Author's note: This story is the third installment in my 'Home' series, following the stories 'Heading Home' and 'When Does a House Become a Home?'
"Lou's birthday is comin' up, Jimmy."
Kid sat down on the front steps of the house and playfully snatched the canteen away before his friend could take another drink from it. He laughed happily as it felt so good to be around Jimmy once again. The two of them hadn't parted on the best of terms as Jimmy hadn't heeded his advice and went off with Rosemary just after Kid and Lou had announced they were going to be parents. Lou had been hurt by his abrupt departure from Rock Creek and from their lives but seeing him ride into the yard of their new home, which coincidentally was Emma's old home, had her forgetting all her anger as she'd run to give him a big hug. In fact the two of them had welcomed him with open arms as Kid felt a handshake just didn't say 'glad you're back, we missed you' the way a hug did.
The two friends had decided to put aside their past differences in favor of keeping their friendship alive and moving forward. The first couple days of Jimmy's visit had been filled with Kid showing him all the improvements he and Buck had made to the property. Lou had shyly given him a tour of the house, making the nursery the last place she showed him. Jimmy had playfully teased her about her changed shape, which at six months along was quite noticeable, but when he'd told her how nice she'd made her baby's room, Lou had thanked him in a way that showed he could tease her all he liked because she felt good about the changes she was going through.
So the four friends spent all their meals together getting caught up on each others' lives as well as reminiscing about the past. Jimmy was actually feeling a touch of jealousy at how well the others had formed a life for themselves. But his jealousy didn't last long as happiness for them caused him to be grateful they were in his life. Lou and Kid told him this was his home too and he was always welcome to come and stay as long as he needed. And that he'd better come back in three month's time to see if he had a niece or nephew or not come back at all, as Lou had playfully threatened him. Jimmy had instantly promised, something he didn't like to do too often but felt he owed to Kid and Lou.
Now Jimmy sat next to his good friend after spending the afternoon helping him train a couple horses Kid had sold to someone outside Blue Creek. He snatched the canteen back and purposely drank all its contents before handing it back to Kid. "Uh oh, the first birthday you have to deal with as a married man. No pressure there," he teased with a grin.
"Funny," Kid smirked. "And I wondered why I've been losin' sleep lately." He tried to scowl at Jimmy then gave up with a shake of his head and laughed along with him instead. "Seriously, this is the first birthday Lou gets to spend as a real girl and I kinda wanna get her somethin' better than I did last year."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. All I could think to give her was a couple books." He shook his head at how hard they all had it on her last birthday when circumstances prevented them from getting her what they really wanted to.
"At least that was practical. She likes to read."
"That she does but these were dime store novels that Cody happily took off her hands. It wasn't none of them romance novels I heard tell that girls like to read. Couldn't take the chance of havin' somethin' girly like that lyin' around a bunkhouse occupied by only men." Rachel had planned a big party for Lou last year but three days before it was to take place, a surprise inspection of the way station interrupted all plans. Once the inspectors had gotten wind of the planned activity and insisted they carry on like usual, the riders were forced to carry out the party plans but to treat Lou like the boy she was supposed to be and get her gifts according to what they would have bought themselves.
"Well mine wasn't any better. I gave her riding gloves." Kid chuckled at the memory of Lou pretending to really like his gift. "I mean, I know she got to use them and she did need them but ladies always have those nice soft leather ones for riding that I knew she would have really liked." He gave a sigh of frustration as he stood and went to lean over the porch railing. "All I had to do was buy her somethin' a girl would like and give it to her on one of our double rides. She coulda hid it in her trunk like she did those couple dresses she owned. I just never thought about it," he admitted sheepishly. When it came to Lou, Kid made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of clues about what she needed to feel good about herself. Well there was no denying that Lou was all woman now well, at least a woman that the rest of the world besides their small family could see and she deserved the best that he could give her. The problem was that he still didn't have a clue as to what that could be.
"So I've been spendin' every waking minute trying to come up with somethin' real special to get her without flat out asking her what she would like. I'd kinda like it to look like I know my wife."
"You may know you're wife but it seems you don't know women very well," Jimmy laughed. "I never knew a man to stumble over things havin' to do with the opposite sex."
"I ain't stumblin'!" Kid tried to protest but gave up with a sigh as he sat down on the swing, giving it such a hard push with his feet so that he had to instantly still as it hit the side of the house. "Alright, maybe I am a little. The truth is that me and Lou never got the chance to spend enough time alone together and when we did we were either fighting or making lo well, we were occupied others ways." He rubbed his cheeks as he knew from experience that they were turning what Lou called a 'lovely shade of pink'.
