“You take Grace, I’ll take Thomas,” Lou told her husband. She suppressed the smile that was tugging at her lips. Kid still wore the same sour expression he did when she first told him they would be babysitting this evening.

Kid grimaced. Wasn’t it just like Lou to stick him with the more difficult task? Of Emma and Sam’s two children, he would have much preferred to take care of Thomas. Thomas was a quiet, well-mannered lad, while Grace, well Grace was something else, literally. “Lou,” he began.

“You need the practice,” Lou said firmly, patting her swollen belly. Their child was due in three months and Kid still hadn’t finished the cradle he had promised her. Maybe a little time with Grace would remind him of how much raising a child involved. He seemed to think she would handle all the difficult parts while he took their child fishing. Little did he know babies did not go fishing.

“Aw Lou,” Kid complained.

Lou ignored him, took the little boy by the hand and began leading him to his room, while Kid stood staring at Grace awkwardly. Grace just scowled at him, her hands on her hips.

“Come on,” Kid said wearily. He imitated Lou’s manner and took the child by the hand, mildly surprised that Grace went with him. He expected a fuss. Maybe raising children was what he expected and not what Lou kept telling him.

When they reached the bedroom, he hoisted the little girl in his arms and put her in the bed, pulling the covers snugly over her. “There now, you be a good girl and go right to sleep.” He leaned over the lamp, prepared to blow it out.

“My pa always tells me a story,” Grace said quickly.

“A what?”

Grace sighed. “A story,” she answered patiently. “You know, a bedtime story.”

“A bedtime story,” Kid said, furrowing his brow, while Grace looked at him expectantly.

“A bedtime story,” he repeated, frantically racking his brain. All he could remember were the tall tales that Teaspoon had been so fond of and he knew Emma would have his hide if he repeated one of them to her children.

“My pa told me one about how he met my ma,” Grace told him, trying to be helpful.

“You wanna know how I met Miss Lou?” Kid asked.

“Sure,” Grace replied, suppressing a yawn.

“Well,” Kid began. “It began in a forest, in the middle of Nebraska territory.”

She said...

“It was a beautiful moonlit night. And the handsome prince was dressed in his finest attire, a royal blue jacket and matching trousers, jingly silver spurs atop his spit-shined black boots,” Lou told Thomas.

“And a crown,” Thomas interjected.

“Of course,” Lou said. “What kind of prince would he be without a crown? And he came riding to the ball on his steed, Katy.”

“Katy?” Thomas exclaimed. “What kind of name is that for a horse? That’s my friend’s name.”

Lou shrugged. “That’s what our prince named her.”

“Then what?”

“When he got to the ball he danced with a few fair maidens until he was put under a spell,” Lou said ominously.

“What kind of spell?” Thomas asked in a very small voice.

“Oh the worst kind of spell,” Lou answered. “It was a spell put on him by a wicked witch who disguised herself as a beautiful young woman.”

“Was she terribly wicked?”

“Terribly.”

“What was her name?” Thomas asked. “Grace?”

Lou laughed. “No, her name was Samantha. And to all the men of the town she appeared to be beautiful and kind, but one member of the prince’s guard saw through her.”

“Who?”

“A girl named-”

“A girl!” Thomas scoffed. “A girl can’t be part of the prince’s guard.”

“Ah ha!” Lou exclaimed. “But no one knew she was girl. You see, she joined the guard to earn money but while she was there, she fell in love with the prince.”

“Oh,” Thomas said, eyeing Lou doubtfully.

“Now where was I,” Lou murmured, more to herself than to Thomas.

“The spell,” Thomas prompted her.

“That’s right, the spell. After the prince became bewitched by the evil Samantha, he did all her bidding,” Lou continued. “And then she left.”

“Without even saying goodbye?”

“Without even saying goodbye.”

“What did the prince do?” Thomas asked reverently.

“The prince was beside himself. He didn’t know what to do, until the guard found a glass slipper on the stairs and gave it to him.”

“Was it the evil Samantha’s slipper?”

Lou nodded. “Yes it was.”

Thomas cocked his head to one side. “It was the girl guard who found the shoe, wasn’t it?”

Lou nodded once more.

“If she loved him, why did she give it to him? She should have just smashed into a hundred pieces.”

“She could have,” Lou replied slowly. “But if she did that, she wouldn’t know if the prince loved her or Samantha.”

“But I thought he didn’t know she was a girl.”

“Oh, I forgot that part,” Lou amended hastily. “He knew. He found out one day and after that day, they became friends.”

