The Road Less Traveled By

Chapter Three

Louise groaned as she stepped out of her clothes.  Bauer's hit seemed to have touched more than just her face.  Her whole body ached, but more than that her soul ached.  It had been a long time since any man had hit her mostly thanks to Jimmy.  Now her confrontation just brought to home again the truth that he was gone forever.  Her best friend, the man who'd stuck with her through the worst times of her life was dead.  This town had killed him as sure as the bullet had.  Sure she loved the girls she watched out for, but she was so tired of this life she led and she hated this town.  She would have left after the funeral and definitely after the auction left her penniless and with only a few keepsakes from the life she and Jimmy had made for themselves.  However, part of her admitted that leaving this town, leaving the place where he was buried would be like leaving Jimmy himself and she'd determined long ago that she'd never leave him.  Besides, where would she go?  What would she do?  She'd probably just end up wandering from town to town working saloon after saloon.  If that were the case then the Soiled Dove was as good a saloon as any.

"Oh, Miss Louise, he hit you good didn't he?"

Lou turned to the girl and tried to smile, but only could manage a grimace with one side of her lip swollen.  The girl was just fifteen and mighty pretty with her red hair and peaches and cream complexion.  She had such a compassionate nature, that Lou hated to see one so young caught up in such a life -- a life that tended to steal the compassion from one's soul.  Like many girls, her parents had fallen on hard times and couldn't afford to feed all of their six children.  So, Rosie'd been forced to look for work and Harvey had hired her.  Of course Louise couldn't let her get involved with the men, so Rosie helped out with other things around the saloon but never worked the floor where the men were.

"I've had worse, Rosie," Lou replied.  And indeed she had.  When she'd been only Rosie's age, she'd worked at a brothel doing laundry.  One night the owner, a cruel man named Wicks, had decided to "break her in."  He'd raped her and beat her nearly within an inch of her life.  It had taken weeks for the bruises to go away and years for her soul to heal only to be torn apart again.  "He coulda shot me," she muttered half to herself.

Rosie watched, wincing sympathetically as Louise touched her sore face.  " there anything I can do, anything you need?" she asked.

"Yeah."  Lou turned and walked stiffly to her nightstand and pulled out a few coins.  "Go down to Marty at the laundry.  Tell her I need some of her tonic and give her the money.  She'll understand what you mean."

"Yes, ma'am," Rosie said, taking the money with a smile.

When the door closed after the small girl, Louise turned to the slipper tub behind the screen with its steaming water.  Carefully she eased her aching body into the tub, the hot water going a long way to soaking away her weariness and hurt.  Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back against the tub and struggled to find that calm, emotionless place where she felt safe.  She didn't want to think tonight, didn't want to feel.  She just wanted to sleep, sleep her life away if she could.  The tonic would help, like it always did.  She just had to be patient until Rosie could bring it to her.


Kid slowly made his way up the stairs, dodging couples and trying to look like he knew his way around.  One thing he'd learned was that if you looked like you knew you should be somewhere, then most people assumed you belonged there.  The idea had served him in good stead many a time when he'd walked right into a Union encampment for a raid.  he was just approaching the stairway to the third floor when a door opened behind him.

"Hey, you can't go up there!"

Kid turned around and flashed a grin at the scantily clad woman emerging from a room.  Obviously, she'd just finished with a patron and was in the process of carrying her sheets wherever to clean the room for the next client.

"You can't go up there.  All the workin' girls live down on this floor.  Only Louise lives up there and she ain't entertainin'," the woman said.

"Really?" he asked.  "Well, ya see Miss....?

"Peg," the woman replied, her posture just slightly less hostile.

"Peg.  Well, Louise and I, we kinda know each other.  Go way back actually.  I just heard about her husband recently and I was goin' to pay my respects and offer my condolences.  If you could just not tell anyone you saw me, I'd really appreciate it."