"Seein' how Lou's six months along and you guys have only been married five months is a good indication that you were occupied by better things than talking." Jimmy leaned against the front post as he looked up at his friend. Teasing Kid about his feelings for Lou and acting on them had always been their favorite past time when they'd been riders living in the bunkhouse. Jimmy was finding out that even though the man was married to the girl of his dreams, there was actually more to tease him about now and he found that quite enjoyable.
"You better not let Lou hear you say that. She's real sensitive about the time frame of how we did things," Kid warned, though he knew Jimmy would never say or do anything intentionally to hurt Lou. "Of course she never complains about us doing things when we did," he added with a grin as he caught Jimmy's eye.
"You're one heck of a lucky man, Kid." Jimmy had admitted several times how lucky he thought Kid was to have Lou in his life and each time he meant it more than the last. With his recent breakup with Rosemary, Jimmy was beginning to wonder if there was a girl out there that he could have a future with. "Now what have you thought about gettin' her."
"My first idea was a nice new dress, you know, something she could wear to a social in town or when we go out to dinner. But then I look at how much her shape has changed and it's like I either buy her something she can't wear for several months or get her a dress to accommodate her carrying a child that she can wear now but can't wear once it's born!" He threw his hands up in the air in frustration. "You see my problem?"
"Well there is one way to handle things" At Kid's eager gaze, Jimmy tried to explain in his most serious voice, "You could always go with your second option by just always having Lou expecting, that way you won't be wasting any money." The seriousness didn't last as he burst out laughing.
"Oh that would go over real well! Yeah it'd be real fun to do but you missed all the months of mood swings and her getting sick to her stomach. I think she's gonna need a bit of time feelin' normal before we tackle this again."
"That makes sense but then there's always the unexpected," Jimmy reminded him. "Ain't that where this little one came from?"
"Alright you ain't helpin' things here!"
"You're really askin' me for advice?"
"Well I seem to recall one time in particular where you gave me some advice that worked real well in my favor." Kid grinned as, try as he might, it seemed like all talk kept heading back to Jimmy's favorite subject, Lou's expanding belly and how it got that way!
"Yeah, judging from Lou's new shape I'd say you took that advice and ran with it or laid down with it as the case may be."
"Well I seem to recall you sayin' your advice was comin' from personal experience," Kid retaliated as he could feel his cheeks getting warm again. "So how about givin' me some more."
Jimmy chuckled as he leaned his head back. He'd teased Kid enough to last him a month of Sundays so he decided it was time to actually try to help the desperate man. He tried to think about all the conversations he'd had with the female rider.
"A cameo on a long gold chain."
"A what?" Kid's interest was instantly peeked.
"It's something Lou told me once when she was giving me advice about a girl I liked." Jimmy didn't go into details about who the girl was because it was a sore subject for him and the time frame was a sore spot with Kid as Jimmy had called Kid on his dragging his feet where his feelings for Lou were concerned and the couple had almost grown apart instead of closer. "It was the first time I'd heard her ever say anything about wanting somethin' feminine so I think that's why I remembered it."
"Jewelry, why didn't I think of that?" Kid had begun to feel some pangs of jealousy that Lou would tell a wish like that to Jimmy and not him but he quickly brushed it aside in his excitement over having a possible idea of what to get his wife for her birthday.
"Maybe it's 'cause she didn't have any place to wear the couple dresses she owned, much less have the chance to show off a piece of jewelry you might have gotten her before now."
"Thanks for tellin' me that about her, Jimmy, I really appreciate it. And that gives me an idea." Without another word, Kid jumped up and threw open the screen door, letting it slam behind him in his rush to climb the stairs to his bedroom.
Jimmy watched out of curiosity as he was suddenly left alone but before he could think about following his friend, Kid was coming out the door with his hand outstretched. "How about this?"
As Jimmy opened his hand, Kid slipped the object into his outstretched fingers for his inspection. "I can't believe I forgot about this," Kid said as he sat back down on the steps.
Jimmy couldn't believe that one moment he was mentioning the word 'cameo' and the next moment he was holding one in his hand. He held the brooch up by the pin in the back so he could get a good look at it. It was a bit big for his taste but it seemed to be something that ladies liked to wear so it didn't really matter if he liked that sort of thing or not. "Where did you get this? I never saw you with this before when we were livin' in the bunkhouse." He glanced up at Kid. "You had this all along and you never gave it to Lou?"
