Author's note: This story might made Kid's, Jimmy's and Lou's fans unhappy ...so you're warned!
I look at the house in front of me. It was white, once, with a stable and a small corral spreading toward the hills. It should have been our home, mine and Kid's, but now the paint is peeled off the boards and only a few poles of the corral still stand up.
I never lived in that house, even if I was the one that chose it when Kid and I were still engaged. I never lived there because I never married Kid.
I left him at the altar, the day of our wedding. When Jimmy arrived to bring me to the church, I decided to go away with him because I suddenly understood that I didn't want the life Kid was offering me. I wanted to be free, and the thought of bonding myself forever to the man who had always been my sweetheart, and then fiancè, suffocated me.
I realized that I wanted Jimmy and the freedom he represented more than I wanted Kid. I had been craving a family, that sense of home and of being loved and protected, since I could remember; but when the moment of marrying Kid arrived, I found out I was terrified. I wasn't sure I would be able to fit in the role of mother and wife of a rancher, and worse, I wasn't sure if I would be happy living that life.
I chose Jimmy then, because he could give me what Kid couldn't. Kid, who adored me and would have done everything to make me happy, the quiet stubborn Kid who only wanted to form a family with me, couldn't give me the independence I sought. I abandoned him then, and never saw him again. The day I was supposed to marry him, I gave him just a small thought before throwing myself into Jimmy's arms.
With Jimmy, I found the passion, the adventure, and the thrill of not knowing what the next day would hold for us. All things my young, rebel soul wanted. Until that moment I had always put someone else's needs above my own. First, I took care of my sick mother and my siblings when I was just a child; then I went through hell, and worked as a man to bring them away from the orphanage. All my efforts were useless, though, because they got adopted before I could take them away from there.
That tore my heart apart, but it also opened my eyes; for the first time since I was born, I didn't have any obligation; I could do whatever I wanted, and I discovered I didn't want to live the normal, dull life of a traditional woman.
I was happy with Jimmy, because we were two similar souls. We could do whatever we wanted. We could explore what life held for us without having to think about anyone and anything. All of this was exhilarating for me, and those first months we spent together, roaming in wild west towns, were the most exciting I had ever lived. I felt as if I finally started to live my life fully, and even if I didn't know what I would do in my future, I wasn't afraid. With Jimmy I felt strong enough to face whatever difficulty was thrown in our way.
I was too naïve and too sure of myself though; I felt invincible, and I was wrong. I realized that the day I discovered I was pregnant.
That news threw me off completely. I hadn't thought about having a baby yet, the only thing I had in mind was my life with Jimmy. Kid would have burst with joy and pride at the news, and I would have been probably as excited as him if I had been his wife; but in the situation I was in, a baby scared me. We didn't have a home or a place to stay, and we never thought about settling down. Now everything would have to change.
Jimmy didn't know what to say when I told him. He was happy, that was true, but he admitted that a baby right then wasn't something he had planned. I had felt bad at those words, but I hadn't said anything, because they were true. I hadn't planned that baby either.
When we finally were able to settle, my belly was already big. We stopped in a town like many others, because it was too difficult for me to ride, and Jimmy found a job as a deupty. In those months, after so long, I found myself thinking about Kid. He would probably have never left my side until I yelled at him to let me breathe. He would have looked at me with his puppy eyes and apologized, and then he would have done everything to grant my every little whim. I would have made him squirm with my moods, and the other boys would have teased him for that.
Those thoughts made me smile, but also saddened me greatly. I had started to miss Kid's attentions, especially now that Jimmy was often away because of his job, and I was alone in a town where I didn't know anyone. I did push away those sad thoughts though, blaming the pregnancy. The baby's arrival was unexpected, and Jimmy and I were still getting accustomed to the idea, but I wanted to believe that everything would go fine in the end.
But nothing went fine. The baby was born too early, after a long labour and a difficult delivery that I had to face alone because Jimmy was in a posse looking for a bank robber. I never felt so lonely as I did in that moment. I wanted Rachel near me, or Emma, or the father of my child, who was risking its life even before it was born.
When I could finally look at my son, I saw blue eyes looking back at me. The baby was Kid's. I had suspected it since the beginning, but I hadn't said anything because I didn't want to complicate our lives even more. But in that moment, looking at my baby, who looked startingly similar to the man I had abandoned, the doubts and the fears I pushed away returned at full force. Maybe Jimmy wouldn't want look after a baby he hadn't fathered, I worried, maybe it would be better to let him have a proper home with Kid rather than with me, probably I wouldn't be able to be a good mother for him anyway.
But my musing and my worries were interrupted by the words of the midwife who helped me.
"Don't get too attached to the baby," she told me, "he won't survive long.".
In that moment I realized how small and fragile my son really was, and, seeing the truth behind her words, my heart shattered.
Thirteen hours, that was how long my baby lived. The longest thirteen hours of my life, spent cradling my precious child, memorizing every little feature of him, and hoping against hope that the midwife was wrong. I don't wish on anyone the pain I felt while cradling my son, seeing him weakening with every breath he took, and knowing that I couldn't do anything to save him.
