Lou opened her eyes and blinked; something was horribly wrong. She was alone in a bed in a room she didn't recognize. Pale moon light filtered through the lace curtains which covered the partly open windows. She sat up and looked around the room, the light was really too dim to see much but she noticed she was wearing a very feminine light colored nightgown with lace around the sleeves and neck; her long johns were gone and her feet were bare. Lou stifled a scream when she felt something move, inside her stomach. Her hands flew to touch herself and she felt the very unfamiliar rounded belly of a pregnant woman. Lou had just tossed back the covers, determined to find a candle or a lantern and some matches, when she heard footsteps approaching the door. She quickly lay back and pulled the covers back over her body and pretended to be asleep.
The door opened and closed quietly as someone entered the room. Lou watched in horror as the person proceed to remove their clothing. The tall, well muscled body looked vaguely familiar; the hair was too straight and long to be Kid's though, maybe Jimmy. Her hand gently touched the growing life inside of her, how had this happened and why didn't she remember any of it. The man removed his longjohn top but, to Lou's relief, the bottoms stayed on as he came around the side of the bed and lifted the covers. "Lou?" he whispered her name softly but Lou didn't respond; the whisper was too soft to recognize the voice.
Lou was lying more or less in the center of the double bed and the man needed more room so he gently placed one hand around her back and the other under her knees, moving her over just a bit. The arm behind her back stayed there as the man lay down beside her and pulled the covers over himself with his other hand. He gently drew her to him and kissed her forehead. Whoever he was he certainly was gentle and loving but Lou was terrified and the tiniest of whimpers escaped her lips. "Lou? Honey? Are you awake?" The man brushed the hair back from her face and kissed her again, this time on the lips. "I'm sorry I didn't mean to wake you." Lou was shaking and fighting back tears; his face was in the shadows but the concern in his voice was genuine. "Are you alright? Do you want me to get Rachel?" He pulled her closer against his body and attempted to calm her.
The voice was just loud enough for Lou to realize she knew the person it belonged to. "B-Buck?"
"Of course it's me, Lou, who did you think it was?" Buck kissed her again, this time on the nose, and nuzzled her face with his own. "Did you have a bad dream?" Lou shook her head. "Is the baby moving around too much?" Buck's hand moved from Lou's shoulder to her belly and Lou grabbed it; afraid of the familiarity he had with her body.
"Buck, why are you here and how did I get pregnant?" Lou lost the fight to control her tears. She reached up and ran her fingers through her hair and was shocked to find she had very long hair. "How did my hair get so long? Buck, what's happened to me? Where are we? Where are my clothes? Why don't I remember.....I don't remember getting pregnant.....Buck help me....." Lou curled into Buck's strong arms and sobbed as he rubbed her back.
Buck sighed, and tried to remain calm. "Shhh, Lou, It'll be OK...I'll explain everything, or at least I'll try but I need you to answer me one question....What year is it?" Buck was afraid of her answer but he needed to know. His worst fears were becoming reality. He was torn, part of him was happy Lou's memory had returned and part of him felt utterly lost. He moved his free hand to the top of the blankets and pushed the blanket between them so their bodies wouldn't directly touch; this seemed to calm her more.
"Huh? 1862, Why Buck?" Lou asked sleepily and looked up at his face; it was still in the shadows.
"We'll talk in the morning OK? Right now you need sleep. I'll go back to the bunkhouse unless you want me to stay here...." Buck asked hopefully. "I love you" he thought silently as he held his breath waiting for her answer.
"I think it's ok if you stay but just for tonight. I'm so confused I don't want to be alone." Lou mumbled into his chest as she drifted off into an exhausted sleep. He held her close as her breathing finally returned to normal and she calmed down slowly, only an occasional hiccough disturbed her sleep.
Buck lay awake the rest of the night staring at the ceiling. More than once he lost the battle with his own emotions and the tears ran down his cheeks. The doctors had warned them that Lou could regain her memory at any time and that anything was possible. They told him she might not remember the intervening time since the accident or she could remember everything, she would never remember her life before the accident and they said to just make a new life or she could remember parts of it and not others. He'd hoped and prayed that if she got her memory back she'd remember the time since the accident and would still love him; clearly she did not. He felt his world was crashing down around him and the future he'd envisioned for himself and Lou was slipping from his grasp like grains of sand. He desperately loved this tiny woman in his arms and their unborn child but it was obvious she remembered him only as a friend, not her soon to be husband. Buck's tears again spilled over when he thought of their upcoming wedding; he figured that was on hold at the very least and off for good at the worst.
He watched the sky brighten and hoped that maybe Lou wouldn't remember again but it was not to be. She stirred against his chest and opened her eyes. "Buck? Are you awake?" She asked groggily.
"Yeah, Lou, I'm awake...how do you feel?" Buck resisted the urge to kiss her but allowed himself only the smallest pleasure of hugging her for a second before she sat up. He wanted to touch her face and tell her he loved her but the look of confusion on her face as she stood and looked around their room stopped him.
"Do you and I share this room?" Lou asked as she opened the closet and found his clothing as well as a woman's clothing she assumed were hers. "Buck what's wrong with me?"
"Why don't we get dressed and get some coffee and breakfast. Rachel will be up by now and I'm not sure I can tell you all of this alone." Buck began to pull the covers back and Lou turned away from him quickly, her hand unconsciously rubbing her growing tummy as she stared out the window.
"Buck, how did I get pregnant?" Lou asked softly.
"I don't really need to explain HOW, do I?" Buck asked nervously as he pulled on his pants. He dressed quickly with his back to her to avoid any further embarrassment.
"No, I guess I have a good idea of the how, I guess what I'm really asking is the who?" Lou was on the verge of tears again.
Buck pulled on his shirt and went to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "It's mine Lou and I love you. I know you don't remember it but you loved me too, that baby is the living proof. Do you remember last night I asked you what year it was?" Buck paused as Lou nodded. "Lou, its not 1862 it's 1864, almost 1865, and next Sunday you were going to become my wife. I know it seems backwards you getting pregnant and then married but you thought you were my wife already. I'll try to explain it better in a bit. I'm supposed to go get Teresa and Jeremiah from the orphanage the day after tomorrow so they can live with us." Lou was crying silently and Buck moved his hands from her shoulders to her arms, turning her to face him. "I'll still go get them don't worry, they're looking forward to moving in with us and being part of a family again. You need your family now more than ever. Whatever happens just remember I love you and always will. I'll go downstairs and tell Rachel you've got your memory back but lost the last two years. After breakfast I'll move my things out so you can have the room to yourself." Buck choked back his tears as he spoke the last sentence. He gave her a quick hug but she pulled away; he started for the door.
"Buck," Lou's voice stopped him as he reached for the doorknob. "What happens now?" Buck shrugged not trusting his voice to answer. "I'll still marry you for the baby's sake but..." Lou's voice dissolved into a sob.
Buck turned back and looked at Lou; she looked so fragile and lost, his heart broke. "I'm not going to force you to marry me Lou, getting married just because of the baby is wrong; I want to marry for love not because of societies morals. If you want, when the baby is born I'll take it and you'll never have to see either of us again. You can start living your life over again as if none of the past two years happened. Jimmy is back here working as a deputy for Teaspoon and Cody pops in now and again when he's in the area. The war is still going on and it's been awhile since any of us have heard from Kid. You're in Rachel's house, well, Emma's old house, we're back in Sweetwater in case you didn't recognize the old station, I know it's changed a bit since the last time you were here. Get dressed. I'll let Rachel know what's happened." Buck turned and closed the door behind him. He made it to the top stair before his emotions took over and he sat down heavily and sobbed into his arms. Behind the closed door Lou sat on the bed, grabbed a pillow, pulled the quilt tightly around herself and did the same.
Rachel found Buck a few moments later and knew, without being told, what had happened. "Come on down stairs Buck, maybe it's not as bad as you think." Rachel put a reassuring arm around the Kiowa when he reached the bottom of the stairs.
