Thanks for your help Broedy!
I lead him into the barn, ready to tell him everything, but now that his worried eyes are staring at me all my determination fades. How can I tell him something so horrible? How can he forgive me for hiding it from him?
I swallow. I don’t look at him. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand what I’ll see in his eyes when I finish telling him. I hear him draw closer and instinctively I turn my back on him. He stops, mortified, and my heart begins to pound. But I don’t want to lose the little courage I have in one of his embraces.
“I met Wicks when I was thirteen,” I begin to talk. “I’d just run away from the orphanage. I thought I could find a job, instead…” I shake my head. “If Wicks hadn’t taken me in I wouldn’t have survived the winter. He gave me a roof over my head and a job as laundress. He brought me to a house with other women. At first I thought they were other girls he’d helped. What an idiot…”
“No, Lou…” His tone is firm and gentle at the same time. I lift up my face and find the strength to smile weakly at him. Then I go on.
“I met Charlotte. She defended me against the other girls and made me realize where I was. I started to be afraid then, but no one seemed interested in me. Until one night… I was barely fourteen, Wicks came to my room…’You’re growing up, Louise’, he said…”
I can’t go on, only a stifled sob escapes my lips. I still hear his voice in my head.
“I was so terrified. He was so big…and I couldn’t move…” Tears run down my cheeks. “’What did you think you were doing here?’ he told me. ‘Everything has its price…it’s time you learned your real job.’ I was stupid, so stupid…”
I can feel Wicks’ iron grip, his weight suffocating me, his heavy breath. I curl myself up on the ground, just as I did back then.
Kid kneels down near to me. He reaches out his hand to touch me but I draw back and begin to tremble. I lift my eyes to look at him. “I-I’m sorry…” I can’t say anything else. I burst into tears.
I watch her before me, curled into a corner; her petite frame is shaken by sobs.
“It’s all my fault, all my fault…” she goes on muttering “I couldn’t help Tessie and Miah. I couldn’t save Charlotte…” She looks at me through her tears. “I ruined things between us… And it’s all my fault, I’m stupid, so stupid…”
I come closer. “Nothing’s your fault, Lou…” I say to her. I want to embrace her, hold her tightly and make her feel safe, but I don’t know if she’ll let me now.
I try again to lay my hand on her shoulder. She stiffens under my touch, like a scared kitten, but she doesn’t withdraw this time. She grasps my hand and entwines her fingers with mine. She holds them tightly without turning towards me.
How could someone do that to her… my eyes fill with tears. Slowly I pass my arm around her shoulders. She turns now and hides her face against my chest. She continues to cry. I can hardly breathe from the rage that’s burning inside of me. Because of Wicks she decided to disguise herself, because of him she was so shy and uneasy with me in the beginning, he why she cried the first time we were together. She felt guilty for what happened to her all of those years ago…
I can’t help thinking about that beast who stole her innocence. I would have killed him with my own hands. I would have been able to protect Lou, to spare her the pain and the humiliation; but I wasn’t there. I know I can’t change what happened but I feel like I failed her.
Now I can only hold her tightly, hoping to erase her grief, hoping to help her to make Wicks a thing of the past.
We return home, hand in hand. I rest my cheek against his shoulder; I need to feel him close now. Before the bunkhouse I stop, panic-stricken for a moment. I don’t want the others see me like this.
“Kid,” I say softly and he turns to me. “I’d prefer to sleep at Rachel’s tonight.” I hear the uncertainty in my voice, and I hate feeling so vulnerable.
“Ok.” He smiles while he brushes his thumb across my cheek, but I see him frown slightly. “I’ll tell them that you don’t feel well.”
I watch as Lou walks towards Rachel’s house, and then I enter in the bunkhouse. They are all at the table, waiting for us to start supper, and now they’re staring at me with questioning looks.
“Lou doesn’t feel well this evening,” I say before they can ask anything. “Rachel, she’d prefer to stay with you, if you don’t mind.”
She nods; she has understood. “I’ll go check on her. Boys, help yourselves without me.”
