"You ready to go see your brother and sister?"
Kid stepped off the boardwalk into the busy St. Joseph street. He made sure to stay near the edge of the boardwalk as traffic in the city never seemed to stop. He glanced down the street in the direction that led out of the southern end of the city, patiently waiting for an answer.
Lou followed him with her eyes but her body didn't seem to want to move. The world seemed to be going on all around her while she was in some kind of trance. She tried but didn't seem able to pull herself out of it. She had been able to keep it hidden to a degree at first but once the others had learned what Wicks had done to her, she'd found it near impossible to act tough and pretend seeing him and Charlotte again hadn't had an effect on her.
Teaspoon had suggested that maybe Lou needed some time away from things and a visit with her siblings might be the distraction her body and mind craved. It took no convincing on the station master's part to get her to take a few days off. He only had to agree to lose two of his riders since Lou and Kid seemed to be glued at the hip like never before. But seeing how this had rightly affected Kid as well, Teaspoon had readily agreed.
Since Lou had told Kid her deepest, darkest secret she'd been finding it hard to let him out of her sight. In fact she didn't know what she was going to do tonight when it came time to go to bed because Kid had paid for two rooms. He hadn't asked, only done what was proper, and she hadn't argued about it; she wouldn't do that in front of the desk clerk. It wasn't that they were sharing a bed anymore, one day down the road maybe again but she wasn't ready for that yet; it was the safety and confidence she felt when he was in her sight.
Kid had done everything she needed since he'd heard about her past - held her when she cried or when the memories came flooding back, told the others for her, asked her the right questions so she could get everything out into the open. He'd done everything except talk to her about what he thought about all of it. Lou turned her gaze to the man who meant so much to her. What was he feeling? Or thinking?
Maybe he didn't know. It wasn't like she knew what she was feeling or thinking. She was just sort of going through the motions these days. She had felt a weight lifted from her shoulders, her mind, her heart, when she'd told Kid. It had been a step in the right direction but it wasn't enough - not yet.
"So what do you say? It's a bit of a ride and it's already past noon so if you want to spend some time with them today we should get going." Kid placed his hands on his hips as he looked at her. He couldn't tell from her expression what she was feeling lately. Then again, he didn't know what he was feeling. All his mind seemed to focus on was being there for her and helping her get past this. He had a new respect for her, knowing what she'd gone through and how she'd built a life for herself in spite of all the obstacles thrown her way. Kid found himself falling more in love with her every day.
Lou's body finally moved. She stepped down into the street and looked up into the kind eyes watching her closely these days.
"There's something I'd like to do first before we head out to the orphanage. I don't know how long it'll take but it's something I feel I need to do." She began to feel a little nervous because she didn't know what she would do if he said he didn't want to come with her. Lou needed him. She hadn't needed many people in her life; it was easier to not need than to feel the disappointment when they left her. But she needed Kid; she knew that now.
"Alright, whatever you want. We're here for you." Kid smiled then moved his hands first in one direction down the street then the other. "Lead the way."
Lou gave a small grin to show her thanks then shoved her hands deep in her coat pockets. She glanced around to get her bearings. She hadn't been in this part of the city too often but Kid thought it would be fun to stay in such a nice hotel.
"It's this way." Lou tilted her head to the right then turned on her heel and began walking. She didn't wait to see if Kid was following because he wouldn't follow her, he would walk alongside her. And that is what he did, taking three long strides that put him side by side with the woman he still loved but hadn't re-declared his love for yet. As much as he wanted to he knew he couldn't say anything to her just yet. She would probably take it the wrong way, thinking he was saying it out of sympathy or because she seemed vulnerable and not because he deeply loved her in spite of and also because of all he now knew about her.
