Teaspoon looked at the three young men already sitting at the table as he walked passed them to his seat. He then noticed the two unclaimed plates next to each other. He glanced behind him at the blonde by the stove.
"They still coming?" he asked, indicating the two plates with a wave of his hand.
Rachel placed a steaming bowl of vegetables on the table. "I haven't heard anything to suggest otherwise," she answered. "When I saw Louise in town yesterday, she told me she and Kid had some things to take care of today as well as packing their bags at the hotel then they'd be here in time for dinner." She turned back to the stove.
"I don't understand why they're coming back here to stay anyway if you told us they already found a place to live," Cody said as he glanced at Jimmy.
"Because the house is in no shape for them to be sleeping there yet," Rachel told him, her eyes not leaving the roast she was carving. "Besides, they've been gone over a week and I for one can't wait to have the family back together once again."
"And I second that," Teaspoon said as he raised his empty glass then set it down on the table with a thud.
"I agree," Buck said as he looked across the table at his two bunkmates and pushed the pitcher toward Teaspoon at the same time. "I met Kid at the general store yesterday and offered to help him with the place. It's not like we have runs to make or anything," he added with a glance toward Jimmy. "And anyway, it's been much too quiet around here with them gone."
"That's only 'cause there's no more sneakin' out in the middle of the night goin' on," Jimmy mumbled loud enough for Buck and Cody to hear yet low enough for Rachel and Teaspoon NOT to hear.
"They can do whatever they want," Cody said with a shrug. "I just figured since they were married that they had moved on and wanted to be on their own."
"What does it matter to you anyway where they live?" Buck asked as he looked across the table at the blonde rider. "It's not like you're gonna be around here come next week."
"You don't think I should have joined up either, do you?" Cody asked.
"You know how I feel about it," Buck said.
"The same as we all do," Rachel interrupted. She sighed and put down the towel she'd been wiping her hands on. "We just want this past week behind us so things can get back to normal around here."
"I don't think that's gonna be happening, Rachel." Jimmy let out a sigh as he fumbled with the fork in front of him. He'd been having more than his fair share of guilt running through him ever since the wedding. Things were happening so fast around him that it was causing his head to spin. He was so sure he was developing feelings for Rosemary but at what cost would he be acting on those feelings? Did he really pick her over Kid? Jimmy wasn't sure, though he was starting to have his doubts about his convictions as of late. Did knowing this woman blind side him from acting on what he knew to be? Kid wouldn't sell anyone out if it meant hurting his friends and yet that is what Jimmy had done. But then Kid had shown his hatred for Rosemary on more than one occasion so was that payback or did it make things even? Could they forget and continue on as if none of that had happened? And what of his friendship with Rosemary?
A few days ago Jimmy had run into Kid and Lou at the restaurant. They had instantly been happy to see one another until the door opened and Rosemary walked in and came up alongside Jimmy. Kid's expression had turned to one of stone and he was suddenly in a hurry to get to their table. After a hasty apology to Lou, Jimmy had told Rosemary he wasn't hungry after all and they had left. All he had wanted to do was go back in and apologize but his pride had prevented him from doing that; he didn't have anything to be ashamed of anyway. Kid had been the one turning the cold shoulder, not him. But then he would remember that if he had only told Rosemary that he couldn't keep the information about the list of Pierson's men a secret, then none of this would have been going on anyway. He finally had to admit to himself that he just couldn't think straight where Kid was concerned when he was with Rosemary.
"Some things aren't so easy to forget," Jimmy said quietly.
"And some things that happen are brought on by our own actions," Teaspoon said quietly.
Jimmy stared at him. "Are you saying this is my fault?" he asked. "I gave Lou away to him! When she was nervous, I gave her the advice she needed to hear ... I didn't go on and on about how what someone believes was ruining other people's lives!"
"I also didn't see you giving any apologies for what took place."
"It ain't that easy," Jimmy muttered. "It used to be but ... things are just different now."
"Why? 'Cause they're married?" Teaspoon asked.
"No, it's just ..."
"You worried they won't be around anymore on account of becoming their own family?"
Jimmy raised his hand then softly placed it, fisted, down on the table. "Teaspoon, you're always putting words in other people's mouths."
"Well maybe if I had more faith in what that mouth was going to say, I wouldn't feel the need to speak for it."
The rider gave the marshal a long, hard look. Teaspoon's opinion meant the world to him and when he felt he'd disappointed or let the older man down; it cut through Jimmy's soul like a knife. "I'm happy for them. I wouldn't want anything but the best for them."