I sit down. The others watch me, astonished.
“What the hell did you do to convince her to stay with Rachel?” Cody exclaims with his usual big mouth.
“I said she doesn’t feel well.” I almost don’t recognize the cold tone of my voice. The boys don’t ask anymore questions.
I eat silently, I have no desire to talk to them this evening. They understand that there’s something wrong. I can’t eat more than a few bites. I can’t stop thinking about what that man has done to Lou. She was so upset that she doesn’t want to sleep with us…I can stay anymore, I excuse myself and go outside.
From the window I see him leave the bunkhouse hurriedly. He walks fast, and when he reaches the barn he punches the wall violently; one, two, three times, until I hear the crack of the broken wood. I gulp…
Then I see him disappear in the darkness so I return to bed, curling under the blankets with my knees to my chest. I start to cry again. It seems that all the pain and the tears that I’ve been holding inside all this time have finally found their way out.
“LOU!” I wake up screaming her name. I’m in a hayloft…and I don’t know how I came to be here. “Lou…”
I dreamed that Wicks took her… I saw her terrified eyes, and I wasn’t able to do anything. I find myself gasping from the pain and the rage again.
When I get up I stagger. My head pounds mercilessly. I went to the saloon last night; I don’t remember anything else. I swore that I’d never reduce myself like my father, instead… I smell of alcohol and I don’t know why. I’m disgusting. I hope only that Lou doesn’t see me in this condition.
I set out for the way station. The light hurts my eyes. What time is it? I look around but I don’t see anyone.
“Kid!” a voice resounds painfully in my head. Rachel is coming towards me, and she is decidedly angry. “Kid! Where the hell have you been?! Louise was beside herself with worry!”
A pained expression crosses my face. ”Lou…where is she, now?”
“She left an hour ago. You weren’t here and she took your run.”
What? I completely forgot about the run; I wasn’t here and she took it. I should be taking care of her, but instead... I sway and lean on the corral.
“Damn!” I hit the fence. “Damn!”
Tears roll down my cheeks; I’m a pitiful scene, but I don’t care if Rachel sees me.
She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Come inside.” Her voice is softened. “We’ll try to make you presentable. I don’t think Teaspoon should see you like this.”
But it’s too late; a familiar voice calls me, and I don’t expect anything good from his tone. Teaspoon comes towards me.
“Kid, what did you get up to last night?” His voice is deadly serious.
“I…” I hesitate.
“KID! You’ve almost destroyed the saloon!”
Slowly I begin to remember everything. A man was grabbing one of the girls. Her big, scared eyes reminded me of Lou, and I was blind with rage. I can say nothing to justify myself, so I remain silent.
“Son, I want an explanation for your behavior.”
I stay silent.
“I bet that Lou has something to do with it,” Cody says as he approaches us. Like the others he was watching the scene from the porch.
I glare at him. “Mind your own business, Cody.”
“Is it true?” Teaspoon asks. “Did you argue with her?”
I don’t answer him; I don’t want to involve Lou in this quarrel.
“Lou slept at Rachel’s house last night,” Cody adds.
“Has something happened?” Teaspoon asks me.
“This time you got really mad, didn’t you?” Cody has not still learned when he should shut up.
“Damn Cody! I didn’t argue with her!” I realize that I’ve yelled, and that I’ve grabbed the collar of his shirt.
They watch me, shocked. They never expected such a reaction from me. Rachel approaches me, she lays a hand on my shoulder but I shrug it off.
“Excuse me,” I murmur, and then I leave.
I rode all the morning without stopping to rest Lightning. She is exhausted, but I don’t want to stop. I want to concentrate only on the mail delivery, because if I let myself think about something else I’ll start to cry again.
I barely slept last night, my short rest haunted by nightmares. Kid. I continue to see his distressed face. He has been wonderful; he tried to hide how upset he was, he was only concerned with making me feel better. But I could see the horror and the rage behind his eyes. God, I don’t want lose him…
Dust and tears sully my face when I arrive in Cottonwood. I don’t stop. I accept a sandwich and start again for home.