“Because he kept her secret?” Thomas asked.

Lou smiled. “That was part of it.”

“And then what?”

He said....

“And the beautiful maiden charmed all the dwarves she lived with. They all loved her so much that they would do just about anything for her,” Kid said, dropping his voice, so that Grace leaned forward to hear him.

“What were the dwarves names?” she asked.

Kid smiled. “Jimmy, Ike, Buck, Noah and Cody.”

Grace rolled her eyes. “I know them. They ain’t dwarves.” She looked at Kid skeptically then. “I thought this was a story about you and Miss Lou.”

“It is,” Kid said, continuing to smile. He knew he had the little girl hooked. “So you wanna hear my story or what?”

Grace waved her hand at him. “Go on.”

“Thank you,” Kid said with an exaggerated degree of patience. “Well Louise-”

“Louise?!”

“That’s the maiden’s name,” Kid sighed.

“Oh, it really is about you and Miss Lou.”

“You gonna listen to my story or what?”

“I said go on, didn’t I?”

Kid sighed once more. “Louise charmed all the dwarves so that they asked her to live with them. And they all lived together, happily. Until the wicked queen, Louise had run away from looked in her magic mirror.” Kid pitched his voice upward and said, “mirror, mirror, on the wall who is the fairest of them all.” He looked at Grace once more. “And the mirror answered, Louise.”

“That must have made the queen awful mad,” Grace said thoughtfully.

“It did,” Kid agreed. “She was furious, because she thought Louise was dead and gone. So it surprised her when the mirror still said Louise. The queen was so angry that she decided to make the beautiful Louise fall into a deep sleep, so no one would ever see her again and know how beautiful she was.”

“And then what?” Grace almost shrieked.

“The queen disguised herself as an old crone and once she found the beautiful Louise she offered her a apple,” Kid continued.

“A poison apple,” Grace shivered.

Kid nodded his head vigorously. “And the beautiful Louise bent her head to take a bite of the apple. She had just taken one little nibble when the dwarves returned. They all shouted at her to stop, but it was too late. She fell to the ground in a deep sleep.”

“What did the dwarves do?”

“They were so sad. They thought the beautiful Louise was dead and they couldn’t bear to bury her in the ground so they put her in a glass coffin, where they could still look at her,” Kid explained.

“I meant to the evil queen,” Grace said with another roll of her eyes.

“Jimmy shot her.”

She said...

“So the Prince decided to go along with the girl guard’s plan and they went from house to house, looking for the girl whose foot would fit into that slipper,” Lou continued. “When they finally got to the evil Samantha’s house they entered and the prince put the slipper on her foot.”

“And it fit?” Thomas asked in a disappointed voice.

“It fit,” Lou replied heavily.

Thomas looked like he was ready to cry.

“Then group returned to the castle and everyone was very happy. They were sure a wedding was to come soon. But when they got to the castle the evil Samantha saw the king.”

Thomas’ eyes lit up.

“And she decided she would rather become a queen than just measly princess. So she cast a spell on the king and the two of them were soon married.”

“And the prince?”

Lou smiled. “He broke free from the spell Samantha had cast and figured things out. He and the girl guard got married a few months later.”

He said...

“And the dwarves were gathered around the coffin, crying their eyes out when he came,” Kid intoned solemnly.

“Who?” Grace yelped.

“The prince,” Kid said, giving Grace a wry look. “Prince Kid.”

“You know,” Grace said slyly. “This story might work a whole lot better if the Prince had a real name. I mean what kind of name is Kid for a prince?”

Kid narrowed his eyes at Grace. “A right fine name,” he said. He waited quietly until Grace began squirm.

“A right fine name,” she agreed wearily.

With that concession, Kid went on. “The Prince got off his horse and went to see what all the commotion was and when he saw the beautiful Louise, he was a goner.”

“He loved her,” Grace said breathlessly.

“He loved her,” Kid agreed. “And before those dwarves could put the lid on the coffin, he leaned over it and kissed the beautiful Louise.”

“And she woke up!”

“Yes she did. And when the beautiful Louise woke up they all went to the prince’s castle so they could be married.” Kid concluded as he once again pulled the covers over Grace.

“That was a good story,” she murmured sleepily.

“Thanks,” Kid replied. “It was my first.” He smiled at the little girl. Yep, Lou was definitely wrong. Raising children was not work, it was pleasure. He kissed her forehead. “‘Night.”

“‘Night,” Grace whispered as her eyes closed. “So how did it end?”

They said....

“They lived happily ever after.”

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