"Good then you just remember that when they come through that door."
"I suppose him coming back won't be that bad, "Cody said with a sigh. "As long as Kid doesn't ask me again why I felt I needed to join the army and leave with them come next week."
"Yeah and as long as he doesn't ask me about Rosemary's whereabouts," Jimmy added.
"Well I don't think you two will have to worry about that 'cause if I know Kid, he'll keep the questions to a minimum in fear you two nosey-bodies will want to know all about how his honeymoon went." Teaspoon chuckled at the red faces that conversation would elicit.
"We already know they got a house and some land; what more is there to know about?" Cody asked.
Buck and Jimmy looked at him in disbelief and shook their heads simultaneously.
"You're not serious, are you?" Jimmy asked. "You're not the least bit interested in wanting to know just how long they stayed in their room at the hotel over the course of the week they were gone? Or if they even saw the light of day the first few days after the wedding? And if they - "
"That is enough!" Rachel interrupted as she put a plate of bread deliberately within reach of their fingers, figuring if their mouths were filled with food, they wouldn't be able to wonder as much, out loud anyway. "We have all felt the same pain this last week and a half and as hard as it might be, it's time to move on. Now don't you think this is all a bit childish? The world around us is changing on a daily basis and if we don't have the people that have lived and worked here to lean on, do you think each of you can handle whatever is going to be thrown your way next? Everyone is allowed their own opinion; it's not a crime so why punish them for having one?"
Jimmy gave Rachel a half guilty, half annoyed look because he knew she was right - he just hated to admit it. Kid and Lou were his best friends and if he was to be truthful to himself, this past week of not seeing them all the time had been hard on him. It seemed all he and Kid did nowadays was argue over issues regarding the war - but was it really necessary and what exactly did it accomplish?
"Yeah, well, it's just hard sitting across from him knowing he feels towards things the way he does," Jimmy said quietly.
"And what of it?" Teaspoon asked. "You boys need to look the other way and not always be mouthin' off about which side is the right side 'cause from where I'm sittin', there's only one right side and it goes like this ..." he began to make a gesture in the air in the shape of a circle. "It has no beginning or end and no orn'ry corners to get stuck in. It's called bein' a family and welcomin' home the rest of what we got left." He met Rachel's eyes and gave her a small nod.
Rachel smiled back to him as she went back to carving the roast. She prayed they could all get through one meal without someone saying something that would set another person off. She didn't like Cody going off to fight but it was because she didn't want anything to happen to anymore family members. She prayed Kid stayed put in town and that he'd lost all notions of returning to Virginia. Jimmy and Rosemary were a mystery to her; she didn't approve of whatever was blossoming between them but she would give them space, hoping Jimmy was mature enough to realize where his loyalties lie. Buck was caught in the middle, always playing peacemaker and feeling more alone with each passing day. And then there was Louise - she had the most changes to deal with ahead of her and Rachel had a feeling it was more than just getting used to being a married woman.
"It ain't that easy, Teaspoon," Cody said.
"And why not? I think all of you need your brains cleaned out once in a while. You've been together right from the first ride. How many times you been there for the other, huh? And I'll bet not once in that time did you stop to think about where Kid grew up or where you came from, Jimmy, or you, Cody. Or think about Buck being an Indian or Lou a woman. You were there for each other 'cause you felt somethin' that ain't easy to come by. Kid and Lou didn't have to ride with us to go after Pierson's gang. They could have stayed in their hotel room, sippin' champagne while loungin' in a bubble bath. Instead, they risked their future for what they believe in - helpin' their family. Who jumped on that wagon with you Jimmy to help you man that gun, huh? And who helped Buck get you out of the line of fire after you been shot, Cody? I think you boys need to think long and hard on what's important 'cause I hear voices outside which means the rest of our family done come home." Teaspoon looked each boy in the face then stared at Rachel for a moment before taking a large gulp of water. "I'm mighty thirsty all of a sudden; cain't figure out why," he muttered.
Lou walked to the edge of the steps of the bunkhouse and stopped short. She felt hands on her back instantly as Kid ran into her. She didn't look back at him though as her eyes were fixed on the door in front of her.
They had been all prepared to leave the hotel to get to the way station on the other end of town before dinner had started but Lou had gotten sick to her stomach and Kid had insisted she rest a while before they leave. It was only when she told him the doctor had mentioned that getting sick might be happening to her for a while and there wasn't much to do about it that he finally listened to her repeatedly telling him she was fine.