My run stops only when I’m a few miles from Rock Creek. I don’t want to see the others now. I don’t want to face their inevitable questions, and I’m afraid. What will the Kid think of me? When he wasn’t at the station to take his run this morning I was crazy with worry. What if I come back and he still doesn’t show himself? What if something has happened to him?
I couldn’t bear it if he doesn’t want me anymore. I’ve already tried to be without him, to pretend that I can be alone like I’ve always been, but the pain was suffocating me. I was scared of him when he came too close; I’ve always fought to be strong and free, and to feel myself so dependent on him was terrifying. I didn’t feel ready then, but now I know that I can’t be without him, and that there’s nothing wrong in that. He helped me trust in others again, he accepted my insecurities, my doubts, my fears and weaknesses, but how can he accept this? How can he touch me or look me in the eyes again after what I told him?
I reach the station and immediately notice that the atmosphere is tense. I don’t see Kid anywhere and the boys are staring at me. My heart begins to beat erratically. What has happened? Why isn’t he here?
“Cody! Buck!” I call to my friends without even dismounting from Lightning. “Where’s the Kid?”
The boys glance at each other, uncertain.
“W-well, Lou, we truly don’t know what’s the matter with him. He got into a fight at the saloon yesterday.”
“Where is he now?” I know that my voice is trembling but I don’t care.
Buck shakes his head sadly. “We don’t know. Teaspoon’s mad at him. He asked him why he did it, but he didn’t want to say anything.”
“Lou, what’s happening?” he adds, worried.
But I don’t respond, I spur Lightning and ride away.
I don’t know how long it’s been since I got here. I wash my face in the freezing cold pond until my mind is lucid, painfully lucid. I got drunk, I beat a man. God, I was going to hit Cody for no reason… I completely lost my self-control. What if Lou saw me? What if I hit her? I don’t want to think about it.
She trusts me, and only now I understand how difficult it has been for her to open her heart to me, let me kiss her, touch her, love her… And I smothered her; I tried to control her life, even though I was only trying to look after her.
“Lou…” I take my head in my hands. I was so angry at her back then. I didn’t understand her reticence. I had supposed that she didn’t love me enough.
I hear someone approaching and I lift my head… Lou. Her petite frame remains near her horse. She is worried, I can see it. I come towards her. She bows her head.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice is cracked from crying. It wrenches my heart as I pull her into my arms.
“Kid.” She begins to sob. “Kid, please don’t leave me.”
She clings to my shirt desperately. I rub her back and her shoulders. How can I leave her? She is my life, my love. I repeat it to her, whispering. I soothe her gently as if she were a child.
Slowly her sobs began to subside. I sit down on a fallen log and pull her onto my lap. She has stopped weeping, and now her hands are laced loosely around my waist.
Finally she lifts her face to look at me again; her eyes are wide and anxious.
“You won’t leave me? Truly?” Her voice is still uncertain. “Even after I lied to you and didn’t have faith in you…Even now you know that I…”
I take her face in my hands and stare into her eyes.
“I love you with all of my heart, Louise McCloud. I can’t imagine living without you.”
I rest my forehead against hers. “It’s you who must forgive me. I didn’t have faith in you; I should have tried to understand you. I didn’t even think about how my stupid pride was hurting you.” I pause for a moment to catch my breath. “I don’t know why you’d still want a bullheaded fool like me.”
She lays a finger on my lips. “Because I have a head as thick as yours.” She gives me a soft kiss and then looks me deep in the eyes again. She’s smiling now. “And because I love you.”
As we walk home together I take his hand. He squeezes my hand and kisses my forehead, smiling against my skin. I sigh, incredibly happy. I didn’t think that I’d be able to do that after telling him all about my past.
When we get to the barn I notice the broken planks, the ones he broke yesterday. I feel him tensing, and his eyes are clouding. I turn to face him.
“I’m sure that everything is gonna be fine with Teaspoon.” I stroke his cheek lovingly, letting him feel all my love and support.
