Note: Some of the dialogue and ideas in this story are not my own work. They are borrowed from the episodes "The Kid," "Lady for a Night," "Ghosts," and "Initiation."

Prologue

Virginia, 1857

"I got you the money. Why do you have to leave?" begged the young woman.

Despair evident in the lad's voice, he expressed, "I can't stay here. There's too many memories." Looking towards his old shack of a house, he continued, "Too many bad memories."

"There are a few good memories. Aren't those worth staying for?" pleaded the young lady with tears streaming down her face.

"Those memories I'll keep in my heart. They ain't goin' anywhere. Please understand why I have to leave. I'm not gonna be able to find work here. The money will cover my mama's debts, not give me ownership to the land. I have no place to call home." He took the maiden into his arms and embraced her.

"You could always stay at my place."

"Your daddy would never allow that," he whispered in her ear. "He'll kill me if he ever found out about the money you gave me anyways. I promise I'll find a place for us. I'll earn enough money, find us a little plot of land, and I'll send for ya. Then we can get married and finally have a life of our own. No Daddy, no Garth, no bad memories to hamper our life together. We'll finally have a home. I promise."

Home is what this young man desired the most. He grew up with an abusive father who thankfully walked out on them. A brother who was constantly in trouble with the law. This same brother also took off one day, declaring he was searching for work. Money however, never showed up. This young teen endured the responsibility of farming and trying to care for his sickly mother. His mother lost much of her strength due to the beatings she had herself received from her husband. This teenager believed that as long as he had his Mama, he was home. He no longer had that home. It was ripped out from underneath him. His heart felt like it was buried under six feet of cold hard earth with his mother.

"Home is where your heart is son. Home is a place where you're shrouded in love. Home is where you experience a sense of belongin'. Always remember that. I'm sorry that you haven't always had a chance to experience a real home." His mama's voice echoed in the mind of the15 year old as he was

parting his young girlfriend. The young man never received love from his father, but he always felt at home because of his mama's unconditional and showering love. Now he was in search for his own home. A place where his heart could feel peace, love, and belonging.

As the youth continued his hold on the girl, he felt hallow and empty. The youth thought it was ironic that he didn't feel at home with his love in his arms. He shrugged off the feeling, rationalizing that it was just the circumstances. He would feel at home with her when he actually had a physical structure that they could entitle "home."

With that, the young sweethearts kissed and parted. "Wait Kid, I have something for you." The young blond woman removed from her blouse a light green broach, about the size of a small biscuit, cast in a gold frame. "Something to remember me by."

Kid kissed the broach in front of Doritha and put it in his shirt pocket. "I'll keep it close to my heart ‘til I see you again."

Chapter One

St. Joe, 1858

"What? You don't need me anymore?" asked Kid.

Carl, the store owner, admitted, "That's what I said. You're a hard worker Kid, but I don't need a stock boy anymore. With my son coming of age, he can do the work. As much as I hate to lose you, I'll save more with my son working."

"What am I going to do?"

"Drift on to the next job. That's how you found me."

A drifter, that's all this store owner thought of the Kid. Kid's mind raced. He loathed the word drifter. A drifter was someone without a home. Unfortunately, Carl spoke truth. In frustration, Kid snaked his hands through his hair. He had spent the last year traveling from job to job. He'd save a little money, but waste it on his endeavors to find new work. He felt defeated by the fact that he couldn't hold a steady job. Either the work he'd find was temporary, or it just didn't suit him. He tried his hand at dishwashing, shoveling manure, and chopping down trees. Nothing felt right. He felt obliged to Doritha to find work fast. But at the same time, he couldn't see himself providing for her with a job that he despised. He knew from his own father the despair that came with being unhappy by the way one earned a living.

Carl handed Kid several coins. "Here's your final wages. My wife packed you up a nice lunch for the road."

"Thank you, sir."

Kid walked out of the storehouse, head hung low, shoulders slumped. He was defeated. The broach hit his chest as he meandered across town towards the local newspaper. The broach was beginning to be a burden. Extra weight that intensified with each passing second. Every time Kid thought about it, he knew he was that much further from keeping his promise to Doritha. Further devastating, was the idea of not obtaining a home sooner.

On his journey towards the newspaper office, he had to pass the local brothel. In all reality, it was a fine establishment. Unlike some of the shady ones he'd seen on his travels out west. It was built like a hotel,offering the latest in fine dining. The saloon attached never allowed the bums to enter. It was a high society brothel. However, Kid always detested passing it. Even at a young age, he understood what took place in such establishments. Remembering the suffering his father inflicted on his own mother, he shuddered that women would have to succumb to such brutal control and circumstances. In a way, he understood these women. They had no place to call home either. This was their way of belonging. His mother raised him to be a gentleman, therefore he politely refused the offers when he was approached. Not that he received very many. Most of the girls stayed inside the establishment.

On one occasion he saw the back of a young girl, with long mahogany hair hanging to her waist, fastening laundry. This is why he loathed the place. The girl couldn't have been more than 14 years of age. Kid knew that eventually her innocence would be stolen away from her. He yearned to go over and tell her to escape, and escape now. His conscience led him towards her, but as he approached the girl, the owner caught site of him and stared him down. With cold hard eyes, he threatened the Kid. His menacing gaze along with his hand on the butt of his gun was the only threat delivered. Kid understood. Regretfully, he pulled away and continued on his business.

Today, he did not see the girl. He imagined her slipping out with night's cloak to protect her. He prayed she was safe and not surviving a life of horror. Continuing his conquered pace towards the newspaper office, Kid hoped they would have job listings. At least that would give him a place to start searching for a home.

When Kid arrived, Mr. Matthew MacCallister, the newspaper editor, greeted him with a warm friendly smile.

"What can I do for you today lad?"

"I was wonderin' if you had any job openings, sir."

Matthew's eyes saddened, "Nope, all positions are filled. You seem strong enough. The signs of a hard worker. I'm sorry that I couldn't offer you anything."

The news sent Kid into a swirling mist of frustration. He sat down on the nearest bench and tears he wasn't even aware of, sprang forth from his eyes. They burned as they cascaded down his chapped, weather worn cheeks.

Matthew MacCallister took pity on the boy. "I tell you what. I just got a notice from a Sutter's Ranch outside of St. Louis who's looking for help. I wasn't supposed to post it until tomorrow. But seeing that the next stage doesn't leave until tomorrow, I don't see any harm of informing you of it today."

The mist evaporated from Kid's mind. Hope surged through Kid's entire body. A feeling that he'd long forgotten. Immediately he stood up and shook the editor's hand whole heartedly. "Thank you!"

Chapter Two

The Next Morning

Kid tossed and turned all night. He'd wake up in fear that he'd missed the eastbound stage for St. Louis. The adrenalin rush always woke his fitful rest. Since he was trying to save money, Kid always slept in the livery, with the hay as his mattress. The owner only charged him 2 dollars a month for his keep. Overall, the people in St. Joe were friendly and willing to help out when needed. Many towns along his journey weren't as kind. There were countless nights sleeping out under the stars. Countless, sleepless nights trying to stay warm. Not wanting to miss the stage leaving at 10:00 a.m., Kid woke when the roosters crowed.

Kid mucked the stalls of the livery as a "thank you" to the owner. Rolling up his bed roll and carrying a small bag that held his only earthy possessions, he left the livery. This morning's destination was the

Mercantile. He would need food and supplies for the 300 mile trip. This wasn't going to be a quick trek. It would take over a week to cover that much ground. He wasn't too excited about the prospect of heading eastward again. The farther west he traveled, the farther away his memories were. But the prospect of holding a steady job was enlightening his spirit.

"Hey Kid, I thought I told you didn't have a job here anymore," Carl said a bit confused. He had a furrowed brow as he wondered why Kid was at his door before the store opened.

"I'm not here for work, sir. I'm here to get some supplies. I'm movin' on. I'll need stage passage to St. Louis please." While Carl readied Kid's passage, Kid picked up two fresh oranges–rare for those parts, hard tack, biscuits, and a little cheese. He figured he could pick up more supplies on stops along the way. He quickly paid Carl and was out the door by 8:30 a.m. He spent the rest of morning sitting on the bench in front of the Mercantile. That's where the stage would stop.

The stage was known for being punctual. At 9:58, at least according to Carl, the rusty red stage pulled in. A grungy cowboy stepped out of the carriage, along with a weather worn grandma. St. Joe was their stop. A recently young married couple was already on the stage. Kid threw his bedroll and small bag to the stagecoach master. He kept his food and water canteen with him. At 10:00 the stage started to pull out of town when a female's voice pierced the air.

"Please wait!! You have one more coming." Kid recognized the woman. She had dark brown hair all tied to the top of her head. Her dress was that of a prostitute. He had seen her outside many times while he passed the brothel. However, she never approached him. If he'd catch her eye, she'd smile at him. But from the looks of things, Kid swore she was trying to spy on someone else as if protecting her young.

A puny young man ran behind her. Kid believed it was the prostitute's latest customer. But when the young man stepped inside the coach, he thought differently. This was no man, but a boy. The prostitute held the boy's hand through the window.

"Now take care of yourself. You're strong. I know you'll make me proud. Remember our dream," the harlot gushed.

The voice trembled, "Will I ever see you again?"

"Of course. I gotta go, if he finds out what I've done..."

"Thanks for everything." By this time tears started seeping down this boy's face. He looked back to find the couple and a 16 year old staring at him. Immediately, he wiped the tears away with his oversized pin striped sleeve. Kid reckoned the mistress must have been this kid's sister.