Moving to the side of his new wife, Kid glanced sideways at her and grinned. "Weren't you the one who kept saying on the walk here that you couldn't wait to have some of Rachel's cooking? Well that can't be done out here; you have to go sit at the table inside if you want some of that meat that smells absolutely delicious," he said as he raised his nose in the air, taking in the fragrant scent that wafted out in their direction.
"I'm scared," Lou whispered.
"How many times have you walked in and out that door since we moved here? It's no different now ... well except for you changing the Miss part of your name to Mrs." He would gladly have kept going on about how this wasn't different for them if she needed him to because Kid needed to hear it himself. He knew that the longer they put this reunion off, the harder it would be. "At least for you it is, I mean if anyone should be scared to go in there, it should be me. I haven't exactly been discreet with my hatred toward Rosemary or my annoyance over Jimmy choosing her over me." He shrugged and looked away.
"I'd say you both went overboard where she was concerned but hopefully tonight will clear the air about what's really important. Anyway, it's been different for a while now," she told him. "Everything's changed; I've changed."
Kid placed his hands on her arms to turn her so they were facing each other. He looked her up and down and said, "You look the same to me ... incredibly breathtaking." He pulled her toward him as his mouth found her neck just below her ear.
Lou flinched and quickly pulled away but didn't take her hands away from where they rested on his chest. "Stop! That's what led to us getting compromised, remember? Besides, you know I have no will power when you do that to me." She gave him a small smile to show she really wasn't mad at him and that she did appreciate his way of distracting her. "Kid, I'm serious. I'm not talking about physical changes; those will be happening soon enough. I'm talking about the kind you can't really see - you just sense them. It's felt that way for a while now, almost like we don't know each other any more. I feel like I did when we all first arrived at the way station in Sweetwater; you don't know anyone and you have no idea how people are going to react to things. It's scary."
"Things change only if we let them. I don't want them to change any more than you do but when everything around us does, it's kind of hard not to get sucked into the way of thinking that everyone seems to have nowadays." He paused and glanced at the door, almost wishing he were already on the other side of it so he would know what to expect out of this evening.
Kid had such a hard time with how people were acting and talking in town as a result of the war. Seeing Union uniforms in and around town didn't help matters either but for the sake of his family, he tried to push values aside. He wanted so badly to let everyone have their own opinions but then someone would say something about the south and Kid would feel it was aimed toward him. It made him begin to not trust anyone and if there was one thing Kid always tried to do, it was give everyone the benefit of the doubt and value their opinion. He didn't like to see the bad in people but he'd learned long ago that looks could be deceiving. Would he get to the point where he couldn't even trust the people he considered family just because they came from a different part of the country than he did? He hoped not.
Kid turned to look at her again. He held out his hand to her and said, "Everything we do from now on we do together as a team."
Lou reached out and put her hand into his. She loved the feel of his calloused larger fingers weaving their way through her own smaller ones. She gave his hand a squeeze. "Just the three of us, right?"
Kid grinned. "Yeah the three of us but I would love for that number to increase because of the people inside that building saying they'll remain our friends and family forever."
"Well you're right that we're not gonna find out anything standing out here." They looked at each other and began to walk across the porch side by side. "Sometimes we gotta overlook things to find what's really important. But just remember, it's like you said - no matter what happens, we're in this together." She leaned toward him and planted a kiss on his cheek.
Kid closed his eyes as he gladly accepted the kiss. He smiled and shook his head. He should have known he couldn't pull anything over on her. Squeezing her hand, he opened the door then entered, bringing her along with him. He spotted Rachel by the stove and gave her a smile and a nod then turned toward the table where the others were sitting. He gave a sigh of relief that Rosemary wasn't seated next to Jimmy then quickly ducked his head out of guilt for feeling that way.
"Evening, everyone," Kid said awkwardly as he released Lou's hand.
"Evening," Lou said quietly.
"Good to have you back, Kid, Lou," Buck said as he got up and shook Kid's hand then affectionately ran his hand down Lou's arm before sitting back down.
"You gonna stand there like visitors or sit down so's we could eat?" Teaspoon called out.
Kid glanced at Lou then shrugged and with a smile at the man they thought of as a father, went to his seat at the table.
