid burned a path down her throat.
When she looked back up the saloon girl gave her a curious stare. "I got a feelin' you'd like to be alone with your thoughts right 'bout now, so I'm gonna leave you with my friend here," she gave the mouth of the bottle a pat or two, like Cody was wont to do every once in awhile when he was feelin' kindly to his rifle, "and you just have yourself some fun… on the house… for the bride."
Louise meant to look up and say her thanks, but it never quite happened. She busied herself with the bottle, pouring another drink and this time lettin' the liquid slosh over her tongue, burn across it and fill her mouth with the metallic taste of the alcohol. It didn't taste good… not really, but at least it covered over the worry that filled her mouth like castor oil.
"It'll be better tomorrow," she told herself. "Everythin' will be better in the morning. Everything." The funny thing was as she poured herself another glass she worried that she was just lying to herself. Lying to them both.
|Wanting... Needing Answers
"I thought, Kid told you to stay away."
"Not now, Rosemary."
"This ain't up for discussion. I'm goin'."
"If you don't want to sit in the church, Rosemary, don't. The cause won't gain or lose anything from it… but I'm not gonna discuss this with you. I made a promise."
She turned away her arms wrapped around her middle as the wagon rattled on down the road and Jimmy found himself wishing he could hurry the horses along just a little bit more.
The words still burned through his head as much as the pain in his cheek burned across his skin. "Seein' as how you can't trust me, there's no sense you standin' beside me at my wedding."
Jimmy looked beside him at Rosemary and swallowed the words he felt bubbling up in his throat. He flicked the reins and nodded as the horses picked up their pace. Kid was right. Hard as it was to admit that these days… he was right. Jimmy didn't have any need to stand up beside Kid at his wedding, but he wasn't going there for Kid. He'd made a promise to Louise and he was going to keep it.
Louise held her hand over her heart and felt it tremble beneath the thin layer of lace. The corset she wore dug into her sides even with the chemise beneath it. She'd hardly been eating the last few days and felt as gaunt as their old scarecrow after Ike shot it up.
A curling wind stirred up dust around her feet and she struggled with the weight of the dress as they walked. Rachel stopped a few feet ahead of her and turned around. "What's the matter, Lou?"
Scanning the horses out front of the church and the nearest hitching posts around the streets she still didn't see the familiar sunshine color of Jimmy's mare. "It's not time yet, right? We've got time to wait, right?"
Rachel moved back to her side, sliding her arm through Louise's. "Honey, I thought we talked about this over breakfast this morning. What's got you so riled up?"
Louise looked up into her friends eyes and felt her borrowed earbobs bounce against her cheeks and neck. "I just want everything to be perfect… like we'd planned and Jimmy-"
"He isn't here yet, but Lou-" Rachel caught sight of Jesse running to get to the church from the bunkhouse, "Jesse!"
He almost ducked past her, his head down and hair askew in wild clumps.
"Jesse James, I want to talk to you."
The young man stopped with one foot on a step. "I wasn't tryin' to be late, Rachel, honest. I just-"
She shook her head. "Jesse. I need your help, come over here."
His eyes darted back and forth to Louise as he walked up, never quite looking full into her face. "What's wrong, Jesse?" Rachel's expression was curious.
"Mama told me it ain't good luck to lookit the bride 'fore the wedding."
"That's for the groom, silly."
"Oh!" Jesse gave Lou a full smile. "You look pretty, Lou."
"Thanks…" Lou gave him a small smile and looked back at the road coming into town.
Rachel caught his attention with her voice. "Jesse, we need you to do Lou a big favor. You see, Jimmy-"
Jesse nodded. "I saw 'im."
Lou turned to Jesse, her eyes focused on his suddenly confused expression. "When?"
He shrugged and jerked a thumb back toward the bunkhouse. "When I ran out of the bunkhouse, saw him comin' up the road."
Rachel saw the change in Louise's expression. "Fine. I'll go and tell Kid we'll be a few minutes. Jesse, stay here with Louise."