Within a matter of two minutes the stage was moving along. Kid finally examined his cabin mate. He judged him to be around 14. His chestnut, rounded hat was a little big for him, thus covering his eyes. The boy had silver, wire rimmed glasses, that contained deep brown eyes behind them. The boy's hair matched that of his eyes. He wore a tan leather vest and his pants covered well past his boots. What concerned Kid the most was the dark purple and blue bruise that traced the boy's entire face. A split lip only matched the beating that this youngster suffered. Kid figured he was only viewing the "visible" scars. He gathered that there were more bruises underneath the boy's clothing. Memories flashed past Kid's eyes of the beatings that he'd endured from his own father. Even though the physical scars healed, emotional ones continued to linger. The same was probably true for the lad next to him.

Pushing his memories away, he extended his hand to the chap, "Hello. Name's Kid."

The fellow never acknowledged Kid's extended hand. Instead he shrunk back into his seat and leaned as close as he could to the side of the cabin. For four hours the lad stared out the window without moving a muscle.

During this time, Kid discovered that the married couple across from him were on their way to St. Louis to meet the groom's family. The conversation dragged on and Kid knew way too much than he cared for about this couple. When the couple turned to each other, Kid felt uncomfortable for two reasons. First, his haunting promise to Doritha nagged like the fly that wouldn't shoo. Second, the intimacy between the couple was nauseating.

For the first time, Kid noticed the lad shift as well. He could tell that the couple's cooing was bothersome to the youngster. He wanted to strike up a conversation with him, but he knew he'd get the evil shrug off again. Trying to occupy his mind with something else, Kid ate some of his cheese and biscuits. At this point, the couple also brought out their food.

In all the hustle of the morning, the lad forgot to obtain his own food. He turned occasionally and hungrily stared at the food the other's were eating. Kid picked up on his clues. Not to offend him by saying anything, Kid just slid over a biscuit, cheese, and one of the oranges. The boy took notice, nodded his head in thanks, and ate quietly with his head down.

When Kid pulled out his water canteen he wolfed half of it down. He hadn't realized how dusty the trip would be. The water soothed his thirst as well as washing out his dusty windpipes. He wanted to finish it entirely, but knew the boy next to him didn't have the simple necessity of water. Once again, he maneuvered the canteen towards him. The boy timidly took the canteen. He voraciously drank the water. In a cool voice the boy said, "My name's Lou. My ma's dead. And I couldn't care less where my father is."

Kid chuckled to himself as to not offend the boy. He knew Lou only added the part about his ma and pa because he felt that he owed something to the Kid for sharing his food. Kid stated, "Well look at that. We both have somethin' in common. My ma past away a year ago, and I ain't given a thought to where my pa is since the day he ran out." Seeing a small smile creep on Lou's lips, Kid flashed a wide smile in return. Kid knew this boy was starting to trust him. Somehow he could feel that earning Lou's trust would be difficult, but worth it.

During the course of the trip, Kid and Lou became friends. Lou's bruises healed slowly, and the "visible" signs were starting to fade. Kid discovered that Lou was the oldest and that he was looking for work to support his siblings. They were in an orphanage back in St. Joe. Basically Lou shared Kid's dream--a place to call home and be with loved ones. Kid wanted to ask about the bruises and who the prostitute was, but something inside warned him not to tread over that water.

In return, Kid opened up to Lou about his mama, pa, and his promise to Doritha. Surprise flowed from Kid's face when a longing look appeared in Lou's eyes when he spoke of Doritha. Kid promised him that he'd find a woman just as wonderful. That this woman would be honored to raise Lou's siblings as her own. Kid never asked why Lou gave a slight chuckle at his unbelievable comment.

The discovery that they were both headed for the Sutter Ranch in St. Louis excited the two teens. The thought of their friendship continuing past the current journey brought a sense of belonging to each other. For the first time since he left Virginia, Kid had a friend.

Kid noticed that Lou was an avid reader. Since he had only basic reading skills, Lou tutored him during the unending journey. They read about merciless gunfighters in an old dime novel. Kid connected with Dickens' David Copperfield. David endured the hatred of his step-father and yearned for a place to belong. Kid endured his own father's hatred, as well as a desire to belong. Lou had to help him read the Dickens' novel, for some of the words were a bit out of his understanding. Kid questioned if he felt

the same longing for Doritha as David did for Agnes. Most of all, Kid enjoyed his friendship with Lou. He was grateful for his companionship and delighted in the knowledge that the friendship would continue.

Finally, St. Louis was on the horizon. Energy, excitement, and enthusiasm engulfed the two teens. As they loaded off the stage, they wished the married couple well. Kid and Lou rushed in anticipation towards the livery. They rented two horses and received instructions on how to get to the Sutter Ranch. Upon their arrival, neither expected the news that befell them.

A dirt streaked cowhand declared, "The boss only needs one of ya. All the other positions are filled."

Kid and Lou stared at each other.

"Then neither of us are interested," a determined Lou proclaimed.

"Whatever suits your gander. You're not the only ones lookin' for work."

Kid pulled Lou aside, "Lou, are you crazy? You should take the job."

"But Kid, we planned to do this together."

"I don't need the job as bad as you do. You need to get your brother and sister out of that orphanage. From what you told me, life in the orphanage is no life at all. Besides, I can always find another job. Heck that's what I've been doin' the past year."

Lou hung his head down in defeat. He regretted taking the job from Kid, but he also knew that Kid would not back down. "But then I would be deserting you."

"Nah, I'm a born drifter. I'll be fine." Kid was shocked that he actually used the word drifter. However, he knew those were the only words that would console Lou.

Intimidation entered Lou's voice. "Kid, I'm afraid. I'm afraid to do it by myself."

Kid saw the fear emanating from Lou's eyes. He often forgot that the boy was two years younger than him. Lou was still a child. "Now look, your friend in St. Joe said you were strong. I believe that too. How could two of us be wrong? You're gonna make her proud. Now buck up and show them you're a man, not a kid."

Lou tried to hide the laughter building inside, but couldn't control it. He started to snicker uncontrollably.

Kid felt like he was missing some kind of inside joke. "Why are you laughing Lou?"

His chuckles dissipated. "You're not a man yet. You're still a kid. Get it? The Kid?"

Kid found his own last statement rather amusing, but not to the extent to which Lou expressed. There was something Lou was hiding, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"Hey mister," Lou yelled. "I'll take the last job."

"Follow me then," the cowhand answered.

Lou shook Kid's hand. "Thanks for everything. I owe you a lot."

"You don't owe me nothin' Lou."

"Ya I do. You've shared everything with me, including hope. Just when I thought I had lost it. I hope that you find your dream."

"You're welcome Lou. You'd best get goin'. Maybe we'll bump into each other again someday."

"I hope so Kid. ‘Bye."

"Bye, Lou."

Chapter Three

Nebraska Territory, 1859

Kid lay in the mud, beaten to a pulp, his money and horse stolen. He didn't feel much pain, for he was drunk as a skunk. The only possessions the thieves left were the brown pants, tattered white shirt, and leather vest he wore. He had started pinning the broach inside the hidden pocket of his brown vest back in St. Louis. As Kid moaned he felt the lump inside his vest. He cursed.

"Why couldn't you have found the danged broach too, and rid me of my burden?" No one but the rats in the alley way heard his cry.

After leaving St. Louis, Kid had to get as far west as he could. Returning eastward to St. Louis was a big emotional mistake. It only caused the broach to hit harder against his chest. However, there were two good things that came from the trip. First, was meeting Lou. Unfortunately, Kid's friendship with him was ripped away just like everything else in Kid's life. Second, he finally found a constant companion who would always stay by his side–his faithful horse Katy.

On his way back to St. Louis, he wandered the streets. Hunger filled his belly and the desire to find work gnawed on his bones. Spending his last saved dollar on the horse rental to go to Sutters Ranch, Kid was broke. When he returned the horses that Lou and he borrowed, he fell in love. In the livery was a beautiful brown and white paint mare. Kid connected with the animal as did the animal with him. As if floating, he found himself approaching the horse.

"She's twenty-five dollars. You can't afford her, so no touching," came a gruff voice from within the shadows.

"What if I worked for her?"

"Don't need anyone workin' for me. So git on out of here."

Kid left with a mission in mind. He had to get that horse. While straggling the streets he noticed a professional Irish boxer named Johnny McClarnen. He was entertaining the crowded streets as well as making a profit on the bets that were placed. If any man was left standing in the ring with him after three minutes, their prize was $30 dollars. Kid could have Katy, along with a nice meal to fill his belly.

Kid knew how to fight. He and his brother Jed would fist fight quite often growing up. Jed wanted to teach Kid how to protect himself. Kid learned how to duck at swings, and find the opponents weaknesses within seconds. Eventually, the lessons paid off and Kid became a skilled fighter. Kid no

longer took his father's abuse, and began defending himself. It was not long after that his father walked out on the family.

Although Johnny McClarnen's size and strength dominated Kid's, Kid was able to out maneuver him during the first 2 minutes of the match. People mocked him saying he was running away from the fight. Others cheered and praised his orchestrated motions. During the fight, Kid was hit several times.

With 30 seconds left, Johnny threw a left hook into Kid's unsuspecting face and a right punch to his stomach. Kid fell like a rag doll into the mud ring. Picturing Katy in his mind, Kid mustered all the strength from his muscles, bones, and mind. With two seconds left, Kid stood up. He had won the $30. He had won Katy.

Now his beloved horse was gone as well. Kid had nothing but the memories of Doritha waiting on what were now empty promises. Feeling vanquished, he no longer had hope, desire, or strength to carry on. Turning his drunken body over, Kid looked upward and wished on the stars for either death or a miracle.

During the past year Kid only wanted to do what was right. He used Katy to travel further west to find work. Once again, work was either temporary or not to his liking. He was a blacksmith apprentice, a carpenter, a laundry worker, a cook, a fence mender, a newspaper boy, and he even tried his hand at bar tending in a no name town in the Nebraska Territory. That's what led him to his current situation. Kid was frustrated with how his life was turning out. He still had no one and no place to call home. Many times he saw men, and even an occasional woman, drink their sorrows away.

