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A Question of Priorities

By Hanny
Copyright 1999

Chapter One

When the marshal came home his wife was already in bed.

"I left some food for you." She said as he stripped and climbed on the bed.

"Iím not hungry." He said in a sleepy voice.

"Hard day?" she asked.

"Hmmm" he murmured.

She smiled and caressed his curly hair. "Did you get everything from Tompkins?" she asked.

"What things?" he asked, falling into sleepiness faster with her caresses.

"For the party tomorrow." She said frustrated that he forgot. "Jed will be so disappointed."

"Iíll go in the morning." he promised.

"The party is in the morning."

"I promise Iíll get the things, Lou. Just let me get some sleep."

Lou saw it was pointless and kissed his head, falling asleep as well.

When Kid awoke in the morning he smiled at his sleeping wife. She looked like a baby. He kissed her head and got out of the bed.

Lou, awakened by his kiss, watched him as he dressed. "You know," she started dreamily, "You look exactly as you did eight years ago, when we got married."

He smiled at her and sat on the bed, pulling her onto his lap and kissed her lips. "I love you exactly the same." He said with a smile. "Only more." He winked and walked out of the room.

After a few minutes Lou heard him ride away and got up to get everything ready for her oldest sonís seventh birthday. She smiled as she saw he was already up in the kitchen, messing the breakfast he tried to make. She ruffled his curly hair, the color of his fatherís, and kissed the top of his head.

"Good morning, mama." He said.

"Happy birthday, honey."

"Mama," he started. "Does dad know itís my birthday?"

Lou looked surprised. "Of-course he does, baby."

"He didnít say anything." The boy looked hurt.

Before Lou could answer her two daughters came down the stairs, presenting their gift for their brother.

Lou looked proudly at her three kids. Even though they had their share of quarrels and fights they were very close and they loved each other. She smiled as she remembered how excited Mary Sarah and Emma Rachel have been about the present Ė they bought it a week ago and waited impatiently for the big day. Born a year apart and three-four years after Jed, they were named after all the four mothers Kid and Lou had.

After they ate a quick breakfast and gathered the dishes, Lou sent the kids to set the table outside, while she made the birthday-cake. A smile formed on her lips as she recalled Kidís face when she made her first attempt at baking. The both of them thanked God for her improvement.

"Mama." Four years old Mary Sarah came running. "All of Jedís friends are here but Daddy hasnít came back yet."

Lou looked out of the window at the Kids gathering in her yard, yet there was no sign of her husband.

When he did came she was sitting in the darkness of their room, her children long ago sleeping in their rooms.

Kid walked to her and kneeled in front of her. "Itís late." He said. "Why arenít you sleeping?"

"I was waiting for you." She said, not looking at him.

"You did?"

She nodded. "Whole day long."

"Whatís wrong, honey?" he asked concerned, taking her hands in his.

"The party." She said.

"What party?"

"Jedís party." She spat angrily.

"Oh, LouÖ" he kissed her hands. "Iím sorry. I totally forgot all about it."

"I know you did." She said. "And you broke his heart. Not only did you not get the things from Tompkins as you promised to me just last night, but you didnít even show up for the party. And it was so important to him, Kid." She had tears in her eyes as she thought of her son.

"Lou, I said Iím sorry." He said frustrated. "What more do you want me to do?"

"Iím not the one you need to apologize to, Kid." She stood up and walked to the bed, leaving her husband standing by the window.

"Mama, wake up." Three years old Emma Rachel pulled the covers from her sleeping mother. "Ma, weíre hungry."

Lou opened a lazy eye. "Whatís the matter?" she asked.

"Weíre hungry."

"Iíll be right down." Lou said. "Kid," she turned to her still sleeping husband next to her. "Kid, youíll be late."

"Let me sleep." He pulled the covers tighter around his neck. "Iím not going to work today."

"Whatís wrong? Are you sick?" she asked worriedly. "Youíve never missed a day. Tell me whatís wrong."

"I decided to stay with my family today." He smiled shyly.

"Thatís great." She kissed his head, put on a gown and walked downstairs. She kissed each of her kids, paying extra attention to her son. "Slept well?" she asked no one in particular.

"Is dad still here?" Jed asked. "I saw Katy in the stables."

"He said heís staying with us today." She smiled.

"Yeah!" the girls cheered. They missed their father after not really seeing him for two weeks.

Lou looked at Jed. "Arenít you happy, sweetheart?"

"Why couldnít he stay with us yesterday?" he asked, tears in his eyes.

"Oh, Jed." She sighed. "You know he has a lot to take care of in town, but believe me he wanted to be here for your birthday very much." She hated lying like this, but she didnít want to hurt her child more that he was already hurting.

Jed didnít answer as just then Kid walked into the kitchen. "Good morning." He said cheerfully.

He kissed Lou and then sat at the table, pulling Jed onto his lap.

"Iím too big for that, dad." Jed said, still sad.

"Oh, thatís right." Kid said. "YouíreÖ wait, I know that." He smiled as his daughters giggled. "Youíre three."

"Daddy, Iím three." Emma laughed.

"Youíre ten!" Kid said merrily.

Lou smiled from her place near the counter. Jed shook his head. He was not pleased with this conversation.

"Youíre seven!" Kid yelled, picked his son in his arms and swirled with him around the kitchen.

"Now me! Now me!" the girls yelled.