The draft horse pulling the buckboard was finally visible at the end of the street and Lou grabbed Jesse's arm, her fingers curling into the thin wool of his coat and pressing hard into the young muscle beneath.
Louise released him slowly, her eyes steady on the approaching wagon.
Lou was unmistakable. Standing there beside Jesse even with hair all done up with flowers and curls she looked like she stepped out of one of them Godeys' magazines that Tompkins keeps bringin' in. She looked so different… she looked so small… she looked so beautiful.
"James?" Rosemary's voice cut through his thoughts and he urged the horse faster, pulling quickly to a stop just outside the church.
"I didn't miss it, did I?"
"Just about," Jesse shook his head at the gunfighter, "she's been waitin' out here for you, it's about time you showed up."
Jimmy shrugged. "Can't run the buggy horse as fast as the Express ponies. I think we made pretty good time if you ask me." He helped Rosemary down, his eyes on the hem of her skirts as she stepped down into the dirt.
"Jimmy?" Lou's voice drew his attention. "Can we… talk before we go inside?"
Turning to Rosemary he gave her a smile. "You go in with Jesse, we'll be right behind." Rosemary turned toward the church and didn't wait for Jesse, her back straight and chin raised. Jesse gave Jimmy a long suffering look. "I ain't here to take care of your woman, Hickok."
Jimmy grabbed Jesse by the arm. "Hey, don't matter what you think, Jesse. You wanna be treated like a man… then act like one." He gave a nod and let go, straightening up and turning toward the church. "Go let the others know we'll be right in." He gave Louise a quick grin. "Got a feelin' I need some instruction or Lou's gonna hit me over the head with the bouquet. Now git."
Jesse stalked away, mumbling under his breath. "Go do this, Jesse… go do that… whatever."
Jimmy turned around and whistled under his breath. "I'm sure glad I made it back in time. You look-" he tilted his head to the side and the smile faded from his lips as he saw the uncertain look on her face. "What's wrong?"
She opened her mouth to say something, but a moment later when she hadn't made a sound she closed her lips.
Reaching out, he took her free hand in his and led her over to the side of the church, putting them both in the cooler shadow of the building. He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand, feeling the chill of her skin. "What happened?"
Louise pulled her hand back and clutched it to her middle behind the bouquet in her other hand. "Nothin'… I guess I was just worried that you weren't comin'. Kid came back the other night and he looked-" she gave Jimmy a quick once over, "better than you."
Jimmy shrugged. "Thanks." He shot a look to the church doors. "Kid didn't think I trusted him… and he was right, the way that I was acting… wasn't about friendship. I got my head put on backwards somehow, but-" his lips pressed into a tight line. "That's not the problem is it? What happened?"
"I told him…" she swallowed and looked over Jimmy's shoulder for a moment before continuing on, "I told him I wanted to know his name and that when Teaspoon gets to the vows I wanted to know exactly who I'm promising to spend the rest of my life with." Her lower lip quivered. "Have I made the biggest mistake of my life? Did I do the wrong thing?"
He reached out and smoothed a hand from her shoulder to her elbow, pulling her a scant inch closer and lowered his voice. "Is it that important to you… knowing his name?"
She nodded once at first, her eyes misting with tears and then she nodded again and again, each time stronger than the last. "I figure that it's the least a woman should know about the man she's marryin'. His name. Isn't that what folks in love do?"
Jimmy shrugged. "I probably ain't the right person to ask, Lou. I ain't got the best record when it comes to woman… you want me to go and get Rachel? You could ask-"
"What if it was your woman keepin' secrets from you… something from her past… something she was ashamed about?"
He gave her a little half-smile. "I'd figure they were her secrets to tell."
She barely registered the feel of the ribbon sliding around her fingers as she twisted the borrowed lengths. "Wouldn't you want to know? If she was your woman?"
"Sure," his eyes were suddenly serious, "who wouldn't… but if it was somethin' that hurt her to talk about… somethin' that hurt her so bad what could I do? Force it out of her? That would be just as bad as the memory inside of her and I can't see hurtin' her twice just to make me feel better.