"It is Rachel, I just told her about the wedding and that it was off. I told her when the baby came if she wanted me to I'd take it and leave for good. I knew it was too good to be true. Me, I was stupid enough to believe I had a future. She remembers nothing of us, our love, the baby, nothing. I'm just a friend, nothing more; I'm so lost right now. Last night I fell asleep down here reading and dreamed of my house filled with my family and friends, a bunch of kids all looking like Lou, the horses, the barn, everything. I was happy, then I went to bed and my world collapsed. It's all over now. I love her, Rachel, I love her so much......" Buck took the coffee cup Rachel placed in his hand and sat in his chair at the table.
"I'll be right back Buck, if you feel this lost imagine how she feels. You've had the past two years and you'll always have those memories, she's got a huge gaping hole in the middle of her life. I think you may just have to court her all over again. You two love each other and you belong together, if it's truly meant to be nothing will stop it." Rachel hugged Buck's shoulders and placed a tender kiss on his tear stained cheek. "It'll be alright, Buck, I know it will."
"Thanks, Rachel...." Buck mumbled into his untouched cup of coffee.
Rachel looked at the disheartened young man as she left the kitchen and headed up stairs to the bedroom he shared with Lou. Rachel knocked on the door waited a moment then opened it; Lou was curled on the bed still in her nightgown holding a pillow to her chest and sobbing. Rachel sat on the bed and began to comfort her young friend.
"Lou, honey, Buck told me you got your memory back. This has got to be a huge shock for you. I can't imagine how you feel." Rachel suddenly found herself holding Lou in her arms.
"I'm pregnant, Rachel, Buck said it was his but I don't remember, not at all....How can you not remember if someone loved you or if you loved them? He acted like he really cares for me, please tell me I'm pregnant because Buck loves me, he said he loves me... All I keep seeing is Wick's face and feeling dirty and how he took me when I was younger. I had long hair then too, I guess cutting it again won't do any good if I'm pregnant. I'm pretty sure Buck wouldn't ever take advantage of any woman but still he's a man....." Lou was fighting to control herself.
"I think you need to know everything that has happened in the last two years....why don't you get dressed and come downstairs. Teaspoon should be here for his breakfast soon and Jimmy will be in from his morning chores; he's probably wondering what happened to keep Buck from helping...." Rachel gave Lou a hug before helping her sit up and disentangle herself from the quilt and the pillow.
Lou stood up and moved toward the closet. "Buck's clothes are in here, were we really living together?" She dropped the nightgown to the floor and stared at herself in the mirror. She was obviously pregnant but not too big so that her clothing couldn't hide the baby bump. Her breasts had grown a bit and her hair was down past the middle of her back, almost to her waist. Rachel had picked out a skirt and blouse for her to wear and Lou got dressed then moved over to the vanity and picked up a silver handled brush, the back was covered in an intricate heart and flower scroll with the words "For the most beautiful woman in the world, Love Buck" etched into the middle of the design. Lou traced the scroll with her finger tips, it was beautiful and expertly crafted.
"Buck gave you that set for your birthday last year there's a mirror and comb to match it." Rachel pointed to the other pieces on the dresser. "You asked him if you could get remarried on your birthday this year so you could remember it; that's next Sunday. The child you are carrying was conceived from that love, Buck didn't rape you. You're right he's just not that type of man. He loves you Lou." Rachel came over and began brushing Lou's long hair. She stopped when she heard a gasp from Lou. "What Lou, what's wrong, honey?"
"That scar...." Lou's hand traced a scar that was visible when Rachel pulled her hair back with the brush. "I don't remember it, not at all"
"That scar has a lot to do with the reason you don't remember the last two years." Rachel twisted Lou's hair up into a loose chignon. Let's go down stairs and we'll let Buck tell you all of what happened.
Buck was still sitting and staring into his now cold cup of untouched coffee. Jimmy was sitting across from Buck and Teaspoon was at the head of the table. The looks on their faces told Rachel that Buck had told them about Lou's memory returning and the missing parts. The table had been set and the food was warming on the stove. There were two seats left open one was opposite Teaspoon and the other was beside Buck. Jimmy saw Lou hesitate when Rachel placed the platter with scrambled eggs and bacon on the table and sat in her chair; the one across from Teaspoon.
"Here Lou take my seat, I'll sit beside Buck." Jimmy started to rise when Lou motioned him back down.
Lou had seen Buck's jaw tighten when Jimmy offered to move and knew her hesitation had hurt him. The baby gave a little kick right at that moment and her hand moved quickly to the spot where she felt the kick. Buck looked up at her sudden movement and was on his feet instantly helping her to her chair. "I'm fine Buck, thank-you, I'm just not used to this yet."
"Enjoy it while you can Lou, in a couple of months you'll be wantin' help to sit and stand." Rachel laughed and began spooning some eggs onto her plate.
The meal finished without either Buck or Lou saying very much and eating even less. He was fighting with himself, resisting the urge to touch her and she kept stealing glances at him when ever she thought he wasn't looking.
After the dishes had been cleared they all took seats in the parlor and waited while Buck got himself ready to tell Lou's story.
After several minutes he began.
Buck drew a deep breath and let it out slowly; he looked like he was being led to his execution. "Lou what is the last thing you remember before you woke up this morning?"
Lou looked at the faces of her adopted family; everyone had looks of concern and pity. She sighed, dropped her gaze to the floor and thought a moment.
"We were on a run to Utah with a dispatch for the Colonel at Fort Harmony. I remember there was a lot of people there called Mormons and they were really religious. Oh and it was raining, I remember it was hard to ford the river to get to the fort. The river over flowed didn't it? It's all really foggy like I was there but not really...." Lou was trying to stay calm but she was realizing that parts of that trip, huge parts, like coming home were missing.
Buck swallowed, "We barely made it to the fort, Lou, the storm had been filling the river for two days before we got there and it flooded the fort that night. You and I worked with the people and helped move them to higher ground before the river washed away the whole town the next day. On the last run up to the new camp Lightning slipped on the wet rocks and fell. You were on his back and he rolled over you; Lou I thought you were dead. You just lay there, so still, Lightning picked himself up and nudged you but you didn't move. It was then I saw the blood on the rocks, the rain made it look worse then it really was, I think, I'd never seen so much blood. I picked you up and carried you to where the settlers had set up camp. Someone else led our horses back and cared for them while I took you to the Doctor. Lightning's fine, don't worry, he needed a few days to heal up, but he's in the barn when you want to go see him." Buck answered her question about her beloved horse before she asked. "The Doctor started to care for you right away and I remember his wife coming to me and saying my wife was very lucky to be alive. I just nodded." Buck moved onto the floor in front of Lou and took her hands in his. "That's how this whole mess got started....I didn't have the courage to tell them you weren't my wife. The Mormon people were so religious the Colonel advised me to let them keep thinking we were married because the punishment for being together and not married was harsh."
"The rain finally stopped after almost a week but you were still unconscious. When you fell, you hit your head and got that nasty cut." Lou's hand flew to the scar she'd seen earlier in the mirror. Buck's hand covered hers as she touched her face, "Do you remember it?" Buck asked hopefully.
"No, I saw it in the mirror when Rachel did my hair before breakfast." Lou's fingers traced the scar just at the hairline. Buck's hand remained on her arm. "Is this why I don't remember anything?"
"Yeah, that's what the doctors all said but when Lightning rolled on you, you also broke both legs and your left arm. You were so helpless Lou I was worried sick. They set up a pallet for me to sleep on beside you and you drifted in and out for the next month. I began helping the people rebuild the fort while you stayed with the Doctor and his family in their tent, they called the new fort, Fort New Harmony, in case you wondered. You really scared us all when you got a fever and we spent three days bathing you in cool water to try and break it. I was holding you on the third night when all of a sudden you stopped fighting and went limp. I thought you'd died but the fever had broken and you were finally able to sleep. The next morning you were breathing normal and looked just as beautiful as you do now so I let you sleep and went back to work rebuilding the fort." Lou blushed and looked at her hands in Buck's. "You woke up but had no idea who you were or where you were so the doctor's wife told you all about your loving husband and you believed her; you had no reason not to." Buck drew another deep breath before he continued.