Lou smiled a greeting at Rachel then fooling nervously with the waistband of her skirt, went to sit next to Kid at the table. She kept trying to meet Jimmy's eye but for some reason he seemed to be avoiding her.
"I was expecting you sooner," Rachel said, patting Lou's shoulder after she put the platter on the table.
"That's funny you should mention expecting," Lou said as she met Kid's eye, "'cause we have something we wanted to share with all of you." She paused to gather the last bit of strength she had within her. "I'm kinda expecting something."
Rachel gasped. "Oh I had such a feeling when I saw you yesterday." She leaned over and pulled Lou into a big hug then reached out and touched Kid's cheek.
"Well I'll be," Teaspoon said as he sat back in his chair.
"Expecting what?" Cody asked as he looked from one face to the other. "What are you expecting, Lou?" He stared at the woman seated across from him.
"A headache resulting from all the questions I know you'll keep asking unless I tell you straight out," Lou answered sarcastically.
"A baby," Buck said as he began to smile. "She's expecting a baby."
"It ain't obvious yet," Lou protested. "I mean, leave it to Buck to figure it out." She blushed as she gave him a smile.
"You're with child?" Jimmy asked as he stared at the both of them.
"How is that possible?" Cody asked. "I thought it took a while to find that sort of thing out and you just got married ..."
"See, I knew we shouldn't have said anything!" Lou cried out toward Kid as she jumped to her feet.
"Lou, it's ..."
"No, I knew they would think that of us!"
"You're really having a baby?" Jimmy questioned.
All sound of movement halted as all eyes turned toward the end of the table. Lou's mouth fell open in shock as she slowly slunk down to her seat, giving the respect that tone of voice deserved.
"That's better," Teaspoon said, as the room got silent once again. He pushed his chair away from the table and stood up. "Were you really planning on denying me the privilege of giving well wishes to the mother of my future grandchild?" He put his hands on her shoulders and when Lou rose, he pulled her into his chest, smothering her in a bear hug. "Congratulations, darlin'"
Lou looked back at Kid in confusion then turned her head to glance up at Teaspoon. "You would really think that way about our baby?" she asked in disbelief.
"And why not?" he asked as he kept his arm around her shoulders. "Haven't I always called you boys 'son' ... and you too before I learned better." Teaspoon paused and shook his head as he chuckled at that memory. "You think I call the lot of you that 'cause I like the way the word rolls off my tongue nice and easy like?" He grew serious once again. "That ain't a word I throw around loosely. As far as I'm concerned you gotta earn that right and you boys done that hands down." He looked proudly at the group gathered around him. "Besides, I've always said that I consider all you boys ... and girls ... as family so that most definitely spreads to any offspring you might be bringing into this here world. I just figure it was an unspoken understanding between us and we wasn't in need of any little piece of paper to make it official."
"Maybe that's just what we need," Lou said quietly, "to have it spoken."
"What are you talking about?" Jimmy asked. "Going into a courtroom and raising our hands and all so Teaspoon can adopt us? I think we're a bit old for that, Lou."
"No, that's not what I mean," she said shaking her head. "I heard somewhere that people who have been married a lot of years sometimes get married again; they renew their wedding vows. In other words, they restate the reasons they married each other to begin with and declare their love all over again. It would be something akin to that. We don't have to go into detail if we don't want to but it would be kinda nice to hear each of us say out loud that we consider each other as members of our family. So it's not just for Teaspoon to adopt us as his children but for each of us to adopt the other. You know this way, wherever we wind up, we'll always have a home and family to come back to."
"Thinking it is one thing but saying it ... you're not joking around, Lou. You think we can be like a real family even if we ain't related?" Cody asked.
"I think some things run through us that are thicker than blood - respect, loyalty to one another," Buck told them. "There are a whole lot of people in this world that get taken in by someone who isn't related to them. Over time they become like a family and they don't have a piece of paper telling them so, they just know it where it matters most. You gotta feel it in your heart and in your soul, my brother"
"Buck's right - we don't need a piece of paper making it official. To me, your word is as good as it could get," Kid said, his eyes resting on Jimmy as he spoke. "She does have a point. I mean, it would be nice to know that this baby is gonna have all three of its uncles in its life."
"You really want us around that baby of yours?" Jimmy asked.
"I can't think of a better hothead to teach it how to shoot cans than its Uncle Jimmy." Kid tried to keep a straight face but that didn't last long as he began to laugh.
