In the days leading up to Lou's birthday, Kid's worry for his wife grew. She was restless at night and more than once he had awakened her from nightmares. She never told him what they were about, feigning she could not remember them, and pleaded with him to hold her. He did so without argument, but worried about her nonetheless. By morning she would push aside his concerns and go on about her business as if nothing had happened during the night.
He hoped that the surprise birthday party he was planning for her would bring her spirits up. He had heard back from everyone in their PX family, except for Buck. He hoped his Kiowa brother and his family would receive the telegraph he had sent. Even though Buck and Cherokee ran the trading post that Cherokee's father had built on the outskirts of Independence, he knew they often went to stay with Red Bear's tribe from time to time.
It had taken him every bit of restraint to not show the short missive Hickok had written to Lou, because he did not want to spoil his surprise for her. Seeing Jimmy in person, along with the others, was going to do Lou a world of good.
Besides tending to the daily chores of a prospering ranch, Kid was helping each one of his and Lou's children make birthday gifts for their mother. The older children were working on intricate ones that showcased each of their individual talents, but needed his assistance with certain parts to them. The younger ones were busy making drawings or paintings with skills they had learned at school.
He had his own gifts for Lou in the works as well. A new jewelry box with a pair of horses touching nuzzles on the top of it. Inside, there would be an oblong piece of wood carved with the initials and birth dates of their children carved into it. He had already completed a set of saddlebags for her with her initials carved into them. He was careful to keep what he was working on hidden from Lou's view.
Together he and the children had made decorations out of store bought colored ribbons and paper. Hidden in the back of the barn was a colorful banner Katerina had made for her ma's special day.
Finally the day before Lou's birthday arrived and Kid felt as giddy as one of his children. This was the day that everyone was supposed to arrive in town. Now all he had to do was keep Lou from leaving the ranch so he could go meet the Hunters, Cains, and Cody's at the train depot. Hickok, he knew, was coming into town by horse. He was putting everyone up at the hotel for the night, and then while he had Lou squirreled away on an afternoon picnic, the children would decorate the house with the help of his foreman's wife, who would also be charged of cooking the meal and baking Lou's birthday cake.
"I'm going to head into town after breakfast to pick up a couple of things. Is there anything you need?" Kid asked Lou as they sat down for breakfast.
"We could use some more sugar, coffee, tea, flour, and salt." Lou said as she began to dish up porridge into bowls, "Maybe a couple of other things. I'll make you a list after we're done eating."
Kid passed the bowls of porridge out to their six children, and helped the younger ones add butter, cream, and brown sugar to their bowls before he handed out butter rolls, as Lou dished them both large portions of porridge. Eggs and bacon were the last items to make their way around the table, before Lou and Kid settled into eating their own meals.
When breakfast was over, Lou prepared a list of items she needed from Tompkins mercantile, while Kid tended to the morning chores with their ranch hands.
"I'll be back in an hour or so." Kid told Lou before leaving the house.
"Alright," Lou gave him a kiss and watched from the porch as he drove the wagon out of the yard.
Lou walked across the wildflower strewn grass toward the meadow where Kid had erected two carved wooden crosses in honor of Ike and Noah. She visited them often, finding solace in every visit, even though she was well aware that neither of her fallen PX brothers were actually buried there.
She reached the two crossed a short time later and sat down in front of them. She separated the large bouquet of wildflowers she had picked along the way, into two smaller ones and placed them in front of the two crosses.
"I miss you both so very much." Lou said aloud. "Kid does, too. You both have a way of giving advice, and I could sue some now. I've been having these dreams…nightmares actually, and I don't know why. Something bad is going to happen…I can feel it. I'm scared that something is going to happen to Kid or the children, and I don't think I could ever live without any of them."
Tears slid freely from her eyes as she spoke. All the emotion and fear she had been keeping bottled up inside finally broke free and overflowed. She knew her strange behavior over the past couple of weeks worried Kid, and she hated that she caused him to worry, but she had not been able to voice what she had been feeling or dreaming about to him for fear of them coming true. Somehow voicing them aloud to Ike and Noah did not carry the same weight to them like they would have if she said them to Kid.
She spent some more time talking to Ike and Noah, before she wiped the tears from her face and stood up. She turned around to head back toward the house and gasped as she spotted the solitary figure of a man standing a short distance away.
Terror flooded through her as she exclaimed, "No! It can't be you! You're dead!"
"Think again, Louise."
The Kiowa chafed under having to make so many stops, but there was nothing to be done about it. His first concern had to be for his wife and son, but it was quickly becoming overshadowed by his growing fear that something bad was going to happen to Lou. When he had the first dream it was filled mostly with symbols and images, but over the last couple of nights, his visions had become more frequent and clearer. Lou was at the forefront, along with the symbols for a long journey, treachery, and death. He prayed to the Great Spirit that he would not be too late to stop whatever was going to happen.
Finally, the day before Lou's birthday, they arrived in Sweetwater and headed to the K and L ranch. Buck was disappointed to find out that they had missed Kid while they were in town, and Lou had gone for a walk. After caring for the horses, and with Cherokee's prodding, Buck set out in search of his PX sister.