"When I got back that night you didn't recognize me which was what the doctor told me to expect but you believed you were my wife. I knew we had to stay there awhile because it would be a couple more months before you could travel comfortably so I said nothing. I let you believe I was your husband. I guess I wanted you to be my wife too because by this time I was in love with you. I'm sorry Lou, I had no rights to you at all but...." Buck bit his lips and hung his head.
Lou pulled her hands out of his and placed them on either side of his face and turned it up to look at her. "Buck, you were doing what you thought was best; I'm not mad at you. I'm flattered, I'm confused and I have a lot of questions but...."
"Then let me continue....It seemed to calm you when you slept in my arms so I began sleeping in the same bed as you. I swear Lou, I didn't touch you for the longest time. I sent word back to Rock Creek telling everyone what had happened and that I would try and get you home as soon as possible. We stayed at the fort for almost three months and by then I'd worked enough to buy a wagon and supplies for the journey back to Rock Creek. Three days before we were supposed to leave, I got a letter from Teaspoon telling me that the station in Rock Creek had been sold and we were all moving back to Sweetwater; that made our journey shorter by a few hundred miles. Once we left the fort I tried to tell you who you really were but I guess I didn't try too hard. You accepted the idea that I had to let you heal up before I could be with you as a husband so all I did with you for the first six months was to hold and kiss you....Lou you had to learn to walk all over again that's how bad you were hurt." Buck's eyes were full of tears and he blinked several times to keep them from spilling over.
Teaspoon figured Buck needed a little break and took up the narrative. "Lou, sweetheart, we were so worried about you but we also knew that Buck wouldn't let anything happen to you. He told us about the lie you'd been told and how much it bothered him that you believed it completely. We decided that once we got you home we'd see what could be done about correcting it provided Buck didn't compromise you and he promised us he wouldn't." Teaspoon held up his hand as Lou touched her unborn child. "That didn't happen for a very long time, Buck kept his promise. You returned here not as Lou the pony express rider but as Louise, a beautiful young woman in love. Buck tried to move into the bunk house but you didn't want him to so he just moved into the room you two now share. You didn't remember any of us and Doc Barnes agreed with the doctor in Utah that you probably would never recover your memory of the fall and possibly not any of it. He recommended that you go see a specialist in St. Joseph so off you and Buck went." Teaspoon paused as Lou's look of confusion deepened.
"You mean you just let Buck and I share a bedroom? You let us sleep in the same bed?" Lou looked at Rachel and Teaspoon like she'd never seen them before. She glanced at Buck but his head was bent and his hair obscured his face. Jimmy just shrugged when she looked at him.
Rachel took her hand. "Lou, you and Buck have shared a bedroom from the first day you met. When you got here the only person you knew was Buck it was only natural for you to want to be with him and not be alone with strangers. Remember you sincerely believed that he was already your husband."
"I guess" Lou rubbed her tummy as the baby changed positions.
"The doctors in St. Joe's ran a bunch of tests and all said the same thing. Your memory was damaged when you hit your head and that it might or might not come back. They said that it could come back all at once or in little tiny pieces or not at all. I remember the doctor telling me to just take you home and love you. When we left St. Joseph we came back here and you surprised me. You'd asked the doctor if it was alright for me to be a full husband to you I'd been using your injuries to your legs as an excuse not to, you know, make you my wife in all ways. Hell, Lou I'd never even been naked in front of you up to then." Buck sat on the floor cross legged in front of Lou.
"That's a lie Buck Cross and you know it....." the old Lou shone clearly through. The petite little spitfire they all knew and loved turned on Buck. "I saw all of you more times then I can count, and you too Jimmy Hickock so don't you get that smug look on your face neither." Lou stopped when she heard Teaspoon laugh. "What's so funny?"
Both Jimmy and Buck had looks of shocked horror mixed with embarrassment on their faces. "Lou that was before we knew you was a girl......Right Buck?" Jimmy said quietly. Buck nodded.
Teaspoon saved the two young men further embarrassment. "It's good to have you back Lou.... these boys need a good talking to now and again and you're the best person for that job!"
Rachel decided everyone needed a break, especially Buck, and stood up. "Lou I think you should know that until your birthday last year your bedroom door never closed. Buck treated you like a precious gift that had been entrusted to him. Now I have some chores to take care of and so do these men so why don't we all go about our daily business and we'll pick this up later.....OK?" Rachel offered Lou a hand up and then started for the kitchen. "Lou, do you want to help me or would you rather take a nap?" Lou rose and followed Rachel into the kitchen.
Lou began moving about the kitchen removing all the makings for lunch and a stew for dinner without being told where things were or what was expected of her; Rachel watched as she peeled potatoes. Lou remembered some things from the last two years even if it wasn't consciously.
Lou was preparing the meat for the stew when it hit her. "I can't cook Rachel, what am I doing?"
'You're doing what you've been doing for the past year and a half. I'm the school teacher in town and you took over my duties here at the station. I taught you to cook and you've become rather good at it. You sew too; you even belong to the quilting circle at the church. You made the dress you were going to be married in next week. Wait until you see it... it's beautiful, it's in my room so Buck wouldn't see it until the wedding. You've also started to learn to knit and if you look in the basket beside the hearth in the parlor you'll find the blanket you started for your baby." Lou looked over at the hearth and noticed a basket with knitting needles sticking out and a bit of yellow yarn hanging over the side.
Lou rubbed her tummy and the baby moved gently beneath her hand. "Buck really loves me doesn't he?"
"With all his heart." Rachel put down the knife and the potato she'd been peeling. "Do you want to talk a bit, woman to woman?" Rachel put a coffee pot on to heat and got out two cups. "Lunch will be ready for them when they're ready; we've got a few minutes to chat. Come on sit."
Lou poured the coffee when it started to steam and brought both cups to the table. "You said this baby was conceived in love, how do you know?"
"Both you and Buck came to me for advice, you didn't understand why Buck wouldn't behave like you thought a real husband should and wanted to know how to change that. Buck was fighting with himself, he wanted you, he wanted you to be his true wife in all ways but he was afraid you'd regain your memory and not want him. I told both of you to follow your hearts. He planned a small family party for your birthday last year and gave you that vanity set upstairs; that night your bedroom door was closed for the first time since you'd come back. The next morning you had a glow about you that only comes from a woman who's completely happy and in love. You told me that Buck had resisted at first but you'd done a couple of the things we talked about and he didn't resist long. Your bedroom door has been closed every night since then." Rachel held Lou's hand as Lou worried her lips with the other.
"If the doctor said I'd never get my memory back why was Buck afraid?" Lou looked puzzled. Rachel opened her mouth to answer when the sound of booted feet where heard coming up the steps. "Sounds like the boys are in for lunch." Both Lou and Rachel rose and got the table ready for the noon meal.
After lunch Lou and Rachel cleaned up the dishes and finished preparing the stew for dinner. Lou was fighting to stay awake and Rachel finally sent her to her room to take a nap while Rachel worked on her lesson plans for the next week. The afternoon passed quietly and the evening meal was almost the same as it had been before Lou had been hurt. After dinner they once again settled in the parlor to continue telling Lou about the last two missing years.
Rachel started by asking Lou what she had questions on so far. "Lou you've heard a lot about the beginning of last year I know you have to have some questions so please ask."
"OK, I thought Emma still owned this house and the property. What happened to Emma and Sam?" Lou looked at Teaspoon.
"They still do, at least in part. Emma and Sam are still living in Omaha but when they heard the company was selling the Rock Creek station they telegraphed us and offered it to us dirt cheep; on one condition. See Buck and Kid had been talking about startin' a horse ranch but you knew that didn't you?" Lou nodded and Teaspoon continued. "When Kid went back home it sort of got put on the back burner. Sam and Emma knew about Buck's dream and his disappointment when Kid left so they offered us the old station to use to start that ranch. We have to pay rent but no where near what the place is worth as long as they are also part owners. Buck's done well so far and I don't know if you noticed the other building just over the rise but that's the house Buck built for you, it's almost done isn't it Buck?"
