Episode Reference: The Kid
"Would you just leave me alone?!"
Kid gave an annoyed sigh as his attempt to walk the simple path from the barn to the bunkhouse was blocked once again. He stood with his hands on his hips as he stared into the dark eyes looking back at him. "Quit followin' me. You're the one that started it anyway. I was content to sit and rest but you had to try and show off how good you are and drag me in to it." He tried to side step his fellow rider, only to meet with a barrier yet again.
"What are you tryin' to hide?" Jimmy crossed his arms over his chest as he rocked back on his heels.
"I ain't hidin' nothin'."
"It's a simple thing to talk about."
"Yeah?" Kid challenged as he stepped closer this time instead of trying to get away. "For you, maybe."
"All you have to say is - the first time I picked up a gun …"
"Is none of your damn business."
"We gonna play this game all day?"
"What about you, Jimmy? That's an awful fancy gun you have that you keep droolin' over in that trunk of yours. How does someone your age, out on his own, afford somethin' that nice?" Kid crossed his arms over his chest as they stood boot tip to boot tip.
"I ain't talkin' guns; just how you use 'em. You hit six for six."
"Is this because you only asked me to hit three and my hittin' each can twice has your britches all in a dither?!"
Jimmy glanced away, not willing to let anyone see he was embarrassed by part of the truth being revealed. "All I'm gettin' at is I wasn't expectin' it."
"You sayin' I impressed you out there?"
Giving a small chuckle, Jimmy shook his head. "Impressed - that's a big word. You just took me by surprise is all. Didn't know you had it in you."
"There's a lot about me you don't know," Kid told him after a brief pause and before looking away, lost in thought.
"Then why don't you tell me." Jimmy gave him a smile as this conversation was heading exactly where he wanted it to.
"You don't need to know everythin' about everyone."
"What is it with you and your secrets? You don't have a real name like the rest of us; you won't talk about where you've been before comin' here; and all we know about your past is that you grew up on a farm in Virginia."
"The others don't say anythin' about what they've been doin'! Why don't you go bother them?"
"Maybe later; right now it's you I'm interested in. You're the son of a dirt farmer."
"You got somethin' against farmers?" Kid leaned into Jimmy's face; first he was tired of this repeated conversation and second, no one made fun of how he grew up.
"Never said that. Got a lot of respect for farmers. I just never seen one wearin' a gun belt on a regular basis. A rifle hangin' over the fireplace in case of poachers, that's understandable, but farmers usually don't need to know how to shoot at close range. Now plowin' a field, that I can understand you knowin' how to do but shootin' a gun the way you just did … you're almost as good as me." Admitting that Kid might be better than him wasn't something Jimmy Hickok could picture himself ever doing. He stared at his bunkmate. "So what I'm wonderin' is … why? Why'd you learn to shoot? What you showed me out there, that ain't somethin' you just pick up as you go along; it's somethin' you work at, time and time again until you can aim and hit your mark with a single bullet. So how'd you get so much free time from helpin' your pa plant the crops to practice what I just saw you do?"
Jimmy knew what he was talking about when it came to learning how to shoot a gun to use it for what it's intended for - to defend, protect, and maybe, take care of what needs taking care of. He didn't like that last part but sometimes a man had to do what he didn't want to in order to see another day.
Kid had a feeling the way Jimmy was describing him was only being done due to personal experience. But Kid wasn't interested right now in how Jimmy had gotten as good as he was. The damage had been done … floodgates of memories had been opened and it would take a lot of strength and time to build up the wall once more that he'd had blocking his past for so long.
"Why, Jed, why? Why do I got to learn how to shoot a handgun? You already taught me how to rabbit hunt with a rifle. I know I ain't that good yet 'cause it's heavy but you said yourself I'll grow into it. Ain't that enough?" The ten year old boy turned his big blue eyes up toward his older brother's face.
"It ain't never enough, little brother. You need to know how to defend yourself. I ain't always gonna be around to do it."
"What do you mean? Where you goin'? You ain't leavin' ma and me again, are ya?"