Tonight was his night off. He walked into the saloon and ordered a whiskey. It burned his throat as it trickled down. Others laughed at his youth and naivety about the drink. With his pride damaged and in need of repair, Kid drank another with guile. He sat down at a game of cards. This was it, he decided. He was going to win his fortune and start a life for himself and Doritha. It must have been beginners luck, because Kid's winnings totaled $300 dollars. Of course he was accused of cheating, but a fellow at the table silenced the others. The men respected the man named Henry sitting at the table. Even though drunk from too many whiskeys, Kid knew it was time to quit. Flying high, the whiskey gave Kid a false sense of happiness. For the first time, he felt no pain. He thought it ironic that for the past two years his drifting got him no where, yet in two hours he had enough money with which to start a life.

Walking towards the livery, Kid decided to leave town that night. The sooner he was gone, the better. He was on his way east. He would marry Doritha, and they would start a home together. As Kid pulled Katy out of the livery, two men jumped him. Dragging him into the alley way, the men beat Kid mercilessly. Drunkenness overbearing him, Kid couldn't even defend himself. In two minutes, his horse, his money, and his dreams were gone.

Not recognizing his surroundings, Kid woke up. It took a few moments for him to realize he was in a hotel room. His head throbbed as if a million horses stampeded across the prairie of his head. As he sat up, the first thing he did was run to the wash bin and empty out what little contents were in his stomach. He noticed a glass of water next to the bin and greedily drank the water to try to rid the acid taste out of his mouth.

"That'll teach ya not to touch th' poison again, lad." A man in the corner stated softly with a thick Irish accent.

However, to Kid, it was like someone screaming at the top of his lungs. The man's words rang true as Kid nodded towards the voice. Kid promised himself to never to drink whiskey again.

"Do ye have a name other than Kid?" the corner voice questioned.

With heavy feet, Kid walked back to the bed. Carefully maneuvering the pillows behind him, he sat down with his back against the base board. Not knowing who this man was, Kid knew he could be trusted. The man's voice held no threat. Besides, Kid had no earthly possessions for the man to take, other than the broach. At this point he couldn't care less if he took that.

"Folks just call me Kid. Where am I? Who are you?"

"You're in th' hotel attached to th' saloon where ye work. Th' name's Henry. Henry Dunne."

"You were at the table with me last night. Look mister, I didn't cheat, and I don't have any of your money."

"I know that lad. Ye had what they call beginner's luck. Unfortunately, most men don't take t' kindly on those who win most of their earnin's, cheatin' or not. I'm sorry for what they did t' ye lad. They're most likely in the next town by now cheatin' some poor fool out of their cash."

Sounding crushed, Kid remarked, "They took everything, including the money I had already saved."

"How much did they take from ye?"

"Four hundred, plus my horse. I could care less about the money, but the horse is life to me."

Smiling, Henry announced, "Well, I wouldn't be to sure about that now. Seems to me that yer horse is pretty devoted to ye. Don't ye own a brown and white paint mare?"

Kid immediately sat forward, "Katy?"

"I figured she belong'd to ye. After I put ye up here, I noticed a horse wanderin' around. Th' town was quiet. No one else was around. I figured she must have been yers."

Relieved, Kid grinned and slouched back into the pillows. Maybe all was not lost. During the rest of the day, Henry nursed Kid's wounds, hangover, and pride. For some mysterious reason, Kid was drawn towards this man. Feeling safe, Kid trusted Henry Dunne and opened up to the man. By the end of the day, Henry Dunne knew all of Kid's secrets and desires.

In despair, Kid stated, "I'm not sure what I'll do next. I keep drifting, and that's all I'm good at. I'm no closer to getting a home than when I left Virginia two years ago."

Just as Kid became attached to Henry, Henry was interested in the young man. "Look, I have a small homestead in Blue Creek. I live alone, and I sure would appreciate a young man of yer strength to help me run it. Besides, I'm gone quite a bit. I love t' gamble. Bad habit of mine. So I would need someone to look after things while I was away. I'm not promising anything just yet, but if ye prove to be the kind of worker I know yer are, I may just be willing to sell some of my property to ye in the future."

Kid couldn't believe his luck. Just when he thought he lost everything, this man whom he'd only known for 36 hours was offering him the world on a platter. The only word that ran through Kid's mind was...home.

The months that followed brought true happiness that Kid only felt in the presence of friends and family. A happiness he only felt once since his mama's passing and leaving Virginia. That happiness came with Lou. Thinking back on Lou, Kid prayed that Lou had a home of his own. A place for him to belong and to raise his siblings. Feeling content, Kid felt like he belonged with Henry. Henry was the father that Kid never had. Complimenting Kid on the many skills that he'd attained, Henry once said,

"It looks as if yer drifting days have paid off. Ye acquired the basic skills for everything that it takes t' run a homestead. Ye even cook well."

Being an expert when it came to the gun and rifle, Henry taught Kid all of his tricks and sharp shooting. Mastering the skills, Henry surprised Kid with a revolver for his birthday. Even though most of Kid's keep was room and board, Kid saved every cent he could. Musing the prospect of buying part of Henry's land, Kid came to the realization that he needed an extra job. One night at dinner, Kid approached Henry with that topic on mind.

"The restaurant in town needs a new waiter. I sure could use the extra money. How would you feel if I took the job?"

"That's up to ye lad. Do ye think ye could keep up with yer duties here and work nights?"

"Yes, sir. And if you think I'm slackin' off in any of my duties here, I'll quit."

Smiling Henry pronounced, "Sounds like ye already made up yer mind." Raising up his glass of milk, Henry declared, "Here's t' Kid's new job. May it bring him his heart's desire."

Happiness radiated from Kid's eyes and smile. He lifted his glass up as well.

That night as Kid started drifting off to sleep, he was grateful that his drifting was left to sleep and not to wandering the country. He never felt more content or at home in his entire life. He belonged to Henry, to Blue Creek, and to the homestead.

Chapter Four

Blue Creek, 1860

A new addition to the Dunne household was added. Henry had left one night for his weekly card game returning home with a glint in his eye. He met a voluptuous woman with strawberry blond hair at a card table. A month later, Rachel Phelps was introduced to Kid as Henry's wife.

Living with Henry and Rachel Dunne was utopia for Kid. He loved working on the homestead. A bit of farming and working with horses suited him. The idea of working his own land someday gave Kid the desire to continue working at the local restaurant. Even though being a waiter was not ideal, Kid knew it was the means to acquire a home of his own. He wanted for himself what Henry and Rachel had–love and respect for each other.

Riding into town for work, Kid had to pass the brothel house. Sometimes he would take the long way to town to avoid the house. Lately he and Rachel were becoming more acquainted with each other; their conversations would cause Kid to leave later than planned and forced him to ride past the cathouse. Never stepping inside the establishment, Kid knew the face of each girl that worked there. He even knew the regular customers. Blue Creek was small enough that minute details were never overlooked. Passing by the brothel each day was no exception to this rule.

One particular day, Kid noticed a stranger in the restaurant. The gentleman seemed high class, dressed in a fine suit. He had a slight accent that Kid never heard before. He tipped Kid well and bragged about himself and the insurance company he worked for. Kid had no clue what he spoke about, but didn't mind because of the big tip. The fella called himself DeWitt and explained to Kid that he'd better get used to his face because he would be in town for a while. Kid grew excited; more big tips meant more money saved.

However, his excitement soon faded when he observed Mr. DeWitt's poor choice in entertainment – a romp at the brothel. The next day as Kid rode past the brothel, he observed the girl he'd nicknamed Hope. She had a gray cloud above her along with black and blue bruises scattered about her face and arms. Since he didn't know their real names, Kid had a nickname for each of the prostitutes. Putting two and two together, Kid inferred that it was DeWitt's handiwork. The regular customers never roughed up the girls to the extent of Hope's brutal wounds. DeWitt was no gentleman.

Refusing the to serve the man, Kid asked another server to wait on DeWitt. The waiter jumped at the opportunity after learning how much DeWitt had tipped Kid the night before. Bile rose in Kid's mouth each time he saw DeWitt or heard his voice. Kid knew men like DeWitt were the cause of death to many fine and wonderful women. His mother was such an example. Kid hoped deep down that DeWitt would soon be leaving town. Rachel and Kid drove the wagon into town mid-afternoon the following day to pick up supplies. Whispers permeated the air. Finally overhearing one gentleman, Kid took notice of the stranger at the end of the his directed finger. Standing across the street was a petite young woman with short dark hair, wearing the striped pink dress and hat from Paris that had been in the dress makers window for a week. Her features were simple, yet beautiful. The short hair struck Kid as odd. Not many women dared to have such a hairstyle. Both Rachel and Kid thought this woman was either courageous or something terrible had happened to her hair that forced her to wear it that style.

Kid felt an uncanny connection to this stranger.

"I'll be right back Rachel."

"Where you going Kid?"

Kid ignored her question for he himself didn't understand why he was about to approach the young woman. The lady was adjusting her hat in front of a dirt stained window. Kid was no more than three feet away when Mr. DeWitt charmingly complimented her. Stepping back, Kid was astonished. He had met this woman somewhere, but couldn't pin point the time or place. To make matters worse, she was conversing with the devil himself. Realizing something was wrong, Rachel grabbed Kid by the arm and pulled him away. Kid voiced his concerns to Rachel.

"She looks smitten with that fella. Until you figure out who she is, she won't believe a word you have to say."

"Rachel, I have to warn her that DeWitt is no gentleman."

"Do you have proof that that DeWitt fella is the one who abused the prostitute?"

Shaking his head in frustration Kid replied, "No, but the fact that he entertains himself at the brothel should give me enough cause to warn the lady."

"She won't believe a word you're saying Kid. The way he is smooth talking her right now is enough proof that he's in the right and you're in the wrong. I know this is hard, but I've been there. Come on, let's get our supplies so I can head home and you can get to work."