They walked in silence, passing business after business until they were far from all the fancy hotels that occupied the city. Kid glanced around, feeling uneasy. He knew the types of businesses associated with this end of town and he didn't like it one bit. He kept hoping Lou would stop walking and realize she'd passed her destination but she just kept going. It really wasn't that he would never venture to a part of town like this; he'd done it multiple times with Jimmy or Cody, and one time several years ago to this exact part of St. Joseph when he'd found work and came to celebrate a job well done with his employer, but never on his own. And he only ate or drank in a saloon if the town he was in had no restaurant to go to instead but this was a city and had plenty.
Lou's steps finally slowed and Kid heaved a sigh of relief. Seeing the particular building she was gazing at, however, had his heart racing. Why of all places was she stopping here? He asked himself. "Uh, Lou, if you wanted to get something to eat, there are a lot of nice restaurants near the hotel that I'd be happy to take you to."
"No, I wanna go in here. And it ain't food I'm comin' for. I haven't had much of an appetite since we got here." She walked up the steps that led to the batwing doors.
Kid scurried after her. "You're thirsty then, right? I can handle that, I suppose. One quick sarsaparilla and we can be on our way." He stepped through the door after her, letting it flap back into place on its own. He looked around at the noisy, crowded room and gulped, trying to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat. Kid looked down, averting his eyes, when a scantily clad young lady walked past them, batting her eyelashes in his direction. Oh how he wanted to turn around and leave but why was Lou walking further into the room?
"I didn't come here for a drink either, Kid. I just needed to see it again." She looked from the girl that had just passed them to others just like her either serving drinks, sitting on fellow's laps or leading someone up the stairs next to the bar. Those stairs; she'd never gone up or down them but she knew well enough where they led.
"See what?" Kid came to stand in front of her so all he was seeing was her face and not what was around them.
"This; all of it." She turned her body to take in more of what was happening around them, stopping when her eyes landed on the stairs once more. Lou turned to face Kid. "This was Wicks' place."
"Wicks owned it?" Kid squeaked out the words as he stared in horror at the stairs as well.
Lou nodded as she folded her arms tightly across her chest. "It's one of the biggest in all of St. Joe. I only been in this part of it just once. It was the day he'd offered me the job and I felt like the luckiest person in the world as I followed him in here and into his office over there." She nodded with her head to a door on the other end of the bar. "All I knew was that I was going to have a bed to sleep in that night, food for my empty stomach and money to start saving. I never even saw the girls out on the floor that were just slightly older than me in age but in looks, they seemed like they had lived for much too long already. I just never noticed it."
"Then why notice it now?" Kid gently placed his hand on her arm to get her attention. "Lou, why are you doing this to yourself?"
"Because all I've been doin' is runnin' from it from him. I'm tired of it takin' over my life." She sighed out of mental exhaustion.
"You didn't run, Lou, not this time. You faced him. I saw you. He was the one showing fear, not you. You stood up to the man who hurt you so bad and I'm so proud of you." He placed his other hand on her arm and gave her a comforting gentle squeeze. "You can begin fresh now, Lou. I know it ain't gonna be easy but I'm here for you and so is Rachel, Teaspoon, and all the fellas. We all love you."
She had been looking in his eyes while he spoke but with his last word she thought she saw something different in them. It wasn't concern or pride, it was a tenderness that she knew was still there but neither of them had admitted it again. She'd tried to show him how she felt that day in the barn when she'd bought him a new shirt and playfully tried to dress him in it but Charlotte had arrived at that precise moment and those feelings had quickly vanished at the sight of her.
"I appreciate that, Kid." Lou gave him a small smile that almost reached her eyes. "You see, he's dead. I don't have to be afraid of him anymore. It's like fallin' off a horse and gettin' hurt real bad; you gotta get right back in the saddle as soon as possible or it'll haunt you for the rest of your life. I can't change the past as much as I would like to but maybe now I can accept it and let it rest in peace." She shrugged her shoulders. "I have so much in my life I wouldn't have if I hadn't come here to work Rachel's always tellin' me that, Teaspoon too maybe it's time I listened to them." She lightly broke away from his grasp and turned once more toward the stairs by the bar.
