When the bunkhouse door squeaked open, Lou looked up from her bunk where she sat, writing in her journal. Her dangling feet stilled instantly as she saw who had slowly walked through the door. She tensed her shoulders and sucked in her breath at the sight of him. Lou knew Kid well enough to know that when he looked at everyone else in the room and deliberately kept his eyes from meeting hers that he was up to no good.

She placed the leather bound book behind her carefully on the bedding then leaned forward, gripping the edges of the mattress as she did so. The female rider watched the man she’d once declared her love to take a few steps forward until he was surrounded by her other bunkmates. Her lips formed a thin line as she waited patiently, or as patiently as was possible under the circumstances, for him to say what was on his mind.

Kid could feel her eyes on him, even without looking in her direction. He frowned as he stood under her scrutiny. He had been hoping against hope that Lou wouldn’t be with the other boys so he could pose his question to them. Then, when he had the answer he wanted, he could go to her and give her all the reasons why he should go on the ride Teaspoon had assigned her for Friday. He should have known, however, that things hadn’t been working in his favor lately so why should they begin going his way now?

Cody glanced between the bunk behind him and the figure standing next to him. He thought silence would be better than the two of them arguing but this moment of quiet was becoming downright creepy. “Where you been, Kid?” Cody finally asked.

Kid quickly looked up to meet the blonde rider’s blue eyes. He’d been concentrating on the tips of his boots for what seemed like forever, trying to get the courage up to speak, that he’d almost forgotten that he wasn’t alone in the room. “I had to check on something in town,” he finally answered as he glanced at each male in the room but avoided the other occupant at all costs. He shoved his hands in his coat pockets and began to fumble with the fabric lining. “I wanted to know if one of you would be willing to take my ride for me tomorrow afternoon.”

Buck looked from Kid to Lou then glanced at the others before replying. “I suppose I could take it if you really need to switch,” he told him. “What’s so important that you can’t go yourself?” He sat up straighter on his bunk and leaned against the wall as he waited for an answer.

Kid rubbed his boot tip against the leg of the bench he was standing next to then turned around to face Buck. He took a deep breath and said, “I asked Teaspoon if I could take Lou’s ride for her instead. He finally agreed that if I could find someone to take the one I have scheduled for tomorrow then I can go in her place.”

A loud thud on the floor had all eyes turning toward the back corner of the building as they took in the stance of the small rider – arms crossed over her chest, her eyes nothing more than slits and her feet firmly planted on the ground. They all knew that defiant position of Lou’s well enough to know sparks were about to fly.

“How could he?! How could you?!” she seethed. Lou slowly crossed the floor, stopped, and looked up into the blue eyes that at one time used to make her go weak in the knees. Looking at him now, she couldn’t remember how she used to feel that way. She raised her arm and pointed to the door. “Outside now!!” she commanded.

“Lou, I –“

“Now!” she screeched.

Kid glanced around the room then ducked his head, making his chin touch his chest and his shoulders sag. He turned and without a word, opened the door and stepped outside. He walked to the edge of the porch but didn’t turn around until he heard the door slam behind him. He could sense the slammer coming up behind him and only then did he dare turn to look at her.

*********************

Jimmy shoulders began to shake as he almost lost his balance from his leaned back position and had to quickly right the chair on the floor. “If he’d a been a dog, his tail would be between his legs right about now,” he laughed.

“I think it was,” Buck commented with a grin.

“All I know is she was breathing fire and I’m bettin’ he’s going to be nothing but burnt timber by the time she’s done with him,” Cody said. He met the eyes of the others then the next second, four pairs of foot were scurrying across the floor to reach the door first.

“Ike!” Cody whined as he pushed the bald rider out of the way. “You don’t need to stand so close to the door since your hearing’s been sensitized on account of not speaking.” He bent over and leaned his ear close to the knot hole in the middle of the wood.

“That happens to blind people, not mute,” Buck corrected.

Cody lifted his head and met the dark eyes behind him. He scowled as he said, “You just think you know everything, don’t you, Buck Cross?”

Buck looked at Ike, his mouth hanging open in shock. “What’d I say?”

Ike shook his head and silently chuckled. He waved his hands in front of him to let Buck know it was wiser to drop the subject than to dispute it. He waved Buck over to the window that would give them a slight view of the porch. Of course if Kid and Lou were standing anywhere but at the very edge of the porch then neither of them would be able to see the two ex-love birds.

Jimmy, after trying to push Cody away from the knot hole but with no avail, decided to press his ear against the point where the door met the frame around it. “I hope Lou’s mad enough to at least help us out and speak loud,” he said as he tried to listen.