After loading the wagon, Kid helped Rachel take her seat. He untied Katy from the back and tied her to the nearest post. Waving, Rachel yelled, "See you back tonight."

Entering the restaurant, the cook informed him that the other server was ill. It was going to be a long night for Kid doing double duty. Taking a glance across the tables, he noticed Mr. DeWitt. What he saw next to him caused Kid's stomach to flip flop. Where did he recognize her from? When Kid approached the table, recognition in the woman's eyes was evident too. Although she didn't voice it, she immediately hung her head down in hopes that Kid would not recognize her. She became uncomfortable and fidgety. Taking notice of his date's behavior as well, DeWitt quickly requested that the other server wait on them. Both members of the party were disappointed that they were stuck with Kid.

DeWitt ordered quickly so not to inflict any more awkward feelings upon his date. Twenty minutes later, Kid brought out their food along with a bottle of wine. The young woman held her head low and cast up her brown eyes only once. It was that small motion that caused the revelation to hit Kid. He'd seen it before. It was the same motion of the eyes behind silver, wire rimmed glasses. The same action that was transferred when Kid offered food to an orphaned 14 year old on a stage two years ago.

Kid's mind screamed, "LOU!" It was unmistakable now. Kid knew it was Lou. Within two seconds, pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. She traveled alone, thus dressing like a boy to protect herself. Her short hair. Her strong desire to raise her siblings. Her laughing at Kid when he mentioned

"...show them you're a man." What was she doing in Blue Creek? As this inspiration hit Kid, he lost his balance, tripped over his own shoes and sent DeWitt's and Lou's dinner flying through the air. Most of it landed on Lou.

Lou realized that Kid recognized her. She was actually grateful for the spilled food. This gave her an excuse to leave. Facing Kid and revealing her secrets to him was not what she wanted at the current moment. She was enjoying her royal treatment from this stranger too much. Why did life have to be so difficult she thought.

DeWitt was furious, but did not want to show his temper off to his date. He pulled Kid aside and chastised him. "You are a complete idiot. How could you cause such a clumsy misdeed? I will speak to the owner and have you fired." Immediately, DeWitt's focus turned to Louise. Just as any sweet talking gentleman would, he made sure she was okay.

As Kid attempted to clean up the mess, DeWitt intervened and told him to leave. The owner arrived when the commotion erupted.

DeWitt declared, "This young man has failed at his job sir. He not only made my companion feel uncomfortable, but he spilled our entire meal on her. Sir, I suggest you take immediate action."

Kid implored, "It was an accident sir. I didn't mean no harm."

"Yes, it was just an accident," Louise spoke. Although she was feeling uncomfortable about the entire situation, she didn't want Kid to lose his job because of her secret.

"An inexcusable accident I may say," added DeWitt.

"Kid, I'll take over your shift. I think it's best if you leave now," the restaurant owner calmly stated.

By the tone of the owner's voice, Kid knew he wasn't going to be fired, but in order to please the customer, he knew he'd not be back to work until DeWitt was out of town.

With betrayal written in his eyes, Kid spoke, "I'm sorry miss. I didn't mean to startle you so." Louise saw his hurt expression and understood he was speaking of his shock more than the incident of food spilling on her.

Cleaning up as best she could at the restaurant, Louise finished her meal and date with Mr. DeWitt. Although Kid was close on her mind, she enjoyed the special treatment she was receiving from this man. It had been along time since she stepped into a dress and played her true identity. It felt good to be treated like a lady.

Kid however, did not go home. He waited and watched for the couple to exit the establishment. He followed them to the hotel. Outside, he witnessed a kiss pass between DeWitt and Lou. Once again bile rose in his throat. He hated DeWitt for the man he was. Lou deserved better than him. Kid also experienced an unidentifiable feeling. An anger coursed through his body and he couldn't figure out where it came from.

Noticing DeWitt walk into the night, Kid walked into the hotel. There was only one hotel in town, so Kid figured DeWitt was on his way to the brothel.

"May I please have the room of Lou McCloud?" Kid asked the tired desk clerk.

"What business do you have with him?"

"We're childhood friends. I heard he was in town. Please, I'm anxious to see him again."

Kid raced up the stairs and approached Lou's door. Feeling apprehensive, he stopped himself from knocking. Feeling hurt because Lou never revealed her identity to him, Kid wasn't sure how or what to say to her. As he recollected the incident at the restaurant, the revelation hit again. There was an explanation for her secret life. He would not let his disappointment condemn Lou for something she obviously felt necessary doing. Composing himself, Kid rapped on the wooden door.

"Who is it?" a gruff voice answered.

Smiling at the Lou's voice charade, Kid repeated the same words when he first met Lou on the stage. "Hello. Name's Kid."

From behind the closed door he heard, "My name's Lou. My ma's dead. And I couldn't care less where my father is."

Opening the door slightly, two doe eyes peered and a slight smile emerged between the cracks. She was still clad in her pink dress. Realizing he was falling into her dark pools, it was the first time Kid noticed how deep and intense Lou's eyes were. Embarrassed by the circumstances the entire night brought, Lou opened the door to let Kid enter. They stood silent facing each other, sizing up the changes that occurred during the past two years. The greater shock of course was in Kid's favor.

Breaking the silence, Lou finally spoke. "I guess you're wonderin' why I didn't tell ya."

"Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"Life isn't always pretty Kid, you know that. Terrible things happened to me and the only way I could survive at that time was to become a boy. Believe me, there were times when I wanted to tell you. But that would be letting my guard down. I couldn't afford to do that. I know you're wonderin' what happened to me to cause such drastic measures, but as a friend, I ask you not to at this time. That is, if you still consider me your friend."

Sighing Kid grabbed Lou's hand. "You were the first friend I made on my journey. I won't let a slight case of mistaken identity ruin that. It's gonna be different now that you're a girl."

"Uh, I've always been a girl Kid."

"That's not what I mean, you know it. May I ask, what is your real name?"

"Louise. Louise McCloud."

"Nice to meet you Louise."

Lou pushed Kid's hand out of hers and swatted him. "You've met me already. It's still me." Motioning for Kid to take a seat on a nearby chair, Lou sat herself on the bed. "What has the past two years brought for you Kid, besides losing your job at the restaurant? Sorry about that."

"Don't worry about my job. The owner trusts me. I just won't be able to go back until that DeWitt fella leaves." Even the mention of DeWitt's name brought overwhelming nausea. Pointing to her dress, Kid continued, "I'm sorry about your new dress."

"Think nothin' of it. Besides I know someone who'll make it good as new. Do you have a place here in Blue Creek? Is Doritha finally with you?" The mere mention of Doritha's name was a slap in the face for Kid. His time with Henry and Rachel caused him to forget about Doritha. She was buried in the dark closet of Kid's mind. He even stopped carrying the broach with him. Shaking off the cobwebs of Doritha's memory, Kid related the past two years of drifting and meeting Henry Dunne.

"Sounds like you got yourself a great family. Looks as if your dream is reality now, everything but Doritha I mean."

Not wishing to discuss Doritha, Kid changed the topic back onto Lou. "What about you? What was Sutter's Ranch like? What brings you to Blue Creek? Do you finally have your sister and brother?"

"Sutter's Ranch was a hard learning experience. But I became independent and learned anything from anyone who'd teach me. I'm a pretty good shot Kid, so watch your step," Lou said with a wink and a smile. "I've become an excellent rider and even own a horse. I was at Sutter's for a year when they sold the place. The new owner didn't want any of the old staff around. I didn't have enough saved yet to start a home for Teresa and Jeremiah, so like you I drifted for a bit. I did visit them about two months ago. But that's an entirely different story and deserves to be heard another time. Like you, I've finally found a job where I belong. We're a sorry sort of bunch, but we'd die for each other if it was ever necessary."

Kid was happy for Lou, yet he also felt like he was homesick. Not understanding this sensation, he pondered his life with the Dunnes. It was heaven and perfect, so why feel homesick?

"What kind of job do you have?"

Even though they only knew each other for such a short time, Lou knew Kid would not like her current occupation. "Well, do you remember when you asked me if I was a kid or a man?" The memory flashed through Kid's mind like it was yesterday and he nodded. "I've proven myself to be a dang good man. I work for Russell, Majors, and Waddell."

In shock, Kid stood, "You work for the Pony Express? Please tell me you're just a hired hand."

"No Kid, I'm a rider for them."

"They let women ride?"

Anger was boiling inside of Lou. Kid had no understanding what her life was like or the family that Lou belonged to back in Sweetwater. "As a matter of fact, no they don't. My express family knows my secret, and they honor that secret. Russell, Majors, and Waddell would fire me if they knew."

"Isn't there something else you could do?"

"Why should I? I've already proven myself just as good, if not better than the other riders."

In concern and frustration Kid yelled, "It's too dangerous Lou. You should think about Teresa and Jeremiah."

"How dare you accuse me of not thinking about my family. They're the reason I ride. I make pretty good money. In time I will have enough to start a home. What else is there to do for a young woman? Scrubbing floors, or worse? Do you want me to become like my friend Charlotte back in St. Joe?"

With those stinging words, Kid tried to calm down. Prostitution was not a life for his precious friend Lou. However remembering the harlot, brought images of Hope's beaten face to Kid's eye. DeWitt's name resurfaced and Kid spoke, "Well one thing's for sure, if you hang around that DeWitt fella that's where you'll be leading to."

"How dare you!"

"Calm down Lou, I'm just trying to warn you."

"Since you haven't caught the clue by now, I guess I'll state it for you. I don't need any warnings. I can take care of myself. I don't know what you got against Tyler, but he happens to be a nice gentleman who knows how to treat me like a lady. Something at which you have no comprehension of at this moment. I'm not the 14 year old little boy you met two years ago. It's late, and I'm asking you to leave now."

"That's not what I'm saying Lou. Please listen to me!"

"I don't owe you nothin'! Go!" She quickly got up and opened the door.