"No," Kid said quickly, "I got it back on one of my last rides. It was the same time Buck came back from his ride with that letter for Lou from Emma about this place and that seemed more important than this thing so I put it away and concentrated on what Lou was going through before we left to come here." He paused as he took it back in his hand. "It was my mother's," he said quietly.
Kid nodded. "It was the only decent thing she ever owned. My father gave it to her when they got engaged. She wore it on her wedding day and used to wear it every Sunday that I can remember until things changed around home and it only brought back memories of a time that was long gone." He leaned forward and rested his arms on his thighs as he let out a sigh. "She used to show it to me after my father had not acted like a father and ran out on us. Ma used to tease me that she couldn't wait until the day when she would hand it down to the woman I married. Of course I would get all embarrassed and think that was just the worst thing in the world," he chuckled, "but it meant a lot to her to know it would be staying in the family and getting used again."
Jimmy listened thoughtfully to Kid's story. Family was a hard thing for any of them to talk about as none of them had had it easy. He'd just learned a little bit more about what Kid's childhood had been like and he felt for the man, even if he didn't know all the details. "What did you mean that you got it back on one of your last rides? Did someone mail it to you?"
The southerner shook his head. "I had sold it," he answered sadly. "When I left Virginia, I took four things with me - a picture of me and Jed my ma had made us sit for when I was about eight, a wedding picture of my parents, the gun Jed left me, and this brooch. It was the only thing of value that my mother ever had. I had wanted to sell it right away but kept putting it off." Kid paused as that wasn't exactly the truth; he just didn't want to go into too much detail on that matter with Jimmy. "I knew it was worth something so during a hard time when I couldn't get work and was nearly starving, I finally sold it in St. Louis. I hated parting with it but the money gave me a new shirt I desperately needed and several days' worth of food so at the time it was worth it. It wasn't until Doritha showed up that I began thinking about it and wishing I had it back.
"I didn't get the chance to try to find out who might have bought it until after me and Lou were married and Teaspoon needed someone to go to St. Louis on a special run. I jumped at the chance. I inquired at the store where I'd sold it. The man there remembered it because he said all the ladies loved to look at it and one elderly lady in particular liked it so much she paid the price he'd put on it and took it home. I guess I looked kinda desperate 'cause he told me where to find her. She listened to my story; I poured my heart out to a stranger in my attempt to get it back but you know how people don't like to trust someone they don't know. There I was asking her to give me something she bought fairly and really liked owning. She kept tellin' me to go back to the store and get my wife another piece of jewelry." Kid gave a sigh. "I was almost sure I would have to give up and I'd never see it again. It wasn't until I told her what initials were carved on the back that she was convinced."
"And what initials are carved on the back?" Jimmy went to reach for the cameo as he hadn't thought to turn the brooch over so he never noticed that anything was carved into the metal backing.
Kid snatched it away from his friend's prying eyes and closed his fingers around it. "Nice try, Jimmy," he said with a smile.
Jimmy shook his head as his shoulders shook with silent laughter. He'd been that close to at least finding out what his last name began with. He'd have to be more alert from now on, especially when Kid was acting sentimental, as he was now. "So you got it back. Good for you. Anything my mother had that was worth keeping my sister's took so all I ended up with was a picture of her. You're lucky you got more."
"I know it now. I would love to give this to Lou but it's looking kinda worn; I guess years of being carried in a pocket can do that to a piece of jewelry. Maybe there's some special cleaner I can get for it and if the pin was removed, I bet it could be worked so it hangs from a chain. But it's not something I can do and neither can anyone I know."
"You know, there's a jewelry shop in Blue Creek now. I saw it not too long ago when I was passing through. The town's grown a lot since we used to ride through it. You said you have to deliver those horses to that area. Why don't we make a side trip to town and take it to the jeweler?"
"We?" Kid smiled as Jimmy was doing a lot of catching his interest today.
"Well I can't rely on you to pick out a nice piece of jewelry for a woman. Heck, you couldn't even come up with the idea," he teased. "'Course you did manage to get some nice weddin' rings so I guess all ain't lost with you." Jimmy smiled as he felt he could go back to teasing the man again.
"I'd appreciate the help as well as the company on the ride. I actually feel better about this 'cause now Lou won't be left alone; Buck can stay with her. And she won't suspect a thing since I have to go that way with the horses to begin with. I wonder how long it'll take to be done and then there's the matter of how I can get back to pick it up." His brow furrowed as one problem was solved but another arose in its place.