Kid let his hands fall to his side. He understood completely what Lou was saying, he didn't like it but he understood how being here could help her. As he followed her line of vision and caught sight of what was obviously captivating her attention, he began to get nervous again. His hands began to fiddle with his belt.
"How long ago did you say you worked here?"
Lou turned to him. "You know how long."
"Just tell me again, Lou."
She scrunched her brow in confusion as he seemed to be almost pleading with her. "I was thirteen when I came here. It happened just after my fourteenth birthday. Charlotte got me on a stage to a nearby town and I stayed there for a while, almost a year, then just been travelin' since until spottin' the Pony Express signs like you all did."
"Then you were here almost six years ago." He knew her birthday was coming up. Kid felt his body relax as thankfully, the time frame of him passin' through St. Joseph didn't coincide with when she worked here.
"Somethin' like that," she answered. "It seems like a lifetime ago and also like it was yesterday. How can that be?" Lou glanced at him as she began to head back across the floor. "I wanna see the house." She led the way to the saloon doors.
"What about the stairs?" Kid asked, pointing at them as he followed her.
"Where I worked was in the big house and that's around the side of the building."
"Yeah but they connect. You can take these stairs and go to the other section easy enough."
As soon as he finished speaking, Kid found his chest flat against Lou's back as she had stopped in her tracks and he hadn't noticed until it was too late. He went to put his hands on her shoulders to make sure she had her footing from him pushing against her when her body stiffened under his touch. Kid instinctively left her alone.
Lou slowly turned around to face him. "How do you know that?"
Kid looked at her, not sure what she was talking about and then it hit him. He'd spoken without thinking - he was trying to make things easier for her but all he'd ended up doing was making them harder for him. He took a step back away from her and began to fumble with his belt again as his hands rested on his hips. "Um, it's common knowledge, that's how." He gave her a nervous laugh that he hoped would cause her to drop the subject, all the while knowing full well it wouldn't. "All these places are the same."
Lou stepped up to him until there was barely any space for his boot tips to not touch hers. She had simply been answering him all along, not really paying attention to what he was saying or how he was acting. But now that she thought back on it, he'd been acting pretty nervous ever since she'd stepped into the saloon. Lou knew these types of places were far from Kid's favorite places to be. Saloons were one thing but this was a cathouse that happened to have a saloon in it. There were other saloons in town where men could go if they just wanted a drink or a game of cards. Much more was offered here and there was much more to see in this place, which was why Wicks had been a very wealthy man.
"No, they're not," she answered. "Wicks made sure of it, that's why it was so successful. He had two different areas for the ladies. Charlotte told me all about it. All of them were housed in the building attached to this one but only the finer gentlemen clientele went there. The regular riff-raff took the ladies off the floor here and went up those stairs to the nearby rooms. She said they all had to take their turn workin' in here and if they got a regular or someone better off than usual, it was their choice if they wanted to bring them up to their real room. I'm sure it's only known from word of mouth and I know those kinds of people aren't ones you would frequent havin' a conversation with." Lou paused to catch her breath as the thought of where all this was leading was beginning to make her sick to her stomach. It was too impossible yet there was no other way. "So how do you know?"
Kid looked away. What could he say? He'd actually forgotten all about it, or maybe he'd just done his best to erase it from his memory, but whatever it was, he never felt like he was hiding or keeping anything from her until now. "I know because I've been up here," he told her quietly.
"I'll be the first to admit I had no idea for a long time what went on up those stairs but I learned quickly and what I didn't know Charlotte filled me in on. Now I do know they don't give tours of the facilities to see if you'd be interested in comin' by some time for some lovin'. So the only way you would be allowed up those stairs would be if you paid your money in advance and was led up there by one of the workin' girls. Is that what happened, Kid?"
Kid closed his eyes as a memory came slowly flooding back to him.
"What's your name?" she asked as she helped him unbutton his shirt and had it off him before he realized it was gone.
