Lou tossed and turned, throwing her body from one side of the small bunk to the other, all in the attempt to erase the images surfacing. Beads of sweat emerged on her forehead and trickled down the sides of her cheeks. She closed her eyes tighter, trying to block the body looming over her tiny form; she tossed her head quickly hoping to drown out the words that were maliciously told to her; and she kicked her feet out with all her might, praying it would put her out of reach of the long arm extending toward her.
She sat straight up in the bed, gasping to catch her breath. Lou turned toward the window next to the bunk bed she shared with Kid and noticed that it was still dark out with the moon shining through the thin curtain, casting shadows on the floor. She disentangled her legs from her sheet and blanket, tossing them aside against the wall. Lou turned onto her stomach so she could drop her legs over the side of the bunk. She eased herself down much slower than she would have liked to but with Kid sleeping in the bed under hers, she knew too much movement might awaken him. It amazed her enough to know he wasn't already awake, bugging her to know what was wrong. Stepping gently on the edge of his bed, and trying not to be too near his pillow, Lou succeeded in getting herself off her bunk and took that last step that put her on the floor.
Lou quickly padded over to the chair next to her dresser; grateful she had draped her clothes over the back of it and hadn't put them away. She stepped into her pants and pulled on her shirt then grabbed her vest, socks and boots. She would put them on once she was safely outside.
"Lou, where you going? Is something wrong?"
Her body stiffened at the sound of a male voice; only when she realized the source of the sleepy, muffled whisper did her shoulders relax.
"I'm fine, Kid," she whispered turning around to stare at him. A few months ago and Lou would have been at his side in a moment, brushing down his sleep tousled hair. But tonight things were very different and Lou only wanted to get as far away from him as possible, as far away from them all. "I just need to answer the call of nature, that's all. Go back to sleep." She turned to head toward the door but stopped when he spoke again.
"In your clothes? When do any of us put on our clothes just to run to the outhouse?" Kid asked as he propped himself up on his elbow. He took in Lou's appearance, half dressed with the rest of her clothing in hand, and the way she was standing about. She kept looking everywhere but at him and seemed very skittish, like she wanted to escape. "Lou, what's going on?" he asked, concerned.
Lou sighed; she should have known he'd be the hardest one to fool - he knew her too well. "Nothing, Kid," she said through clenched teeth. "I told you where I was going and I kinda need to go now! I'm, uh, I'm just taking my clothes 'cause it might be cold out. Now go back to sleep," she ordered. She turned and tiptoed to the door, quietly opening it only wide enough for her to squeeze her body through then closed it behind her as she went out onto the porch.
"It's not that cold out," Kid whispered. He watched her leave but stayed in his bed. A few months ago and he would have followed, making her angry that he was badgering her and not giving her any space. But things were different now; he was different. She was lying to him about everything but at least she was speaking to him, not ignoring him or yelling at him so he figured that was at least some progress.
He lay back down on his pillow and put his hand behind his head. He'd woken up a couple times throughout the night when he heard creaking as the mattress moved above him; it was the same noise he'd heard for the past week but seemed to escalate to much more tonight. He stared at the frame where her mattress laid, wondering what was making her toss like that. If only she were still his then he would have the right to ask her and at least be able to show he was still concerned for her. Now he was lucky to get a 'good morning' without her questioning why he said the greeting in the first place. Something was wrong with her and he wished he could help her through the tough spot she seemed to have found herself in.
Lou managed to keep the other riders in the dark about her nightly escapes from the bunkhouse; all that is except for Kid. But with hurrying through meals and hiding in the barn, attending to any chore she could find, Lou was sure she would be able to make it through the day. And she needed to get through this day more than any other day in the entire year. The past week had been hard as each day that passed and brought her closer to this date, caused more memories to be stirred up. She knew, though, that once today became yesterday, she would be able to sleep better and return to some semblance of normal regarding her life.
She hadn't spoken to anyone and had even told Cody she would muck out the stalls for him, much to his joy. She was busy working on the last stall, attacking the hay with the pitchfork in her desire to toss aside the pictures clearly showing up in her mind. Lou kept telling herself to ignore them but those words being directed her way, that hand touching her, nothing worked. She stabbed the pitchfork down with all her might, using strength she hadn't possessed all those years ago.