“It’s not that, Lou…”
I frown; I don’t understand.
“Yesterday I completely lost my self control. What if you’d been there and I hurt you?” His voice cracks and he looks away.
“Kid.” I force him to look at me again. His eyes are scared and pained. I know what he fears most. I know the scars his childhood has left on his soul.
“You are not like him.”
“But he was my father, Lou… and what I’ve done frightens me. I almost hit Cody this morning for no reason.”
I take his face in my hands. “Exactly, Kid. Almost. You would never hurt someone without a reason. You are the gentlest, most patient, and the most special man I know. If I hadn’t met you, I would have never learned to trust someone again.”
He blushes. “I’m not… I didn’t do anything.”
“Yes, you did,” I tell him seriously.
He embraces me then, and lays his forehead on my shoulder. “Thank you,” he whispers into my hair.
“You’re welcome.” I smile and stroke his back. We remain like that for a moment, then he moves away.
“We’d better go if we still want to find something to eat,” he jokes and pulls me towards the bunkhouse, but he is worried like me.
When we enter we are still hand in hand. The others have fallen silent and are watching us. Their faces betray their curiosity, but also their concern. They know that something has happened between the Kid and me and, above all, that Teaspoon’s still waiting for an explanation from the Kid. Rachel gives me a look full of sympathy, but she doesn’t say anything. Teaspoon glares at us.
“I’m sorry Teaspoon, but there’s nothing I can say to justify myself.”
“Come on, son! I know you. I know that you wouldn’t behave this way without a good reason. But I can’t pretend that nothing happened this time.”
Kid remains silent. The fool doesn’t want to say anything so as not to involve me.
“It’s my fault,” I say. “Kid was upset because of something that happened to me.”
I feel him squeeze my hand and I turn to look at him.
“There ain’t any need for you say anything,” he says to me. I smile at him.
“Yes, there is.”
I turn toward the others, my friends, my family. I don’t want to hide anything from them anymore. I’m scared, but Kid’s presence gives me courage. I take a deep breath, and then I begin.
“Do you remember my friend Charlotte? I met her when I ran away from the orphanage. She was… a prostitute. We worked for the man that killed her, Wicks.”
“Lou! Are you telling us that you were…”
“Cody!” Kid growls.
“No, no!” I respond. “I worked as a laundress. I didn’t know what kind of place it was, until one night…” I squeeze Kid’s hand until I almost hurt him. “Until one night…” I can’t continue. I thought that it wouldn’t be so hard now, but my throat is tight and I can’t talk. I feel a strong arm around my shoulders. I try again to speak. A trembling breath is the only thing that escapes my lips.
Kid talks for me. “That bastard raped her.” His voice is constricted from all the hate and sorrow he feels. “She was barely fourteen,” he finishes in a whisper.
I hide my face in his chest. I can’t face them now. I don’t want to see the pity and the horror in their eyes. I hear them suck in their breath like they were physically hit. Someone approaches me.
“Lou.” Teaspoon caresses my hair. “Lou, sweetheart.”
Finally I find the strength to lift my head. I see his eyes brimming with tears. “Come here, come here.” He hugs me, consoling me like a father.
I begin to relax. The boys approach me – Buck, Cody, Noah, everybody takes me in his arms. Jesse is weeping. Jimmy almost hurts me with the tightness of his embrace.
“I’m sorry.” Jimmy mumbles with difficulty. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m fine now, I’m fine…” I reassure him.
We part and he kisses my forehead before he lets me go. I return to the Kid’s reassuring arms. I look at each and every one of their faces. They’re my family. Tears prick my eyes.
“God, how much I love you.” I don’t realize that I’ve said these words aloud, if only in a whisper.
“And WE love you.” Buck ruffles my hair. My cheeks grow warm.
“Hey! I won’t recognize you anymore if you’re gonna blush like a girl now,” Cody teases me, but on his lips I see the sweetest smile I ever saw on him.
