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What Might Have Been
Chapter 4

Kid approached the door feigning a look of innocent surprise.  "Uh, Amber, hi," he stuttered trying  to avoid Lou's narrowed, angry eyes.  "What are you doin' here?"

Amber smiled coquettishly and twirled her parasol a bit.  "Mama told me to come on over and see if Mrs. Shannon needed any help with the weddin' preparations.  Kid, honey, are you feelin' alright?" she asked, placing a white hand against his cheek.  "You look a little flushed."

Realizing he must still be blushing from Lou's impulsive kiss, Kid nervously rubbed the back of his neck.  "Well, it's uh...just a little warm in there is all.  I'm fine," he assured her.

Cody, who was standing behind Amber, watched the three.  Something told him there was definitely something funny going on between Kid and this new rider.  He had to laugh at his friend's evident discomfort.  Kid was a private person and things were always awkward when his private life, namely Amber, collided with his public.  Cody couldn't help loving to tease the Kid; it was just too easy.  He grinned at Lou.  "Come on, Lou.  I'll show ya around," he offered.  "I'm sure these two can 'amuse' themselves without us."

A sweetheart, Lou thought, the initial shock and disappointment giving way slowly to anger.  A sweetheart.  That night they'd talked and laughed and she'd been honest with him in a way she'd never been with anyone...the whole time he'd never mentioned having a sweetheart waiting at home.  He'd kissed her--she'd let him kiss her--and she'd kissed him back!  She should've known, should've seen it coming and because she hadn't--because she'd let her guard down, let herself dream--she was supremely angry at herself.  Lou looked at the prim and proper lady before her with her pale, delicate hands and beautiful features and felt a flash of jealousy that this woman should be allowed fine things and a normal life for free while Louise had to struggle and scrape for hers through deprivation and hard work.

She drew herself up to her full five-foot-two-inch height, burying her feelings back behind the expressionless wall of her poker face.  "I suppose so," she replied to Cody softly, almost forgetting to lower her voice as she glanced quickly at Kid.  Lou smiled politely and touched her hat in salute.  "Nice to meet you, Miss Scott.  If you'll excuse me."

Without another glance, Lou followed as Cody led her toward the corrals, filling her in on the chores.  Don't ever let 'em see you hurt,Charlotte had once told her.  So, knowing Kid was watching her walk away, she squared her shoulders and resisted the urge to look back.  She was here to start a new job and, hopefully, a new life, that was all.


Kid watched her walk away with a heavy heart, only half listening to Amber's ramblings about Sam and Emma's wedding, which he was expected to escort her to.  He felt horrible.  He'd never meant to deceive or hurt Lou, but he couldn't blame her for being disappointed in him--he was disappointed in himself.

He sighed in relief as Amber finally sauntered off to join Emma for tea at the house.  For the first time since they'd met a few months ago, Amber's visit didn't leave him grinning like a lovesick fool.  In fact, he'd found himself annoyed at her babble about the wedding and who was going with whom.  Kid had seen through her little games--the way she'd sat as close as possible to him on the bench on the porch allowing her fingers to brush his hand or shoulder lightly, her hair touching his cheek--and known they were deliberate, meant to arouse and keep his interest.  However, once he was aroused, Amber always became prudish.  He'd suddenly become aware of how much of a tease she really was, why almost all of Sweetwater's young men clustered around her at dances.

Kid realized with a start that he really knew nothing about her--what her true passions were, her dreams--because they'd never had a meaningful conversation.  When she came out, they talked about socials and the latest town gossip or she'd have him talk about his day, never giving any opinion but listening to him talk and sympathizing with whatever he said.  He had a feeling he could say the sky was bright purple and she'd say with a gentle hand on his knee, "I'm sure it is, dear."  In short, Amber was shallow and empty-headed and Kid wondered why he hadn't seen it earlier.  You didn't want to see it, he told himself.

Glancing toward the corral, he noticed Cody introducing Lou to Buck who'd been working with one of the horses but had eagerly come over to greet the new rider.  For her part, Lou had climbed up to stand on the second rail of the wooden corral to get a better look at the interior, her back to Kid.  He could tell by the friendly smile on the handsome half-Kiowa's face that she'd already won him over too.

