Rosa leaned back against the trunk of a nearby tree, Tedeo sitting quietly on her lap watching the world around them. She stroked her hand over his hair, trying to settle the few pieces of hair that seemed to have a mind of their own.
"He's not tired?" Lou paused to crouch down beside her, trailing her fingers over Tad's cheek as he lay asleep on a blanket beside his mother and brother. "You got one down for the count."
Giving her friend a conspiratory wink Rosa chuckled quietly, turning Tedeo's head in curiosity. "It helps that Tad runs everywhere."
Lou straightened up and dusted off her britches. "I was going to give the boys a ride on Kat if they wanted to." She smiled as Buck walked up. "Do you think Teddy'd like to ride?"
As though he understood, Tedeo leaned back against his mother and closed his eyes.
"Well," Lou giggled, "I guess that's my answer." She turned and lifted her hand to give Buck a pat on his shoulder as she walked by. "I'll be right back."
Buck sat down beside his wife and watched her bend to press a kiss to the crown of Tedeo's head. When she looked back up she laughed at Buck's expression. "What's so funny?"
"It's not funny," he tilted his head to the side, "I just love to watch you with the boys."
Rosa reached out her hand and ran it along the length of Buck's forearm. There weren't any words that needed to be said between the two and Buck leaned forward brushing a kiss over Rosa's lips.
The barn door swung open and Louise led a palomino mare into the corral and waited for the mare to walk past the gate before sliding the bolt home. The only lead on the horse was a loose rope halter that Louise held in her hand. Reaching the middle of the corral she put on hand on the horse's long neck and swung up as she had hundreds of times during the Express.
Kat turned her head, looking at the petite woman on her back and waited. With a soft word and a gentle inward press of her knees, Kat moved forward. Looking down at her friends in the grass, Louise smiled. "Not bad, huh?"
Shielding his eyes from the sun, Buck look up with a smile. "Bareback? I thought you were training her as a saddle horse."
"I think my wife is showing off."
Louise turned a hard look at the house which dissolved instantly. "Don't listen to your father." Baby Louis smiled as he heard his mother's voice. "That wasn't nice."
"That," he corrected, "was the truth." He leaned against the corral rail and smiled up at her. "What do you think, little man?"
Louis giggled, his shoulders lifting up nearly to his ears before he threw a kiss. "Mama!"
Urging the horse forward, Louise moved to the rail and lined up the golden mare parallel to the fence. Looking down at Louis she waved her fingers. "Hey, sweetie, what have you and Papa been doin'?"
Sure enough a faint outline of chocolate appeared around the boy's mouth. "There is such a thing as napkins, Jimmy."
"Really?" His mockingly serious expression had Buck shaking his head back and forth beneath the cottonwood. Jimmy turned to his friend and gave him a look meant to still his laughter and only succeeded in making Buck shake harder with his silent laughter. "I thought that's why we gave him long sleeves."
To prove his point Jimmy swiped his sleeve across his mouth. Louis, thrilled at this new game copied his Papa. "All clean," the baby crowed.
He was only partly right. Some of the chocolate had disappeared but some of it was just repositioned across his cheek. Leaning down from her perch, Lou licked the pad of her thumb and quickly wiped away the rest of the chocolate from the baby's face.
Jimmy couldn't help the wince on his face.
"What?" Louise gave her husband a wide-eyed stare. "It's clean now."
His expression changed, but only to become more comical.
"Oh please," she sighed, "you didn't mind it, did you, sweetie?" To emphasize her words she gave him a big smile and shook her head.
Before he answered, Louis copied his mother's movements with his own head. "No…" he began while earnestly shaking his head. "Up!"
Louise smiled. "That's what you were wantin' wasn't it?" She gave her horse a gentle pat on her long neck. "You want to come and ride, too? Up?"
Struggling to turn in his father's arms, Louis got his feet on a rung near the top of the fence and reached both arms up to his mother, his hands open and closing on the air. "Up!"
Reaching down, Lou took both of her son's hands in hers and with a helpful lift from Jimmy and a squeal from Louis she swung him onto the horse in front of her.
The instant she started to let go of his hands, Louis was patting the horse with great big swipes of his hands and Louise had to slow him down. "Gentle… gentle with the horse."
Kat's reaction was telling. The sides of her belly expanded and contracted with a big sigh and she shifted her weight from one side to the other. She was used to her family and Louis' baby version of love was something she recognized and understood.
"Ready to go?" Louise set her hands on Louis' waist to steady him on the back of the big mare.
Throwing his arms forward as if directing a massive wagon train the baby cried out. "GO!"
Giggling to herself, she gently pressed in with her knees and Kat began to move. One step, then another.
"Wwhoooooo!" Louis was in his element, his body moving back and forth as if vibrating with energy. "Go fast!"
"No, little man…" she cautioned softly, only the notes of her voice audible to Jimmy's ears.
"You look happy." The obvious statement still brought a smile to Jimmy's face as Buck leaned against the rail beside his friend.
"That's cause I am."
Buck looked across Jimmy at his own family sitting in the grass and elbowed his old friend. "Never knew it would end up like this, did we?"
Jimmy shook his head instead of answering Buck with words. Across the corral he watched Lou with their son and knew even though he couldn't hear her that Louis was hanging on her every word. He knew it because he did it too.
He was a good rider, they all were, but Lou had always had a gentle way with horses that they seemed to respond to. Of all of them that were left she and Buck were probably the closest to Ike's natural skill with horses. Now that Lou owned the livery he didn't get to see her with the horses every day, but when he did… Jimmy took in a deep breath as something welled up inside him… it was so easy to see the beauty in it.
"Papa!" Louis called out from the other side of the corral, his legs lifted away from the horses body, his hands waving wildly with excitement. "Papa look!"
Jimmy raised a hand in return and smiled at them, watching Louise lean her head back and shake out her hair, brushing down below the shoulders of her shirt a few inches. The ease that she felt and how much she loved her work showed in every movement, every soft word and gesture. It was for him, in a word, magic.
Breathtaking prompt - You're good at what you do.