***********************

He looked at her as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Lou, like I already told you – it’s too dangerous. I don’t want you takin’ this ride.”

Lou stomped across the porch, from the steps to the corner then back again. Her fists kept clenching and unclenching automatically. “Apparently everything I’ve told you these past few days has gone in one ear and out the other,” she finally said as she stopped moving and faced him. “You don’t want me takin’ this ride or you’re tellin’ the others I can’t handle it or you’re always watchin’ me, hopin’ I’ll crack under the pressure of your gaze and say I won’t go. I’m surprised you let me go to the outhouse by myself,” she remarked sarcastically. “I thought you knew me. How could you go behind my back when I already told you I wasn’t going to back down and give up the ride?” She crossed her arms over her chest and stood with her hip pointed out in defiance as she waited for his response.

Kid’s eyes instantly fell on her hip as she swayed back and forth in her anger. His mind filled with the memories of another way her hips used to move. He gulped to catch his breath then shook his head to clear the wonderful picture he’d resurrected from the scrapbook of his times with Lou.

“I haven’t been badgering you like that,” he defended. “I’m just stating the facts. Lou, it’s too dangerous an area you’ll be riding into,” Kid finally said, trying to reason with the stubborn woman. “It’s no big deal if you stay here and I go in your place. That way I know you’ll be safe and sound here.”

“And in the kitchen learning how to cook, right?” she asked. “I thought I made it perfectly clear I didn’t want you telling me what to do! You got no right to do it, Kid, even if we did ride double. You think ‘cause I’ve done things with you I haven’t done with the others that you can control me the way they never would? You didn’t earn the right to act that way just ‘cause I let you see me naked.” She turned around at the thought of what they used to do together.

“You let me do a whole lot more than that,” Kid muttered.

“What did you say?” Lou questioned in a combination of fury and fear. “Don’t you ever say or think anything of that sort about me! I ain’t that kind of woman and you know it!”

“What kind of woman? Lou, what are you talking about?” Kid asked, totally confused.

“Nothin’, forget it,” she told him quickly, as she glanced away. Why did she have to jump to that kind of conclusion when Kid had no idea why talking about that sort of thing would upset her?

“I have nothing but respect for you, Lou,” Kid told her sincerely. “And if you think I don’t then you don’t know me at all.”

She placed her palms over her eyes and let her breath out slowly before removing her hands. “I do know you and that’s why I know there’s more to all this than you just wanting to keep me home safe. We went through this when we were a couple and I thought you understood how I wanted to be treated – you didn’t like it but I thought you understood.”

“I did and I do but can’t you just do this for me, just this once?” Kid pleaded.

“Why?”

“I got my reasons,” Kid said softly as he looked away.

“Well that ain’t good enough for me.” She moved until they were standing boot tip to boot tip. “You can take your high and mighty ideals and push them onto someone else ‘cause I ain’t budging!” Lou turned on her heel and stormed down the steps and across the yard toward the house. Now she had images of a time in her life she’d like to forget running through her mind and she needed some space from Kid to get those thoughts pushed back into the dungeon they usually rest in.

Kid sadly watched the woman he still loved, with all his heart, walk across the yard and disappear into Rachel’s house. He had learned his lesson about worrying over her and trying to move her out of the bunkhouse and separate her from living the life she needed to at this time in her life. Kid respected her ideals so much but that was part of why he had spoken up and kept insisting on taking this ride for her. It was just such bad timing and if she would only let him go instead then maybe one day he could tell her his reasoning and she would be able to forgive him for being overprotective and actually find it in her heart to thank him for looking after her well being. After all, something was bound to go wrong come Friday, right?

He decided to go back into the bunkhouse and try to reason with the others. Maybe he could convince them that it was too dangerous for Lou to be out there on her own. Kid opened the door and glanced around as it looked like more than one of them was in a different sitting position than when he’d gone outside. He should have known they wouldn’t give him and Lou any privacy, he realized with a frown.

“You know, Kid, when you asked for someone to cover your ride, I actually thought you’d come to your senses and just wanted to be here on Friday to wish Lou a safe ride when she rode out of here,” Jimmy told him as soon as he saw the southerner walk back through the door. “I never figured you would keep doggin’ her the way you are. You ain’t even together, yet you seem to think you got this claim over her that makes it alright for you to tell her what to do or to have doubt in her abilities.”

“I never said I owned her!” Kid cried out, getting angry. “And whether we’re together or not is none of your concern. I’m allowed to be worried for her just like any of you are.”