"When itís your birthday." Jed told them triumphantly.

Lou smiled at Kid and whispered "Thank you." She knew he loved them all but, being so honorable, he had to be the best in his job. The best marshal Sweetwater has ever seen.

"So, when are you starting school?" Kid asked.

"Less than a month." Lou said, putting the food on the table. "And I will have a new pupil." She smiled at her son.

"Mama, when am I going to start school?" Mary asked.

"Your too stupid anyway, school wonít help you." Jed laughed at his sister.

"You should talk." Mary returned.

"I know how to read, an you donít." Jed pointed out.

"Mama, can you teach me how to read?" Mary pleaded.

"Me too!" Emma called happily.

"Weíll see what we can do." Lou promised.

"So, what do you feel like doing today?" Kid asked.

"A picnic!" the kids called in unison.

"A picnic, uh?" Lou smiled. "That means youíre going to get dressed right now, and Iíll arrange the basket." The kids ran upstairs and Kid pulled Lou to sit on his lap. They kissed for a minute before Kid took her face in his hands. "Iím sorry, Lou." He said.

She kissed him again before rising. "You should get dressed too." She pushed him toward the stairs.

"Love you." He whispered.

"Yeah, yeah." She laughed and turned back to the kitchen.

They arrived at the pond that was one of Kid and Louís favorite places when they were still riding for the express. Now that Kid was the marshal and Lou taught school, they had little time to visit the place.

The kids quickly removed their shoes and socks and were running bare feet on the grass.

Kid and Lou sat in the shades of the trees, content just to hold hands.

"Thank you." Lou said, leaning her head on his broad shoulder.

Kid kissed her head. "I know you donít believe me," He said, "But I do love you, Lou."

"I know you do, Kid. Itís your priority Iím having problems with." She looked in his eyes. "It seems that the most important thing in your life is your job and the town. It seems like we, your family, only come second."

"You know thatís not true, but I canít just expect things in town to work themselves out. The town needs me."

"We need you too, Kid. The kids miss you. I miss you. Itís been so long since weíve loved each other, Kid. Weíre always too tired. I need my husband."

Kid kissed her. "Everything will change, Lou. I promise you that."

Lou nodded, but grew suspicious at the look on Kidís face. "WhaÖ

Kid lifted her in his arms and ran into the water. "Say you love me." He said.

"Who?" she asked innocently.

"Me!" he laughed.

"Iíve always taught my children not to lie." She said.

"Say you love me!"

"No! Kid, let me down!" she ordered.

"As you wish." He said and dropped her in the water.

He was laughing so hard he didnít even notice her murderous glare. "This was a new dress!" she said angrily.

"I did notice something new about you." Kid said, still laughing.

Lou looked around to see her kids staring at them. She walked toward them and picked her girls one in each arm and. "come." She told Jed.

Kid stopped laughing and just watched her lovingly.

"Kids," Lou said when they reached Kid. "Your father here misbehaved. He got me all wet and thought it was funny. Weíre not going to let him get away with that, are we?"

Kid looked at her questioningly, a smile on his face. "What do you have in mind?" he asked mischievously.

Lou laughed. "Donít you wish you knew?" she let Kid take Mary in his arms. "I wonít drown you in this pond, because Iíll be the one who will have to wash all the dirt afterwards. So, kids, what do you think?"

"I say you have to stay at home with us for at least a week." Mary hugged her fatherís neck.

"A week?" Kid exclaimed jokingly.

"Yep!" Mary smiled.

"And I want you to read me a story!" Emma said.

"What do you want, Jed?" Kid asked.

"I want you to let me ride Katy."

"Well, I can do at least two of these things." He said. "But, Mary, you know I canít stay home with you. As much as I want to. I have a job to do."

"Putting the bad people in jail." Emma said knowingly.

"Thatís right." Kid said.

"So can you teach me to swim?" Mary asked.

"Sure. You want to start now?"

Mary nodded.

"KidÖ" Lou tried to protest.

"Iíll clean these clothes, Lou." Kid promised.

"Weíll wait for you on the dry side." Lou said.

When the family returned home the sky was turning dark and they all very tired. Kid and Lou put the kids to sleep and hurried to their room eager to spend the next homes together.

 

When Lou awoke her hand reached for the man next to her but couldnít find him. She slowly opened her eyes to discover a white note on his pillow.

Thought Iíd get an early start so I can meet you here tonightÖ

She kissed the paper and put it under her pillow. She pulled his pillow to her body and fell asleep again, smelling his scent.

"Marshal!" the new banker, Mr. Shuster came running into Kidís office.

Kid looked up tiredly. He didnít like the man. He was too arrogant and Kid felt there was more to him than what the eye saw, but not in the good way. "Well, what is it?" he asked when he sensed Shuster was waiting for his question.

"That filthy Indian killed Melissa. He killed my wife!"

Kid rose from his desk. Melissa was one of Louís best friends and, the opposite of her husband. She was a beautiful woman with a constant smile on her face and in her heart. Kid often wondered what brought the two together in marriage.

Kid followed Mr. Shuster to the street. Three horses were carefully tied to the post. One, Kid figured, was Mr. Shusterís, on one there was the body of the dead woman, and on the other was a body of a man. An Indian. Kid approached the semi-conscious man. He lifted his head by pulling his hair.

His jaw dropped when he recognized the man. "Buck." He mumbled.

On to Chapter Two

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