"I'd want to know everything about her… I'd want to protect her but if it's one thing that I've learned livin' here with Teaspoon and the rest of you… I can't save anyone from the world no matter how much I try, but I'd do anything I can to make her happy."
Jimmy touched her cheek, shocking her into silence. "Don't do this to yourself, Lou. I lost my head with Sarah because I thought that the need to protect her was love. I left Alice because I couldn't live their life and it wasn't fair for me to hide among them."
His cheeks colored slightly and his shoulders rose a bit. "It's hard to say what it is without soundin' like a boy again. I admire her. I admire her drive and I don't think her husband gave her enough attention. My Pa was like that in someways… and I want to make her happy."
Louise looked away at the church. "Are you goin' to marry her?"
"I can't see how I'd make her happy for very long. She needs someone to lead the 'cause' like Isaiah did. I'm not like him. I'm not like Nathan. I'm just me."
She reached out and hooked her little finger around his. "And that's enough."
He looked into her face and smiled. "You look happy."
"I'm ready." She nodded and brushed some dust from his lapels and settled her arm around his.
Louise reached the top step and knocked softly on the door, looking up at Jimmy and seeing his smile of encouragement.
The door lurched open into the church and Jimmy deftly pulled Lou out of the way as Jesse poked his head out. "You 'bout ready? Cuz the Kid almost needed to be tied up to keep him in here."
Blushing a bit, Louise gave Jesse a smile. "Well, yes, but I-"
Jesse turned around and hollered, "Here she comes!"
The music started up and Lou let go of Jimmy to reach for Jesse, "Wait!"
She stepped inside as Jimmy pushed the door open to make it easier for her and the layers of her skirt and she stopped short just inside the church. There wasn't a single empty seat in the pews and even a few people standing up along the walls. The site was shocking and quite humbling.
Kid stood at the altar with Teaspoon, shifting from one foot to the other and Louise swallowed hard. "There's so many people, Jimmy." She leaned in toward Jimmy, breathing in the familiar scent of lye soap and leather… sunlight and wind. It was keeping her from turning around… keeping her planted right where she stood. She looked up for quick second and knew the strong line of his profile even in the soft light of the church.
He gave her hand a gentle reassuring pat and whispered back. "They want to see you happy."
Louise turned back away and faced the front of the church, trying to ignore the curious stares that were settled on her. "More like they wanna see what I look like outta pants."
He chuckled beside her, "We've all thought that a time or two."
She looked up at him, shock registering first and then a nervous smile. "Right."
Teaspoon cleared his throat and Lou turned back to the front and smiled at Kid. Holding her bouquet up beside her face to block the majority of the congregation from seeing her gesture. She crooked her finger at Kid and nodded for him to come over.
He looked back at her with a curious expression on his face and mouthed, 'What?'
She drew in a deep breath and was vaguely aware of the soft scent of roses from her bouquet as she crooked her finger again. 'Come here.'
The Kid gave the other riders a look and then headed up the aisle, keeping his eyes straight ahead to avoid the curious glances of the rest of the town.
He stopped just short of Lou, giving Jimmy a nervous look out of the corner of his eyes. "What's wrong, Lou?"
"I just wanted to ask you-"
He shook his head and reached out for her hand. "Questions later, we've got to get married."
He gave her a smile, "You worry too much… everyone's waiting."
"I know, Kid… but-" She tried to get him to let go of her fingers, pulling back slightly, but he took her hand firmly in his own. "I've got to know-"
He leaned in and she smelled the starch on his shirt from Rachel's fresh ironing. "This ain't the time for chit-chat, Lou… we're late enough as it is." He turned back to Teaspoon and kept his firm hold on her hand as he walked down the aisle. Her steps faltered for a moment until she got her boots down underneath herself and as she hugged her bouquet to her chest she tried to take in calming breaths but the scent of flowers, so many different kinds was almost too much for her to take and when the moment came that they were standing in front of Teaspoon she lowered the bouquet and looked at the man standing before her.
