"Kid, you stay here with Lou and the young 'uns, I'll check if the coast is clear," Jimmy said before moving out of sight. He was glad for the little reprieve from the situation he'd just witnessed. He recalled telling Kid they had better get a move on before one of Boggs' men came looking for him. As Jimmy watched, Kid had gone over to Lou, who was hunched over the man's dead body, and he put his arms protectively around Lou's shoulders. It wasn't the way two male friends might assist one another in a time of need, no, it was the way a man caringly tried to comfort a g ...
Jimmy was having one hell of a time accepting with had transpired. Lou. Louise. Daughter. Had he heard right? One look into Lou's face and Jimmy knew he had. No boy he'd ever met had such a soft, gentle appearance about them. He'd almost thought more than once that Lou was very nice looking and unlike any boy he'd come across but had always dismissed that thought. Jimmy would tell himself that once Lou grew whiskers and put some weight on that he would be just like one of the guys. Now he knew that what he'd originally thought made perfect sense.
"Jimmy, this way!" Cody called out upon seeing his friend appear as if out of nowhere. He'd been making his way around the building, trying to find the door that led out of Boggs' office but all the outside walls looked the same. He was about to give up, wondering if he should find another way in, when Jimmy showed up. "Hurry! Before someone comes."
"We're comin'!" Jimmy told him then poked his head back inside. "Kid! I found Cody. He says it's safe - let's go. Jeremiah, you come with me." He noticed Kid still had a hold of Lou, whose arms were wrapped protectively around Theresa's shoulders. Jimmy quickly glanced Lou's way, grateful they didn't make eye contact. He wasn't ready for that yet. Ever since Lou had said that Boggs had two daughters and Jimmy had done the math quickly in his head, he'd tried to sneak peaks at Lou. It was his way of trying to notice the differences that would make Lou really Louise. He wanted more time to look but now was not giving him any.
Jeremiah came alongside him, leaving Lou's side. "You gonna shoot any of them, just like he shot my father?" he asked, pointing at Kid. He eyed the weapon in Jimmy's hand and also indicated the gun Kid was holding.
Kid and Jimmy exchanged glances. It pained them both that a young boy at such an impressionable age as Jeremiah was had been forced to witness what he had. But Kid would have done it again to save Lou and Jimmy knew it. Hell, knowing what he knew now, Jimmy was more determined than ever to protect Lou, much more so than he had been just that morning. He had always known there was something special about Lou that was different than what the other riders possessed. He was finally starting to understand why there was caring and compassion always present when one was in Lou's company.
"He was not your father, Jeremiah!" Lou cried, speaking for the first time since Kid had helped her up off the floor.
"Jeremiah, Kid did what had to be done to save Lou and get you all to safety," Jimmy explained, trying to help Lou out. Though he didn't know if it was appreciated or not since he didn't want to make eye contact.
"And hopefully we won't have to do anything like that again," Kid told him.
Once they were all outside, Cody ran up to them. "Is everyone alright? What about Boggs?"
"We don't have to worry about him no more, he's dead," Lou answered in a hollow voice.
"Come on, Lou, the sooner we get away from here, the better for everyone," Kid soothingly told her. He had a feeling there was more going on inside her head right now than dealing with her father trying to shoot her and Kid killing the man instead. He had noticed the way she and Jimmy kept looking everywhere but at each other and knew that was the root of the problem. Things had changed now, changed big time, and Kid wasn't sure if it was for the better. He did have to admit it would be a whole lot easier not having to keep Lou's secret anymore but there was a tug of jealousy inside him as he realized he now had to share the information with at least one other person.
"Dead?" Cody echoed. "Who? How?"
"Kid, we need to get Jeremiah and Theresa to safety," Lou said, ignoring Cody's questions. "Someone could be upon us at any moment."
"Kid, Lou, Jimmy, over here!"
The four riders and two children looked up to see Buck standing outside an opening in the fence that surrounded the building. He pointed up a trail behind him that led into the hills. "This is our way out of here. Let's get going." He ran down the remainder of the trail to meet up with them.
"Jeremiah, Theresa, come on, we got no time to lose," Lou said, glancing around nervously. She and Kid led the children past Buck.
"What happened in there?" Cody asked, coming up alongside his friend.
Jimmy stared at the retreating back of Lou and mumbled, "Kid killed Boggs. Lou's a ... Lou's a ... . It ain't for me to say." He walked after Kid and Lou, only seeing them and nothing around him, not even Buck who passed him by.