"They call me the Kid." He tried to back away from her but her hands were already fumbling with his belt.
"Oh," she laughed upon hearing that, "well, let me promise you that when we're done here, there will be no more need to call you a 'kid'. And in emphasis, she unzipped the dress she'd been wearing and let the fabric pool at her feet as she took hold of his hands, bringing them toward her body.
He slowly nodded his head.
Lou sucked in her breath.
His eyes flew open. Kid reached for her, only to have her back away from him. "Lou, it's not what you think."
"Not what I think?" she laughed. "One of the last men on earth that I'd expect to come to a place like this admits to me he's been upstairs in a brothel and it's not what I think?!"
"Can we not talk about this here?" Kid asked in a hushed tone as he noticed a couple heads turn their way.
"How about we not talk about it at all?" Lou turned on her heel and rushed out the door, not caring that she nearly smacked a couple men with the doors in her urgency to get out of there. She ran down the stairs and headed around the side of the building, running alongside a white picket fence.
It took Kid all of a second to wake up from the shock of seeing Lou run away from him. Here she'd been cornering him with questions he couldn't help but answer and the next thing he knew, she was abandoning all that and trying to get as far away from him as possible.
"Lou!" he cried out as he raced after her, ignoring the not so kind words directed both their ways from the men first almost hit by Lou then almost knocked down by him. Kid was faster than her so it didn't take long to round the corner by the fence and come up behind her. For the second time in a matter of minutes, Kid was reaching out his hands to steady Lou as he ran into her stopped body again.
She hadn't been aware of where she was running until she was there. She now stared at what ran alongside the fence, bringing her back in time, making her feel thirteen years old again.
Kid looked around, thinking she was upset at seeing the big house she had worked in but upon closer inspection, he noted that her eyes weren't focused on the building. She was staring at an old clothes line.
"Lou? Is this where you did your work?" The difference between running into her this time and last time was that this time he did place his hands on her shoulders. He squeezed, offering her all the support he could.
She nodded, not even trying to brush his hands away. "Yeah, I spent a lot of time out here. You can imagine how much laundry all those ladies went through." Lou gave a nervous laugh, despite the tears welling up in her eyes. "Everything was so delicate and I had to take such care with it but I was good at my job. I always thought Wicks would commend me somehow for doing so well. But then I suppose he did that and more, didn't he? All I had wanted was maybe a few more coins when it was payday. Why couldn't he have done just that?" She slapped her hand down on her thigh in anger. At the same time, her shoulders began to shake as she let escape the tears that had built up.
Kid felt Lou slipping away from him as her legs seemed to give out and she crumbled to the ground. He held tight to her shoulders, easing her way to the hard ground. He'd only witnessed her cry a few times but this wasn't like any of those other times. She had so much sorrow and anger inside her that still needed to be released. This was a start, he knew, and hopefully it would be enough because he didn't think he could handle much more of seeing her this upset. He pulled her back against him and wrapped his arms around her as she wept.
"I don't know, Lou," he answered, though he wasn't sure if she was really looking for an answer from him or one from a person who couldn't give it. "Some people do things for reasons none of us can ever explain."
"Like you going into a brothel?" Lou asked as she sat up and moved slightly away from him but not so far that he still couldn't hold her.
"I guess if you look at it that way, yeah." Kid sighed. "I still can't believe I did it but I did and I can't take that back."
Lou turned her body enough so she could look at him. "Do you realize if Charlotte hadn't gotten me away that night, I would have been here, workin' the floor? I could have been the girl that took you upstairs!" she yelled at him in anger. "And if it wasn't me, it could have been Charlotte that you were with!"
"I wasn't with Charlotte; I wasn't with anyone."
"Then you didn't go up there?" she asked with possibly the last trace of hope she carried in her body.
Kid knew she needed him to be honest with her so he couldn't start lying now. "No, I did but I wasn't with anyone like you think I was."