He raised his brows and gazed at both of the young people before him. "Well this is somethin' a little out of the ordinary, but then again…" he looked over at Rachel, "since when has our little family been 'ordinary.'"
That got a chuckle from the assembled folk from the town and Louise looked back at the door and saw Jimmy standing there, an unreadable look on his face.
Teaspoon noticed the look. "Looks like we can skip the 'giving away' part since Jimmy's holdin' up the door back there."
"Kid," Louise whispered the word.
He gave her hand a squeeze in his and kept his eyes straight ahead.
"Kid, I need to know-"
Smiling, he leaned in to her, "This ain't the time, Lou… we'll talk later."
Teaspoon leaned in with a curious look. "Do you folks need a minute or two 'fore we-"
"Nope." Kid gave Teaspoon a smile. "We're ready… 'been ready for a while now."
The station master gave Lou a look that searched for an answer inside her eyes. "Lou?"
"Now, son-" Teaspoon turned to Kid, "one thing you need to learn is that woman's gotta have a chance to get a thought out of her head first… it makes for a peaceful situation… right, Polly?"
The smiling woman sitting near Rachel gave her sweetie a smile.
She was drowning and going under the tide of pressure that flowed over her… the pain of being both unable to breathe and unable to stop the air from drowning her in the middle of the church. "I just wanted Kid to know," she looked over at the man she was going to marry and couldn't shake the nagging thought that she was going to faint right there in the church, "that I meant what I said last night."
Kid's smile faded into a straight line and he leaned closer. "Don't be silly, Lou. It don't matter, not with what we've shared."
He turned back to Teaspoon and gave a nod. "We're ready."
Teaspoon looked between the two. Kid's steadfast expression was turned toward the altar, resolve written as plain as day on his face and features.
And Louise. Her bouquet held securely in her hands, the trailing blue ribbon wrapped around her fingers, her gaze directed down at the soft petals of a rose in full bloom.
"Sweetheart," he stopped for a moment and waited as she raised her face and he saw the tension around her eyes, "you ready to continue?"
She didn't answer him. Didn't even look up at the man standing before her, instead she turned to Kid. "You said we're ready… so does that mean-"
"Not now, Lou…"
"Yes, now, Kid. I need to know your answer."
He swallowed, she saw his throat convulse as he formed his answer. "I don't like bein' put on the spot like this."
"I know…" she sighed, "that's why I want to know… 'fore we take this any further."
He looked at her, his eyes narrowed as he searched for an answer of his own. "You mean it, don't you?"
"Of course I mean it. Are you gonna tell me."
He looked over her shoulder at the other riders, all leaning forward on the end of the pew like a bunch of old hens waitin' for a little scrap of news to peck at. It didn't matter so much that the other folks in town was doin' the same. "My life ain't fodder for no one to gossip 'bout, Lou."
"I feel the same way, Kid… but I want to know the man that I'm marryin'."
Teaspoon leaned in close. "Far be it from me to stop you two from sortin' out your problems, but maybe if you two wanna step outside-"
"I just need an answer, Teaspoon." Louise swallowed hard as the older man stepped back she could still smell the overwhelming scent of cedar on his clothes. "I just need a name."
Teaspoon shrugged, "Sounds about right to me, Kid. A man's gotta have a name to call himself."
"Then why does Jimmy-"
"He didn't ask for the name, Kid… Marcus gave it to him outta spite. I'm just askin' to know who you are."
She saw the determined line of his jaw and felt her heart quiver in her chest. "Then don't say it out loud, Kid… but you can tell me, right? You can share it with me… right?"
The silence grew in that tiny little church and the heat didn't help. The doors were closed, the windows too… and suddenly everything seemed be closing in on her. She couldn't feel the silken ribbons between her fingers or her toes in her boots, but the scent of the flowers assailed her nose… the cedar scent from scores of suits taken from their wooden confines… the rose or lemon water of so many women and the scent of her own tears had her head swimming and her senses screaming for fresh air.