It only took a moment for Jimmy to join in the laughter as he nodded his head. "As long as his daddy is right along side me showing him how it's really done."
"What do you mean 'him'?" Lou asked with a smile. "You mean to say you ain't gonna teach the baby the same thing if it turns out to be a 'her'?"
"I don't know if that'll be necessary, Lou," Kid said, acting very serious as he glanced at Jimmy.
Jimmy looked at Kid and shook his head, feigning the same serious expression on his face. "Kid's right, Lou. The way I see it - if it's a daughter of Louise McCloud I don't think we'll be needed at all 'cause I can almost guarantee that child is gonna come out knowing how to handle a gun!"
Kid bent his head then began to laugh louder than he had in over a week; and it felt good, like a release of tension. He stuck his hand out across the table.
Jimmy reached out and took hold of his brother's hand.
"So how do we go about it?" Cody asked as he stood up.
"Well I think I know something we can say," Lou answered. "And it's something I feel we've forgotten about lately." She looked around the table then took hold of Kid's and Rachel's hands. She held up the bonds between them to give the others the idea.
With a few whispered moans and some eyes rolling toward the ceiling, all hands were joined, making a circle around the table.
She looked at the marshal and smiled. "In the immortal words of Teaspoon Hunter - Family's family ..."
"And a family sticks together!"
A roar went up as hands were raised to show the union of bodies, as they became a family for life.
Lou was suddenly gathered into hug after hug as Buck, Cody and then Jimmy all came to congratulate her on making them future uncles. She smiled when Jimmy's arms stayed around her the longest.
Jimmy held his hand out toward Kid. "So you're the first one of us to become a father, huh?" he said, smiling. "The first one to get married ... you know, we've been wondering about that, Kid." He looked at Cody and Buck as he tried to keep from laughing.
Kid had reached out to shake Jimmy's hand but as soon as he figured out where his friend was heading with his comment, Kid pulled back his hand and began to nervously rub the back of his neck as a blush crept onto his cheeks.
"Jimmy, ..." Rachel began to reprimand.
"Yeah, Kid, we've been wondering about how a honeymoon works," Buck teased as he chuckled and came alongside him.
"We always appreciate all the advice you can give us," Cody told him as he came up alongside Buck.
"Don't you dare say a word, Kid," Lou warned.
Jimmy put his hand around the new husband's shoulders and said, "You gonna let her talk to you that way? Kid, you gotta put your foot down now, show her who's boss. 'Cause if you don't and you let her walk all over you, it's the end of life as we know it should be."
Lou stood with her arms crossed and looked at the foursome of young men standing not three feet from her. Kid looked guilty as sin, which wasn't helping matters, but she was more worried about all the pressure he was receiving. It would be hard not to crack under the pressure. She knew how boys liked to talk; she'd heard enough of it in a bunkhouse just like the one they were in now, when the others had thought she was one of them. She gave a sweet smile and stepped forward until the man she'd married was right in front of her.
"Well Kid's a big boy; he can decide for himself. All I'm gonna say is if my husband starts spinnin' tales then he's gonna find himself sleepin' on the sofa in the parlor tonight!"
Lou reached out and with an exaggerated display of affection, ran her hand down Kid's cheek. She then turned her back to them and went to stand in front of Rachel. She watched Rachel's face to get an idea of what was going on behind her.
Kid crossed his arms over his chest, mimicking her actions then said, "Is that a threat, Mrs. McCloud?"
Jimmy let out a laugh, knowing what it was like to get Lou riled up, yet he just couldn't help himself. For an evening that he thought would be torturous and painful, it was certainly turning out to be a fun, learning experience all around. "If I were you, Kid, and she kicks you out of the bedroom, I'd high tail it to the barn - we all know she never leaves you out there by yourself for too long in the dark."
Kid closed his eyes in embarrassment, realizing they'd been caught making their little runs out in the middle of the night. He opened his eyes and looked at Lou's back, sure she would be breathing fire by now but instead he began to smile out of surprise when he saw her shoulders shaking.
Jimmy saw Lou's attempts to hide her amusement so he figured it was safe to keep going. "Now about that honeymoon ..."
"Yeah, Kid, did you manage to get any sleep?" Cody asked as he laughed along with Buck.
Kid smiled as he kept his eyes on Lou's back.
Lou raised her eyes heavenward and shook her head. "Me and my bright ideas," she said. She then turned around and saw the three of them closing in on Kid. She threw her arms up in the air and sighed, "I have too many brothers."