"You don't worry none about that, Kid. I'm here now, ain't I? That's all that matters." Jed bent over so he could look his younger brother square in the eyes. "I just need you to promise me you'll never stop practicin' no matter what. I know you got it in ya to be great; you're my brother, how can ya not be?" Jed grinned with pride at the sandy-haired boy. "But someone else we know was born to defend himself too and that's the reason I ain't takin' any chances."
Something in the way Jed spoke caused Kid to take notice. His brother usually tried to shield him from life but this time he'd spoken to him man to man. Kid grinned proudly at his brother. "I promise; now you promise not to leave us again."
Jed looked down at his younger brother and gave a sigh. "If that's what it'll take to make you keep practicin' then, alright, I promise."
Jed had never lied to Kid before. Kid had heard him lie to other people - his mother, his father, folks in town. But his big brother had always been honest with him … until that day. It had been a month since Kid had made that promise to Jed that he would keep practicing using a handgun. It had been one of the best months of his life, working side by side with his big brother and feeling like he had nothing to fear. But he should have known that feeling wouldn't last.
Something made Kid wake up early. He wasn't sure what; maybe it was the fear his father had come back but whatever the reason, something felt different. The young boy crawled out of bed and crept across the floor. He quietly opened the door that separated his bedroom from the rest of the house.
A hint of sunlight was filtering in through the threadbare thin curtain on the window by the front door. Kid glanced around the room and that's when he saw it, glinting in the golden rays. Lying in the middle of the kitchen table was Jed's handgun and next to it, a box of shot. The young boy knew that Jed would never leave that item out in the open where their ma could see it. He ran to the door next to his own and threw it open. Kid stood frozen in the doorway as he looked inside the small room. Kid didn't even have to look in the room to know what he would find - he knew it the moment he saw the gun. Jed was gone. He also knew that the gun being left there wasn't just so Kid could protect his mother until Jed returned; it was different this time. Jed's room was bare. All his belongings were gone. His brother wasn't coming back.
Kid moved back into the main room of the house, closing the door behind him. Better to not let his mother see that her older son had left; let her think he was out hunting or looking for work. Going to the table, Kid gently lifted the gun into his hands. He didn't know where his brother had gotten the gun; he'd never asked because he didn't want to know. One look at the item and Kid knew it wasn't an old gun that might not work with each click of the hammer. He wasn't too young to not know how expensive something like that was. And the box of shot; they weren't cheap either. Kid knew to cherish them and make them last.
He still didn't understand the need to know how to shoot but a promise was a promise so Kid would do as Jed wished. The only problem was that with Jed gone, Kid was finding it hard to have any time to himself. In the few months since his brother had left, Kid found himself acting like a husband to his mother instead of her son. The news that her eldest boy had left wasn't unheard of to Kid's mother but in the past he'd always come back. This time there was no covering up the fact that all his possessions were gone. That bit of news seemed to cause a deterioration in his mother's health that even the violence her husband had shown her hadn't done. In between taking care of his mother, looking after the farm, going to school and working odd jobs here and there to make some money, Kid barely managed to come up with a chance to eat and sleep, much less go off into the woods and work on handling a gun. As time passed and Kid fell into a routine of sorts with his life, practicing with the gun became less important to him with each passing day. He'd never gone back on a promise before but if Jed could do it then Kid felt he had the right to do it at least this one time.
So time went by, years in fact, and the subject of the gun hidden under his bed was a distant memory but one that he figured he'd get back to at some point in time. From the moment he'd woken up that day he'd discovered Jed gone, Kid felt as if he'd been forced to leave his childhood behind. He didn't mind it so much as caring for his mother was his top priority but lately, there was also the issue of Doritha that he had to figure out. Kid blushed, just like he did each time he thought of the blue-eyed blonde that lived on the plantation just down the road from their farm. He, Doritha and their friend from school, Garth, had been inseparable for years but lately, ever since turning fourteen, Kid began to feel the desire to be with Doritha alone. The problem was that with Jed gone, the only time Kid was able to see Doritha was at school and there was no chance of being alone there.