"Isn't that what friends are for? I'll tell Lou I have to take care of somethin' then go get it and all you'll hafta do is get it wrapped all pretty like."
"I can do that." Kid smiled. "Thanks, Jimmy, I couldn't have done this without you."
"Well as long as you don't get mad if I kiss the birthday girl, I think we can call it even."
"I know Lou well enough to know she'd get mad at me if I got mad at you so that sounds like fair payment to me." Kid stood up and turned toward the house. "Come on, let's see what Lou has lying around the kitchen we can snack on." He opened the door then paused with his hand on the handle and turned back to his friend, a dead serious expression on his face. "Oh, and, Jimmy, as long as it's only one kiss." Kid walked inside, smiling to himself. He knew he didn't have to be jealous of any feelings Jimmy might have had for Lou but it was still fun to have something he could at least tease the man about.
Jimmy had stood to follow but when he heard Kid's last comment, he wasn't sure if he should or not. It wasn't until he heard Kid call for him and heard laughter in the man's voice that Jimmy knew it was his turn to be teased. Shaking his head good naturedly, he followed the southerner inside the house that spoke out from all corners that it belonged to Lou.
Lou walked into the kitchen, pulled her apron off a hook by the back door and put it on like she did every morning then walked toward the stove. As she was about to light it, she paused with the match in her hand and turned toward the large table that was in the middle of the room. This routine was so automatic nowadays that she hadn't even noticed what was sitting in the middle of the table.
Picking up the wrapped box that had a flower sticking out from under the bow that was tied around it, Lou smiled as she noted her name scrawled on the tag. Actually it wasn't that the gift was for her that had her smiling, it was the handwriting that had placed her name there that had her beaming happily.
Placing the gift down again, Lou went through the front hall to the front door. She stepped out onto the porch and called in the direction of the barn, "Kid!"
A wavy haired head appeared in the doorway instantly. "You alright, Lou?"
He sounded worried. Lou loved that about him, though she didn't admit it too often for fear of him taking it to the extreme and not giving her any space to breathe. Not wanting him to be concerned, she called back, "I'm fine; I just wanted to see you for a minute." That comment seemed to have earned some teasing at Kid's benefit as he glanced back into the barn and she saw his lips moving and his finger wag a warning at whoever was inside. She had a feeling it was both Jimmy and Buck but she felt too good today to not care if they even teased her. Lou watched as Kid began to jog across the yard then went back inside to wait for him in the kitchen.
"Lou?" Finding her in the kitchen, Kid asked, "Is breakfast ready? You want me to get the boys?" That thought was erased from his mind as Lou turned around, present in hand.
"I found a distraction so breakfast ain't even started." She held the present up for him to see. "What is this?"
"It's a birthday present for my wife." Kid crossed the room and swept her up into his arms. He gave her a quick but passion filled kiss. "Happy birthday, Mrs. McCloud."
Lou let out her breath at his unexpected display of affection. Usually in the morning she got a quick peck on the cheek after they'd eaten and he was heading outside for the day. "Thank you, Mr. McCloud, but I thought we talked about this and agreed that right now you taking me out to dinner tonight was present enough."
"Taking you out to dinner is something I should do on a more regular basis and even if it is special 'cause we haven't done it yet since moving back to Sweetwater, it's not special enough to be the only gift you get. I hope this is." He indicated the box by taking it from her and letting her go as he turned toward the table. "Now would you please sit down and open it already?"
Lou giggled happily as she sat in her usual seat and took the present he slid toward her. Removing the tag and ribbon and pausing to sniff the flower, Lou eagerly ripped off the colored wrapping paper. She glanced at Kid when she saw a box that was most obviously the size to contain a piece of jewelry. Pulling off the lid, Lou gasped as she saw the necklace lying on the wad of cloth.
"Oh, Kid." She carefully reached her fingers into the box and brought the cameo out so she could look at it. Her other hand ran through the long gold chain. The background was a sort of light green and the design was a bouquet of flowers. They were raised up away from the surface. Lou could tell it was made from a fine material and was probably very expensive. She ran her fingers over the flowers, taking in how smooth it was. Around the outside were small beads of gold. Lou noted how the beads weren't a bright gold and that the chain matched them in color perfectly.
"Put it on."