"Kid, please… it's just-"
"It's not 'just' anything, Lou… you don't understand why I'm keepin' it a secret-"
"Then tell me…"
His expression softened and he reached for her hand. "Later… tonight when we're alone…"
"Then just whisper it in my ear…" but he'd already turned away to look up into the stained glass window behind Teaspoon.
Louise looked down at the bunch of flowers with their stems bent in six different angles by her clutching fingers. "I'm sorry, Kid…"
"Its fine, Lou, we'll-"
"Teaspoon…" she caught the older man's attention, "I'm sorry."
She took one step to the side and one back, her eyes on the stained glass streaming light down on Teaspoon's shoulders.
She nearly stepped on Cody's toes, "I'm sorry…"
Another few steps and she was looking up at Jimmy, "Jimmy, I'm-"
He didn't say anything, didn't try to stop her… he'd seen the pain and worry in her face. He pulled open the door and blinked into the sunlight with her…
Lou ran outside with no idea who'd said those last two words, but it really didn't make any difference… not anymore. She ran down the steps, flowers trailing behind her from the tattered remains of her blue ribbon.
The hot afternoon sun made the air crystal clear and every step Louise took away from the church seemed to do the same for her mind. It made the warring thoughts in her head order themselves and settle down. Someone forgot to tell her heart. It was pounding in her chest and the noise only grew louder as she walked away.
"I can't believe… I can't believe I just walked out."
She didn't dare look behind her. Didn't dare turn and see who was following… or maybe no one was following and what would that do to her newfound resolution?
The path her feet took had nothing to do with the past. She could have gone back to Rachel's and changed her clothes. Could have stopped in the living room and taken her trunk. Could have even just changed clothes… but not now… not just now.
The ivory gown she wore was made for the occasion and draped over her layers of petticoats over drawers of soft cotton, the best she'd ever had. The best of everything… a new gown of fabrics she'd never dreamed existed outside of a brothel.
Now she saw the soft clouds of dirt kicked up by her leather slippers and she didn't feel much beyond the mild worry that her skirts would pick up stains from the barrage of dust. It would wash. It would clean… there would be a way to salvage it. Too bad her life was never going to be the same.
She'd seen the pain in Kid's eyes as she walked away, she saw it and felt it all the way down to her bones. She knew the pain and shared in it, but it was much better this way than waking up months… maybe even weeks from now and thinking that they'd made the biggest mistake in their lives.
Louise stepped up onto the walk outside the stage depot and scared the woman behind the desk. "Hello, Mrs. Hardin."
"Good Lord, Louise! What are you doin' here? Didn't you and your man have tickets-"
"There's been a change in plan, Mrs. Hardin. I need a ticket right now for the stage." Louise nodded at the stage loading up less than twenty feet away. "That one, please."
"Well it's got a few free seats, but I don't rightly understand. Ain't nearly everyone in town at the weddin'?"
"I'm sure they are, but-" unbidden tears sprung into her eyes, coating her vision like rain on the bunkhouse windows, "I've got somewhere else I have to be."
The older woman looked up, squinting into the afternoon sun. "Where's that, honey?"
Louise turned a bit, her hand reaching out to grasp the sill beneath the stage ticket window and hold her up when her legs were threatening to fold from all the shaking her muscles were doing beneath her layers of skirts. The building rose up from the dirt in familiar patterns, a skyline that she had memorized but never really thought to draw on paper. She'd been living here forever and a day. Or that's just how it felt.
Now she was leaving. Leaving with nothing but the clothes on her back and the determination to do anything to save them both from a future where they're both unhappy. The buildings, the town... the memories were the only things she wanted to keep. The friendships the hardships… she didn't want to leave them all behind, but there wasn't any way to be sure that when she left… when she left it all behind… that even the things she loved wouldn't fade away given time… and distance.