She froze as the barn door suddenly creaked open then Lou heard slow heavy footsteps behind her. She whirled around, her gun drawn.
Kid stepped back in shock and drew his own gun. "What the he ...? Lou?" He held his gun toward her, not believing in his life that he was doing it but also not wanting to back down until she lowered her weapon. There was a look in her eyes when she saw him that terrified him; it was a look of non-recognition and complete fear.
"Lou, it's me, Kid! What are you doing?!"
Realization crossed Lou's mind of just what she was doing as it registered she was hearing Kid's voice. She shrugged as she lowered her head and slowly holstered her weapon.
"You took me off guard," she offered quietly as explanation.
"Off guard?" Kid asked in disbelief. "Nine people share this barn and we could come and go at any time, you know that."
"I couldn't see you in the shadows; I thought you were someone else."
"Someone else?!" he exclaimed. "Who else would I be?" He looked at her with concern and worry clearly written on his face.
"No one, alright?!" she yelled as she turned on her heel and headed into the tack room.
Kid followed her and stood just outside the tack room door. "Come on, Lou, what's going on?"
She came out a moment later with a saddle blanket thrown over her arm; her bridle wrapped around her fingers; and she was carrying her saddle. She kept her eyes down so as not to look into his face so seeing his feet in front of her, blocking her path, she stopped. Today of all days she did not need a man standing over her, blocking her from moving. "Please get out of my way," she said tensely through clenched teeth.
Kid was amazed at how she wouldn't look at him but what really took him off guard was the tone of her voice. Without saying a word, he took a step to the side so she could pass.
Lou moved around him quickly, making sure not to touch him with anything she was carrying. She went straight to Lightning's stall and set to work.
Kid went in to the stall, trying to get her to look at him but all he could do was jump out of the way as she set to work saddling her horse. "Lou, why won't you talk to me?" He waited a few seconds for an answer but knew he wouldn't be getting one. He watched her working hard like she was late for a run. "Lou, please, just tell me what's bothering you." He sighed and hung his head. Nothing he seemed to say was working and he didn't know what else to do.
How could he convince her he was only looking after her well-being? All he wanted to do was show her he was there for her if she needed him but he had no right anymore. "Lou, why won't you tell me what's going on?" he asked, as he decided to try again. "Something's got you racing out of here in record time. Look, I'm really not trying to badger you, Lou, it's just ... just ... just because we broke up doesn't mean I stopped caring."
Lou tensed when she heard Kid make that admission. She closed her eyes briefly before opening them once again. Why did he have to always complicate everything by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time? The only problem now was that it wasn't the wrong thing; he'd finally said what she wanted to hear him say ... only it was said at the wrong time.
She couldn't look at him; she wouldn't look at him. Taking her horse's reins, Lou led her out of the stall. Without a word, she led the horse outside, jumped into the saddle and took off out of the yard, riding away from Kid, riding past an approaching Jimmy, and hopefully riding away from her memories.
Kid followed her to the door, watched her ride away then headed back into the barn, making a course directly for the tack room.
"Hey, Lou, where you goin' in an all fired up hurry? Lou!" Jimmy called after her as he led his horse toward the barn. "Where's she goin'? Where you goin'?" he asked, pointing from one to the other. He watched as the other rider scurried around the barn.
"After Lou," Kid replied as he led Katy out of the barn.
Jimmy dropped the reins of Sundance and followed Kid outside. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, Kid."
Kid smirked as he turned around. "No? And why not, Jimmy?" he asked, sarcastically, tired of Jimmy's superior attitude regarding Lou.
"'Cause from the look on her face, I'd say she's running from some things and seeing how you're here and she's there, my guess is you're one of those things."
Kid moved closer until their boot tips were almost touching. "You know, Jimmy, despite what you think, you don't know everything." He got in the saddle and took off at a run.
Jimmy shrugged. "Maybe but I know enough."
Lou sat on a fallen tree staring out over the calm pond. There wasn't even a ripple to the water. Any other day and she would have enjoyed the peacefulness this place brought to her and taken in the surrounding beauty with a smile but today was not any other day.