Kid found himself watching as the oversized vest Lou wore rode up her back a bit with her movements, showing off the slight flare of her hips, the brown material of her trousers molded to her backside as she leaned over the rails.  Hmm, nice.  Wait a minute!  No, not nice, Kid thought.  What's the matter with you, Kid?  You shouldn't be lookin' there!  The woman you're courtin' is inside that house havin' tea and you're out here admirin' another woman's backside.  Kid looked away and could just see his mama smacking him across the back of his head like she'd do to his brother Jed when she caught ogling a girl like that.  'Course you're the only one knows she's a girl.  That was when it dawned on him where she'd be sleeping and he couldn't repress a groan.  The only free bunk was Hank's old one--right above Kid's.  He hadn't stopped thinking about Louise McCloud since they'd met and now here she was living and working with him.  Kid wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse.


A Few Weeks Later

Lou reclined back on Emma's bed with a smile as she waited for her friend to emerge from behind the screen where she was putting on her wedding dress so "Lulabelle" could have a sneak preview and pin up the hemline for her.  She had to smile as she thought about her friendship with the older woman.  From the first day when Teaspoon had placed her into Emma's custody, Emma had known Louise was a woman and kept her secret faithfully.  The two had become fast friends with Emma taking on the role of mother, mentor and confidant to Louise.  The wedding was coming up next week and Lou couldn't help but feel a little sadness taint her happiness for her friend.  Emma and Sam would be leaving in two weeks, leaving them all behind to muddle through life without them.  Sam had accepted the position as Territorial Marshal which meant the couple would need to move to accomodate the new job and Lou would lose her closest female friend, the woman she told all her secrets to.

It had been an interesting few weeks.  The work was hard, but Lou loved the physicality of it; to be actually doing something, something honest for her pay felt so good.  The hours in the saddle could get to you sometimes, especially on bad runs, but there was nothing like letting your horse go at an all-out run across the prairie with nothing but creation for miles around.  And every day was an adventure.  Sure she still missed her family in Seneca, but she and Kid had gone to visit them twice, once on a run and once on a weekend off.  In the short time she'd been at the Sweetwater station, she'd become part of the family.

The boys had adopted her right from the first, even Jimmy after he'd gotten over his initial wariness of her.  When her first run to Blue Creek had come up, each one had offered advice for the run and well wishes.  She smiled as she remembered Kid worriedly pacing the porch as she'd drawn up on her return run, relief in his blue eyes as she'd dismounted whole and uninjured.  In the end, it was Lou who'd won the poll as to how long she'd last and Cody already owed her five dollars in poker debts.

Things had changed a bit last week when the boys all discovered her true gender.  Her father John Wesley Boggs, an outlawed gunrunner, had finally tracked down Jeremiah and Theresa to Charlotte's house in Seneca and stolen them away while Charlotte was at the bank.  Luckily she'd taken Jon with her or Boggs would've taken his grandson also.  Lou'd gone to visit only to find Charlotte in tears and the children gone.

Furious, Lou'd returned to Sweetwater, intending to quit and look for her siblings, only to find that gentle Ike had been shot and robbed by one of Boggs' henchmen.  With the other riders' help she'd found her father's hideout and snuck in only to be caught and beaten for information by her unsuspecting father.  Loyal to the end, the boys had staged a diversion while Kid entered the house and released Lou, who immediately grabbed her siblings from an upstairs room.

It was while they were escaping out the back tunnel that Boggs showed up, holding them all at gunpoint to try and get Jeremiah to stay.  When Lou refused to let her little brother grow up like their father, Boggs had tried to shoot her, only to be distracted by Jimmy and ultimately killed by Kid.  Jeremiah and Theresa still didn't know that Boggs was their father and Louise intended on keeping it that way.  However, before he died, Boggs had recognized Lou, calling her by her real name in front of an astounded Jimmy.  The boys had made a pact not to tell Teaspoon Lou's secret for fear of her being fired and certain adjustments had been made especially when it came to dressing and undressing.  Seems the big, tough men she lived with were shy when it came to undressing for bed in front of a woman, so Lou would wait outside on the porch for the all clear and then hop on her bunk and shimmy out of her own clothes in the darkness.  Cleaning up was something she did either late at night after the others were asleep or in the wee small hours of the morning.

"So, what do you think, Lulabelle?" Emma said as she stepped out from behind the screen, breaking Lou's thoughts.  The dress wasn't white, seeing as how this was a second wedding for both Sam and Emma, but rather a light yellow lawn with tiny green flowers all over it.  It had a scooped neckline with modest white lace sewn around the edges and trimming the hem and cuffs of the sleeves.  It wasn't fancy, but yet, with Emma's red red curls lying against her shoulders, it was beautiful.