This did not turn out the way Kid expected. He wanted to lead Lou away from DeWitt, not make her run to him. Giving up and understanding that Lou needed to calm down, Kid walked out devastated. He hated the nagging feeling that he'd just lost his best friend. He needed to make amends with Lou, but wasn't sure how he was going to it. As he passed her he calmly stated, "I just don't trust him. Please be careful."

Lou's heart softened as she heard Kid's parting words, but she still let him walk out. Unbeknownst to Kid, Lou didn't trust Tyler DeWitt either. Her station master, Teaspoon, sent Lou to Blue Creek to investigate recent robberies within the company. Although dressing up and being treated like a lady was a bonus for Lou, she couldn't help but suspect Tyler. At dinner, Tyler drawled on about insurance and shipping schedules. He was the obvious prime suspect. She actually wanted to tell Kid about the current situation and ask for his help, but when he insinuated prostitution, her temper flared. Laying in bed, Lou calmed down. She needed Kid's friendship back. Besides Charlotte, he was her first real friend and she trusted Kid.

The next morning, clad in her riding clothes, Lou rode out to the Dunne homestead. She met the woman Kid called Rachel.

"Morning, what can I do for you?"

"I was looking for Kid. Is he here?"

"Well he and my husband are out in the fields. Can I offer you something?"

"No, I'm fine. Would you tell him Lou stopped by?"

"Of course." Rachel could not help but notice the apprehension in Lou's eyes. Something did not feel right. Leaving the laundry in a mountainous heap, Rachel rode out and told Kid of Lou's visit. Without any explanation, Kid took off on Katy.

When he reached town, Lou was not in her hotel room. He scoured Tyler's room and his heart sunk. On the floor were Lou's glasses. Getting help from Henry and the sheriff, Kid was on pursuit. He tracked them to pond about a mile outside of town. Apparently Tyler and a group of outlaws were scheming to rob a shipment of gold that was about to pass through Blue Creek in an hour. DeWitt's eyes held no mercy. Kid watched in horror as Tyler murdered a man because he'd dare say "no" to him. Fear for Lou's life engulfed him. His friend was finally back in his life, and the homesick feeling he'd felt the night before tormented him. He couldn't lose Lou this way. Shifting his weight back and forth, Kid watched and waited restlessly for the signal from the sheriff.

Watching Lou the entire time, Kid realized just how independent she really was. She showed no fear and stood up to the blows Tyler inflicted. For some odd reason, Tyler cut the binding cords that held Lou's hands. Finally, the sheriff gave the signal and the attack began. Tyler escaped and Lou was on his tail, with Kid on her's.

The riding skills Lou acquired paid off, and she jumped Tyler. Lou had the upper hand as she was able to retrieve Tyler's gun. Kneeling on the ground, Lou cocked the gun and aimed it at Tyler's heart. Tyler tried to work his gentlemanly ways with her.

"Stop right there!"

"You can't shoot me Louise. You like me too much."

"You're sick!"

Not believing her words, Tyler approached. Without a second thought, Lou pulled the trigger. Tyler looked down at his bloodstained shirt and back at Lou in shock.

"Don't be surprised. You had it coming," Lou breathlessly said.

Kid rode up just as he saw Tyler fall into the sand. He approached Lou carefully, touching her shoulders softly.

"I'm okay Kid," she said, not really believing the words herself. Kid helped Lou stand and wrapped his arms around her. With a rush of emotional relief, Lou dropped the gun and cried into Kid's chest. With Lou in his arms, Kid had an overpowering sense of belonging.




"I guess Tyler was the one who stole from the Pony Express after all?" Kid inquired of Lou.

"Yep. I want you to know that I really didn't trust him myself. I was just angry at you."

"Sorry for implying that you couldn't take care of yourself. I really respect you Lou.... Louise. You sure proved me wrong. Remind me never to cross you. Unfortunately for DeWitt, you are a good shot," Kid sheepishly smiled at his friend.

Lou returned his smile. "Thanks Kid for everything."

"I didn't do much."

"You're my friend and you were there when I needed you."

"Come back and visit?"

"I'll try. You should come to Sweetwater. I have a feeling that you'd fit right in. Hey, you could always write you know."

With a final hug, and a kiss on Kid's cheek, Lou pulled herself on top of her horse, Lighting. Kid watched in amazement as the other express rider came barreling toward's Lou. He threw the brown leather bag and Lou received it with ease.

"Ride safe Lou!"

Chapter Five

The plains outside of Blue Creek, Four months later

Henry Dunne was dead. Rachel Dunne was gone. Although Kid was sleeping on the cold, hard ground, he felt like he was at the bottom of a deep, dark pit with no ladder in which to escape. His perfect world, his peaceful life, his second home was destroyed. Each night, just before attempting sleep, Kid would recall his perfect life that he took for granted.

Kid's life was better than perfect. He and Lou continued their friendship through the mail, each letter bringing sunshine to his soul. Rachel was expecting a baby in four months. And Kid almost saved enough to buy 5 acres of Henry's land. On occasion Kid's dream life was interrupted with talk of corruption within the local law. It seemed the Browning family, owners of a land and trust company, bought the law in Blue Creek. Frustration would cross Henry's face on more than one occasion because of Thad Browning. It seemed he and Rachel had done business together in the past. Thad was under the impression that Rachel hadn't lived up to her end of the business deal. Thus, getting protection from the law was difficult. However, this did not phase Kid. He had blind faith that everything would work out in the end, and life at the homestead would continue to be a peaceful haven.

Each night Kid dreamed of his perfect life, but awoke to the same monstrous nightmare. He had gone to the fields that fateful morning. On his return he saw Henry dead. His heart felt like it was ripped out by a bear. Only two seconds later he discovered Rachel in life threatening pain, crying out for her baby's life. Carrying her into the house, Kid placed her in bed. He started out the door to retrieve the doctor for the occurring miscarriage, but Rachel begged him stay. Together they mourned the loss of Henry. Together they wept as the unborn life passed and faded away. Together they faced despair.

The next day, the sheriff came to arrest Rachel for the murder of Tom Browning. She hadn't even healed yet from her miscarriage, but they dragged her off to jail all the same. They even claimed Henry's land as their own. Supposedly it would cover the debts and damages that Rachel's "unfinished business" incurred. Henry was right. The Brownings were a lynching mob and their next victim was Rachel. Rachel had killed Tom Browning in self defense after Thad shot Henry.

Unfortunately, the Browning's story was twisted in more directions than a tornado. They claimed that Henry and Rachel were armed and heartlessly killed Tom out of spite. Thad's only defense was to shoot Henry. The trial was to be held in one week.

Kid tried to convince the sheriff and others that Rachel was innocent. His efforts were like sagebrush passing by – no one ever seemed to care. Rachel physically healed in jail with no doctor to attend her. On the night before the trial, Kid convinced Hope with a nice sum of money to distract the deputy on duty. Losing his real mama and surrogate father was too much heartache and loss. He wasn't about to lose Rachel to a hangman's noose. With a bittersweet goodbye, Rachel forced Kid to go into hiding. "They'll be after you next," she warned him.

Not wanting to walk away from the only physical place he ever considered home, Kid roamed the lonely plains outside of Blue Creek. He literally lost everything. Due to Kid's aid in Rachel's escape he knew he couldn't go into town. That meant no more letters from Lou, at least until he found another place to live. The sunrise was a reminder that he still hadn't made a decision on what to do next. The sunset bitterly accused him of being a failure.

Helpless and emotionally beaten, Kid did the only thing that came to mind. "God, I know I'm not a prayin' man. But my mama believed in you even though her life was a living hell. I don't know what to do. I've lost everything but my horse. I don't quite have enough money saved to buy a place of my own, and I don't want to keep drifting. I'm homesick and there's no place to call home. Please God, give me guidance. Amen."

Pulling out the only peace that lulled him to sleep, he began to read Lou's letters. Within minutes, Kid drifted into the first calm sleep he'd had since Henry's death.

The dance was light and festive. Food tables overflowed with fountains of fruit, cake, pies, and cookies. Beautiful girls twirled and flirted. Watching Henry swing Rachel around vivaciously, Kid decided to join in the fun. He searched for the one, the one who could lift the dark clouds above him, fill the empty holes in his heart, erase the dark circles from beneath his eyes. The one he could trust his life with, the one he could *share* his life with. Two woman caught his eye. The first, a blond with curly locks who was obviously born of high society. She had a porcelain face and wore an off the shoulder, purple taffeta gown. Suitors swarmed at her beck and call. The other stood with her back to him. The woman was clad in a pink striped silk dress. It was odd, for she was the only girl with short brown hair. She was engaged in a conversation with an English gentleman. Not knowing who to approach first, Kid decided to ponder the question over a piece of cake instead. As he picked up a plate, the short haired woman stood across from him and said, "You should come to Sweetwater. I have a feeling that you'd fit right in."

"Lou?" Kid asked aloud as he woke up with a start and sat up. He had the oddest dream, but he couldn't remember the details. All he remembered was Lou's voice and Sweetwater. Heavy rain started to pelt down, pestering Kid. "All right God, I'll go to Sweetwater!"

Mr. Tompkins, the store owner, didn't have one nice thing to say about the boys at the Pony Express station when Kid asked him for directions. Shrugging off his smugness, Kid wouldn't let this man's opinion sway him from the people he knew from Lou's letters. He was uneasy about just showing up. There were too many "what ifs" involved. What if Lou didn't want him here. What if there was no work for him. What if the others didn't take to him. What if, what if... "Well th' only way of overcoming fear is t' do th' thing ye fear the most," Henry always rambled.

As Kid and Katy rode towards the station, an Indian yelled, "Rider Comin'." A half a dozen people exited the weather worn yet sturdy brown bunkhouse. Louise immediately recognized Katy and ran up to the Kid. Kid jumped off the horse and was surprised by how he was greeted.

