Kid let his tensed facial muscles relax just ever so slightly. He just might have it this time, he thought to himself. He'd break this horse if it was the last thing he did. Well it might not be the last thing he did, he admitted as his gloved hands tightened even more on the reins, but if he didn't break him soon, Kid was sure he'd break and have to stand at the table to take his meals if he fell one more time.
He'd been trying to break the bay horse to saddle for a steady week now with no improvement after each hard days work. Kid and Buck had purchased six fine looking horses from the Indians who used to sell mounts to the Express. Now all they needed to do was train them so they'd be ready for sale. That's what he was trying to do and judging by how unsuccessful he was with this mount, one would think this was the first time he'd attempted such a thing. But his muscles knew better.
No horse had been easy to work with, he recalled as he swayed backward in the saddle, hearing a gasp from the dark-haired man standing near the corral fence, but at least it hadn't taken this long and he had had help. Now it was just he and Buck. The Kiowa had tried as many times as Kid during the first few days, however, after that, Buck had teasingly told Kid that since the southerner was the owner of the ranch, he therefore was the main one responsible for the job. Kid had threatened no meals for Buck but as he wasn't the one doing the cooking, it wasn't an easy promise to keep so he'd grudgingly climbed back into the saddle and not remained there ever since, as he seemed to spend most of his time landing on his backside before sprawling in the dirt.
"Come on, Kid, you can wear her down!" Buck called out encouragingly. "I'm sure Lou doesn't appreciate all the extra laundry you've given her this week so get it done once and for all, would ya?"
Kid wanted to glare daggers at the man he heard sniggering not far away but before he could move the only thing that wouldn't affect him training this beast, his mouth, the horse decided to move him. As the bay went one way, Kid flew the other, landing once more on his tenderized rump. Noticing Buck come over to stand between him and the horse to protect him, Kid rolled in the direction of the fence. He stopped and reached out a hand to take hold of the bottom rail.
"Don't worry about her, Buck, she ain't gonna hurt me anymore than she does throwing me off her back." He sat up, leaning to the right to bear his weight as his left was the sorer of the two halves. "I bet she's over there prancing around, flaunting that pretty mane of hers from side to side, laughing at me. Am I right?" He looked up to check out the animal for himself.
"Well I don't know about the flaunting her mane part but the rest you seem to have down pretty accurately." Buck crossed his arms over his chest as he grinned over his shoulder at his friend. He would let the horse cool down for a minute or two since she didn't seem to be any harm to herself, then he'd go retrieve her to give Kid a break from the animal.
"I would have thought you'd have learned how to do that by now."
Kid grinned as he instantly recognized the voice speaking from behind him. "What? Train a horse or fall off one?"
Buck threw back his head as he roared in laughter. "You do seem to be better at one than the other, Kid."
"Now, Buck, this is Kid we're talkin' about." Jimmy stepped up to the fence, rested his arms on the top rail and, placing his foot on the bottom piece of wood, stared down with a wide grin plastered on his face at the dirty man at his feet. "You always did have a way with the ladies. But I think you've lost your touch. I seem to recall they used to come towards you, not run in the opposite direction. Guess my little talk didn't do you too much good after all."
"It did me a lot of good and you know it, Jimmy," Kid reminded him as he glanced up, his eyebrows raised knowingly. Jimmy had been the ringleader when it came to teasing Kid about him and Lou 'dancing'. "And as long as I got the right lady comin' toward me each and every day, the rest don't matter none. Besides, at least I got a woman, unlike the two of you." Kid smirked as he looked from one man to the other, proudly noting the changed expressions on their faces.
"You had to bring that up, didn't you, Jimmy?" Buck retorted, pretending to be annoyed, as he walked toward his friends.
Now it was Kid's turn to throw back his head and laugh. He got to his feet, wiping off his dusty trousers. "I will admit I don't look like I know what I'm doin' at the moment but since it is easier to sell a horse when she's trained than wild like that one over there," he jerked his thumb over his shoulder in emphasis, "looks like I'll be spendin' more of my time layin' in the dirt than walkin' on it!"
Kid walked to the gate, let himself out then, as Buck took the piece of wood to close it, he approached the long-haired rider, his hand outstretched. "We've been wonderin' if we'd see you anytime soon."
"I figured you'd been missin' me long enough and it was high time I paid you a visit." Jimmy took the outstretched hand but the gloved hands didn't stay joined for more than a second when each pulled the other to them, wrapping their good friend in a firm hug.
"It must mean he's broke and needs a few weeks work as Teaspoon's deputy," Buck joked as the two ex-riders parted ways. He went up to Jimmy and followed suit, giving the man a hug.