Kid snapped the reins of the family horse to get the animal to move just a bit quicker without his mother being wise to it. He and Doritha had arranged a secret meeting down by the pond for later that afternoon, and he intended to keep it at all costs. Kid had found it easier as he got older to sneak off without his mother knowing about it so he did, not to be untruthful to her but to spend time with Doritha, something that she seemed to appreciate as much as he did as she now called him her beau. He smiled happily to himself, not only because of going to meet his sweetheart but also because of how happy his mother looked today. He'd gotten a job helping a neighbor bring in his crops, something that he hadn't been able to get to grow since his father had left, and had earned quite a sizable amount of money. It was enough that he could get a new shirt for himself, a store bought dress for Ma and they could pick up some food. She kept gazing at the sacks in the back of the wagon, causing Kid to beam with pride. He'd hidden the rest of the money to be used to pay off some of their loans. Ma had insisted that food and his new shirt was more important so he would do it the next time he went into town.
He had only been half paying attention to his mother when the stillness of her voice caused him to look her way. The expression on her face was one he would always remember - it was one of utter fright. Following her eyes to see what might have caused it, Kid fiercely pulled on the reins to stop the horse as if doing so would prevent the inevitable from happening. Mother and son stared at the now occupied rocking chair on their small front porch.
"Where you been, woman? You keep me here waitin' all mornin' for a meal when you spend my money on frivolous items we surely don't need?"
Kid's mother grabbed at the front of her new dress. "We did need them," she answered in the soft voice Kid hadn't heard her use in more than five years. "Kid's growin' so fast he's about to bust the buttons off his shirts," she tried to explain as she looked to him for help.
Only trouble was that Kid didn't want to help her; he didn't want to talk to that man.
"Kid," he laughed. "So you finally decided to call him by a real name?" "I am his mother; I can call you whatever I choose; besides there is nothing wrong with the name he was give at birth. Kiddredge is good, solid name," she argued before becoming submissive again and lowering her voice. "He should be proud to have such a connection to my family."
"How I let you talk me into callin' him that I'll never know. Well it don't matter none now. I took care of that right quick. He's Kid and always will be; ain't that right, boy?"
"Like she said - she can call me whatever she wants."
"You always were a mama's boy, weren't you? At least she ain't wearin' an apron right now so you have nothin' to cling to … makes you look more grown up that way."
"Maybe if you had shown me a bit of attention that didn't involve your hand smackin' my skin, maybe I would have acted differently around you." Kid knew he was spurring his father on to probably giving him a good beating this time but it would be worth it since he'd never had the nerve or the opportunity to try to put the man in his rightful place.
Kid was surprised when his father suddenly began to laugh. "I see your big brother's been teachin' you how to hold your own in this world. So where is that good for nothin' son of mine? Off gettin' into trouble in town again, huh?"
"No, he left us five years ago and we ain't heard from him since."
"So that made you the man of the house, huh, Kid?" Zachariah laughed at his own joke. "Well I guess it paid off as it makes people seem to be sorry for the little boy tryin' to make his way in this world. I see you done alright while I been gone." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a sack that jingled, indicating it was full of coins.
"Those are mine! You have no right to touch 'em!" Kid stood up to his full height.
"Don't you dare talk back to me, boy. This is my house; always has been and always will be."
"No, it isn't, Zachariah. It was left to me by my parents. My name is on the deed; not yours. The only thing you did to it was mortgage it so high that I'll never be able to say I own it ever again."
Kid stared at his mother in surprise and admiration. That feeling didn't last long though as his father sat up straight in the rocker he occupied. "You ever talk that way to me again, Kiely, and I'll forget you're my wife and teach you some respect. Now get down and get in that house and start fixin' me some supper! And you, Kid, go fetch me that bottle of whiskey I keep for special occasions. I think a family reunion is cause for a drink, don't you?" Zachariah laughed as he leaned back in the chair and began to rock again.
Jumping off the wagon, Kid didn't waste any time going inside to get the bottle he knew was still sitting in the corner cupboard next to the fireplace. As he reached down to open the door of the cupboard, Kid pulled his hand back and stood up instead. He turned and headed in the opposite direction of the small house.
Kiely knew her husband well enough to know he meant what he said so she quickly climbed off the wagon seat and headed up the couple steps that led into the house, two steps that brought her side by side with the man she had thought the world of so many years ago. "It's going to take a while for the chicken to cook that Kiddredge killed just this mornin'."