Grabbing Kid into a tight hug Lou said, "Thank goodness you're alright. When I heard what happened and didn't hear from you, I was afraid they'd....."

Kid pulled Lou back to look into her face. "They? How'd you know what happened?"

As if on cue, Rachel tapped Kid's shoulder. Thinking this was a cruel joke and not believing his own eyes, Kid stepped backwards. "Yes, Kid, it's really me." Tears filled Kid's eyes. God gave him a miracle. He pulled Rachel into a tight bear hug and didn't want to let go for fear she'd be ripped away from him as Henry was.

Rachel finally released herself and grabbed him by the face wiping his tears with her thumbs. "Louise knows everything as do the others."

"The others? What are you doing here Rachel?"

"I answered an add for a cook and housekeeper for the Sweetwater Pony Express station. I figured it was a good place to hide. So far so good. As for the others, let me introduce you." The three walked over to the rag tag bunch.

Lou spoke, "Boys, I'd like to introduce my friend to you."

A blond haired, blue eyed young man wearing a leather fringe jacket jumped up and shook Kid's hand, "So this here is Pen Pal Kid that we've heard so much about. Nice to meet ya. My name's..."

"...let me guess, Cody," came Kid's swift reply. "Sound's like Lou has told you as much about me, as I know about you." Kid approached the others, "You must be Buck."

"What gave it away? The earring?" the half-breed teased.

Lou continued the introductions, "That's Noah, he's the one we like to irritate by throwing dirt on his white pants. The quiet one you've probably already guessed is Ike. And over there is Jimmy or as you may have heard "Wild Bill Hickok." Remember not to believe everything you've heard about him."

"Where's the man you call Teaspoon?"

"He's also the marshal for Sweetwater, so he's in town doing official business.

"Yeah, like sleepin'," added Jimmy.

During the rest of the day, Kid became acquainted with everyone at the station. Lou was right. He did fit right in. It wasn't the same feeling as belonging to Henry, but it was still comfortable and peaceful.

Kid finally met the man Lou called her father. Teaspoon was every bit as Kid imagined him. Dirty, witty, but also a big child's bear toy. That night at the table, Teaspoon enlightened how he discovered the secret identity of Lou. Embarrassed, Lou's face turned bright red as Teaspoon stretched the truth. "Therrre she was in her birthday suit just a sunbathin' like a snake on a rock."

"Teaspoon, I was in the water, and you know it. It was a hot day. The boys were kind enough to wait for me to cool down when Teaspoon came along. He started a water fight and decided since I wasn't going to fight back that I needed an alley oop."

"I dove under the water and approached him,... er her, and lookeee what I saw! Not a man, but a woman! I couldn't fire her. ‘Cause family's family."

"And family sticks together," everyone repeated together in a monotone voice.

Kid chuckled. Yes, he was going to like it here.

As chores were being completed the next day, Teaspoon rode into the station like a child running away from a swarm of bees.

"Where's Rachel?" he demanded from Lou.

"She's in the house. Teaspoon is everything all right?"

"I'm afraid not sweetie. You better go and get Kid too. The sheriff from Blue Creek is looking for the both of ‘em. AND he has a bounty."




"I'm telling you Teaspoon, Dennis Browning won't go against his family," Rachel murmured. "The best thing is for Kid and me to ride out."

"What if we could get him to talk alone?" Teaspoon offered. "Do ya think he'd testify?"

"He just might Rachel. Him and me used to be friends. He never did like the way Thad treated you. How'd we get him alone?" Kid questioned.

"You'd both have to ride like the wind on back roads to Blue Creek. Lou and the boys won't be very far behind. We'll come up with a plan then." Teaspoon concurred.

Teaspoon's plan paid off. Lou was able to divert Dennis Browning long enough for Rachel and Kid to talk to him. Dennis fessed up that Thad had shot Henry first, and Rachel shot Tom in self-defense. Thad was going to spend his life in prison for Henry's murder. The crooked sheriff was also placed in a jail cell, and the Browning Land and Trust was dissolved, along with Rachel's warrant and bounty.

"Pretty excitin' couple of weeks wouldn't ya say Kid?" Teaspoon questioned.

"Too exciting. In my opinion, I wished they'd never happened," came Kid's glum remark.

"I can understand where yer coming from son. Have ya given any thought to what yer gonna do next?"

"Well, I know Rachel wants to stay and work for all of you. Blue Creek holds too many memories for her to go back. I guess it does for me too."

"Can I help ya in any way?"

"I was wonderin' if you needed another rider. I know Lou loves the work, and I sure could use a job myself."

Teaspoon's head hung low. "The company don't need any fellers quite right now." Despair once again enveloped Kid. He couldn't start drifting again. "But I have a proposition for ya. First I need ya to show me something. Jimmy noticed how good ya handle a gun, and Lou has mentioned before that ya learnt to shoot from the best." Teaspoon placed three discarded tin cans on the corral fence. "Can you shoot three for three?"

Without saying a word, Kid pulled out his revolver quicker than a hot knife through butter. Not only did he shoot each can, but shot a broken piece of the can while in mid air. Teaspoon stood with one eye wide, the other still partly shut, his mouth gapping open.

"I can shoot six for six Teaspoon. Why?"

"Well, here's my proposition. I'm in desperate need of a deputy for Sweetwater. I'm constantly deputizing these boys, and it'd be nice to have a steady man on the job. Looks like yer just the man. Since ya consider Rachel family, I'm willin' to let ya bunk here. Understand that ya'll have to pull yer own weight around here too. What do ya say?"

With a firm handshake, Kid wholeheartedly said, "Yes."

Rachel wasn't too keen on Kid's decision to become deputy. But, she also realized that he was a man of his own. She prayed everyday for his safety. Lou wasn't too excited either. "It's too dangerous!" she exclaimed.

"Too dangerous? And riding for the express isn't?"

"That's entirely different."

Kid threw Lou's own words back in her face, "Look Lou, I'm not the 16 year old boy you met on the stage two years ago. I'm independent now. I can take care of myself."

Understanding her defeat, Lou said with a sneer, "Well, don't expect me to come rescue your hide!"

Over the next six months Kid's homesickness left, never realizing that it had disappeared. Louise was right, Sweetwater did fit him. He was with two people whom he knew he belonged with. His friendship with Lou continued to grow. He never thought two people could be so close. She finally trusted him enough to tell him why she started dressing like a boy two and a half years ago back in St. Joe. With tears streaming down her face, Kid embraced her. His own tears fell into her hair as he empathized with her pain.

When Lou finished uncovering her secret, Kid blamed himself for her harsh treatment. He realized that she was the 14 year old girl hanging wash at the brothel. He should have done what his conscience told him that day and convince her to leave. This time, Lou's arms enclosed Kid. She reassured him there was nothing he could have done. If anything, Wicks would have killed him.

Drifting off into a peaceful slumber, Kid remembered to thank God for leading him to Sweetwater. But most of all he thanked God that he was part of a family again.

Chapter Six

Sweetwater, May 1861

Crowded around the bunkhouse table like a swarm of bees to its hive, everyone danced in anticipation to hear Teaspoon's long awaited news.

"Boys and gals. I have some official news from the home office in St. Joe. The company is transferring our entire unit to the Rock Creek station, Nebraska territory."

With a roar of commotion, everyone spoke out at once.

"What?"

"Why?"

"Leave Sweetwater, how?"

"When?"

The only person remaining stoic was Kid. He wasn't sure how to react to such news. Needing more information, he calmly waited for further explanation.

"Settle down! I have all yer answers, just hear me out." Each person settled back down and cocked their heads thinking the motion would give them greater understanding to Teaspoon's words. "It seems that the Rock Creek station has had several attacks before the war broke out. Both "causes" have tried to ambush secret documents, gold shipment schedules, and military schedules. Last week, someone set the old station a blazin'. Now that the war between the states has taken a permanent fixture in our country's affairs, the company wants us to rebuild the station in town."

"Why us?" asked Cody.

"Because the company only wants the best. They know my boys...and er gal, are the best. Replacements for this station will be here tomorrow. We'll train them and in one week we leave for Rock Creek."

"One week, that doesn't give us much time to train new riders Teaspoon," Jimmy stated matter of factly.

"Well, the company realizes that. These ain't green horns. The boys who are comin' have already been ridin' the trails. They just need to be trained on this particular station."

Noah remarked, "We'll be closer to the war. That means more troubles."

"That's why they want us Noah. We're the best at solving troubles," Cody pompously added.

"Yeah, but your color ain't gonna spark trouble like ours," Buck retorted referring back to Noah.

I thought we were the ones who stirred up trouble, not solved it. Ike signed with a wide grin.

Amongst all the Rock Creek talk, Lou noticed that Kid's stoic attitude hadn't changed. She tried to catch his eye, but Kid stared down at the table, his finger picking an imaginary spot. Finally, his soft voice cut everyone off from their current conversations.

"What's gonna to happen to Rachel and me?" he asked sincerely.

"Well Kid, there are some decisions that need to be made. Rachel is under the employment of the company so she's more than free to come with us or stay here and take care of the new riders. As for you son, well, the town will be lookin' for a new marshal once I leave. You've proven yourself

worthy as deputy. I'm sure the people of Sweetwater will want you to stay."

Lou immediately looked down. She was afraid everyone could see the emotional turmoil written across her face. She hadn't realized in the past five minutes that Kid wouldn't be coming. Although neither spoke of feelings beyond friendship, Kid and Lou were connected. Sometimes Kid was a

bit overprotective, but Lou had set him straight. For the most part, Kid tried hard not to push Lou and accepted her independent spirit. In return, Lou respected Kid's decision to work as a deputy and overlooked the many times he overanalyzed a situation. The thought of losing him sent a lonely cold chill down her spine. It was the same feeling she had the night her mama passed away.

Teaspoon continued, "You're more than welcome to come with us too Kid. Just know that I can't promise ya a job with the express. With all the trouble Rock Creek is having, they may just need your law enforcin' skills there as well."