Buck nodded with a sad smile on his face. "It should have been ready to move into before I get Teresa and Jeremiah, it's their home too but the last of the wood was delayed and that set me back.... Don't worry, Lou...you can still move in there as soon as it's done. You made all the curtains and the quilts for the beds and everything. It's your home, I built it for you." His face was a mask of carefully restrained emotions.
"What about Kid? You said no one has heard from him? Nothing? I hope he's OK..." Lou wondered aloud. "You built a house? For ME?"
"It's been months Lou, More than a year I think....and yes the house is yours." Buck answered sadly.
"I noticed all your things were out of the room upstairs, did you move into the house?" Lou couldn't believe what she was hearing; Buck had built a house for her and her siblings.
"No, Jimmy's letting me stay with him in the bunkhouse, at least until the baby arrives and you decide what you want me to do. The house is yours Lou, I won't bother you there." Buck was staring at a spot on the floor.
"Watson got married last week and moved out of the rooms over the sheriff's office so I'm moving up there to be closer to town." Jimmy offered.
"Who's Watson? What does that have to do with me moving into the house?" Lou was very confused.
"Oh, sorry, Jake Watson is Teaspoon's other deputy, nice guy, smart, funny, easy to work with and as different from Barnett as night and day. You're friends with his wife, you're in that church group for ladies together." Jimmy added. "Since I'm moving out of the bunkhouse anyway Buck might as well move on in. Are you still plannin' on hiring a couple of guys to work the ranch next spring, Buck?"
"I don't know we'll see....." Buck mumbled a reply.
"Buck, why were you afraid to be with me if I didn't remember anything? It sounds like the doctors figured I wouldn't ever get my memory back or if I did it would be full of holes, I don't understand." Lou got up and stood beside the chair Buck was sitting in. "What changed your mind, you must have thought we had a future together.....You never would have gotten me pregnant if you didn't." Lou put her hand under Buck's chin and lifted his face so he had to look at her.
"It doesn't matter now, just remember I loved you, I still do and always will. I wanted, want, this child, but its future and mine depend on you. If you want to pick up where you left off in your memories that's great, I'll take the baby and go back to the Kiowa or something. Don't worry Lou, I'll do whatever you want or need." Buck's hand covered Lou's on his cheek. "You don't have to make any decisions now, just become part of this life again. If you need anything, anything at all please ask." Buck stood up and Lou wrapped her arms around his waist.
"It sort of sounds like I made the first move, did I?" Lou nestled her head on Buck's shoulder, her words were meant only for Buck but in the quiet of the room everyone heard them.
Buck looked over at the others, Teaspoon was sitting back with his thumbs hooked under his suspenders, Jimmy was very interested in something outside the window and Rachel smiled and nodded at him. Buck was miserable; he slowly raised his arms and gently patted her back. "Yeah you sort of did......I should have stopped you but I didn't....I wanted it as much as you did Lou. It was just one more mistake on my part, I've really messed up your life and I'm sorry. I think right now its best if I head over the bunkhouse, I need to settle in before it's too late." Buck quickly kissed the top of her head and then pulled out of her arms and left the house. "I'll see you all in the morning." He called back over his shoulder as he fled down the stairs.
Buck lay down in the narrow bunk he'd slept in for the two years he'd ridden for the express and pulled the coarse blanket over him. He'd tried to read to make himself tired but he kept seeing Lou's face on every page. He'd finally given up and rolled on to his side clutching a pillow he'd taken from Ike's old bunk. It didn't smell like Ike anymore but it still offered some small comfort. Buck missed holding Lou in his arms and the pillow just wasn't the same. Jimmy had gone to sleep quite awhile ago and was snoring softly sometimes mumbling something in his sleep. Buck tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before exhaustion finally took over and his body slept.
Lou had gone upstairs and prepared for bed. She enjoyed brushing her long hair and feeling like a real woman for a change instead of pretending to be something she wasn't. She looked at all of her clothing and found several pretty dresses, skirts, blouses and nightgowns; only two of these seemed familiar.
Rachel poked her head in on her way to bed. "You've had a long day, don't stay up late. 'nite"
"Wait Rachel, where did all of these nice things come from? I know the pink dress and the blue dress but.....these are beautiful....Do they all belong to me?" Lou stood beside the open closet door fingering a hunter green brocade satin gown.
"Well, Buck bought that dress for you for the dance last Christmas; you were the most beautiful woman there. Some of them you made, others Buck bought you. He's always buying you gifts, look in that jewelry box..." Lou opened the box and the most beautiful cameo she'd ever seen stared back at her. "He bought you that when you first found out you were having his baby."
Lou picked up the Cameo and rubber her fingers over the delicate surface. She looked into the box and saw a gold chain with a cross on it and a small ring with a blue green stone, several pairs of earrings and couple of gold and silver bracelets. "He's bought all of this for me? I'll never be able to repay him."
"I don't recall hearin' him ask you to, Lou. Go get some good sleep now" Rachel gently closed the bedroom door on one very bewildered Louise.
Lou tossed and turned all night unable to find a comfortable position and not knowing why. The next day both she and Buck appeared tired but they were able to make it through the day doing their normal chores. Rachel noticed that Lou appeared to remember some things as she went through the early morning chores. Rachel even felt she could go to school and leave Lou home alone. Lou knew where things were without being told and made a tasty apple pie for dessert after dinner.
"Rachel, I know I never did any of this in Rock Creek....are these things I've been doing for the last few months? And some things are different from the way I remember them. Like the mud room, that wasn't there but I knew the laundry tubs would be there....how do I know these things?" Lou asked as she wiped her hands on her apron her frustration clearly sounded in her voice.
"I think you're remembering some things without realizing it. I told the Doctor you had some of your memory back and he wants to see you. You can ride into town with me tomorrow if you'd like. Buck is going to get your brother and sister so he'll be gone before breakfast. Hey, would you like to see your house? I was going to go over and air it out before I left for school in the morning."
"I'd like that....I was wondering, you said I made the dress I was planning on getting married in, can I see it?" Lou asked as she and Rachel climbed the stairs to their bedrooms.
"Oh, of course you can! It's in my closet." Rachel led Lou over to the closet and opened the door. She reached in and pulled out a lovely ivory dress made of brushed cotton. The dress had a pretty bodice with light pink and blue ribbons decorating the scooped neck, bust and sleeves with lace to match. The empire waist would easily hide the pregnancy and the long pleated skirt ended in a ruffle accented with the same pink and blue ribbon and lace. "What do you think? I was going to put your hair up with flowers to match your bouquet."
"I made this? It's beautiful......" Lou took it from Rachel and held it up in front of her in the mirror. "I guess you better put it away for now. Do you know what Buck was going to wear?"
"I think you asked him to just wear a suit, he has two now that he has to do business with bankers and horse traders and such. He has to look good at those meetings. I've never seen a man more uncomfortable he cleans up really well but he hates it!" Rachel laughed as Lou nodded.
"He's a handsome man he's just more at home in those brown trousers and cotton shirts.... Now if I could only get him out of that damn vest......" Both women laughed. "I think he'd sleep in it if he could." Lou observed.
"I agree but speaking of sleep I really need to get some, Good night Lou..." Rachel closed her door behind Lou and she went to her room.
The night again found two lonely restless sleepers as both Buck and Lou tossed and turned in their beds. Buck knew it was because he was sleeping alone for the first time in two years but Lou couldn't understand the feeling of emptiness the double bed seemed to wrap her in. Both hugged pillows to their chests and wished for something more.