"Then I guess you better get to it." He tossed the bag of coins back and forth between his two hands. "You haven't changed all that much, Kiely; you always were a fine woman."
"I changed the day you first laid a hand on me and haven't been the same since," she mumbled as she looked away from him. She gasped and looked his way as his hand was now wrapped around her slim wrist.
"What did you say?" Zachariah would only have respect in his home. The only one who used to talk back to him was Jed so when Kid and Kiely began to do it, he was taken off guard and knew he needed to show them who was boss. A drink sure would help him with that.
"I said I better get to that chicken if you want to eat before dark." She dared to stare him hard in the eyes as she waited for him to release his grip on her.
"I thought that was what you said," he nodded as he let her arm go with a shove. "Hurry up with that bottle, boy!" he called out as he settled back in the chair, spreading his legs out in front of him.
Kiely recovered her footing, accustomed to being shoved in such a way. She stepped over the threshold of the open front door, only to back pedal out of it once again. A look of shock was clearly evident on her face as she uttered the only word that came to her lips. "Kiddredge."
As Zachariah turned his eyes to look at her, he caught sight of a thin rod of metal pointed in his direction.
"Get out of here."
Before he had time to register what was being pointed his way, his son was raising the object up and pointing it directly at his chest. The warning came at the same time.
"Get off this land and don't step foot on it again." Kid didn't know much of what he was doing but he did have enough sense to position himself between his father and his mother so at least the older man couldn't use her to get to him again.
Zachariah took a moment to collect himself before speaking. "Take it easy there, boy, you could hurt someone with that thing."
"Yeah, you know all about hurtin', don't ya?"
"Guns ain't somethin' for little boys to be playin' with. Now give it here." He held out his hand.
Kid tightened his grip. "I ain't been a little boy since before you left … you took that away from me! You don't care about us … never did … so I don't know why you'd bother comin' back. Now leave us alone." Kid hoped with all his heart that his father wouldn't be able to see how much his hand was shaking or that sweat seemed to be pouring down his face at his temples. He'd tried to stand up to his father multiple times, all of them in his desire to protect his mother or himself from getting another beating, with the punishment coming harder than if he hadn't tried ... and he knew this would cause the worst treatment he would ever receive in his life but he didn't care anymore. Enough was enough.
Zachariah slowly stood up. He'd never seen Kid so unstable before but he'd been around men who acted that way many times and he knew what they were capable of doing, especially one who had a gun in his hands. He held up his hands as he slowly made his way to the front steps. "Alright you win … this time. But you just made the biggest mistake of your young life, boy. No one shows disrespect to his father and gets away with it. You're gonna pay for disobeyin' me. I'll be back but that ain't your main problem, it's that you won't know when." Kid's father deliberately showed his son the money pouch Kid had so defiantly claimed as his own before pocketing the coins. He stepped off the porch and walked quickly down the dirt road that led through the woods and out to the main road.
Kid found himself nodding in agreement to his father's words but in his mind where Zachariah had put Kid's name in those sentences, Kid had switched it to be about the only person he'd ever hated in this world. He'd finally stood up to him and it felt good; it felt better than good, it felt great! Never again would he let someone else dictate how he acted or what he said.
After watching until the older man was out of sight, Kid moved to the chair he'd just vacated. "It's a nice day; I think I'll sit out here for a spell. Didn't you say you had a chicken to start cooking?" He glanced at his mother quickly before turning his eyes to stare at the woods in front of him.
Kiely shook her head sadly. She knew this moment would come; she just hadn't wanted it to come this way. Her youngest son had turned into a man … all in the space of ten minutes and right before her very eyes. The way Kiddredge was sitting, his back straight and tall; his head moving from side to side, surveying the land around them; the gun lying in his lap, his fingers firmly gripping the handle; all of it showed a person she didn't know. She'd lost him; he was gone to her but more importantly, to himself.
"I'll just clean the bird and get it in the oven before coming out to get the new supplies." She reached out her hand to touch his shoulder then thought better of it and just clasped her other hand instead. Maybe Zachariah had been right and she'd babied Kid for far too long. Well he wouldn't let her do that any longer, that she knew. With a heavy heart, his mother slowly walked into the house, closing the door behind her.