"How is that possible, Kid? You wouldn't have been up there just to have a chat. Wicks would never have allowed that." Lou took her fingers and pressed them to her eyes, trying to still her tears. She hated being so emotional but this week had taken such a toll on her feelings, her doubts, and now to know that Kid did something so against what he's always let her think of him was just too much for her to handle.
"Lou, please, can we go back inside, or better yet, go back to the hotel and sit and talk about this like two adults," Kid pleaded as he readied his hands to hopefully help her up off the ground.
"Are you alright?"
Kid and Lou turned toward the sound of the voice. Lou watched a well dressed slightly older lady rushing toward them. This person reminded her so much of Charlotte with how she dressed and walked. Lou stared at her, thinking she knew who she was but not being able to place a name with the face.
"Are you alright?" she asked again as she came through the gate. "I was on the porch when I saw you come running around the corner and then fall. When your friend didn't help you up, I thought maybe you were really hurt." She knelt down next to Lou and tilted her head to have a look at her face. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were a boy." She furrowed her brow. "You look awful familiar to me. Have we met? No, that wouldn't be possible; I don't get out much and you most certainly have never been inside here."
"Don't be so sure of that," Lou muttered. "Did you know Charlotte?" She chanced a glance at this lady. She was probably in her early thirties with brown hair piled high on her head; she wasn't all covered in makeup like some of the older ladies usually did and Lou had to admit that was a good thing because she definitely did not need it. She still thought she looked familiar.
"Yes, of course, I did. I've known her for years. She no longer works here, thank goodness for her. I helped distract Wicks so she could get away from his clutches. Hopefully she's enjoying the type of life she always wished for."
"What? Oh, my gosh! What happened?"
"It was Wicks' fault; he drove her to it. But at least he got what was comin' to him."
The woman clutched at her chest, near her heart, and staggered backward. Kid jumped to his feet, ready to reach out and catch her if she stumbled and fell. It was then that he noticed the woman's face; he'd seen her before, and even poured out his soul to her. Even though he'd done everything in his power not to look at her, his first thought that night had been that thankfully he'd gotten a beautiful woman for his first time.
"I'm alright," she told Kid when she saw him rush to her side. "I just never expected news like that." She turned back to Lou. "It was only the last couple years that Charlotte and I got on so well. I was always jealous of her. We both started here around the same time but Wicks was always partial to her, giving her to most of the influential men that came in here, letting her earn more money than anyone else. I was pretty rotten to her until that night that changed Charlotte so much."
Lou hadn't been watching the woman beside her as she sat next to her. She still hadn't pushed Kid's hands away either. Once more her body wasn't reacting to what her mind was telling it to do. However, hearing what she said about Charlotte just now caught her interest. "What night? What happened?"
"You were a friend of hers, right?" Despite Lou nodding her head eagerly at the question, the lady answered. "You had to be if you knew she worked here and who Wicks was. Well, something happened to a young girl who should have never been here to begin with. Look, it's beginning to rain. Why don't we go inside and have a seat then I'll tell you about it."
Lou jumped to her feet and took a step away from the woman. "No! I don't think I could do that." She shook her head.
The woman looked toward the building as she noted Lou's odd behavior. "It's alright. The place has changed quite a bit in the past week since we heard of Wicks' death. Miss Lillian has been running the place for years but doing it the way he wanted it done; now she's changed things. It's not like Charlotte must have told you about. Come. I've missed Charlotte and it'll be nice to make sure someone else knows the whole story about the kind person she was."
"Come on, Lou, it can't hurt, can it?" Kid urged.
"I guess not," she answered, though she really wanted to say 'yes!'
They followed the woman up the walk and through the front door. Lou glanced around, noting that the foyer looked exactly as it had six years ago. Even if she'd only seen it once, the sight of it had made such an impression on her young mind that she'd never forgotten how in awe she was of its beauty. She recalled sneaking in there early one morning. She'd been told it was off limits to the help but curiosity was making her lose sleep so one determined day before dawn, she'd crept down from her room, through the kitchen and into this place. Lou had laughed to herself as she took turns sitting on each sofa and had rubbed her hands over each and every plush pillow situated around the room. She'd been so innocent back then.