Peg grinned wickedly.  So, the little woman was runnin' around on Wild Bill while he was runnin' around on her, she thought.  She'd have to be.  No woman in her right mind would be just friends with a man looking like the one before her.  Peg knew Louise's rule:  No men on the third floor whatsoever.  Well, maybe this gentleman could make Louise a little more understanding.  There was nothing harder than a woman who wasn't getting any.

"Oh, I'm Gabe Davis, by the way," Kid said, extending his hand with false enthusiasm.  He could tell the lewd way the woman was thinking he'd express his "condolences," but he said nothing to change her thinking.  The less he said about it the better.

"I tell you what, Gabe," Peg said with a smile.  "I'm gonna just turn my back for a couple seconds and if you should just happen to sneak up those steps, well, no one would be the wiser."

Kid chuckled a bit, full knowing the reason she was so willing to help.  "Thank you much, Peg.  You are truly a wonderful woman to help me out like this," he replied with a nod.

Peg turned around and presented her back to him.  "Well, next time you drop by the Soiled Dove, we'll just see how grateful you are," she said.  She turned back around just two seconds later and he'd already disappeared up the steps.  Looked like Louise was gonna be busy the rest of the night, Peg thought with a grin as she started down the hall, humming to herself.

Kis sighed as he reached the final landing at the top of the stairs.  Nothing like feeling like a rabbit in the middle of a bunch of vultures.  Believe it or not, he'd long ago gotten used to the remarks and looks woman directed his way, even used them to his advantage a few times.  However, there was a difference between receiving those looks when you were looking for a good time and getting them when you had other things on your mind than fooling around.

He walked down the short hallway and stood outside her door.  His heart pounded and his stomach churned as he stared at the door.  Here he was, thirty-five years old and feeling as nervous about seeing her as he had that first night they'd made love in Redfern. He smiled bitterswetly at the memory, automatically remembering a few days before that night when he'd gone to Jimmy for advice.  Jimmy could have ridiculed or tased him, but he hadn't.  He'd been honest and understanding and candid, almost knowing how important that night would be to Kid.

"Just do it," he sighed to himself softly.  "You're doin' this for Jimmy and Lou, not for yourself.  Just suck it up and do it.  you owe him at least that much."  Hesitantly, he reached up and rapped at the door.

Kid's heart skipped a full beat when he heard her call for him to come in.  He turned the knob and entered the room.  The room was large, almost two or three rooms across.  At the end where the door was was a small siting area and a fireplace.  The bed stuck out from the opposite wall and next to it, Kid could see the top part of a wardrobe behind the black screen set up to partition off the dressing area.  Behind the screen too, he could just see the end of a slipper tub and Lou's tiny, pink feet propped up on the edge.

"Rosie, just put the bottle on the bed there and I'll get it when I get out," Lou called.

"Rosie's not back yet, but I'll be sure to tell her when she gets here," Kid replied softly.  His heart still pounding, he watched wordlessly as Lou's damp head peeked out over top of the screen.

Lou's eyes widened at the sight of the man standing plain as day in her room.  Water splashed as she quickly thrashed around to climb out of the tub, grabbing her dressing gown from the wardrobe and tying it before emerging from the dressing area.  There was no way he should be there.  He was dead.  She blinked her eyes thinking that the apparition would vanish, but he didn't.  When she opened them, there he was still.  Her brain shut down, her mouth shut down and all she could do was stand there gaping.

She was so much smaller than he remembered.  Up close and without all the makeup on, he could see how thin she was, nearly gaunt.  Her eyes had a haunted look to them, dark circles shadowing them and making them look even larger than they were.  Her hair was longer and piled on her head, the robe hanging off her while her pink toes peeked from beneath the hem.  Seeing her, God, it hurt so much brought back so many memories.  More importantly it forced him to confront that feeling of loneliness he'd carried with him since they'd parted, that weight around his heart that had nearly killed him.