Buck was gone at first light and Lou had sat in her window and watched him leave. She hoped that he would tell the children that the wedding was at the very least postponed but she still felt badly. She watched as the sun crested the horizon and finally began to chase away the demons that had kept her awake for the last few hours. Lou dressed quickly and went downstairs to prepare breakfast.
After breakfast Rachel and Lou and cleared the dishes and set out for the new house before Rachel was due at school. Lou gasped when she first saw the house. It was a lovely two story building with white clapboard siding and blue shutters. The front porch wrapped all around the sides of the house and baskets of flowers hung between each post; a porch swing hung just to the left of the door. Lou walked up the front stairs and Rachel used her key to open the door. The front door opened into a bright and airy parlor with a large fireplace and a huge window that looked out onto the open fields and the mountains in the distance. There was a large sofa and two chairs, a braded rag rug and lots of pillows but Lou was drawn to the rocking chair by the fireplace, there was an unfinished quilt that was obviously being done for a child or infant.
"Did I make this?" Lou asked as she inspected the fine stitching on the quilt.
"Yes, you come here often with Buck while he works on the house you sew or set things in their place. Come on let me show you the kitchen." Rachel led the way into to another large, brightly lit room.
The window over the sink looked out over the small stream where they had all enjoyed swimming over the years. Lou laughed as she recalled some of the antics the boys got into at the swimming hole. There was a pump right at the sink and a large cook stove, the wall beside the stove was covered with gleaming pots and pans. Lou looked around and noticed several cupboards all built so she could easily reach them and a pie safe built right into the wall beside the stove. The large table looked familiar and Lou realized it was the one from the bunkhouse. The chairs were oddly mismatched but again Lou recognized them as the chairs from either the porch of the bunkhouse or the bunkhouse itself. She felt right at home in the kitchen and gasped when she turned around and saw a beautiful hutch filled with Emma's good dishes standing against the wall.
"Those are Emma's what are they doing here?" Lou asked.
"They're yours now or at least they are supposed to be. Emma had them sent to you as a combination house warming/wedding gift." Rachel explained. "That door leads to the mud room and part of the back wall is set up just for doing laundry so you don't have to lug the tubs around. That room was going to be Buck's office with a small library of books. Your sewing room is on the other side and that door leads to a walk-in pantry and root cellar." Rachel pointed things out as they passed through the rooms on the lower level.
They soon arrived at the foot of the stairs and Lou silently ascended. There were five bedrooms, two on either side of the hallway and one at the end. The first two Lou looked in were all set up for someone to move in; Lou assumed they were for her brother and sister. The third bedroom wasn't quite done and the fourth, which was closest to the largest bedroom, was obviously being set up as a nursery. The largest bedroom was beautiful. There were many feminine touches but there were some things which belonged to Buck in there too. Lou was amazed; she loved it. She'd always dreamed of having a home that reminded her of the home she lived in until her mother passed away and this house was it in so many ways; but better and bigger. She helped Rachel open the windows and noticed a shed a few feet away from the main house. "What's that building?" Lou wondered out loud.
"I think that's Buck's 'putter place' as he calls it. He's made a lot of the furniture, he's pretty good at it too, don't you think?" Rachel again led the way down stairs and outside. "I'll close the windows on my way home tonight; I just wanted to air the place out before the kids got here." She was walking to the shed Lou had seen out the bedroom window. "It's still here, come see this Lou." Rachel beckoned Lou over as she opened the door to the shed.
Lou looked into the shed and saw all sorts of tools at first and not much of anything else, then, over in a corner she saw it, a beautifully carved cradle. The wood was highly polished and shone in the dim light from the door. "I'm making the quilt for the cradle aren't I?"
Rachel smiled and nodded. "I need to get to school so we'd best leave, are you still going to come with me to town?"
"I really need to think about a few things, this house is so much more than I expected I'm a bit taken back. I'll go another day, OK?" Lou climbed up in the wagon beside Rachel for the short ride home.
The morning was fast becoming afternoon when Lou heard the familiar sound of a wagon in the door yard. Buck wasn't expected back before tomorrow and it was far too early for school to be out and Rachel to be returning. Lou wiped her hands on her apron as she went to see who was visiting. She stepped out onto the porch and stopped dead in her tracks. "KID?"
"Lou, Oh My God is it really you?" Kid pulled the wagon to a halt and gingerly got down. Lou noticed right away that he was limping badly and was shocked when he reached behind the driver's seat and picked up a cane.
Lou was down the stairs in an instant and met Kid before he'd even made it to the gate. "Buck said no one had heard from you for awhile I was so afraid something had happened to you. You look thin Kid, how are you?" The questions poured out of Lou in one long breathless moment. Kid opened his arms and Lou gladly let him wrap her in his arms.
"I'm so glad I found you, I went to Rock Creek first and Tompkins told me you'd moved back to Sweetwater. He also told me you'd been hurt in some kind of accident.....are you OK?" Kid wrapped one arm around Lou's waist and using the cane in the other, walked slowly to the house. They settled into the swing beside the door and held hands looking at each other. "You look even more beautiful than I remember, you let your hair grow out, I like that, and you have a glow about you....You're happy?" Kid touched Lou's cheek and brushed his fingers across the hair at her temple.
Lou blushed. "I am happy." Lou surprised herself to find she really meant what she said as she unconsciously rubbed the baby growing inside her. "I'll wait until the others are all here to tell you about the accident, I don't remember a lot. What about you? You've been hurt."
"I was first hurt in the Battle of Gettysburg in July of last year and I had to spend some time in a field hospital. I was lucky I wasn't taken prisoner when I was in the hospital; many men were, I had a nurse who did her best to protect me." Kid stopped when he saw the questioning look on Lou's face.
"That was 1863, right? Did you get shot?" Lou asked quickly as a puzzled look crossed Kid's face.
"Ah....yeah, 1863....I got hit with some shrapnel from a cannon ball that took out half my unit. I was only there about three weeks but what was left of my company had moved on. I tried to find them and instead found myself with General Braxton Bragg and his boys in Tennessee. I thought I'd seen it all in Gettysburg but the battle of Chattanooga that November was horrible. Lou, it was a massacre we were out numbered, out gunned and starving. I got hit in the leg with parts of a tree when a cannon ball exploded right in front of it. It almost took my leg off. The worst part was that the tree was covered in poison ivy. I got a really bad infection and I don't remember much from the days after the battle until March or so. I'm luckier than most men; I had a surgeon that took the time to repair my leg rather than chop it off." Kid's emotions got the better of him and he began to cry. Lou put her arms around Kid and pulled him against her; comforting him and crying with him.
They stayed sitting on the swing wrapped around each other for what seemed like hours. It wasn't until the poor horse that had pulled the buckboard whinnied loudly demanding some attention that they finally returned to the present. "I guess I should either head back to town or unhitch the horse. Where is everyone? I was hoping to see at least Teaspoon and Rachel."
"I'll help with the horse and why don't I make us some lunch and we can talk then." Lou rose and began walking down the stairs she'd reached the bottom when she realized Kid was still at the top stair. He walked stiffly down and joined her as she began to unhitch the rigging. More than once he looked at her and thought she looked thicker through the waist and she definitely had a more feminine figure from the waist up. 'Could Lou be pregnant?' Kid thought but didn't ask.
The horse was almost totally unhitched and ready to be led into the barn out of the sun when they heard hoof beats approaching. Kid looked up to see a familiar palomino. "Jimmy!"
"KID?!" Jimmy rode in and dismounted beside Kid sweeping him up in a huge bear hug. "You sure are a sight for sore eyes. When we hadn't heard from you in almost a year we started to think the worst had happened." Jimmy reached behind his saddle and pulled out a newspaper. "I've been readin' 'bout the war, one of Lou's lady friends taught me to read. I'm kinda sweet on her if you know what I mean...." Jimmy winked at Kid and Lou.
"You're sweet on Angela Simpson?" Lou blurted out then clapped her hands over her mouth.
"Lou, you remembered!!" Jimmy turned and scooped the stunned mother to be up in his arms.