The woman now held her hand out toward one of those sofas. Kid sat down instantly so Lou reluctantly took a seat next to him. She thought it strange that there were no other women around but didn't question it. It wasn't like she cared. Lou turned her attention back to Charlotte's friend as she sat opposite them, smoothing out her skirts around her, and began to speak again.
"I was in my own world back then, like I told you, and didn't pay the girl any mind but Charlotte took her under her wing. She called Louise half her daughter and half her sister and she vowed she would never let Wicks do to her what he did to us. I didn't care one way or the other but with Charlotte distracted over the laundry girl, it left more men for me to entertain, so to speak, so it worked out in the end for everyone."
The woman glanced at Kid for a moment then did a double take. "You look awful familiar as well." She shrugged. "Anyway, Wicks apparently had plans for this girl and distracted Charlotte long enough to change the poor thing's life forever. Now I never bothered thinking about that young girl but she didn't deserve how rough he was with her. After Charlotte found her, she needed help getting her out of here. I kept Wicks busy while Charlotte took her far away from here. She was a pretty little thing. I hope she was able to move past this place and find a nice young man to take care of her and love her the way all girls should be loved. Here I go getting off subject again," she laughed. "Louise being hurt upset Charlotte so badly. She blamed herself, saying she knew it was going to happen but never warned her to be careful. Charlotte hadn't wanted her to know all that went on here and to keep her hopes up high for the future. But when it happened anyway, Charlotte fell into a sort of depression so that she didn't want to work again but once you worked for Wicks, you always worked for him. He forced her to see men and when she protested he would make her wish she hadn't. He always suspected she had a hand in Louise disappearing that night but he couldn't prove it. I kind of took Charlotte under my wing, the way she did with Louise, until enough time passed that she didn't blame herself."
"I wish she had told me that," Lou whispered. "I would have told her it wasn't her fault. I would have thanked her for everything."
At those words, the woman stood and walked toward them then reached out her gloved hand and placed it under Lou's chin to turn her face toward hers. "You're Louise, aren't you?" Lou nodded. "See, I knew there was something familiar about you."
"Your name is Dorothy. I remember you," Lou admitted a bit shyly as it had been obvious from day one of her job that only Charlotte wasn't so self absorbed in her own life to not bother with someone who needed looking after.
"I wish you didn't," Dorothy told her with a smile. "I was so jealous back then that I even thought Charlotte's name sounded more graceful than mine did; I even thought that of yours. Well, we all learn from our mistakes and make up for them the best we can. I like to think I made up for being rude to you by helping Charlotte when she needed it. She was a good friend even if we didn't start out that way. Now, you say Charlotte went to you? She told me she was going to head east because it would give her the least likely chance of ever being found by Wicks." Dorothy paused and placed her hands on her hips. "If she went to find you then why did she leave me that letter?" she wondered more of herself than them.
"What letter?" Lou glanced at Kid who just shrugged his shoulders. Lou had shared everything that was in Charlotte's carpet bag with him. She had assumed that anything that meant something to her would have been in it.
"She told me to keep it and one day try to find you. Charlotte said she owed it to you. She placed in it a whole wad of money that she said to tell you was for Charlie. I know she didn't have a brother. Do you know who Charlie is?"
Lou glanced guiltily at Kid. "Yeah I know Charlie."
"Is it you?" She looked at Kid.
"No ma'am. My name is Kid."
"Are you her man?"
"Umm " Lou stammered.
"Yes," Kid quickly answered. "We came here so she could come to terms with what happened so we can hopefully start anew." Kid looked at Lou as he spoke, hoping that he wasn't out of line and also, that she would forgive what she'd just learned about him and move past that as well.