The nuns had told her a long time ago that with the good, there was always the bad. She'd understood the truth of it back then… but now it rang so true she was surprised her ears weren't ringing. Somewhere in the haze of her mind she heard something, someone…
"Wha… what?" She turned to Mrs. Hardin. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked you where you had to go."
Louise couldn't help the silly smile that twitched up the corners of her mouth. She gave the older woman a nod. "Yes… sorry… I guess it's anywhere else but here."
The older woman slid a piece of paper across the sill. "You take this… it's good for the same route your honey… your original ticket paid for." She swallowed and looked away. "You can go all the way to St. Joseph or stop anywhere you like."
Taking the paper in her hand, Louise gave the woman a smile and nodded her thanks. She stepped away from the window and down the steps to the stage platform.
The stage driver tipped the brim of his hat. "How do, Miss?"
Louise mustered up a smile. "Good day, sir…"
She handed him the ticket and he waved it off. "You go 'head and hold onto that, you'll need it when you get to the next station… I'm happy to have you along." He looked around at her feet. "You waitin' on your bags?"
She gave him an apologetic smile. "No… just me."
He shrugged and offered her a hand. "You can go ahead and get in if you like; we'll be leavin' in a minute or two."
She picked up her skirt between the fingers of one hand and took his hand with the other. A flash of motion caught her eye and she turned back in the direction that she'd come from.
"Buck." The name fell from her lips as easy as breathing.
The stage driver gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "You want to go say farewell? We got the time."
Louise blinked… once… then again… and he didn't disappear. He moved closer, walking deliberately toward her. She let go of the driver's hand and turned to her old friend. "Tracked me?"
Buck shrugged. "Didn't really need to, everyone I passed pointed out where you'd gone."
She nodded and looked back at the church noticing a few men milling about the stairs.
"He's still in there."
Louise looked back at her friend. "Mad?"
A whole myriad of emotions flickered over Buck's face. "You could say that." He turned back to the church for a moment. "He wanted to come after you and it took most of us blocking the door to get him to stop."
There it was that familiar catch of breath in her throat when she thought of Kid against the others, all because of her… because of them. "What did you say?"
"It wasn't me. Noah tried to talk to him but it was Jimmy that grabbed him by the collar." There was a twinkle of humor in his eyes, but it didn't quiet reassure her, not yet.
"Jimmy?" Lou reached up and touched Buck's arm, "What happened?"
Buck shrugged. "They went off in the corner; Jimmy had a few things to say to him." He gave her a reassuring smile and covered her hand with his. "When I left they were still talking."
It wasn't what she'd expected; she'd seen the explosion of emotions between the two before and it gave her no simple moment of pause to think that they'd matured beyond the fist to cheek combat that they'd nearly developed into an art form. It was a nice thought… but really, it didn't matter… not to her… not about this… not now.
She wasn't leaving because of them…
He didn't seem to think there was anything wrong between them. "You're going… "
"Yes," she nodded and stepped back. Just one step, but it was telling. It put enough distance between the two of them that there wasn't any chance of missing the point. Missing the statement it made.
Buck nodded and gave her a gentle smile. "You need to."
"Send word when you're settled… or when you need us."
Her expression brightened, her shoulders loosening from the tension that had held her down. "I'll let you know," she pursed her lips for a moment to keep her from saying way too much… telling him more than he needed to know, "so just in case you need me-"
"We'll know where to find you." He gave her a questioning look. "Any idea… where that might be?"
"I'm sorry, Miss… we've gotta get goin'." The stage driver gave her a little shrug as he held his hat in his hands. "You wanna wait for the next stage?"
The doors to the church opened and Kid stepped out into the sunlight.
Louise turned with one last look to Buck. "Anywhere else but here."
Taking hold of the stage door with one hand and one hand on her skirts she stepped inside and settled into an empty bench facing the open prairie. The door closed and she resisted the urge to turn around and look back. She didn't need to look; she reasoned for herself, she knew what was there behind her. She just had to figure out what was waiting up ahead.
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