“But we ain’t worried for her,” Cody replied. “We know it’s a simple ride like any she’s taken before.”

“Why would you not trust that she’ll be safe?” Jimmy asked from his place at the table.

“I do trust she can hold her own out there,” Kid said quickly to show his loyalty toward Lou. “It’s just a long ride she’s got a head of her and she’s doing it alone. Come on, you all know as well as I do what can happen to her if someone was to find out who she really is.” He was getting desperate and desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Yeah, it’d be something along the lines of what you two used to do when you’d go off together,” Jimmy answered as he kept his eyes trained on the only man standing in the room.

“That’s different and you know it!” Kid exclaimed as his cheeks began to color once more. “I never forced her into anything! And why I’m telling you this I have no idea! It’s between me and Lou – always has been and always will be. We just can’t get no privacy around here ever!” He glanced at each one to let them know he knew they had been listening in on his conversation with Lou.

“What I don’t understand, Kid,” Buck began, trying to make up for having eavesdropped, “is why you haven’t learned from your earlier mistakes and keep insisting on taking this ride for her.”

“I have my reasons,” Kid told him quietly.

“That line sounds good only to the person saying it,” Buck said. “If you can’t give the person you’re concerned about an idea of what those reasons are then you will never be able to convince them that what you’re doing is for their own good.”

“Yeah well I’m not giving up,” Kid told them. “I still may need you to take my ride tomorrow, Buck. I’ll let you know.” He turned and headed back out the door. Maybe an afternoon of chores in the barn would help to make him put his thoughts into perspective so he could speak rationally to the stubborn woman he loved and make her see he wasn’t being overbearing but only trying to keep her safe.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lou had been surprised when she’d returned from Rachel’s house and Kid wasn’t waiting to pounce on her again with his demands. She enjoyed the peacefulness his absence gave to her afternoon but when he showed up for dinner and ate in under ten minutes then excused himself, saying he had more chores to do, Lou began to wonder what he was up to. Cody had long since reported that Kid was out in the barn doing his own chores as well as all of theirs and that they didn’t have to thank him because he was doing it to help them out. Well Lou knew Kid enough to know that he either attacked the wood pile or dove into some other chores when he was bothered over something – and that something this time was her. She just couldn’t figure out why since he wouldn’t give her a straight answer.

“Hey, Lou, you wanna let me win some of your money?” Cody asked with a grin as he began to shuffle a deck of cards.

“Cody, you know you can’t ever beat me,” Lou told him as she got up from her seat at the table. “You boys go ahead and play. I’m feelin’ kinda warm; I think I’m gonna go sit outside for a while.” She didn’t want to let any one of them know that even though she was mad at Kid, it didn’t stop her from being concerned over his absence all afternoon and now this evening.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Kid looked up in surprise at seeing Lou sitting on the steps of the bunkhouse. “What are you doing out here?” he asked. “Never mind, you don’t have to tell me.” He walked past her but paused with his hand on the door knob. The conversation from that afternoon was weighing heavy on his mind. He turned to look at the dark haired girl. “Can we talk?”

Lou sat in total shock. It was customary for Kid to ask what she was doing but to tell her that she didn’t have to answer him … that wasn’t something he’d been saying to her lately. She moved on the step so she could look up at him. “Not much talkin’ goin’ on; a lot of tellin’ but not talkin’ and no listenin’.”

“I’ve been listening,” Kid said as he came closer to her. “I just didn’t like what I was hearing,” he admitted as he leaned against the post, his eyes looking out at the dark yard and not at her.

“Why not?”

“’Cause it shows what I already know – that you can take care of yourself.”

Lou stood at his words. He was admitting that she didn’t need him to look after her. Then why was he acting the way he was? “Then why try to stop me?” she asked in confusion.

“Because this time is different.” Kid took a deep breath as he realized the only way he was going to convince her of anything was to finally admit one of his deepest fears. He turned to look at her. “Do you know what day it is when you leave?”

She shrugged at him. “Friday.”

“The date,” Kid said, exasperated. “It’s the thirteenth.”

She shrugged again as she put her hands in her pockets. “So it’s Friday the thirteenth, big deal.”

“It is!” he cried out then quickly glanced toward the door as he realized he was practically shouting now. “My ma died on the thirteenth.”

With her brow wrinkled in complete confusion, Lou said, “I’m sorry you lost your ma but I lost mine too. I remember the exact moment she passed on, I always will, but I don’t remember what date it was.”