"Well I'm happy for you both wait, did you say your name was Kid? From Virginia?" She waited until he either confirmed or denied her questions and when he did with a slight nod, she ignored Lou's startled face looking at Kid as she continued, "I knew you looked familiar! You're the one that got away." She smiled seductively at him.
Kid blushed and moved his hand to rub the back of his neck. If he'd thought it was bad admitting to Lou that he'd been in a brothel, having the woman who'd tried to rip his clothes off him smiling at him after all those years was just the worst thing he could think of. What were the odds, he wondered, that it would have to be the same cathouse that both he and Lou had a connection to?
"What do you mean?" Lou had been ready to pounce on the woman when she recognized Kid's name. There was only one reason Lou knew of for a working woman to know his name and it was too unbearable to sit there, knowing Dorothy had gotten to see the part of him that she thought only she'd had the privilege of seeing.
Dorothy ignored her question as she kept her attention on Kid only. "I never told anyone, you know. It would not have been good for my reputation to have such a clean cut young man come up to my personal room and then not do anything more than undress down to his long johns and tell me he couldn't go through with it. The other girls had been so jealous when they'd all been picked and that left me for you! You remember how I tried to talk you out of it? But you were stubborn and wouldn't budge, telling me you were making a mistake and wanted to wait for that special lady to come into your life. I respected you and I didn't respect anyone back then, not even myself." She finally turned to include Lou in what she was saying. "You're a lucky woman, Louise, to have such a righteous man in your life. There aren't many like him in this world. Oh, the letter! Wait right here and I'll just run and get it."
She turned to head toward the stairs then paused and leaned in close to Kid. "It is a shame I couldn't tempt you. We would have had fun, that I could have promised you." With that said, Dorothy seemed to glide up the stairs as they watched until she was out of their sight.
"I don't remember her being quite that bubbly back then," Lou laughed nervously once they were alone in the foyer. "If she said anything to me when I was here, it was to order me to be extra careful with something she owned. And here she is now not stopping to let someone get in a word of their own!"
"I remember her being quite forceful and stubborn but as for the talking, she did do quite a bit of it of course it was all in her attempt to seduce me!" Kid laughed as he glanced around the room uncomfortably. He still couldn't believe he was standing in a place like this again, much less standing there about to talk to Lou about what he'd done or rather what he hadn't done! "I'm sorry for not listening when you told me the truth."
"No, Lou, you had every right to be upset." Kid reached out and tentatively took her hand in his. He smiled happily when she didn't pull away. "Men never think about how the women might end up in a place like this. It's just always assumed why they're there. I know better now and I'm sorry for ever stepping foot in here. I have to admit, though, that I did learn a lot about myself that night. I thought paying that money and going up those stairs would make me a man. Once I was up there I realized that I was already a man because of having survived on my own for two whole years and being honest and true with everything I did. So what I was about to do didn't fit in with the type of person I was and wanted to stay as and I realized that I didn't need that. What I needed was what I got with you."
Lou had been staring at their joined hands while he spoke. She now turned her eyes to look into his. "You say that even after knowing you weren't my first?
"But I was; just like you were mine. You didn't have a choice with Wicks; he didn't give you one. But you had the choice, the power, to say no to me each and every time and I would have respected it. I may not have always liked it," he laughed playfully, "but I would never have hurt you or gone against your wishes. That was why I acted so crazy for that time. I wanted to keep you from getting hurt, whether it was out on a run, or from my lovin' you when you weren't ready, or even wanting to make sure you didn't wind up with a little bundle of surprise that would have compromised your character. I'm sorry for doing it the way I did but not for doing it."
"I understand now why you did it and I did appreciate it, even if it never seemed like I did. I guess I just wanted to hear in words, like you used to tell me before the others knew I was a girl; I wanted to hear that you still thought I was strong or hard working, and that I could pull my weight just like everyone else around the way station. I didn't want to only be thought of as someone soft that you cuddle up against at night and make you feel things you'd never felt before. That's why men come here." She paused and glanced around the room. "Of course, you couldn't know I would connect the two actions but I couldn't help it."