Kid nodded his head at what she'd said but didn't look her away. As soon as she closed the door behind her, his shoulders sagged in relief - relief that he'd survived his standoff against his father, relief that his mother hadn't been hurt, and relief that no one had been able to detect that he didn't know what he was doing with the damn gun now in his lap. Kid released his grip of the gun and ran his hands over his eyes and down his face, stopping over his mouth as he tried to keep his breath from coming out in ragged gasps. How could he have been so stupid? All his father had to do was grab the barrel of the gun and it would have been all over … for Kid. There was no way he would have been able to shoot at the man, no matter the reason.
Suddenly Jed's urging made sense to him. He vowed then and there to never go back on a promise again and he'd made a promise the same day his father had. Kid promised that his father would never hurt he or his mother ever again and if there was going to be someone not keeping his promise, it would be Zachariah. Kid would see to that, thanks to Jed and to him finally waking up and realizing his brother had done what he'd always done - he'd taken care of his little brother once more by leaving him that gun and making him make a promise that was too big for a ten year old but just the right size for the man he was at almost fifteen years of age.
He couldn't afford to take anything for granted anymore, not even a nice afternoon out with someone he cared for. Someone he cared for … suddenly the afternoon by the pond with Doritha didn't seem as important to him as it had when he'd made the date. 'She'll understand,' he thought to himself as he began the chair rocking. Nothing his father did ever made sense to him but Kid knew him well enough to know that he wouldn't be coming back after him today. After playing it cautiously and sitting outside the house for a couple more hours, Kid finally thought it safe enough to quickly sneak off to see Doritha and make it back before his mother had dinner ready and could miss him.
She did understand; she wasn't happy about him leaving her all alone at the pond, but when Doritha saw how distracted he seemed and that he wouldn't tell her the reason for his changed personality, she gave him comfort the only way she could - a kiss on the cheek and a quick hug then she set up their next secret meeting. It was a secret because their friend Garth was very jealous of the special friendship that had formed between them and though Doritha liked having two men being fond of her, she was particularly partial to Kid. It didn't help Garth's obsession with her that her pa was against her knowing a boy of Kid's stature so she liked the challenge that possessed all the more. But from that day, she noticed that Kid seemed to suddenly grow up before her eyes and what was important to him last week, didn't matter to him anymore. As long she mattered to him, she could live with that, she thought, worriedly. Kid told her that he had some things to take care of so it might be hard for him to meet with her as regularly as he used to but he would find a way; he needed to find a way because she was always the escape that got him away from the horrible life he'd led and he would always be grateful to her for that.
He worked on pointing the gun first then on drawing it out of the old holster he'd managed to get a hold of. He did it day in and day out until he was faster than he thought he should be. But that wasn't enough - bullets would have to be fired to really be ready to face any foe that came his way. He had the box Jed had left him. He couldn't think of using it until he had more money to get another supply of bullets. That took time but Kid managed it then he used any and everything he could think of for a target. He practiced every chance he could - in the middle of doing chores or out in the woods while hunting for food or even late at night by the light of a full moon. He came at his targets from all angles, rolling on the ground then kneeling and shooting, coming around the corner of the barn and shooting, using the cover of trees or bushes to approach his intended target.
Kid stood before the cans he'd placed on the fence out behind the barn; he stared them down, clenched and unclenched his fingers a few times then drew the gun. He fired, hitting one can after another into the air then hitting it again before it landed on the ground. He stood holding the smoking gun, surveying his workmanship. He had a natural ability when it came to shooting a gun and he found he almost liked the confidence it gave him. The only thing he did not like was the thought that he wouldn't always be shooting at cans. Would he be able to do it if his life depended on it? If his mother's life was at stake? Kid wasn't sure but at least he would be ready. He reloaded the barrel of the gun with six more bullets then went to set up another group of cans.
When he did turn that magical number of fifteen, Doritha gave him the best birthday gift of his life. She'd packed a picnic lunch for the two of them, taken him down to their favorite spot by the pond, and let him hold her the way a man held a woman. She was so soft that Kid never wanted to let go of her. They lay side by side on the blanket she'd set out in the grass. His arms were around her while her head rested on his chest. He touched her chin with his finger and turned her toward him, moving his lips to meet hers at the same time. It was magical. She responded and he responded but his hands wouldn't move past holding her around the waist. That would have to do for now. He gave her everything he could that day, except take off the holster he'd come to wear every waking moment no matter where he was or who he was with.