As Buck came toward him, Cody called after Jimmy, "Hey, what ain't for you to say? And Lou's a what? An orphan? Hell, we already thought that of him so that ain't no big news." He hated being left out of anything so he was pretty miffed at Jimmy right about now for not telling him more. Things seemed serious and that was one thing William F. Cody tried to steer away from at all costs, only he knew his curiosity would get the better of him and he wouldn't rest until he'd badgered each and every one of them for details.
Buck watched Jimmy fall into a trance-like state and instantly grew concerned. "Jimmy, you alright? What's going on?" he called after the man, only to be left without an answer. He'd heard the shouts and gunfire from the back of the building. Maybe something serious had happened that no one was telling him. He'd also noticed Lou's upset manner with Kid lending him a helping hand. He'd never seen Lou so seemingly out of control of his emotions before. What was going on?
"Cody, what happened in there? Why does Lou look like he wants to cry and Jimmy act like he's numb?"
"How the hell should I know?" Cody shouted at him. "I wasn't in there, ask one of them and leave me alone." He marched past Buck, heading toward the trail. If Jimmy didn't have to give an explanation then Cody most certainly wasn't expected to either, especially since, as he had stated, he hadn't even been there.
Buck now watched Cody walking away from him without giving him any answers. "What are you yellin' at me for? I'm only trying to help." His words fell on the wind as all the riders were now at the entrance to the trail. Buck jogged over to them and led the way into the grove of trees that would give them the cover required to make a successful exit from the valley.
"We have to climb a little to get to where the horses are," Buck explained, "but it won't be too hard on the kids, Lou, we'll help them."
She nodded as her brother and sister were staring with wide eyes at the Indian in front of them. Neither wanted to be close to him and were grateful when Lou hung back, letting Cody and Jimmy pass them. Seeing that there was someone between them and the Indian, Jeremiah and Theresa breathed a collective sigh of relief then began walking.
As Lou tried to follow, Kid took hold of her arm. She looked up at him, knowing what he was about to say to her but not wanting to hear it. "Can we discuss this later, Kid?" she asked, trying to turn back toward the others.
"We can but I think we should do it now, especially before one of those kids gives you away." He knew he had her attention by how fast she whirled around to face him. "Lou, Jimmy knows. It ain't like with just me knowin'; I don't think it's fair to make him keep this to himself, do you? And judging by the way he's been acting, he ain't handling it all too well - he's bound to let it slip at any time. He's in shock - course I know that feeling." He grinned at her, recalling how he'd found out her secret.
Lou blushed, knowing what he was talking about, and looked away. She knew Kid was right - how could she ask so much of Jimmy? She'd been lucky with Kid but this would be pressing her luck. Even before arriving in Sweetwater, she'd had no idea how she would be able to pull off living and working in such close proximity to all these guys. But she'd done it and should be pleased with just that. She couldn't be though - this was the best job she would ever be able to find and she wasn't ready to go back to being a woman full time, not yet anyway.
"I can't ask that of Jimmy, it wouldn't be fair," she hastily agreed. "I'll do what needs doin'."
Lou continued up the trail to catch up to the others. Kid heard her sighing heavily, as he felt bad for the situation at hand. How would the others handle it? He had quickly realized that everything hinged on their reaction to the news.
"Just a little more to go," Buck informed the group.
"Buck, hold up a minute," Lou called from the back of the line. "There's something I need to say to all of you and I need to do it now before I lose my courage." She walked toward where the others had stopped.
Jimmy stared at her but as she glanced his way, he instantly turned his head. This was it, he thought, Lou's going to tell the others. He hadn't even had the time he needed to work through this new found knowledge and now he'd have to deal with Cody's big mouth getting in the way of his thinking.
"Before I say anything, well, you all know this is Jeremiah and Theresa but I want them to know all of you. This is Buck, Cody, Kid and the one back there is Jimmy. They're all real good friends of mine and they'll help keep you safe, as if you couldn't tell." She paused and looked at Kid for strength. His smile caused her to grin back then duck her head. "While we're making introductions, it's time that I made one to you all."
Buck and Cody looked at each other in confusion.
Cody went up to Lou and in a brotherly fashion, put his arm around her shoulders. "Lou, I hate to tell you this but I will, just in case you hit your head or something and forgot - Lou, we already met ya." He patted Lou hard on the back and stepped away, thinking that was the end of the conversation.
"Actually, Cody, you haven't," Lou told him, stopping him in his tracks. "See, I haven't exactly been honest with you all. I kinda lied about a few things, starting with my name - it's not Lou McCloud."