"I always knew I'd never met another woman like you. You have a strength that I haven't seen in most men," he told her admiringly. "I know you didn't tell me everything out of either embarrassment or to save me from going crazy knowing what all happened to you but please, that's how a couple, how a future is formed by honesty and not keeping things locked so deep inside that it nearly destroys us. I won't if you won't. I might even be ready to finally talk about what life was like for me in Virginia if you'd like to hear about it, that is." Kid shrugged to let her know it was no big deal if she didn't want to hear it but he after this past week, he was beginning to think that maybe it would be nice to have someone know some of the things he'd done and gone through to be here sitting beside her today.
"I'd like that very much, thank you for offering," Lou told him sincerely. "I still don't understand what brought you to this place to begin with."
"Oh, that's simple. I had found work on a cattle ranch north of the city and when the work was done, the owner had paid me and the other drifters he'd hired, all fellas near my age or a little older, then taken us out to dinner to celebrate a job well done. He took us here. The other boys were about bursting out of the pants in their rush to get upstairs and I tried to stand my ground but, I don't know if it was being in this sort of place for the first time or just hearing the others talk but whatever the reason, I thought maybe I needed to grow up and do something a man would do. Well you know the rest from Dorothy about how I couldn't go through with it and just slipped out unnoticed. I remember she did give me a kiss on the cheek as I was heading out the door of her room so I guess, you can be mad at me about that if you want."
"How about if I be mad at her for that instead?" Lou teased, not being mad at anyone but wanting him to know he didn't have to worry about her being upset about any of it. She just appreciated his honesty, which caused her to think about why Dorothy had left them alone all those minutes ago. Lou shifted uneasily in her seat. Today had been filled with important decisions and they still weren't over, she realized.
"Here you go!"
As Dorothy came down the stairs, Kid and Lou rose to their feet. "I'm so glad I get to give this to you for Charlotte. It meant a lot to her. Now you just make sure you give that money to whoever this Charlie person is."
"I'll be sure to do that," Lou promised as she took the envelope that was handed to her. She studied the writing on the envelope. For Louise and Charlie, with all my love, Charlotte. Lou had never realized it before but Charlotte was like a guardian angel to her - watching over her, being there when she needed her most, and still taking care of her after her death.
"Well, Louise, I'm glad you seem to have a good life ahead of you," Dorothy told her, sending a sly smile Kid's way that caused the southerner to blush and look away. "Don't let this place bring you down; it's not worth it."
"I'm starting to finally realize that. Thank you, Dorothy, for checking on me outside and for this." She held up the envelope. "This is one of those days I'll never forget and I don't mean that in a bad way." Lou smiled, feeling really happy for the first time in what felt like forever. "Take care of yourself."
"Oh don't you worry about me. I'm an old pro at this." Dorothy waved good-bye as she turned and headed through a door in the back of the room.
Kid watched her leave then headed to the front door, opening it.
Lou followed him. "I feel like we're in church with how much confessing has been going on here today," she laughed.
Kid chuckled. "I know what you mean. I'm glad you had us come here today, Lou. We learned things about the other we probably would have never told. Those secrets would just have been in the backgrounds of our minds, hovering there, driving us crazy with guilt. So I say no more secrets; how about it?"
No more secrets? She glanced at the envelope in her hand then ran her finger over the words printed on it. Lou brought it up to her lips and placed a light kiss upon one particular word. She gave Kid a smile. "No more secrets," she told him with conviction.
As they were about to step over the threshold, Kid looked around the foyer once more. "Herein these walls I became the man I already was, not by doing what everyone else was but by being true to myself." He took Lou's hand in his as he smiled proudly at her.
Lou looked from his hand grasping hers, to the envelope in her other hand, then back to the room they were getting ready to walk out of. She turned her eyes to the man she still and always would love and simply told him the truth, "Herein these walls I became a mother."