Kid whistled happily as he walked down the road that led to their front porch. He'd promised to meet Doritha again tomorrow evening and nothing was going to stop him from keeping that date. She was his future; he was sure of that.
His mother said she'd have his favorite meal prepared for later that day, along with a cake she'd scraped enough money together to get the supplies for. That thought brought a smile to his face, which instantly disappeared as he noted the front door wide open. His mother never left the door open. They might be poor but she kept a clean house.
Instinct that he hadn't had before had his hand instantly positioned above the holster.
"Ma?" he called as he stepped over the threshold. "Ma!" Kid ran to the crumpled body lying beside the hearth of the fireplace. He threw himself to his knees and turned over her petite frame. What he saw nearly made him sick. He didn't know what to do first but then it didn't really matter. She was gone. He knew it. So instead of trying to stop the flow of blood from the large gash on the side of her head, he brought her up against his chest and rocked her gently back and forth. "Oh, Ma, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault. I'll never forgive myself. You were the best mother a child could ever have." He kissed her forehead, unmindful of the blood that was now falling onto him.
"Ain't that a touchin' sight. 'Course all she had to do was tell me where you'd got to and all this could have been avoided."
Kid froze then let his senses take over. Hearing the sound of liquid sloshing around a glass bottle, scuffing of boots on the wood floor, and the click of a gun being cocked was all the information he needed. With a speed he knew his practicing had given him, Kid only moved one thing - his right hand - but that was all he needed to move.
The funeral was small, only he, Doritha and the minister. He'd made up a story about his ma getting dizzy and falling, hitting her head. The injury to her head justified his words, as did the emotion in his voice. If he thought it was hard watching his mother's body being lowered into a dirty hole in the ground, telling the woman he'd fallen in love with that he couldn't stay there any more, that the memories were too painful and that he was going to head west, almost made him break down in tears. The only person left who meant anything to him was standing before him and he was willing to leave all her loving behind to go face the unknown. But he had to; he had no choice. He couldn't stay there, it was too risky. Doritha tried to talk him out of it, saying she would go with him because they were meant to be together, but he couldn't do that to her. She was accustomed to a certain way of life and he couldn't give her that; he might not ever be able to but she didn't want to hear that. So Kid promised to send for her, knowing full well he probably wouldn't be keeping that promise. But it gave her comfort and he had to admit it comforted him as well, knowing that there was someone in the world who cared for him. She gave him the money he needed to pay off all his ma's debts so her family's house would always belong to a Kiddredge. He pocketed the deed to the property, along with a few trinkets that had belonged to his mother, things that he needed to have with him to give him the courage he would need to survive on his own.
The last sight before Kid left Virginia wasn't Doritha's tear stained face, it was that shallow grave deep in the woods off the road by the house, packed down hard then covered with thistles. That was all he deserved.
"Kid … Kid!"
Jimmy's voice brought him back to the present. Kid closed his eyes for a full minute, damning the person standing in front of him for making him think of all of that. But like hiding the truth from the girl he'd once cared for, Kid knew how to keep his emotions in check. He opened his eyes and looked once more at his bunkmate.
Jimmy glanced in the direction of the shattered cans then at the gun belt strapped to Kid's hip. "So what's the answer there, Kid? Why did a farm boy from Virginia learn how to shoot with the accuracy you have? Why?"
Kid knew from Jimmy's stance, the arms crossed over his chest and his feet apart as he blocked his path that he was trying to intimidate him. But Kid also knew that after standing up to another man many years ago on a small porch in Virginia, he wasn't so easily intimidated anymore.
"Well, why?" Jimmy asked again as his eyes indicated the gun belt once more.
Kid felt a small smile play across his lips at the satisfaction he felt at that moment as his right hand reached down and patted his gun belt. He moved until he was standing directly in front of Jimmy, staring him down, before telling Jimmy the truth.
"The reason doesn't matter anymore."