“Well I hate that number. See I was thirteen when she died.” He paused and looked away once more. “I remember not knowing what I was going to do but then Jed made all these promises to me and I thought everything was gonna be alright. I should have known better since it was Jed making the promises. A couple months later, I woke up to find him packed and gone. It was the thirteenth.”

Lou gave small chuckle then quickly looked sorry for doing so when Kid gave her a hurt look. “Kid, those are just coincidences, nothin’ more.”

“Yeah? Then what about how a couple years after that, when I decided to leave Virginia and head west, a friend of mine was supposed to come with me. We had it all planned but sh … he decided the timing wasn’t right and sent me off on my own. I got left then too!”

“Let me guess – it was the thirteenth?”

Kid nodded. “It wasn’t until I was on my own that I realized the connection. You see why I can’t have you leaving on that ride come Friday? And with you meaning more to me than the three of them combined, well, I’m so afraid something’s going to happen that keeps you from coming back.” He ducked his head so he was even with her eyes. “The only three people I’ve ever loved in my life left me on the thirteenth. And you would be the fourth and if anything happened to you …” His voice trailed off as he turned to look away.

Lou smiled at his words. He was including her in the list of people he has loved in his life. He said she means, not meant, more than those other people and most of them were family! Lou looked at him. It was the first time either of them had admitted to still caring for the other since they’d broken up. Now that she thought about it, it was kind of sweet, in an annoying sort of way, how he went about showing he was so concerned for her well-being.

She reached out and touched his arm to get his attention. “Kid, I know you think you’re jinxed or something like that where the thirteenth is concerned but those people left you for a reason. I’m not sick like your ma was or desperate to get away from the past like your brother was or scared like it sounds like your friend was – I’m just going to do my job then come back, I promise. It’s the same thing as you have to do come tomorrow. I won’t be here when you get back but it sure would be a welcome site to see you out on this porch when I come riding back into the yard.” She gave him a smile. “Maybe next time something is worrying you, you could just tell me instead of driving me crazy. It might make for an easier week for the both of us. And just so you know, I do worry about you too when you’re gone,” Lou admitted quietly. “I’m just better at hiding it than you are.”

Kid smiled at her words. Maybe things were getting better between them. “Well then since I ride out first thing in the morning, maybe I’ll tell you right now to ride safe and I’ll be waiting for you when you come home.”

“I like the sound of that.” Lou paused and bit her bottom lip for a moment, wondering if she should do what she wanted to do. Deciding to take the chance, she tentatively reached out and put her arms around Kid in much the same way she’d done it when she’d refused his proposal. She stood rigid wondering if he would refuse to return the gesture as he had on that awful day.

Kid watched the expressions on her face, wondering what she was contemplating then was surprised to feel her arms around him. It had seemed like so long since she’d hugged him and it only took a moment for Kid to know the sentiment was genuine and not out of pity or sympathy, it was because she cared about him. The southerner smiled as he brought his arms up and pulled her close against him. He rubbed her back but didn’t dare say anything that might ruin this huge obstacle they’d both climbed over.

Lou smiled happily as she felt him bring her into his embrace. She relished the feel of his arms around her and stayed like that for several moments until she finally pulled away enough to look into his eyes. “It’s getting late,” she reminded him.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he agreed. He turned so his arm was now around her shoulder. “What do you say we go to bed?” Kid took a step then paused as he realized the implication of his words. “Uh, I mean, to sleep … with you on top and me on the bottom … of our bunks, our bunks that are separated by wood and a mattress and only big enough for one person.” He gave her a hopeless smile because his mouth was causing more and more trouble with each word that came out of it.

Lou leaned into his chest as she burst out laughing. She covered her mouth with both her hands. “I seem to recall a time or two when we made them big enough for two.” Lou gave him a sideways look that she hoped bordered on flirtatious as she left his arms and headed inside. “Come on, Kid, it’s time to go to bed!”

Kid’s mouth hung open but quickly formed a smile as he followed her inside. He knew she wasn’t implying what they’d done in the past but it felt good to be in a position in their friendship that they could talk about what had happened to them in the past. The past – he shuddered as his mind went back to what he’d told her about. He still hated that number and despite what Lou said, knew it meant more than just a date or an age but for the sake of keeping his friendship with her intact, he would overlook things the best he could and instead concentrate on her return that would hopefully lead to them spending more time together as friends … or eventually as something more.

Challenge Requirements:

Characters : All, but main focus on Kid and Lou.
Setting: The way station
Situation : Kid has the worst case of over protectiveness ever driving everyone
including Lou up the wall, but are his concerns unfounded?

Mood :Tense
Reference :feelings
Required : The story needs to have a happy ending, but a lot of 'angst' in between.

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