The evening went on quietly. Lou and I have eaten in silence, listening the chatters of the other. We sit close, shoulder-to-shoulder. The boys didn’t treat her differently. There weren’t any looks of pity, the thing that she feared the most, but I know that it has been difficult for all of them, especially Jimmy.
While we’re preparing to turn in for the night, Lou calls me outside for our usual kiss good night, but this evening is different. We remain in each other’s arms. I have the physical need to feel her close. I hear her sigh, and I cast my eyes down to watch her, her cheek pressed to my chest and her big, dark eyes shining in the moonlight.
“Your new shirt, I didn’t even see how you look in it…”
I smile sweetly. “Well, we have a lot of time for that.”
“Kid.” Her voice is anxious now. “Kid…when I gave you that shirt, I wanted… I did it because I wanted you wear it during our double ride to Fairfield.”
I remain silent. I understand what she means. I remember what this kind of run means for us. A couple of days like a true couple: a romantic dinner, a walk and… a dance together.
“We both want to take things slowly, afraid of ruining everything again. I’ve thought about that trip too, but we missed that opportunity and now, with everything that’s happened, I didn’t think that she was ready. Instead, I look into her eyes and find the answer.
“Kid.” She’s uncertain, and swallows hard. “Stay with me tonight.”
“Lou, I don’t know if that’s a good idea…”
She withdraws. “You…you don’t want me anymore,” she says. “Is it because I’m…dirty?”
“No, Lou!” I take hold of her forearms. “God, how can you think that I don’t want you anymore? It’s only that… I don’t want to feel you trembling with fear from my touch, and move away from me like you were burned. Because what I do to you… is the same as what Wicks has done.” I think about his hands touching her like mine have, that every time we’ve been together she’s had to fight that memory.
“Kid.” She takes my hand. “You haven’t done anything to me like what that man did. You loved me, you healed me. I was scared of being with you at the beginning, I can’t deny that, but you never forced me, you’ve never hurt me.”
Her cheeks become red.
“Every time we’ve been together I’ve felt safe and loved. There’s only you in my heart, nothing else…and it’s so beautiful… All the rest doesn’t exist, only you and me.” She sighs. “But maybe it won’t be like that anymore, now that you know. He’ll be between us.”
She trembles and doesn’t look at me. I hurt her again. I want to protect her, but I always seem to make her suffer.
“Come here.” I take her in my arms. “I didn’t say that I don’t want to make love to you. It’s just that I want our first time together after so long to be special, not a roll in the hay to prove something to ourselves.”
“Really?” She doesn’t seem totally convinced.
“Really.” I bow to kiss her neck. “I promise, tomorrow I’ll go to Teaspoon and I’ll ask him if there’s a double run scheduled. Otherwise, as soon as we have some days off, we’ll go to St. Joe to see your brother and sister.”
I murmur softly, my lips on her skin, and I feel her relax under my touch. I love to feel her like that, soft and sweet in my arms.
“You promise?” Her voice is husky when she responds.
I smile. “I promise, Lou.”
We go inside the bunkhouse. The others are sleeping, or pretending to sleep. I know that privacy is only an illusion in here, and someone has probably been watching us from the window.
While we’re undressing I feel her arms around my waist. She lays her cheek on my back.
“Kid.” Her tone is almost pleading. “Can I sleep with you, at least?”
I turn to look at her. She’s staring up at me with her big, brown eyes. “Please,” she says.
I can’t resist. I lift the blankets, she slips into the bunk and I do the same. I feel her snuggle against me, the way we used to do, her back against my chest, my arms around her tiny waist, our fingers entwined. God, how much I’ve missed all of this.
“Good night, Louise,” I whisper near her ear. She turns to kiss my neck.
“Good night to you.”
I watch her sleeping, enjoying the feeling of her warm, little body against mine. My Lou, my sweet, strong, brave Louise. I’ve made a lot of mistakes with her, but now my only desire is to be with her, to love her, to protect her, to take care of her like she deserves. And I hope that one day she’ll let me to do it.