Images courtesy of Broedy, graphic by Becca. Riding Out the Storm by Jen Chapter One
A storm was brewing on the horizon, gathering dust into clouds and billowing up to the sky, blocking out the sun. Lou alternately watched the tulmut churn to the south, while keeping her eyes glued to the edge of earth, to the east, praying for some sign of her husband riding home safe. East, south, east, south...she waited as long as she could. Why did it feel as though she was always searching the horizon? The howl of the dust storm was just reaching her ears, and she knew it would be only a matter of minutes before it would hit their ranch with it's full force. Putting her fingers to her lips, she gave a shrill whistle that called her dog, Rascal, out from under the porch and to her side, as she ran to bar the door to the barn. The horses whinnied at the commotion brewing outside. Lou tossed extra bales of hay into their stalls and checked that they had water, in case this storm kept her trapped inside too long to feed them the next day.
As she and Rascal hurried back to the house, Lou, after surrveying the yard to make sure no living thing was in danger, cast her eye to the east one last time, hoping against hope to see Kid and Katy charging full-speed toward their home. The horizon was empty, and Lou's heart sank as she rushed the dog inside and closed the heavy wooden door behind her. "Please, God, let him be safe," she whispered, as the storm reached their home.
Kid was riding Katy hard against the coming storm. He'd seen it building to the south over an hour ago and had polietly but sternly refused the offer of shelter from the rancher to whom he'd just sold five brood mares. He had to get home to his wife, he explained quickly, mounting up as the man tried to convince him to stay.
"We aint even finalized the deal, Kid! We still gotta go to the bank, so's I can pay ya," he reasoned.
"I trust ya, Jonah. I'll be back in a day or so, after the storm passes." Kid turned Katy towards home. "Lou's waitin' for me," he called over his shoulder, after he spurred his horse into action. He was off like a shot and Jonah was left shaking his head in amazment at the kind of man who'd ride out into a dust storm to be by his wife, who was probably safe in her house and had enough sense not to expect her husband in weather like this.
Lou pulled the blanket around her shoulders as she sat reading in thier comfortable front room. With shutters and curtains drawn, the room was dark as night despite that fact that it was the middle of the afternoon, and Lou had candles lit to take out the eerie dank feeling that the sand storm had brought with it. Rascal, who was normally not allowed on the plush davenport, was snuggled down by Lou's feet, his eyes constantly on the door waiting to protect his mistress if the storm should try to make it's way inside. Lou absently stroked the dog's furry head while she tried to read a book Kid had given her for her birthday. Try as she might, she couldn't seem to get past the first few pages before she found her mind wandering to thoughts of her husband stranded somewhere in the storm. Before she realized it, she'd turned 10 pages and couldn't remember a word she'd read.
The clock on the wall read 2:35. The storm had been going on for over two hours and still there was no sign of Kid. Had it been anyone else, she would have been able to rest easy, knowing they would have sought shelter in whatever town they were near. But not Kid. She knew him too well to think he would be nestled safe in any of the hotels or shops or ranches that he would have to pass on the way back to Sweetwater. Not her Kid. She figured he'd seen the storm off in the distance and guessed where it was headed, and then headed the same direction, risking the dangers of the weather for one reason and one reason only. To be with Lou.
Lou chuckled at how unreasonable Kid was known to be when Lou and her safety were concerned, even when the danger was minimal. And how equally unreasonable he could be when it was his own safety on the line. The Civil War that had torn the Express riders apart so long ago after Noah's death, had also claimed the first four years of Kid and Lou's marriage. Lou closed her eyes in an attempt to shut out the memories of those years apart, but something stronger than her wishes to forget drove the nightmare of that time to the forefront of her mind. Kid leaving her behind, despite his promise to never ride into danger without her. The discovery that she was pregnant. Kid's happy letter home as a proud papa-to-be, written just two days before the miscarriage. And then the three years of nothing. Lou felt the prick of tears that she thought had been cried out over a year ago, reach her eyes at the memory of those four painful years not knowing if the man who completed her world was dead or alive.
Frustrated with these memories, Lou tossed the book to the floor and walked to their kitchen in search of some comfort. Some chocolate cake Rachael had brought over the day before caught her eye first. After cutting a large piece to satisfy her unusually strong appitite, she poured a glass of milk and wandered back into the front room. Sand and dirt were fighting to invade her newly built home, but try as it might, it could not penetrate the strong boards and tightly fit windows that Kid and Lou had put their backs and sweat and love into building. Lou nibbled at the cake and let her mind wander again. Unbidden, she recalled the day that Kid came home. Thinking that those memories were behind her, she was shaken by the force with which they returned.
She'd been riding Lightening hard over the open earth. She'd had a spat with Rachael and left the house they shared while their men were away at war for the comfort of the ride. Changing quickly out of her work dress and doning her old costume from her Pony Express days, Lou mounted her faithful horse and tried to outride the pain. It had been three days since the dispatch had released a new report, a report that stated the most recent casulities of the Civil War. Kid's name was not among them, as with every report. It should have made her happy knowing he was safe, but the fact was, even with his name missing from the lists of the dead, Lou had no way to know if her husband was still alive. The last letter she recieved was just after she'd lost the baby she and Kid had made the night before he headed east to join the Confederacy in Virginia.
He wrote in the letter how happy he was that he and Lou were going to have a little one. How a baby made through their love would be the most perfect creation he'd ever hoped for. He wrote that he loved her and called her Mama Lou.
The miscarriage had almost killed her and she had been ordered to bed rest for at least a week after the tragedy. The baby had only been four months inside her, but she knew she'd never feel whole again. When she recieved the letter, she'd gotten out of bed, saddled Lightening and ridden out onto the prarie where hoped God would be merciful enough to let her die. But God wasn't answering Lou's prayers that day, because a young Kiowa woman found her the next morning and recognized her as the adopted family of Running Buck. Buck and Rachael had been quickly found and Lou was back in bed at Rachael's by nightfall.
The next morning, Buck asked her if she'd meant to kill herself. She couldn't answer for the shame she felt at almost abandoning Kid, who was waiting somewhere in Virginia to hear more news of her pregnancy. She'd asked Buck to bring her her stationary and Lou wrote the most heartwrenching epistle she'd even penned. She told Kid about the death of their unborn child.
Mail was slow during these war times. According to his letter, it had taken a full month for Kid to recieve the news that Lou was pregnant, and another three weeks for Lou to get Kid's joyful reply. She reasoned that it would most likely take that long or longer for Kid to get the news that the baby he'd only known about for two short months was dead before it had a chance to live. And then maybe another month for Lou to get his letter that would undoubtably be filled with sorrow, guilt, anger, and she feared, blame. But the letter never came. Two months, three, four, six, nine, eleven, one year, two years..... The letter never came.
Three and a half years later, Lou was riding blindly into open territory, her long auburn hair pulled into a loose braid, her hat pulled low on her brow, hiding the tears that were always ready to be shed, sometimes without a moments notice. Like this morning. Rachael had recieved a letter from Teaspoon who was in his home state of Texas, wrapped up in the war yet deeply wanting to be home with his wife and family. Rachael asked Teaspoon to write Louise a letter as well, because as much as she tried to ignore the feeling, she feared Lou would never get the letter she desired the most.
On to Chapter 2!
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