"I don't know how, it just came to me....." Lou smiled as Jimmy retuned her to the ground and kissed her head. "Come on you two take care of the horses and I'll have lunch ready when you come in the house. "Why are you home early, anyway? Did something happen in town?"
"It's as slow as molasses in January so Teaspoon said I could come home early, he kinda also told me to spread the manure in the garden so we could plant the corn and stuff next week." Jimmy smiled wryly. "Come on Kid, let's get these animals taken care of, Lou's become a great cook."
Kid waited while Jimmy led his horse into the barn first and then followed with the wagon horse.... "KATIE!" Kid dropped the reins and hobbled over to the stall Katie was standing in and wrapped his arms around her strong neck. "I've missed you, girl." Kid was crying and laughing at the same time. The horse, for her part, nuzzled her former rider with affection and even nipped at Lightening when he stuck his head over the stall wall to see what all the commotion was about. Several minutes passed while Kid and Katie got reacquainted and Jimmy took care of the other two horses. Finally they heard Lou call from the house, wondering what was taking them so long.
Lunch was a happy affair with the three friends all getting to know each other again. Kid told stories of his travels and Jimmy told stories of the silliness that was life in Sweetwater. Lou just listened and found that not everything Jimmy said was news to her. They avoided any touchy subjects like the war, Lou's injuries and the lost time and anything personal. The afternoon was slipping into evening when Lou shooed them out to spread the manure while she fixed dinner. Rachel and Teaspoon would be home soon and Lou wanted to have everything ready so she could enjoy the evening. She left the dinner cooking and went to the bunkhouse to put fresh linens on Kid's bunk. She just assumed he would be sleeping at the station. She glanced in the back of the wagon looking for Kid's things and discovered there were none; puzzled she walked over to the garden to question Kid.
"I fixed your old bunk up for you but where are your things? Don't you even have a change of clothes?" Lou asked when she got Kid's attention.
"Er......thanks but I took a room in town at the hotel, I wasn't sure you were all here and I didn't want to be a burden anyway. This is easier. I can't wait to see Teaspoon and Rachel will they be home soon? Hey what about Buck and Cody? Do they still come around?" Kid deftly changed the subject.
Lou was saved from answering by the sound of an approaching wagon. Rachel and Teaspoon arrived together but separately; Rachel drove the wagon while Teaspoon rode his horse. They both spotted Kid at the same time and yet another happy but tearful reunion followed.
"Kid, you're alive! Let me look at you, you're too skinny, but we can fix that. How did you find us? We sent you letters at first but they all stared coming back after only a few months and then we stopped hearing from you at all....." Rachel hadn't stopped hugging the sandy haired former rider since she'd laid eyes on him.
"Hey give the boy a break, Rachel, besides I'd like to have a go at him myself." Teaspoon stepped up and wrapped Kid in one of his bone crunching hugs. Kid grunted as Teaspoon squeezed all the air out of his lungs. The three men continued to catch up on the past two and a half years while Rachel left the group to help Lou with dinner.
Kid started his story again for the others at dinner and soon reached the point where he'd left off with Lou. They had eaten dessert and moved to the parlor before he continued. "I was lying in the hospital and they thought I was dying so they went through my things and found the letters with the address of the nurse I was telling you about, you know the one that helped me when I was hit at Gettysburg?" Everyone nodded and Kid continued. Someone sent her a message saying I'd been hurt and that she needed to come if at all possible; they thought she was my wife." Lou groaned and rolled her eyes. "Lou I thought we were broken up, are you upset?"
"Oh, no Kid, we were over, it's not that, it's something else entirely.....lets just say it sounds really familiar" Lou's thoughts were interrupted again by the sound of another wagon in the door yard.
Rachel had just risen to see who it was when running footsteps came up the front stairs and a loud knock on the front door caused everyone to jump. Rachel opened the door to find two young people she had never laid eyes on before.
"Could we see Louise McCloud please?" The young man asked politely; a petite girl of maybe twelve or thirteen stood slightly behind him nodding.
"Jeremiah! Jeremiah is that you?" Lou jumped up and ran to the front door. "Teresa, Oh my God, I've missed you so much." Lou hugged her siblings to her and then looked up to see Buck smiling at her from beside the wagon. He'd unloaded two carpet bags and placed them on the porch.
"They hitched a ride with the preacher and met me half way. I didn't think you'd mind if I brought them home a day early." Buck smiled as he watched Lou fuss over her brother and sister.
"Thank-you Buck, hurry and take care of the horse, Kid's home too!" Lou gushed as she hugged Teresa once more. Kid stepped into view behind Lou and slipped an arm around her waist and waved to Buck. "Hey Buck its good to see you."
Without thinking Lou turned to Kid and kissed his cheek. "I'm so happy to have all of you home."
Buck swallowed hard and forced a smile back on his face. "Hey Kid its great to see you! If it's ok with all of you I'm beat, I'll catch up with you all tomorrow." He didn't wait for an answer he just led the tired horse toward the barn.
"Is Buck OK?" Kid looked bewildered he'd hoped for a better reception from his friend.
"He was on the road before sun up so he's probably is exhausted. He expected to stay over night at the orphanage, he'll be is usual cheery self in the morning." She'd missed the hurt look on his face as he turned away. Lou directed her siblings into the parlor after Jeremiah retrieved their bags and put them in the spare room where they would stay for the next couple of nights.
Once everyone was seated again and the kids were finishing up the apple pie Teaspoon turned to Kid. "You were saying the hospital contacted that nurse......"
"Oh yeah, her name is Flora, anyway Flora remembered me and she came to stay with me and nurse me back to health. The hospital in Tennessee was happy to have her there and she said she needed a change of scenery. Lou, don't be mad at me and I hope you've moved on with your life too but one thing led to another and Flora and I were married two months ago at her parents' home in Fredericksburg, Maryland. I think you'll like her." Kid looked at everyone, especially Lou, and saw bewildered smiles. Lou's hand was resting on her stomach and Kid again wondered if she wasn't telling him something. He thought again, for a fleeting instant, that she looked pregnant but dismissed it when he didn't see a ring on her hand and she hadn't mentioned a husband. Jimmy was seeing someone and Buck was too distant.
"Son if you're married where is your bride? Don't tell me you came all this way with that bum leg alone?" Teaspoon looked at Kid as if he'd gone crazy.
"She's back at the hotel in town. I told her I needed to see everyone and tell you all about her before I introduced her to you. I hope you're not upset with me?" Kid looked directly at Lou as he finished.
Lou stood up and threw her arms around Kid. "This is wonderful news, Kid. I'm happy for you and Flora. I hope you'll bring her by tomorrow so we can all meet her."
Kid hugged Lou back and kissed the top of her head. "Thank-you I'll do that."
No one saw the lonely figure that watched Lou hugging Kid through the open curtains from the door yard as he walked backed to the bunkhouse from the barn. The night was still warm for late October but Buck felt a chill that cut right through him. Buck's shoulders slumped and he hung his head and sighed; a single tear fell down his cheek. He closed the door behind him, undressed quickly, climbed into his bunk and pulled Ike's pillow tightly against his chest. He was sure he'd lost Lou and the baby to Kid. "First my brother, then Ike, now Lou and my baby, can't I ever have something I love stay mine?" Buck asked out loud to the night.
"Sunday is Lou's birthday and we're going to have a little party, we'd love it if you could come, Kid, you and Flora." Rachel asked as she and Teaspoon congratulated Kid.
"I thought Louise and Buck were getting married on Sunday?" Teresa asked loudly. The room went silent and Kid looked shocked.
"You and Buck?" Kid stammered, "I thought....."
"I still need to talk to Buck about that Sugar Bear but don't you worry. You'll get to wear that pretty dress I made for you." Lou hugged the young girl as Rachel stared at her back.
"Louise McCloud just what do you remember?" Rachel asked. They had told Kid about Lou's memory loss and its return just a couple of days ago but left out some major details while the new arrivals were being fed.