"We know," Cody said nonchalantly.
"What do you mean, you know?" Lou asked, sharply. She glanced at Kid and saw him repeatedly shaking his head, denying that he'd ever said anything to anyone.
"What I mean," Cody began, "is that we know it's not Lou McCloud. It's Lou Boggs."
Lou chuckled, in spite of the situation. Leave it to Cody to deduce everything so quickly. "No, Cody, it really is McCloud. After he left us and our mama finally realized the type of man he really was, she wanted to make sure that there would be no way of him finding us again. She changed all our names to her maiden name, McCloud. Besides, she didn't think we needed anything to remind us of the fact that we were related to him."
"The part of my name I was talking about is Lou." She paused and took a deep breath before continuing. "My real name is Louise," she whispered, looking at the ground. She hastily glanced at Kid then Jimmy, only getting Kid to meet her eyes.
Buck and Cody leaned toward her, not understanding the words she had said. "If you want us to know, Lou, you're gonna have to speak up," Cody told her.
"Louise!" she shouted. "My real name is Louise, alright?"
"Louise?!" Buck asked in confusion.
"Why'd your parents give you a girl's name?" Cody asked. "What? Did your father not like you or something?" He stopped himself as he realized what he'd just said. He also saw the look of anger on Lou's face. "Forget I said that. Heck, Lou, so you've got a girl's name. What's so bad about that? I mean, at least you've got one, unlike Kid here. I suppose if he can go around being a guy with no name, then you can be a guy with a girl's name." He grinned at her, proud of the way he'd justified the situation.
Buck didn't say anything. He just kept staring at Lou, watching as he kept repeatedly glancing Kid's way, as if for reassurance. He also noticed the way Kid's eyes softened each time he looked at Lou. That was a look only shared among people who cared for one another. Could it be? Louise. He watched Lou once more.
"Cody, the reason I have a girl's name is because ... "
"Because you're a girl," Buck finished for her. "That's it, that's what's so different about you. It has nothing to do with you being younger or smaller than us, or shy, it has to do with you not being like us at all." He smiled at her, sensing how uneasy she was. "You made us see what you wanted us to see. I don't how you pulled it off, especially now that I know." He looked at her in awe.
Lou sensed she had an ally in Buck and shyly smiled her thanks.
Cody kept staring at Lou, leaning closer to get an up close observation. He looked around at the others then back to Lou. By the third time, he finally asked, "A girl? Are you sure?"
"Last I checked," she replied.
"Trust me, Cody, she's a girl," Kid assured him. He smiled as Lou blushed at his statement.
"What do ya know? Ain't that somethin'," Cody said.
"Just what I was thinking," Jimmy thought, staring at his bunkmate. He had never met a more self-assured person - someone willing to prove themselves capable of doing whatever was thrown their way. He's always thought it was an attempt to compensate for being on the small side. Now Jimmy knew it went deeper than that. There was a whole other side to Lou McCloud. The bullheadedness was real but what was it covering up for? Jimmy had always been curious as to what Lou's story was, now he really wanted to know.
"Can we talk more about this once we get away from this place?" Lou asked, actually glad to be herself and not have to pretend anymore.
"Whatever you want, Lou," Cody told her. "You sure did a good covering up job, Lou, I'm tellin' you. It's amazing to think that there are some hidden assets under all that clothing."
"Cody!" Jimmy reprimanded him, smacking his friend alongside the head. "That is no way to talk to Lou."
"I didn't mean anything by it, I was just speaking the truth," Cody told him. "Alright, Lou, I'm sorry and let me be the first to say 'It's a pleasure to meet you, Lou McCloud'." He held his hand out.
Lou glanced at the others and realized the only way she was going to get rid of Cody was to shake his hand. "Alright, you met me, now can we go?"
"After you," Cody said, bowing as he indicted the way in a grand gesture of his hand.
Laughing, Lou pushed past him, leading the kids.
Buck and Kid followed, laughing, as Cody tried to figure out what they thought was so amusing.
Jimmy stood with his arms crossed over his chest, watching the scene before him. He grinned and shook his head then said outloud to himself, "You're a bit too hasty there, Cody. I don't think any of us has met the real Lou McCloud yet. And I for one am not about to pass up the opportunity."
He quickly went to catch up to the group. "Hey, wait for me!" He grinned as he noticed Lou turn around and motion for him to join them. He met her eye - her eye, Louise's eye, not Lou's, and it was a welcome sight indeed.