"Good to see you, too, Buck," Jimmy told the Indian as he gave him a smile.
The three friends stood in a circle, Kid leaning on the corral fence as he watched Jimmy taking a look around his property.
"Where you been the past three months?" Kid asked after a moment.
"Ah, you know, here and there. Not really doin' anythin' important. Just tryin' to find my way."
"You have any luck?" Kid inquired.
"Nah; kept gettin' lost."
A laugh was shared by the threesome, something they hadn't done together in quite a while. Kid had to admit he'd missed it more than he realized now that they were together again and time seemed to disappear, making it seem as if Jimmy had only been gone three days and not three months.
"What about you two?" Jimmy asked as he glanced all around him. "Ranch is lookin' good, Kid. Doesn't look like it's gonna fall down around us no more."
Kid chuckled as he shook his head. The ranch sure was a sight when he'd first come back to the way station with the idea of buying it. Jimmy, Buck and Teaspoon had all been skeptical when they'd rode out with him and seen it, telling him it was a great deal because no one else would be crazy enough to take on the work the place presented. Lou and Rachel, however, had taken one quick look at the place and instantly fallen in love with the 'charm' of the house, as they called it, and on the spot, began making plans on curtains and which room Lou and Kid's first born would sleep in and whatnot.
"It's been a lot of work and wouldn't be on its way to becoming a thriving ranch if it wasn't for the help you gave before you left and the sweat Teaspoon, Rachel and especially Buck have put into it for us." He patted his Kiowa friend on the back affectionately. "Once the house was fixed up, we moved to the barn. It only needed a few stall doors repaired, not replaced, thank goodness, which was enough for now. We'll do more to it when some money starts coming in. And since making Buck a partner, it gave us some funds we needed to build a new corral." He moved his hand to lightly smack the top rail to show how sturdy the wooden structure was now.
"I guess congratulations are in order then, Buck."
"I only own a quarter of the place since it was Kid and Lou's dream to buy it and they let me tag along. I only offer suggestions but let Kid have the final say … unless I think he's completely off his rocker then I just do as I please." Buck grinned at his partner who was about to comment but his words were drowned out by shouting coming from the direction of the house.
"Kid! Buck! Dinner's ready!"
All eyes turned in the direction of the front porch of the house. While Kid gave a wave to his wife in acknowledgement, Jimmy side stepped the new husband in his attempt to get a better view. Lou was first standing behind the railing and he couldn't help but smile at seeing her once more but when she moved into the opening by the stairs, his mouth gaped open in surprise. He watched as Lou, looking in their direction, put her hands on the small of her back and thrust her enlarged stomach out toward them.
"That's Lou?!" He looked from one man to the other, a smile playing across his face. "She's about doubled in size since I last saw her; she's huge!"
Kid sobered instantly as his eyes searched the ground. "Yeah she is," he muttered softly. He gave a half glance over his shoulder, not seeing much of anything. "You know how Lou is about her dinner getting cold." Without another word, the southerner began to walk toward the house, his eyes raised and meeting those of the woman he loved more than life itself.
"Kid?" Jimmy wrinkled his brow at the change in Kid's mood. He took a couple steps after Kid as he called out, "Hey, Kid, I was just joking. I didn't mean anything by it! She's beautiful!" He watched as Kid continued across the yard, oblivious to anything but the woman before him. "Kid! I was teasing, that's all." Jimmy turned around and went back to the partial owner in the ranch. "Buck. I didn't mean anything by it. I do think she's beautiful and I plan on tellin' her that. You know I always tease her about things like womanly changes that happen to her; that's just somethin' we do."
He looked to the porch once more as Kid climbed the steps. The husband drew his wife into a hug against his chest and planted a kiss on the top of her head. The couple then moved their mouths, saying words Jimmy couldn't hear from where he was, and arm in arm slowly made their way inside.
"Buck, what's up with him?" Jimmy implored as he gestured toward the front door.
"It's nothin' to do with you, Jimmy," Buck assured him as he too grew serious. "It's somethin' the doctor told them the other day."
"Doctor?" That word caught Jimmy's attention instantly. "About Lou? What about her? She's alright, ain't she?" There was an urgency to his voice as the words rushed out of his mouth in his need to find out about the woman he had notions toward at one time as more than just a friend or sister.
"The doctor says she's gettin' too big."
"Too big?! She's supposed to be big; she's havin' a baby!" Jimmy cried out as his arms flailed every which way in frustration. This was making no sense to him.