God, how he'd missed her.  After all these years, the heart he'd long thought dead moved and his throat tightened.  Kid swallowed hard.  "Hey you," he said softly.  It had been their customary greeting when they were riding for the Express.  He'd never used it with anyone since, didn't know why he was using it now, except that it had been the first and only phrase to come to his mind.

It spoke!  Oh, God, it spoke.  It wasn't a ghost, then.  He was really here after all these years!  "Kid?" she whispered.

A myriad of thoughts flew through her head.  He was alive and in one piece.  He was alive and hadn't told them.  He was alive and hadn't seen them in fifteen years.  It's not like they were hard to find, all he had to do was pick up a newspaper.  He was alive and Jimmy's last wish had been to see him one last time -- in fact, it'd been Jimmy's only hope for so long.  Now Jimmy was dead.  Now he shows up!

Kid curiously watched the mixture of emotions play over her face -- joy, sorrow, and finally anger.  The anger should have tipped him off, but he was so stunned by her presence that he missed the blatant cues.  He missed how she strode to him, fire in her eyes, missed the fist that came up and punched him square in the jaw, snapping his head back and staggering him.

She hadn't even known she was going to hit him until she'd done it and then it was too late.  "Now?!  Now you show up?  Where the hell have you been?  Fifteen fucking years, Kid.  Fifteen!  And now you show up?" Lou yelled, advancing on him, hitting at him as he deflected her blows.  "Where were you ten years ago?  Where were you after the war ended?  We were family and you couldn't send a telegram or anything to say you were fine and still alive?  Nothing!  Hell, where were you five years ago?  Where were you six months ago when he was still alive?!"

By the end of the speech she was sobbing into his shirtfront, her small fists pounding ineffectually against his chest as she cursed him.  Kid was overwhelmed by guilt and sorrow as she sobbed heavily.  Her knees gave out and he quickly wrapped his arms around her, sinking down to the floor, with her cradled on his lap.

Just as he had the day she'd shot Tyler DeWitt, he rocked her gently, rubbing her back as he whispered soothingly into her hair.  "Shhh.  I'm so sorry, Lou.  So sorry, but I'm here now.  I'm here and I ain't goin' anywhere," he murmured.  She cried and cried, tearing his heart out with each moment.  His own pain was too deep for tears, if he could even shed them anymore, which after everything he'd been through he wasn't too sure about.  Instead, he laid his chin on top of her head and stared into the empty space of the room, his eyes seeing a plethora of memories all at once making him feel hollowed out and old.

He'd retreated from reality in the same way he had since that first battle -- his mind had sought shelter in the memories of an earlier, happier time.  The memories this time though hurt with their comfort, with the knowledge that Jimmy would never do any of the things Kid remembered him doing.  Jimmy could never again go off to shoot tin cans all afternoon, would never come back smelling of sunshine and gunpowder.  He could never again give Kid advice or just listen without comment as he would sometimes do.  They would never again work side by side doing chores or whatever.  They'd never stand, crouch, or cower side by side with guns raining bullets down on them.  He'd never again see the slight gleam in Jimmy's eyes, the way he moved perfectly, each shot fluid, graceful, and economic.  James Butler Hickok had been born for such moments and it was such moments that killed him..

How Kid welcomed the hurt of those memories!  He knew it was nothing compared to what he deserved for not even trying to patch things up with his former best friend.  Jimmy had died thinking that the man he'd once called brother had hated him and there was nothing in this world that Kid could do to make that up to him.  That knowledge only strengthened the resolve that had filled him since his dream of Jimmy two weeks ago.  He had to somehow see that Lou was taken care of, had to somehow convince her to come with him when he left this God forsaken town.

Kid continued to rock them both back and forth, the motion the only thing that reminded him that he was alive and not alone.  Gradually, Lou's sobs subsided into exhaustion and he felt her rhythmic breaths against his neck as her body gave in to the sleep it craved.  When she murmured slightly and unconsciously snuggled closer, Kid's senses returned.  Carefully, he stood, lifting her slight form in his arms -- God, was she always this light? -- and carried her to the bed.  Laying her down, he took the light quilt at the foot of the bed and covered her with it before settling down in a chair close by.