Once he came back from his mission Jimmy found me rocking my baby's little body, still in the same bed where I delivered him. Jimmy grieved with me, in a way even more than me, because he lost the chance to hold what he believed his son. Even when I revealed to him the truth, that the father was Kid, it didn't change much for him. I didn't see them back then, but the demons that made him believe he wasn't able to take care of the ones he loved, had started to torment him again. They probably had never left him, and the whole time we had been together he was fighting the guilt for having betrayed a friend and the constant fear that his infamous reputation would endager me.
He was with me every step of my emotional and physical recovery, in a way was more attentive than before, more caring and affectionate. He tried to soothe my pain, but he himself was suffering. We could have helped each other, and that tragedy could have made us even closer. But the truth was that with the death of our baby something had broken.
Our love had burned strong and passionate, like a beautiful flame, but like a flame, it had now extinguished, and I found myself regretting my choice. It was a horrible feeling. I was the one revealing to Jimmy my feelings, and I was the one who wanted to run away from my future husband. I was the one who made him betray Kid's trust, and then I put him through the ordeal of losing a child, who wasn't even his. I put him through all of this, only to understand that I had made a mistake.
I never said anything about it to Jimmy, and I kept being his woman, because I just couldn't break the heart of another man I cared about for my own foolishness. But Jimmy wasn't a fool, and he soon understood that something was definitively changed between us. Things didn't work anymore; we both understood that, but to say it aloud was hard. We sacrificed so much to live our love that we didn't want to let it go. But if we kept clinging to something that didn't exist anymore, we would risk ruining what we still had. So one day we finally decided to go our separate ways.
I never saw him again; we write to each other when we are able to. I know he became a scout for the Army, and then a sheriff in some small town. I hope he has a good life, and that he isn't as eaten by the regrets as I am.
After I separated from Jimmy, I wandered around for a while. I longed to come back to what remained of my family but I didn't have the guts to do so. I went to the orpahange to ask about Jeremiah and Teresa, and the nuns assured me that the family who adopted them was a good one. One day I even went to the place where they lived to check on them, even though I never let them see me. The middle aged couple who took them in was a well-off one, and I could see my siblings were well dressed and well cared for. That couple could give them more possibilities than the ones I would have ever been able to give them. My siblings will have a good future, and I hope that, with time, they will learn to forgive their older sister who disappeared from their lives.
I wanted to go to Rock Creek, but I feared doing so; nothing would be the same. I was ashamed of the way I abandoned Kid and the others, without saying anything, and I wasn't sure they would want to have me back. In any case, the family I left there was probably scattered away.
Cody had enlisted in the Army even before I ran away, and Noah wasn't accepted because of his skin color, but he probably had continued his fight for freedom in a different way. Buck was troubled by his mixed heritage, as he had always been, even if he had hidden it well during his time with us. Who knows, maybe he settled with Rachel and Teaspoon, finding his peace with what remained of our makeshift family, or maybe he returned back to his brother's tribe.
I had no idea of what happened to my friends, and it pained me to not have kept in touch with them, or with my brother and sister. Most of all, it haunted me not knowing what Kid was doing. I hoped he had a good life, that he had opened the ranch he dreamed about, that he had a nice wife who could made him forget the pain I had caused him. He was a beautiful person. He was the first man I loved, the first man who made me feel safe and protected, and I had broken his heart.
In the end I decided to go back home. I couldn't go on not knowing what had become of my family.
I didn't expect it would be so hard, though.
Rachel and Teaspoon were still in Rock Creek, but everyone else had left. Cody was with the Army, Noah joined the Underground Railroad, Buck returned to his tribe and Kid…Kid was dead.
That news hit me like a punch in the stomach. They told me he had gone back to Virginia shortly after our failed marriage, and he had died in the war. That was beyond terrible. I ruined his life with a single careless action. Sure, going back East was his choice, nobody forced him to do so, but I knew that he had already renounced defending his beloved homeland for my sake. He told me that before the wedding, and when the future he dreamed of having with me was crushed, he must have felt that fighting in the war was the only possible choice left to him. Or maybe he didn't think at all, instead he just ran away from the place where his heart was broken.
I can't think about the anger and the hurt he must have felt that day. Back then I didn't give a second thought about him and his feelings; I was only excited because of my newfound freedom and worried that he might find me and Jimmy; as if he was a monster we had to run away from. Now I realize that waiting uselessly for a bride who never arrived in front of his family and the whole community must have been the most humiliating and painful experience in his whole life, and I can't imagine what he would have thought in those moments. He gave me his heart, and I know that. He gave me his heart and his soul, and I threw them back in his face.
I should have been honest, I should have talked to him about my doubts and my fears instead of hiding them; maybe we would have been able to sort out our problems, or maybe I would have decided to call off the marriage all the same, but he wouldn't have been stabbed in the back by his fiancè and his best friend like he was.
My whole life I've been afraid of getting hurt by the people around me, and, instead, I ended up hurting the first person who taught me to trust and love. Now there isn't anything I can do to undo what I did.
I stare at the empty, run-down house, trying to picture how it would have been if I had made a different choice back then. I can picture a toddler with blue eyes and sandy hair racing on unsteady legs down the steps of the porch and Kid, with a radiant smile on his face, bending to pick him up and hug him to his chest. Tears prickle my eyes.
It should have gone that way. Kid and our baby should have had the chance to be together. He would have been a wonderful father, and instead I ruined everything. The only hope that remains to me now, is that the father and son I divided have found each other in Heaven.
Author's Note: I want to thank my beta Marlea (chyrongirl) !