Buck stepped toward him to try to calm the man down. He'd felt the same way when Kid had told him what the doctor had mentioned to them at their latest visit to the medical office. He'd wanted to do something, anything, to fix the problem but all he could do was take over Kid's work for the day so the man could spend time with his worried wife.
"What doc said is she's gained too much weight too fast for how far along she is. She's a small woman," Buck began to explain, "the word the doctor used was 'petite'. If she keeps on this way, it could be a difficult birth for her." He paused as he let out a slow, frustrated sigh. "Big babies coming out of small women are nothing but trouble." Buck knew from the experience of being in the Indian camp how birthing babies was one of the most exciting and scary times in a couple's lives
"But Lou will get through it just fine, won't she? Won't she, Buck?! After all she's been through in her life this'll be nothin' for her! There's no woman I know that's tougher than Louise McCloud."
Buck gave a nod of his head. "That's the most important thing she's got going in her favor he told them. And if she doesn't gain much more weight - he's given her some guidelines to follow and she and Kid are exercising by going for long walks each day - then maybe things won't be too hard for her. Or he could have missed his mark and he's just being too cautious and she'll just have a small baby and Kid will wind up with a fat wife." Buck shrugged his shoulders to show there wasn't much more to say on the subject and even if there were, it would do no good to dwell on the news. The ones on his mind constantly were Kid and Lou. Buck knew they were scared. Lou was putting on her usual tough exterior but her worry was showing through and Kid, Buck didn't know how Kid was handling things as well as he seemed to be. Of course the Indian didn't get to see what went on behind closed doors but he could guess pretty well, he was sure.
The Kiowa turned toward the house but didn't get to move as he felt a hand on his arm. "She's gotta be alright, Buck, she's gotta be!" Jimmy stared into his friend's dark eyes, knowing if anyone he knew besides Teaspoon could give him the words of wisdom he needed to calm his frayed nerves, it was Buck Cross.
"One day at a time, my friend. That's all that can be done for now. And three months is a long time away; a lot can happen between now and then." He placed his hand on top of Jimmy's and gave it a slight pat then turned toward the house. "You know how Lou is about her dinner getting cold," he said, echoing Kid's words.
Jimmy didn't know. That was because he hadn't stayed around long enough to find out. He'd helped to get the place cleaned up for them then took off, returning a couple months later. The ex-rider had only taken one dinner with the couple before leaving once more to discover what he wanted out of life. During that meal, the main topic had been the small bulge that was very obvious above the waistband of Lou's skirt. He recalled teasing her once she'd told him the news. His joking had even gone so far as to say he couldn't wait to see her get 'big as a barn'. Now she was and he wished with all his might that she wasn't.
"You comin'? Lou will be excited to see you."
Not realizing his mind had drifted, Jimmy looked up in surprise at hearing Buck's voice. He'd thought the man had already left his company. "Let me take care of Sundance real quick then I'll be there." With a nod, Buck was off toward the front porch once more and Jimmy was slowly walking toward where he'd left Sundance by the door of the barn.
Untying her reins from the post he'd tethered her to, Jimmy slowly led the animal inside the structure. His hands automatically set to work unsaddling his horse while his mind was working to sort out what was unknown to him. Lou was the one constant in all their lives; the one thing that tied them all together. Even if thoughts he'd had at one time of her and him maybe getting together were nothing more than an impossible dream that wouldn't have been fair to her in giving her the life she deserved, he'd never held it against Kid that he'd gotten Lou's love before any of them had had a chance to even try. She was the little sister they all wanted to protect, even when she wanted to do her own protecting. Each of them, at one time or another, could understand Kid's desire to nearly suffocate her in his need to keep her safe; it might not have been done in the most clever of ways but she meant that much to them that when push came to shove, they would have done the same thing if it meant her being around to see another day.
His eyes drifted in the direction of the house. There were so many 'ifs' connected to what Buck had said but Jimmy hated 'ifs'. Back in his old hotheaded days, he wouldn't be standing where he was now unsaddling a horse, no, he would have barged into that house, slammed Kid into a wall and cursed him out for putting her in the condition she was in. Now he knew it wasn't Kid's fault; it was a part of life … a part of life that wasn't fair. Well Buck was right in saying that a lot can happen in three months time.
After throwing down some hay in the stall, Jimmy patted his mount's neck. "What do you say to getting fat and lazy for a while, huh, Sundance? I think we're gonna be hangin' around here for the next few months." Jimmy went and stood in the doorway of the barn, his eyes trained on the house across the yard. Suddenly trying to find out what he wanted to do in life didn't mean a thing.