Lou's eyes fluttered beneath her lids as she felt that tug upward into the conscious world.  She was loath to leave the dreamworld and struggled to remain asleep, but even as she grasped at the vestige of the sweet dream she'd had, it faded.  She'd been riding for the Express again across the open prairie, the wind in her hair and an urgency in her heart to get back to the station.  She could just see the windmill at the Sweetwater station and make out the faces of the other riders coming out to greet her.  But even as she'd kicked Lightning into a faster gallop, it seemed like the whole scene had been pulled away from her.  It had been a long time since she'd had such happy dreams of yesterday.

Opening her eyes reluctantly, she glanced around the room without moving quite yet.  She didn't remember much, didn't know how long she'd been asleep, but she knew something was different.  That was when she saw him.  It hadn't been a dream, he really was here and alive, she thought.  Oh, God, Jimmy he's here, Louise cried in her heart.  I never believed what you'd said about how, if he was still alive, he'd show up one day, but you were right.  You were right!

Remaining silent, Lou took mometns to just watch the man sitting in the chair by the window.  She couldn't see his expression as he stared out the window, but she knew he was in deep thought.  His arms were crossed over his chest, his legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankles while his hat had been pulled low gave him the appearance of casual inattention.  However, she knew from years ago, that his ears were listening intently, his body alert to any threat there may be.  He could get up very quickly from that position, she knew.  How many times in the past had she come across him like this and stole up, thinking him asleep only to find herself grabbed up in strong arms in the next second?

Kid's hair was longer than when she'd last seen him.  If he took his hat off, Louise knew that his chestnut waves would probably be wild.  He still had that lean, lanky look of a man who spent countless hours outside and in the saddle.  His shoulders were broader, if she was any judge and she could see the way the rolled up sleeves of his tan shirt stretched across strong biceps.  Looking closer, Lou scrutinized his form for any differences.  That was when she caught sight of the white scar that peeked from beneath the edges of his hair and ran in a slight C down the side of his neck, well behind his ear and disappeared into the collar of his shirt.  She wondered how many scars he carried from the war and how many were of the kind you couldn't see.

"How long have you been taking the laudanum, Lou?"

Louise jumped at the sudden sound of his voice, cursing herself for not realizing he'd know when she was awake.  "How'd you know about that?" she asked.

"Rosie got back about half an hour ago with your 'medicine.'  She's a good girl, but she worries about you," Kid replied.

She sat up slowly in the bed, pulling the quilt just a little closer as if it could shield her from the annoyance and bristling anger she could sense beneath his question.  "It helps me sleep," she replied softly.  "Wouldn't sleep at all without it."

He turned to her then and she could see the ire in his eyes.  "You're not helpin' yourself at all by takin' this garbage, Lou.  It won't erase the pain or the problems.  It just lulls you into thinkin' you're dealin' with it when you're really just covering it over," Kid said tightly.

She bristled in anger at his remark and scooted closer to the side of the bed nearer the window.  "Who the hell do you think you are tellin' me how to live and how to deal with my life?"

This was not going well at all, Kid thought.  But there was no way he could just leave this alone.  If she didn't stop taking that stuff and face what's going on, she'd slowly kill herself.  There was no way he caould stand idly by and watch that when he could help.  "I'm tellin' ya as a friend who's been there," he sighed.  "I did my own runnin' away during the war.  Ran right into a bottle and it took me three years to climb back out and deal with everything.  I know all about memories and dreams that won't let you sleep.  Every single night for a long time I slept with the sound of mortar canons and death screams in my ears.  No matter how much I drank myself into oblivion, they were sstill there in the morning."

"You don't know me, Kid.  You know nothin' about what I've been through or my life!"