In retrospect, Kid didn't want to be left behind. He felt like his life was being ripped away again. He finally had friends. Not just any friends, but friends who didn't judge him. Friends who would die for him. The idea of losing Rachel was heart wrenching. Homesickness enveloped him thinking he'd never see Lou again. With longing eyes, Kid searched for Rachel.

Seeing Kid's eyes turn towards Rachel, seven pairs of questioning eyes followed suit.

"Well," came Rachel's weak reply, "I want to go with you all. I hope that doesn't hurt your feelings Kid."

"No Rachel, it just made my decision easier to make. I'm going too," Kid responded.

With her wide doe eyes, Lou looked at Kid in shock. She didn't expect him to leave. "Why? I mean, you have a job here."

Smiling back at her, Kid gave her the only explanation necessary. "‘Cause family's family..."

"...And family sticks together," came the unison reply.

During the next week, the Sweetwater station transferred hands. The new riders were unpacking as the Rock Creek riders were packing.

"Hey, do you need any help packing? I'm finished and my stuff is already loaded in the wagon," Lou asked Kid.

"Sure. You can help me go through my trunk."

Lou reached in and dug towards the bottom of the trunk. Pulling out an old beaten cigar box, she opened it and asked, "What's in here?"

Mixed emotions welled inside Kid. He wasn't ready to face the ghosts that were hiding in the box. It was too late. Lou had opened Pandora's box.

"Is this a picture of you and your brother?"

Giving no verbal response, Kid just merely nodded his head yes.

"He looks about 16 and you look about 12. Am I right?"

Lou had to strain her ears to hear him. "Yeah, that's right before he left."

Sensing Kid's mood change, Lou pulled out the next item hoping to divert what ever feelings Kid was encountering. It was a green gemmed broach with gold framing. Kid never mentioned the broach to Lou when he first met her. He told her about Doritha, but left out the detail of the broach.

"This is beautiful Kid. Was it your mothers?"

The cobwebs of Kid's memories had been stirred seeing his brother's picture and Doritha's broach. Suddenly Kid felt like walls were starting to close on him and he couldn't breath. He started to sweat and all he could hear was a voice echoing, "Something to remember me by."

Grabbing the broach forcefully out of Lou's hand, Kid situated the broach back into the cigar box and slammed it shut. "Can we talk about it later Lou?"

Stunned by the violent reaction she had just witnessed, Lou declared, "Sure, but you owe me an explanation and an apology. I'm gonna to let you cool down." With that, Lou stormed out of the bunkhouse. Instantly, Kid felt remorse for his actions towards Lou. It wasn't Lou's fault, but the memories that came back to haunt him.

Kid found Lou saying goodbye to a new foal after lunch. "Hey, can I talk to ya?"

Cooly Lou stated, "That depends on what you've got to say."

"I'm sorry for the way I treated ya earlier in the bunkhouse. When you opened that box, a lot of memories that I thought were buried jumped out at me. Memories I'm not sure I can face right now."

"Do you need to talk about it?"

"I will, but not right now. You once asked me not to ask you about your past. I honored that wish. And now I'm asking the same from you."

Louise noticed the pain in Kid's eyes. She also heard sincerity in his voice. "That's only fair, and I accept your apology."

"Thanks Lou."

The first few days of the journey towards Rock Creek were filled with expectation stories. Each member contributed what they thought Rock Creek was going to be like. The war between the states had just started and that too occupied quite a bit of conversation topics. Each traveling member had their own viewpoint. Several times the debates became heated. In the end, everyone agreed to disagree.

During this time, Kid remained fairly quiet. His thoughts were elsewhere.

One night on their journey, after eating Rachel's marvelous rabbit stew that Ike provided meat for, Kid pulled Lou aside. "I'm ready to talk. Can you go for a walk with me?"

Louise nodded and they both headed off on their own. Finding a nice fallen log, both sat down with moonlight reflecting their faces.

"Kid, what is it? You've barely said two words since we left Sweetwater."

"Lou, I want you to hear me out. I'm not staying in Rock Creek with the rest of you."

With confusion written on her face, Lou asked, "What? Why? Kid..."

"I've been thinking a lot about it Lou. It's time for me to go home."

"Home? Back to Virginia?"

"Yes, I need to return home to Virginia. Lou, that broach ya found...that wasn't my mother's. It was Doritha's."

Her name caused Lou to turn a shade of green. Jealousy coursed through her body. How could Kid even think about going back to Doritha after all they had been through together?

"Look, I made a promise to her years ago. I have to keep my word."

Lou could barely force the words out of her mouth, but she had to know, "You gonna marry her?"

Snaking his hand through his hair, Kid answered honestly, "I don't know. I don't know if I even love her anymore. That's what I've got to find out. Besides, even if I don't marry her, I need to repay the debt I owe her."

This was her typical Kid; always analyzing. He even had to analyze his own feelings. Lou tried to be supportive, but found it difficult. "When are you going?"

"As soon as I help everyone settle down in Rock Creek."

"I don't get it Kid. What happened to ‘family sticks together'?"

"That's just it Lou. Seeing the picture, the broach, and all this war talk made me realize that I still have family in Virginia." Seeing the questions rise in Lou's eyes, Kid continued, "I have an aunt, an uncle, and a few cousins still there. They may even know where my brother is. Besides, I need to defend them too."

"Defend? Are you plannin' on joining this suicidal war?"

"I will if I have to Lou. I realize that it just ain't my family I'm defending, but my good memories. I'll join the minute they try to take away those memories, ya hear me?"

"The only person who can take away your memories is you. No one else can," Lou slightly sobbed. Lou wasn't one to shed wasted tears. These tears were justified. Lou stood up and walked away from the Kid. She was losing her best friend all because of a stupid promise he'd made as a 15 year old. Not only was she losing her best friend, but the man that she grew to love -- the man she was in love with. Kid walked towards her. With his chest against her back, he placed his chin on her left shoulder and wrapped his arms around her waist. Kid's emotions were running high as well. He too had tears brimming from his eye lids. His voice cracked as he whispered in her ear, "Leaving you is the hardest thing I'll ever have to do."

Lou sharply turned around, "Then don't! Why do you have to be so dang honorable? You were 15 years old. She's probably married anyway. Don't think about the family you left behind, think of the family you now have."

"I ain't any good to the family I now have if I can't keep and fulfill my promises."

"Kid, I don't fully understand your reasoning and I know you're trying to do the right thing. But just know that this decision will have consequences too. If you'll excuse me, I'm going back to camp. I'm tired and I need sleep."

Kid watched helplessly as Lou walked away from him. Homesickness filled his bosom. He knew that he didn't want to let go of Lou. Scrutinizing his own feelings, he questioned whether he was in love with her. Even if Lou loved him back, he didn't feel he deserved that love until his wrongs were made right. His mind was made up. He was not turning back. He was going home.

Chapter Seven

The First Battle at Manassas, Virginia, July 1, 1862

In all his years drifting, Kid never felt so alone as he did right then surrounded by 5,300 dead and dying men. Lou was right. Kid suffered consequences beyond imagination returning to Virginia. It was the last day in what was deemed the Seven Days' Battles and the Confederates suffered a great loss–both in battle and in men.

Not seeing the enemy who fired, the bullet passed threw the nape of Kid's neck. After laying in excruciating pain for 12 hours, Kid's body finally went numb. His mind however, was still alert. He listened to the others crying for their mothers, lovers, wives, and homes.

Home. What did that word mean to Kid? His entire life he searched for a permanent place to call home. His only experiences with a real home were short lived. And now he returned "home" to Virginia. He was no closer to having his own home than when he'd left Doritha as a 15 year old. What good did returning home do him? Absolutely nothing other than a debt paid off.




Doritha raced towards him. "Kid! You're finally back. I thought I'd never see you again," she said breathlessly while wrapping her arms around him. The same empty feeling he had when he said goodbye to her four years earlier filled his senses. Realization hit. He was no longer in love with the woman before him.

"How are ya Doritha?"

"Great now that you're back. Why didn't you write? Four years is a long time to beholding to a promise. Are we settling here? Did you find us a nice spot someplace out west?"

The questions were overwhelming for Kid. "Doritha, four years is a long time. There are things we need to discuss." They both went into Doritha's home and sat down. Doritha read the apprehension on his face.

"Kid, you didn't come back to marry me did you?"

"I knew I had to come back. I had to resolve my promise. I'm sorry Doritha, but time has taken it's toll. I'm not going to marry you. But as a friend, I'm asking you to allow me to repay my debt to you."

Disappointment was clearly written across her face. "Same ol' Kid. Always trying to do the right thing. Don't you even think about repaying me. That was my gift to you."

"I appreciate that, but please Doritha, let me do this. I need to do it for me. I need to close that chapter in my life."

"Alright." Kid handed his hard earned money over to Doritha. Not only did he pay her the full amount, but doubled it. "Is there someone else Kid?"

Smiling, an image of Lou danced across his eyes.

"That smile says it all," Doritha pointed out. "I wish you both well."

For the first time, Kid understood the love that he felt for Lou. Indeed he was in love with her. Mentally Kid berated himself for not understanding his feelings before leaving Rock Creek. Lou still was not happy with the fact that he left, but made a promise to write.

However, he was in the same predicament with Lou that he was with Doritha four years ago. Kid had no money, how could he provide a real home for her?

Remembering that he had returned to Virginia for his family as well, he questioned Doritha. "I have to know. Have you heard from my brother?"

"Sorry Kid. The last I heard he was helping out the southern cause two years back. Your aunt and uncle also moved west in hopes to avoid the war. They didn't say where they were headed."

The feeling of defeat that Kid had so frequently felt once again resurfaced. Kid had returned home to no family. The feeling of hope rose – he at least had his memories.

