‘Wild Bill Hickok’ had ‘retired’ less than a year ago, sliding into blessed anonymity the first chance he had. A younger shootist had winged him and Jimmy had taken the opportunity, playin’ possum.
There’d been a huge funeral, one that Lou had stayed away from, sayin’ her hypocrisy knew some limits.
Today was a happy day for all. They’d moved into a home in the California hills. A large parcel of land was all theirs and Lou and Jimmy were giddy with the possibilities of their new life.
Sitting down by the fire, Jimmy moved his shoulder around, it was healing slowly and he hated reminders of his ‘past’ life.
“Baaaa-” the past disappeared in the moment his infant son shouted out a greeting.
Lou’s face appeared at the kitchen door, “What is it Jimmy?”
“Did ya hear that?”
“He called me Daddy!”
“Baaaa-” the baby exclaimed again.
Lou smiled and nodded, “That’s great Jimmy.” Before she disappeared back into the kitchen she rolled her eyes heavenward. It still made her smile to see Jimmy get so excited over the little homey things. As she sunk her hands into the heated dish water she sighed out her relief. ‘Wild Bill’ seemed so far behind them now.
Lou walked in while Jimmy was watching the baby struggle to crawl. Sitting before the fire he watched the baby intently, watchin’ the frustration build up in his little body as she pushed against the floor.
There was a nearly overwhelming urge building up inside of Jimmy, the urge to rush to his son’s side and help him across the room. Sitting down on the floor beside the baby, Lou looked up at her husband. Reading the silent signs of Jimmy’s inner war she pushed her laughter down and asked, “What is it Jimmy?”
He motioned toward the baby, “You just gonna sit there and watch this?”
Louise sat back on her heels and smiled, “What could I do?”
The baby’s face wrinkled up and a mewing sound, like a baby kitten could be heard.
Jimmy grimaced, “Well... help him. He’s having such a hard time-”
“Yes-” she prompted.
“And-” his voice distracted the baby. His wobbly head swung around on his little neck coming to a stop a little past where his daddy sat. A wide toothless grin appeared when the young tot adjusted his vision.
“I mean, why do you keep him in that ...that ridiculous.. ah-”
“Yeah! I mean, how’s he supposed to move around in a ... dress?”
Lou reached over and smoothed the shock of dark hair on the baby’s forehead. “This is what babies wear.”
That answer wasn’t enough for Jimmy, “Who said just ‘cause everyone’s doin’ it, that it’s right.”
She looked him over before she answered, “Why is this bothering you now?” A rush of footsteps from above drew her gaze, “We’ve had three others.”
As he looked down at his hands, Lou swore she could see the thoughts in his brain churning around. “Well - I guess - I’ve never spent this much time with the others, when they were Anthony’s age.”
Nodding, Lou agreed, “That’s true, but boys and girls wear gowns as infants.”
Jimmy crawled over to the baby and lifted him by his foot, letting the gown naturally slide down around the baby’s waist. Takin’ pains to set him down carefully he watched as baby Anthony wiggled forward and gave a joyous shout; a thin line of drool slipped out of his mouth and trailed down to the hard wood.
The baby lunged forward and fell on his face sending up a prize winning squall. Jimmy looked up at Lou, helpless as the baby was.
She only waved her hands at him, “pick-him-up” she mouthed.
He picked him up, his large hands seeming to envelop the baby. Holding him just under his pudgy arms, Jimmy settled him against his good shoulder. The look on his face was one of mortal agony.
Lou fought down another laughing spell. ‘Wild Bill’ could handle any shootist, any military campaign or any bleak situation, but crying baby was an altogether different matter. Petting him on the back, Jimmy looked to Lou for approval. She nodded and smiled as the baby took to sucking on Jimmy’s shoulder, his white shirt dampened in an ever widening circle of drool.
Satisfied that Anthony had calmed, Lou motioned to the floor with her eyes.
Shaking his head, Jimmy argued, “No.” Thinking to shield his son, he mouthed, “He’ll get hurt again.”
Sheer will power kept a straight face, “He’ll do better this time, you’ll see.” When Jimmy continued to pat the baby’s back, Lou repeated the order, “Put him down.” It was the stern look she gave him that did it. He knew that there was no arguing with that look.
Jimmy gave her one more concerned glance and set the baby down on the floor, careful to keep his legs free from the gown.
Lou moved around the baby. Circling around behind him and then closer to Jimmy; they both watched as young Anthony lifted himself back up on all fours and stared at the floor, an accusatory look on his face. A grunt of anger and the child seemed satisfied. Looking forward at his goal, the yummy chair leg he’d been gumming yesterday anyone watching would have seen the determined look on his face.
One, two, three... and he was off, his tiny behind swaying and dipping in his little cloth diaper. Happy breath panting out as the object of his infant desire swam closer before his eyes.
Lou reached over and grasped Jimmy’s shoulder, “He’s going to make it.. look!”
Jimmy couldn’t help but look, at his wife. Lou’s right hand was poised under her chin as she sat in rapt attention. The light on her face was one of an angel. He’d never seen someone so beautiful. Thinkin’ that he’d missed this moment with the other three he grew melancholy all over again, Jimmy wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her into his lap. ‘I’ll never miss another moment like this...not ever.’
She turned his chin to watch as little Anthony stopped short of bumping his head on the chair leg. He wobbled back on his knees and squealed. With success written on his face he wrapped his chubby arms around the chair leg and hugged it to his little body.
Jimmy felt like crying. He’d never seen such a beautiful site before. He hugged Lou to his side and turned his face into her shoulder, “Honey... I, I’ve never.. it was so..”
Lou framed his face with her hands and leaned into his embrace. His lips pressed against hers, the two were so busy drinking love from each other’s lips that they didn‘t hear the three sets of feet tromp into the room. A delighted squeal behind them broke through their reverie.
Anthony was staring at his parents a sloppy fist gripped in his mouth. His sister Anna was holding him. Travis and Hunter, the oldest boys stood in the doorway, aghast at catching their parents kissing - in the living room of all places.
Jimmy laughed at their faces, “Boys, don’t turn your noses yet. How do you think you came about?”
Louise smacked him on the shoulder, “Jimmy!”
He tried to duck away from her hand, he hugged her closer as he mocked her tone, “Lou!”
Travis pulled on his sister, “Let’s go upstairs.”
She laughed and waved the baby’s hand ‘bye bye’ before following her brothers upstairs.
Jimmy laughed at the blush that colored Lou’s face. He stared long and hard at her face, memorizing every line of her beauty. Ending his gaze, as he always did, his eyes firmly set on her lips. His breath slowed and warmed, “Don’t worry ‘bout them.” Reaching up he started to unhook the brooch at her neck.
Lou swatted at his hands, “Jimmy-”
His eyes grew dark like the night, “Lou-” Jimmy’s lips brushed against her jaw. “Lou-”
“Jimmy, the kids-”
Just above the first landing Anna stood on the stairs, unable to see her parents, but she listened to her mother’s contented giggles and sighed. Turning away she moved toward her brothers’ room, “Maybe someday...I’ll have a moment like this.”