"This ain't livin', Lou!" Kid shouted, his frustration with her stubbornness venting itself.  "Look around you.  You're a woman hiding away from life in a saloon and brothel.  Jimmy's dead, Lou and I'm sorry about that, but you're not.  He's not coming back and he would never want you to 'live' like this!  Whatever happened to that girl who swore she'd never work in a place like this?"

Lou lowered her head, unable to meet his eyes.  He's right, Louise, she told herself.  Just look at you living in a third story room above a saloon, letting men touch you and flirt with you, taking orders from some lowlife coward like Harvey who treats his dog better than he does his girls.  You could die tonight and no one from this town would even notice let alone give a damn.  What do you owe this town?  It's taken your life and Jimmy.

But I promised him, Lou said silently to her rational self.  I promised him that I wouldn't leave him and I won't.  God, all he wanted was for me to love him like he loved me and I couldn't do that.  The least I can do is stay with him now, make sure he's not forgotten.

Kid watched the obvious internal struggle going on within Lou.  Somehow, he knew she felt obligated to stay for some reason.  He got up from the chair and took two steps towards the bed, kneeling down so that he was level with her eyes.  Holding his breath slightly, he reached for her hands which had fallen into her lap and covered them both with one of his.  She jumped visibly at the contact, her head raising quickly, but she didn't pull away.  "When was the last time you ate?" he asked gently.

Lou shrugged.  "This morning, I think," she muttered.

"And the last time you went out just to walk or see friends?"

"I don't remember."

He shook his head, his heart melting at her reluctant admissions.  Rachel had been right to worry.  She and Teaspoon, who'd married shortly after the Express ended, had sent a telegram to Lou when they heard about Jimmy's death.  They'd wanted her to come back to them to do her grieving, but Lou wouldn't have it.  Had even told them not to bother trying to come to the funeral since it was already over.  They hadn't heard anything since and Rachel had been beside herself with worry over her friend's health.

"What is there left for you here, Lou?" Kid asked.  "Come back with me to Torrence, or I'll take you to Rock Creek to stay with Teaspoon and Rachel.  You can start over near family."

Lou shook her head.  "Jimmy's here.  I can't leave him.  I owe him that much," she protested.

Kid ducked his head so he could meet her gaze.  "You and I both know that that body buried in that grave isn't Jimmy.  All that Jimmy was left the minute he died," he said gently, his throat tight with emotion.  "That body was just the house he lived in for a while.  His spirit is gone, but as long as we remember him, we will always feel him with us just like all the others who've gone before are with us.  They watch over us, Lou, and I know Jimmy would never want you to stay in this dump."

"But I'm afraid," Louise whispered before she could stop herself.  "I don't think there's enough of me to start over again.  I don't think I have the strength to do it."

"Then let us help," Kid said determinedly.  "Rachel and Teaspoon, Buck and me, Cody, we all love you Lou and we'll help in whatever way you need."

Lou took a good look at the shell of a woman she'd become, not even recognizing herself anymore and felt as if she were standing in a pit, looking up at the sky.  She had no idea how she'd gotten there or how long she'd been there, but she realized she was in trouble.  She knew she had to get out but there was no way she could do it alone.  But there Kid was at the top, holding the rope that could get her out to safety if she'd just reach up high enough, if she'd just ask for help.  All of a sudden she hated the pit and she lunged for the lifeline he held out to her.

"Please, help me, Kid," Lou whispered desperately, her voice almost childlike.  "I don't know who I am anymore, but I don't like her."

Kid smiled and nodded.  He stood from his crouch and moved to sit beside her on the bed.  "'Course I'll help.  That's what family's for, right, to help each other out?" he replied.  He wrapped an arm around her as Lou laid her head on his shoulder weakly.  "Don't you worry, we're gonna get you outta this place and back to the land of the livin'.  I promise you."


Chapter 4 coming soon!!

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