She leaned over and dug a rock out of the dirt at her feet. She sat up and hurled it in front of her, not caring that it didn't even make it to the water's edge.
Hearing a horse approach, Lou turned sideways on the log, her hand crossing her body so it was near her gun in case she should need it. Her fingers nervously clenched and unclenched as they itched to grab that gun as the horse got closer. The animal finally rounded the bend to the swimming hole and Lou let out her pent up breath as she instantly recognized the rider. She turned toward the water again, her hand joining her other one in her lap as she leaned forward onto her knees.
"How'd you know where to find me?"
"You and me practically wore a path in the ground with how many times we used to come out here, I just followed that path," Kid said with a shrug of his shoulder. He was trying to show her it didn't affect him thinking about what they used to do once they got down here.
Lou blushed as she could clearly picture the number of times they would be swimming in the water right in front of her, clothes carelessly discarded on the shore. She shook her head to erase the images as other, older memories took the place of the ones they had created.
Kid sat astride Katy, not wanting to push his luck by being too forward and dismounting without permission. He was impressed though that between the barn and what she'd said to him just now, that was the most she'd spoken to him in days.
"I can go if you want. I just wanted to make sure you were alright." He looked at her as she hadn't taken her eyes off the water. Finally after a few seconds of silence and him wondering if she had even heard him, he pulled on the reins to begin to turn his horse.
Lou moved over on the log so he had room if he wanted to sit next to her. It was the least she could do; after all, he had admitted to still caring for her, had apologized for pestering her with questions, and had ridden out after her knowing full well she could be mad at him for doing it.
Kid was almost turned around when he didn't hear a voice but heard movement behind him. Looking back, he noticed Lou had moved slightly on the log, leaving enough room for him to join her. He climbed out of the saddle and draped the reins over a nearby bush. Kid walked to the log and sat down next to her. He leaned forward like she was and didn't say anything, like she was.
They sat side by side for several minutes, neither saying a word. Lou found she actually didn't mind him being by her, even if he was a man. Maybe it was alright to not be alone on this day.
As the minutes passed, Kid decided to take a chance and speak. He turned his head to look at her. "You don't have to tell me what's been going on this past week and today most of all if you don't want to," he began. "We can just sit here for as long as you want. I just want you to know that if you do want to talk, I'm here and I'm ready to listen." He turned back toward the water.
Lou stayed in her current posture and kept her eyes straight ahead. "Today is kind of an anniversary for me and I ain't talking about the good kind." She moved her eyes to look down at her hands in her lap. She found that her fingers were tightly holding onto each other; she hadn't even been aware she'd done that.
Kid closed his eyes briefly as a thousand ideas came to mind of what could be so bad as to make her so fidgety. He slowly turned to look at her again. "I'm sorry something happened to you that upsets you so much. I wish I could take the pain away," he softly said. "I'm not saying this to push you into anything but sometimes it helps to talk about what's bothering you." He looked down at his own hands as they rested in his lap then turned his eyes toward the water again.
Lou glanced slightly at him a couple times, trying to decide what to do. It was so easy to keep this inside of her, to let it slowly eat away at her until there was nothing left of her. But she hadn't kept it to herself this year; Kid, for one, was aware that something was upsetting her. She had admitted to him that there was something and even went so far as to say it wasn't anything good. Should she say anything more or leave it at that?
She sat there for several more minutes before straightening her body. "It was five years ago today, that's all I can say."
"Then that's all you need to say."
Lou looked at Kid and found him watching her. She gave him a brief smile then turned her eyes downward. They fell on her hands resting in her lap then glancing next to her, she noticed Kid's hands in the same position. Lou tentatively reached over and laid her hand over his.
Kid turned his hand so he could take hold of hers. He wrapped his around it and gave her a gentle squeeze.
Lou smiled once more, this time a little bigger, as she went back to staring at the water. She took a deep breath and let it slowly out, feeling like she had crossed a bridge that had always crumbled down around her but today managed to stay up long enough for her to get across. She would get through this day; she knew that now.
'And maybe this time next year won't be as hard,' she thought.