Lou glanced up at the sound of the soft words coming from next to her. She'd almost forgotten someone else was in the room. With misty eyes, Lou pulled the chain over her head, letting the cameo rest just below her bosoms. She couldn't take her eyes or her hands off of it.
"It looks beautiful. I knew it would."
"Where did you find something like this? It must have cost so much."
"It was my mother's."
Lou looked up. "You you're mother's?" Her voice caught in her throat. "You brought this with you from Virginia? Why didn't you ever tell me or at least show me?" She felt a little hurt that he would want to keep something so personal to himself.
"'Cause I didn't have it to show you and figured why tell you when I'd probably never see it again. I'd sold it just before joining the Express. I only got it back not too long ago and it's on account of Doritha that it was even out west for me to be able to get it back."
Kid grinned at the bristle he heard in Lou's voice. It felt good to know that she could still be jealous of his old girlfriend. He reached over and took her hand. "You know how my ma had debts that needed to be paid when she died," he paused to wait for her to nod her head that she remembered him telling her that before continuing, "It wasn't always a necklace; I had it made into one for you and the man at the shop cleaned and polished it for me too. It was a brooch my pa gave my ma when they got engaged. I knew it was worth a lot; it's made of ivory. I had to somehow pay off Ma's debt's before leaving Virginia so I wanted to sell it then to put the money toward what she owed but Doritha wouldn't let me and gave me the money I needed instead.
"With all that I'd been through and not knowing what was ahead of me, she said it would bring me comfort. She told me I would always have a touch of home with me. It may not have been the best life but it did give me a mother who loved me to no end and a brother who for all his faults, taught me what was necessary to help me survive so I could become the man I am today."
"And I love the man you are." Lou got up and went to sit in his lap, placing her arms around his neck. She smiled lovingly at him.
Kid reached out and ran his fingers lovingly down her cheek. "Lou, I'm giving you a piece of me; a touch of home."
"That is the nicest thing you could ever give me and I ain't talkin' about a piece of jewelry though I have to admit that I've always wanted a cameo on a long gold chain." She giggled at the admission as she held the cameo in her hand.
"You know? How? I never said anythin' to you."
"Jimmy told me."
"I forgot I'd mentioned that to him."
"He gave me the idea to get it changed from a pin to a necklace. And you owe him a birthday kiss for goin' back to Blue Creek to pick it up for me so you wouldn't be suspicious." Kid chuckled. "My ma used to tease me when I was little that she wanted my future wife to have this. It would make her happy to know the woman I love more than anything in this world is wearing it right now."
"You don't know what this means to me. I'll admit I was jealous that Doritha had all this history with you that I know nothing about but for you to want me to have something that belonged to your mother, that in a way is coming from her too, makes me feel like I'm really starting to know the real Kid."
"You're gonna know more about him sooner than you think. There's another surprise on the back for you."
Lou glanced at him curiously then turned it over. She noted four sets of initials carved into the metal. "I'm assuming the L.M. and K.M. stand for me and you but as for the others "
"They are my mother and father." He glanced down sheepishly before meeting her eyes once more. That was so much of himself to give to her but after making that declaration, Kid found it felt good to be bringing the past out into the open.
"Your last name starts with ?" She saw how hard that had been for him to let her know that much about him and loved him all the more for it. "You don't have to tell me the rest if you don't want. You'll always be Kid McCloud to me." Lou gave him a smile of encouragement as she found it hard to not tease him just a little. "Of course it would be nice to be able to tell our daughter what the initials mean when I hand it down to her." She placed a hand over her abdomen.
"And what if we have a son?" Kid rested his hand over hers over the spot where their child grew.
"We'll just have to keep trying until we have a daughter."
"I think I can manage to do that." Kid wiggled his eyebrows at her.
"And if we have more than one then I don't know what I'll do with it and right now I don't care 'cause all that matters to me is that you've given me such a precious gift. I'll treasure it always, Kid."
The new husband looked into his wife's eyes. He planned to tell her everything he'd told Jimmy and more about the brooch but for now he wanted to just enjoy the happiness written all over Lou's face as she kept looking at her gift. Kid liked that it was the same as his mother's but was also different because that made it her own. And Lou had been right in that it connected her to his past and gave him a sense of peace that the brokenness he'd come from could fit in so nicely with the togetherness he was a part of today.
Reaching out and placing his finger under her chin, Kid lifted her face so he could look into her eyes. He gave her a warm smile that matched what he was feeling in his heart.
"You look good wearing a touch of my home."