He pondered for a moment on which way to look for Lou, and then smiled. If Lou was not in view of the house, then there was only one place she would go that would not require her to ride a horse.
His guess proved to be accurate. He had just cleared the small hill that led to the area where Kid had placed two carved crossed to honor Ike and Noah, when he saw Lou coming down the hill toward him.
"Hey Lou," he called out to her and felt a frown crease his lips as he saw her falter backward, a hand rising to her chest, as she stared across the distance that separated him with a look that could only be described as fear.
But then, she smiled and moved toward him, and he felt the sudden tension that had risen within him, fade away. It had been a few years since they had last seen her, and his appearance was different. As she neared he said, "I didn't mean to frighten you."
Lou smiled reassuringly at him. "No…you didn't scare me, you just startled me is all."
Buck felt relief flood through him as he her into a bear hug. "It's good to see you, Lou."
"It's good to see you, too, Buck. It's been a long time."
"I know it has. That is why I decided it was high time Cherokee and I paid you and Kid a visit, and what better time to do that, than your birthday."
Lou beamed up at him. "You are the best birthday present I could ever ask for."
The two friends headed back toward the house. "Did you come alone or is Cherokee with you?"
"Cherokee came with me." Buck told her. She's back at the house with the other man in her life."
A puzzled look came over Lou's face at his words. "We have a son, Lou. His name is Shadow Walker and he was born almost two moons ago."
"A baby? That's wonderful Buck." Lou exclaimed, speeding up her pace, as Buck laughed. "Hurry up; I want to get back to the house so I can hold my new nephew."
Buck laughed again, caught up in Lou's enthusiasm, and momentarily forgot all about the real reason why he had come back to Sweetwater.
"Kid!" Emma Cain's smile was bright as she descended the train steps and moved down the platform toward him.
"It's great to see you Emma." Kid enveloped the former Px housekeeper in a warm hug.
Sam joined them a moment later with his and Emma's two children, Melinda and Samuel. Kid shook hands with Sam before turning his attention onto the Cain children.
"What are you feeding them, Emma? They are sprouting up like weeds!" Kid exclaimed, grinning as he ran a hand over the top of Samuel's head and gave one of Melinda's braids a gentle tug. He drew both children into a hug, squeezing tight, until both let out squeals of laughter.
"Just good home cooking is all." Emma said proudly, smiling at her offspring. "Why don't you gents go get our luggage so we can get settled into our rooms at the hotel?"
Sam and Kid moved to do what Emma suggested. Soon the group was walking down the street toward the hotel.
"How is Lou? How are your children? Who else is coming?" Emma fired the questions to Kid as they walked.
"The kids are doing great. Growing and changing so fast, it's hard to keep up with them. They're going to be thrilled to see everyone again. They ask about their aunts and uncles and cousins all the time." Kid told her. He pondered his next words carefully, not wanting to show too much concern over Lou in front of the Cain children. "Lou is good. I think she's been missing everyone terribly lately. She's going to be thrilled to see you all again. Teaspoon, Rachel and Sariah arrived early this morning. Cody and Louise, and Jimmy are supposed to be arriving sometime today. I don't know if Buck and Cherokee are going to make it; I never received a reply back from them."
"It will be good to see everyone." Sam commented as they arrived at the hotel.
As they entered the lobby, they ran into Teaspoon, Rachel, and Sariah, who were heading into the restaurant for lunch. The Hunters' and Cains' exchanged greetings while Kid checked the latter into the hotel. Then the entire group went into the restaurant to eat and catch up on each other's lives.
He stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted Buck sitting on the settee in the sitting room. A surprised smile creased his lips as he set the bag of sugar onto the floor with a loud thump and met Buck halfway across the room. The two men embraced.
"Buck, it's good to see you. How'd you like to help me unload a wagon full of supplies?" He asked his Kiowa friend.
Buck chuckled. "Nice to see you too, Kid. I'm here less than a day and you're already putting me to work."
"You don't work, you don't eat." Kid joked. "And from the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen, Lou's made chicken and dumplings for dinner."
"I can taste them already." Buck said as he followed Kid outside.
No sooner had they reached the wagon than Kid turned on Buck. "What are you doing here, Buck? The plan was for everyone to stay in town until tomorrow. You didn't say anything to Lou about her birthday surprise, did you?"
"Whoa! Time out! I don't know what you are talking about." Buck held up his hands to stop Kid from saying anything else.
Kid stared at him." I sent a telegram to you a couple of weeks ago, inviting you to come home for Lou's birthday. You didn't get it?"
"No, I didn't." Buck said. Not wanting to scare his friend with the real reason why he had come back to Sweetwater, he continued, "I guess I was feeling a bit lonesome for home and decided it was time for you and Lou to meet your new nephew."
"A son? You have a son?" Kid's face broke out into a grin.
Buck grinned back at him. "Cherokee gave birth to Shadow Walker almost two moons ago."
Kid slapped him on the back. "Let's get this wagon unloaded so we can go back inside and I can get to know my new nephew."
To Be Continued...