"It's still in bits and pieces but when we were at the house I remembered a lot of things; mostly impressions and feelings but its becoming stronger. I'll talk to Buck privately in the morning." Lou turned her attention back to Kid. "When do you have to go back to the army?"
"I'm out, for me the war is over. I'm looking for a place to finish healing. It was too dangerous for me to stay in Maryland and Virginia is a mess. I was hoping there might be someplace around here; I'd like to be close to family." Kid stated hopefully.
"I think that just might be arranged. You come back for dinner tomorrow with your wife and we'll discuss your options." Teaspoon rose and shook Kid's hand again. "These old bones are calling for their bed so I'm going to call it a night. It's good to have you home Kid." Teaspoon headed for his room.
Kid remained standing. "I'd better get going too before Flora thinks I've fallen into a ditch or something."
"OK, Kid but you be here for supper tomorrow and plan on Sunday too. I can't wait to meet your bride." Rachel kissed his cheek and hugged him again.
Lou shooed the kids upstairs. "I'll be right up, get changed for bed, now, you've had a long day. We can make Sunday a real day of celebration, your wedding, my birthday and maybe ....... I need to talk to Buck..."
"He's a good man Lou; he'll take good care of you. I really thought you'd marry Jimmy though...." Kid smiled in Jimmy's direction.
"Nah, I couldn't handle her, OWW!" Jimmy deflected a pillow Lou tossed at him and laughed. "I'm just teasing Lou. I'll hitch up your wagon and ride into town with you, Kid; I want to have a little time for myself over at the saloon." Jimmy winked at Lou and she rolled her eyes. "Buck's better at dodging pillows than I am...."
Kid and Jimmy had been gone almost an hour when Lou finally went to bed. Again she tossed and turned and couldn't get Buck out of her mind. She'd hurt him badly simply by gaining her memory back and losing their time together. The more she thought about it the more she realized that seeing Kid with his arm around her had hurt him too. She finally got up out of bed and left the house walking in the direction of the bunkhouse. She hadn't heard Jimmy come back yet so there was a good chance Buck was still alone. She quietly opened the door and saw him laying there asleep, clutching his pillow against him, cradling it. Lou had the sudden memory that this was the way he used to hold her when she slept; this was why she couldn't sleep. She'd only meant to see if he was awake and talk to him but another idea took shape.
Lou carefully removed the pillow from Buck's arms and gently took the pillow's place. Buck was sleeping on his side and Lou did the same facing him. He mumbled something in his sleep and stirred only slightly. It was as if he knew she was there. He smiled in his sleep and nuzzled the top of her head. Lou smiled and together they had the best night's sleep either had had in a few days.
Jimmy chose to stay in town and when the sun began to lighten the bunkhouse walls Buck opened his eyes and blinked; his arm was asleep. He looked down at it when he couldn't move and blinked again; he had to be dreaming, Lou was beside him nestled into his arms with her head on his chest. He caressed her hair and realized he really was awake. Lou looked up at him as she slowly woke too. "Good morning, Buck...." She whispered and kissed his chest. He blinked and hugged her a little tighter. "Know what?" Buck shook his head. "I remembered something."
"Hmm, is it a good something?" Buck asked almost afraid to breathe.
"I hope so, it will be if what you said to me the other morning was the truth..... I love you Buck Cross and I want to be your wife." Lou sat up sideways then leaned across him so she was almost lying on Buck's chest.
Buck wrapped his arms around her and kissed her so deeply they had to break off the kiss to breathe. "I love you Lou, yesterday, today and tomorrow!" He bent his head up to hers again and they kissed passionately again until Lou broke the kiss.
"You child doesn't like being in the middle. He keeps kicking me!" Lou moved more onto her side in the cramped cot.
"I wish I could feel the baby move. Rachel said it's still too small for that so I'll have to be patient." Buck kissed the top of Lou's head again as they heard a horse ride in. "Sounds like Jimmy's horse, did he stay out all night?" Buck wondered aloud as he looked over at the empty bunk Jimmy usually slept in.
"Yeah, it's time to get up anyway. You and I have a lot to talk about before Sunday, let's go over to our house today and do that.... OK?" Lou asked as she sat up.
"Sounds like a plan to me...." Buck said as he got up and started dressing. This time Lou watched. She was buttoning his shirt when Jimmy came in.
"Whoa, what did I miss??? Figures I never get to watch....." Jimmy teased and ducked as two pillows sailed across the room at him.
Rachel didn't miss the happy sight of Buck and Lou walking together from the bunkhouse hand in hand. She wondered why Lou was still in her night clothes but dismissed the thought when she saw that the young couple appeared happy; Buck was actually smiling. Buck kissed Lou at the front gate and turned toward the barn and his morning chores; Lou was humming as she entered the house and climbed the stairs to get dressed.
"You're in a really good mood this morning....I saw you and Buck outside, are things better between you two?" Rachel smiled as she watched Lou blush. She wondered what had gone on in the bunkhouse last night. "Will Buck be moving back into the house?"
"I slept the whole night; I finally figured out what was missing, Buck's arms....I don't know if he should move back in or not. We're going to go over to our house today and talk. I realized last night when Kid hugged me and I kissed him it was different. I know I used to believe I loved Kid but I don't think I was ever in love with Kid. I think I'm in love with Buck." Lou beckoned Rachel over to the dressing table. "Could you do my hair for me? Does what I'm saying make any sense? Rachel, when Buck kissed me this morning it was magic, my whole body tingled right down to my toes!" Lou blushed as her eyes met Rachel's in the mirror.
"You used to say he took your breath away sometimes with just a look.... I'd say some of those feelings are poking back into your memory." Rachel smiled at Lou in the mirror as she pinned her hair up. "You seemed genuinely happy for Kid last night, were you? All set, lets go get breakfast started before the boys get in."
Lou and Rachel left the room and headed toward the kitchen talking the whole way. "I surprised myself, Rachel I was actually relieved to hear he was married. Its kinda funny I remember thinkin' after he left that I hoped he'd come back to me and we could have a future but last night I realized that I was happy with the way things have turned out. I'll be honest though if that kiss was anything like the way Buck and I are together....well.....wow...how could I have forgotten making this little one?" Both Rachel and Lou laughed; Lou was blushing again and rubbing her tummy.
"Hmm...just where was Jimmy during all of this kissing?" Rachel giggled. "Don't tell me he slept through it...."
"RACHEL!! It was just two kisses and he didn't come home until after sunup." Lou was blushing as she scrambled the eggs and added her secret ingredient, cheese.
Rachel laughed, "I wish you could see how red your face is...I'm glad you're remembering some of the feelings that you and Buck have for each other. He was miserable thinking you'd forgotten him."
"I just have one question. If Buck loves me so much why wasn't he willing to fight for me? He could have just said that morning that I was his and that was that. He told me he'd leave and never come back....." Lou picked the last pieces of bacon and turned them over in the pan.
"Remember Lou, he loves you so much he was willing to let you have a life without him, that's true love. He'd never force you to do something you didn't want to do and that's how he looks at marrying you. He probably thought that you still wanted Kid when he walked in too. Have you told him Kid's married yet?" Rachel asked as she took the biscuits out of the oven.
"Hmm, I didn't think of it that way and no, I don't think we discussed Kid at all." Lou finished setting the table as the back door opened and the boys arrived for breakfast.
"What about Kid?" Buck asked as he took his seat.
No one answered right away, Buck filled his coffee mug and took a sip when Jimmy replied, "He's married, 'bout two months I think he said." Buck choked on his coffee. "Problem Buck?"
"Kid's married and didn't tell anyone? Was she, I mean his wife, here last night too? Ahh, speaking of last night aren't we missing somebody?" Buck recovered enough to speak but looked at Lou and raised an eyebrow.
"I let them sleep I'll feed them later. When do you want to go over to our new house?" Lou smiled not sure what the eyebrow was for.
"How about right after lunch? I have some things I need to take care of here and then I still have some things to do over there before you can move in." Buck didn't eat much before he declared himself done and asked to be excused.