Saying goodbye to Doritha, Kid walked the familiar path towards the home of his youth. However, the path didn't seem as familiar as he thought. Even though the war had raged only a few short months, destruction was already evident. His house stood in a pile of heaped, rotting wood. It seemed to mock him as he stared at the mass. Fond memories flashed through his head. Lou was right. Memories were stored in the safety of his mind, not in the wood sitting before him. The unhappy memories tried to resurface as well, but like he told Doritha, he was closing that chapter of his life. It was time to begin a new one. A new life with Lou. Wrapped up in his thoughts, Kid didn't even notice the two men who approached him.

"Excuse us mister, but do you live here?"

In surprise, Kid turned his head. "Yes....no.....well, I grew up here."

"Well then, by issue of the Confederate Army, you are hereby drafted. Please follow us."

"Wait a minute, you're not even dressed in military uniform. You have no right draftin' me into this war."

"The civilian clothes lessen the threat to the townspeople, but believe me you will join the Confederate Army or be put to death for treason," one of them seriously said. "Which would you like?"

Understanding the seriousness of his predicament, Kid followed the two men and within 4 hours he was suited in a gray, slightly small, Confederate uniform. This was not the life he pictured returning home to.

Home. That word again. Kid had no idea what it meant anymore. He was now forced to fight in a war that he wasn't sure he believed in. Yes, at one point he was willing, but now with no family to defend and his memories safe, he wasn't sure if the war was worth fighting. The consequences of his choice to return to Virginia were extreme indeed.




"I'm so proud of you Kid. You turned out to be such a fine young man. You stand up for people in need, and you always try to do what's right." With his head cradled in his mama's lap, Kid looked into light blue loving eyes that reflected his own.

"Mama?"

"That's right. I'm here for you son."

"Where's the other soldiers? Am I dead?"

"Not yet, but that's a choice you're going to have to make," Kid's mother said while stroking his soft curls.

"I feel so much love here. I want to stay with you. *This* feels like home."

Soft were the words that she spoke, "Home is where your heart is son. Home is a place where you're shrouded in love. Home is where you experience a sense of belongin'. Always remember that."

"I want to return home then."

"I know you do son. Return home."

Chapter Eight

Rock Creek, 1863

After the Pony Express disbanded, the make-shift family also went their separate ways. Cody joined the Union Army. Jimmy left and did a little scouting for the army as well. Buck and Ike started a ranch of their own back at the old Sweetwater station. Noah headed Northeast to help the abolitionist cause. If he couldn't fight in the army, he was going to what he could to help free the slaves. Teaspoon continued as Rock Creek'smarshal and remarried his third wife Polly who owned the local tavern.

Rachel began teaching while the express was still in full swing. She was actually grateful when the express closed. She had more time to focus on her students. Besides, her boys were grown now and had to make decisions for themselves. Rachel married the local blacksmith, Janusz Tarkoski.

Happy and full of life, they were expecting their first child in six months.

Lou was able to return to St. Joe and retrieve her brother and sister. Charlotte also returned with her. Rachel and Lou had bought the express station property. Rachel continued to live in the house with her new husband while Lou converted the bunkhouse into a makeshift home for Charlotte, herself, and her siblings. Lou and Charlotte fulfilled their dream and opened a local dress shop.

Lou hadn't heard from Kid since he was drafted into the Confederate Army. She feared for his life, but continued to believe he was alive. In his last letter he confessed his love for her. Now that she finally knew, she wasn't about to give up on him.

A lone figure entered the streets of Rock Creek. He had only been there once before. It had grown since his last visit. Stopping first at the schoolhouse, he entered the building with anticipation. With the children already home for the day, Rachel looked up from her desk. Her face paled and tears sprang forth. "Is it really you?" she whispered.

"Yep, I'm finally home," Kid said.

Rachel leapt out of her chair and into the outstretched arms of the man she considered a son.

Kid and Rachel spent the next hour catching up on each other's lives, when finally the questions that burned within Kid's heart erupted. "Rachel, how's Lou? Is she happy? Is she safe?"

Smiling Rachel said, "She's wonderful. But I think you should ask her how she's doing yourself."

"She's here?"

"Yep, I don't want to tell you too much because she should be the one to tell you."

"I have to ask this question in order to be prepared. Is she married?"

Smirking again, Rachel answered, "No. Not that she hasn't been pursued. I think she's been waiting for a certain someone."

"Do I know this man?"

"Kid, you need to talk to her, not me." Rachel chuckled at Kid's naivety towards the hints she was shooting his way.

"Where can I find her?"

"Well normally she's at the dress shop, but today she took Jeremiah and Teresa fishing. The creek is only about a half mile from here." Kid stood up and gave Rachel a hug. "Kid, it's nice to have you home."

Kid hurriedly galloped away towards the creek.

"Why is it that those two think I should be the one to go find more worms," muttered Lou aloud. She was by herself collecting poor unfortunate worms as bait. She heard a rider approaching, and immediately put on her defenses. She now dressed like a woman, but anyone who crossed her the wrong way better stand prepared. However, the sight before her was not what she had prepared herself for. It was like a dream. The dream she'd dreamt every night, but not expecting it to come true. There he was before her, her Kid.

She was a sight for sore eyes. Kid didn't even recognize her at first. There in front of him stood a beautiful woman. She wore a calico print skirt and a cream blouse that highlighted her small, delicate features. Her mahogany hair was past her waist. It was in a long, loose braid down her back. Wisps gently framed her face and danced about with the slight breeze. She looked down self consciously realizing how dirty she appeared. She then raised her eyes. It was the same motion he grew to love and know so well. It was the same action that revealed her true identity years ago.

Kid dismounted and walked up to her. Both were afraid to touch each other out of fear. So many thoughts were running through their heads that neither knew what to say.

"You're here," came Lou's vulnerable response to his presence.

"To stay."

"How? I mean, the war's still raging."

"I was shot. They discharged me."

Immediately placing her hands on his chest, Lou roamed and searched for a visible or at least identifiable wound. "Shot? Where? Are you okay?"

Grabbing her tiny hands into his own strong ones, he stated, "I wasn't at first. I should have died. I was shot in the back of the neck. The bullet went in parallel with my body. There is an entrance wound and an exit wound. The doctors said that it skimmed my neck bone, but didn't penetrate it." Kid turned so Lou could inspect the wound that was at the base of his neck. Lou rubbed the two scars gently with her fingertips.

"But you did survive."

"Not without some difficulty. It happened just under a year ago. When I woke up I couldn't even move. They told me that I would never walk or use my arms again. I was worse than those fellas who had amputations. At least their other limbs worked."

"Why didn't you send for me?"

"First of all, I didn't even know if you were still in Rock Creek. I physically couldn't begin to look for you. Second, I wasn't about to have you enter a war zone. I know, you can take care of yourself. But Lou, no one should witness the bloody horrors of war."

Understanding Lou shook her head, "Go on."

"About a week after I woke up I started feeling my arms, but I couldn't move them. The doctors told me that they couldn't help me anymore. They were busy helping the other wounded soldiers. A nurse told me about an Indian fella named Two Wings. He helped me relearn how to use my body again. In time I regained all feeling. It took time and work, but I wanted to return home to you whole."

"Home?" Lou couldn't believe Kid referred to her and home in the same sentence.

"Lou, I could have chosen death. I know this sounds strange, but you have to believe me. I saw my mother. She told me that I had to choose. I wanted to stay with her Lou. I'd never felt safer. I'd never felt so at home. Then she reminded me of something. She said, ‘Home is where your heart is son. Home is a place where you're shrouded in love. Home is where you experience a sense of belongin'.' Lou when she said those words the only image I had was you. I understood for the first time in my life, that the home I was looking for wasn't a building to hang my hat, it was a place to hang my heart. I've never been shrouded with more love than when I'm with you. I've never felt liked I belonged more than when I'm with you. I'm homesick without you. I decided to live so I could return home to you. Lou, you have my heart, you are my home."

Tears of happiness dropped from Lou's eyes. They immediately embraced. "I love you Kid," she whispered.

"I love you too." Kid pulled back and gently placed his hands on Lou's shoulders. He stood for several moments and memorized each and every beautiful feature. He softly placed a feather kiss on her forehead. Then he moved down to her right cheek and delivered another soft kiss. He proceeded to the tip of her nose, and to her left cheek. Lou closed her eyes as a blissful chill ran down her spine. Finally, Kid reached her lips. He placed the same type of soft kiss and pulled back. Smiling at each other, they both leaned into a passionate kiss.

With Lou in his arms, Kid looked heaven ward. "Thanks God for this wonderful woman. And Mama, I'll never forget, there's no place like home."

Epilogue

Blue Creek, 1870

Kid watched his son Henry, and daughter Hope, play with Rachel's son Michael in the yard. Hope was frantically chasing Henry and Michael, begging them to play dollies with her. Rachel and Janusz had come to celebrate Kid and Lou's seventh wedding anniversary. Actually, they came to tend the kids while Kid and Lou went into town to celebrate their anniversary. Kid looked back on his wedding day and smiled.

Kid and Lou were married within a month of his return to Rock Creek. Teaspoon, Polly, Buck, Ike, Charlotte, Jeremiah, Teresa, Rachel and Janusz attended the wedding. At the reception, Rachel pulled Kid aside. Handing Kid an envelope she stated, "This is my wedding present to you."

Kid opened the envelope. "Rachel, this is the deed to the homestead in Blue Creek. I didn't even know you still owned it."

"It was returned to me after the Browning Land and Trust company was dissolved and I received my pardon."

"I can't take this."

"I want you to have it Kid. I don't need it. Besides, my life is here in Rock Creek with Janusz. More important Henry wanted you to have it. Henry once told me that he couldn't have been prouder of you than if he were your real father. He considered you his flesh. I feel the same way. You are my son. Go and take your beautiful wife and create a home together."

A home is what Kid indeed had. But it wasn't the house that stood behind him. It wasn't the homestead on which he labored. Belonging to a family who loved him....that was home.

The End

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