After Buck left the house and the rest were finishing their breakfast Jimmy looked at Lou. "I knew he was going to take the news about Kid the wrong way. I think he feels like he's just someone you're settling for not someone you care about."
"But, but that's not right. Rachel what did I tell you a few minutes ago upstairs?" Lou looked upset now; Jimmy's words made a lot of sense.
"I don't know what you told Rachel, sweetheart, but I think when you and Buck go over to that house today you best tell him exactly how you feel." Teaspoon said wiping the crumbs from his lips.
Everyone was finished with breakfast when Jeremiah, followed closely by Teresa, came downstairs rubbing sleep from their eyes. "You two sit, I'll have your breakfast in a minute. I'll get those Rachel you don't want to be late...." Lou took the dirty dishes from Rachel and placed them in the sink.
The rest of the morning went by quickly and Lou didn't see Buck again until just before lunch. Her siblings needed to get settled in and spent the morning exploring their new home; both were surprised to find they were living in the same house as their school teacher and that they would be starting school the following day. Lou told each of them they were expected to do chores around the home and exactly what they would be. Jeremiah stunned Lou when he told her that Buck had said almost exactly the same thing to them on their way to Sweetwater. "Buck said you'd talked about what we would be doing now that we lived with you and him. He said he'd teach me all about horses and taking care of a ranch if I was interested. Buck didn't go to no school everyday and he was on his own when he was sixteen. I'm gonna be fourteen so why start now?"
"Where did you get the idea I didn't go to school?" Buck must have over heard the conversation as he approached the kitchen door.
"You're an Indian, everyone knows Indians ain't able to read nor write..." Jeremiah wasn't so sure of himself now.
"I'm half Kiowa and many Indian's both read and write. I spent almost four years in a mission school before I got too old to be there. I didn't learn to read or write in English until I was about your age but I learned, I think you'll get a lot out of going to school, Rachel's a great teacher." Buck took his place at the table and sipped a glass of water he'd poured for himself.
"And just for your information young man, Buck speaks three languages, four if you count Indian sign and he's very good at sums and such so he'll be helping you with your homework......" Lou stood in front of Jeremiah with her hands on her hips and a no nonsense look on her face.
"But I want to learn to shoot a gun and ride a horse and...." Jeremiah stopped when he noticed both Lou and Buck looking at him. "Ok, OK, I get it, school first then the good stuff." Teresa, who had been silent the whole time just smiled. Buck and Lou looked at each other and laughed.
Lou and Teresa put lunch on the table and the conversation turned to the planned trip over to the house.
The afternoon was pleasant and the walk to the house was anything but quiet. Lou's siblings chattered insistently, Teresa didn't remember living anywhere but the orphanage and Jeremiah barely remembered ever living anywhere else. Lou reached for Buck's hand; he resisted slightly at first but finally laced his fingers through hers. When they reached the house the chatter stopped as the kids saw their home for the first time. Buck looked at Lou and smiled, by some unspoken command they unlaced their fingers and wrapped their arms around each other's waist.
"It's open, go on inside and look around. Your bedrooms are upstairs on the right I don't care who gets what but the big one down on the end is Lou's and the little one beside it is the.....the two on the left aren't finished yet." Buck caught himself before he said the baby's room. He didn't know if Lou had told them she was going to be a mother yet.
After the two teenagers had run into the house Lou turned to Buck. "Why didn't you say that big bedroom was ours?"
"You haven't told me what you want me to do yet. I moved my things out of the house so it's all yours. I've got five days until your birthday to finish the upstairs then you can move in. I moved a few things around this morning so you'll have to let me know what else you want done before you move in. I was hoping we could have your birthday party over here, you know sort of a combination birthday and housewarming all at once." Buck and Lou laughed as the kids poked their heads out various windows to say hello. "I guess that means they like it!" Buck laughed as Lou led him to the swing. "Don't you want to go inside?"
"Rachel showed me around yesterday, I liked it just the way it was, with your things in OUR room so I'll expect to see them back where you want them when we move in. Buck, last night I know I hurt you when I kissed Kid. I wasn't thinking. I was just so happy to have everyone I love home safe. I thought I'd be upset that Kid was married but I was actually happy for him. I love Kid I won't deny that but it's the same kind of love I have for Cody and Jimmy. I'm in love with you Buck Cross and I'm having your baby to prove it! I want you to move back to the house with me until this house is done and then we all move in here, together, as a family. I'd love to have the party here too. You still do want to marry me don't you?" Lou looked deep into Buck's eyes and saw only love reflected back at her. He didn't answer in words he leaned forward and drew her head toward his, never taking his eyes off hers. Their lips met and both sighed.
The kiss was broken only when Jeremiah came crashing out of the house onto the porch, saw the couple kissing and said "Oh Yuck!" Buck and Lou bust out laughing.
"Buck, I know you and Kid were planning to do this ranch together before he left for the war, have you thought about it now he's here?" Lou asked when she stopped laughing.
"This was always meant to be a partnership Lou, its as much mine as it is his; except for this house. I bought the land from the bank and it's ours." Buck stood up and offered Lou his hand. "I'll find a time to sit down and talk with Kid and see what his plans are when he gets out of the Army and away from this stupid war."
"He's been badly injured Buck and he's out. He can barely walk, he said last night that he was looking for a place to heal up and make a home. He as much as said he'd like to settle back here." Lou followed Buck around to the back of the house. Buck only nodded and said nothing so Lou continued. "He'll be at dinner tonight with Flora, that's his wife, maybe you two could talk then."
"Ok, good idea, how's this sound.....We'll be in here by the end of the week, Kid and Flora, did I get her name right?" Lou nodded. "They can move in with Rachel I know she wasn't looking forward to living alone in the big house. I can do a lot of the physical labor on the ranch and he can do the other parts like sales, going to auctions, whatever he can do or wants to do, sound OK? Do you think he'll go for it?" Buck was holding her hand and gave it a little squeeze.
"I think that sounds great, I'll be busy with the baby soon so maybe he can take over some of the paper work I'm doing now?" Lou looked at Buck hopefully.
"You really hate doing that don't you?" Buck teased.... "Are you sure you didn't plan this baby just to get out of paperwork? Hey you remembered the paperwork, are you remembering everything?"
Lou grinned "Just bits and pieces but it just comes and snap I remember something. How many kids do you want? I'll have a dozen if I can avoid those books, sums and such are your strong points not mine!"
"Hmmmm, what did Kid say when you told him about the baby?" Buck kissed her forehead.
"I was hoping we could tell him together. You should have seen his face when he discovered I was with you. Teresa just blurted out that she thought I was supposed to marry you on Sunday when I said it might only be a birthday party, it was funny. He agrees you're a better match for me than Jimmy and he was relieved I think...."
Lou realized that they had stopped under a giant willow tree and were surrounded by the leaves which fell all the way into the water and gently caressed the earth when the soft breeze stirred them. Buck took her hands in his and dropped to one knee. "I want you to be sure that this is what you want, I want you to remember US and the love we have. I love you more than I have words for in any language. I want you to be my wife, will you marry me?" Buck stunned Lou with his little speech and she looked into his sincere face with the deep soulful brown eyes and slightly parted lips just waiting for her answer. She'd never see a more handsome man. The baby broke the momentary lapse of speech and gave a little kick as if to say 'Well, answer him...'
"I love you too, Buck. I'd be honored to become Mrs. Buck Cross." Lou was suddenly swept off her feet and into Buck's strong arms as he kissed her with as much passion as she'd ever known. When Buck finally returned her to the ground she was slightly dizzy. "I can't wait for our wedding night.....So is Sunday still on?"
"I was hoping you'd say that!" Buck kissed her again and would have continued if they hadn't heard the kids calling for them.
"We better head back. I've got a dinner to cook and a wedding to plan" Lou stood on tip toe and kissed his nose.
(The End, for now)
A/N Many, many heartfelt thanks to my faithful beta Leah without whom this story would never have been finished.