"Oh, Emma!" Louise gasped.  "It's beautiful.  Are you sure you still trust me to do the pinning?"

Emma laughed at the comment.  Lou was so unsure of the domestic skills Emma had secretly been fostering.  She wasn't actually a bad cook and was already a good seamstress if she'd just give herself a chance, but she felt that if the other knew this they wouldn't take her seriously.  "Of course I trust you!  I couldn't exactly wear the dress and pin it myself, now could I?  I just wish you could come as yourself," she sighed.

"Well, can't help that," Lou said with a shrug as she picked up a packet of pins that had been sitting next to her and knelt at Emma's feet.

"And I know the boys wouldn't mind seein' you in a dress again.  Especially Kid," Emma hinted.

Lou grunted in reply as she removed a pin from her mouth and placed it along the seam she was creating.  "I'm sure he would.  Kid would rather I quit all together," she muttered.  "Well, we can't all be Amber."

Emma noted the jealousy in Lou's sarcastic comment.  Everyone had noticed how close Kid and Lou had become, especially Amber who'd known Louise's secret from the start.  There was an unspoken attraction between the two of them that had led to a lot of tension and more than a few arguments between them.  Kid had told Emma that Amber kept getting angry whenever he mentioned Lou's name.  She and Kid had actually fought the last time Kid had accompanied Lou to Seneca.  And the glares she gave Lou anytime they were in the same room together could melt stone.  Emma had watched, pained as Amber had danced with Kid at the last town social, making sure to make frequent passes by Louise who'd stood observing from a corner all night long.  She knew the night had upset Kid too, because she'd accidentally overheard Kid apologizing to Louise for Amber's actions outside the barn after they'd all returned home.

"And who'd want us all to be like Amber anyway?" Emma said brightly.  "Certainly God didn't, otherwise He'd have made us all like that.  Nope, He likes variety so He created us all very different but just as special as the next girl.  He'll come around, Lulabelle, just wait and see," she said placing a gentle hand on Lou's head.  "Heck look at Sam.  It took us six years to get together, but it's finally happenin'."

Lou shook her head with a small smile.  "I don't think I got the six years to wait," she replied.


"She ain't comin'."  Kid flopped back onto his bunk angrily, placing his hat over his face.

"What do you mean 'she ain't comin'?" Jimmy, clad in his longjohns, asked his best friend as he straddled the chair by Kid's bunk.

<You mean Amber's not comin' to the wedding?> Ike signed as Kid, finally unable to breathe, removed the hat from his face.

"Nope," Kid said sitting up and leaning his elbows on his knees.  "I just got back from her place and she said her aunt in Willow Springs is real sick and her parents are taking them all to see her.  Said her aunt may be dyin'."

Jimmy was more than slightly perturbed at the girl who was causing so much trouble for his best friend.  He'd caught her flirting with one of Thompkins' stock boys the other day while Kid was out on his run.  Cody swore he'd seen her kissing Everett Watts at the last social while Kid was getting her punch.  Jimmy longed to tell Kid to get rid of the unfaithful girl, but he didn't really feel it was his place.  "Seems to me her aunt was dyin' just last week, weren't she Cody?"

Cody looked up from the dime novel he was reading on his bunk.  "And the week before too," he chimed up.

"I can't believe that after all she put you through about takin' her to the weddin' that she ain't even gonna show up for it herself," Buck muttered from where he lay propped on an elbow on his bunk.  "Actually, I take that back.  This is Amber we're talkin' about.  The girl couldn't make up her mind if she were only given one choice."

Kid smiled at the way his friends backed him up but, at the same time, felt his conscience pang as they talked about the woman behind her back.  "Now she ain't all that bad," he chuckled.  He looked around at his friends' dubious faces.  "Okay, so she's that bad."

There was a knock at the bunkhouse door.  "You boys all decent in there, 'cause it is gettin' late and some of us would like to get to bed sometime tonight," Lou called through the door, knowing they'd forgotten all about her sitting on the porch.

"Just waitin' on Kid to get some clothes on," Jimmy hollered back with a grin at his fully clothed friend who'd jumped off his bunk and begun stripping down to his longjohns.

Cody gave a loud whistle and shouted, "You certainly are missin' quite a show in here, Lou."

On the other side of the door, Lou couldn't help but grin at the teasing.  "You forget Cody that I've seen each of you naked as the day you were born at one time or another.  I've seen the show, thank you and I want my money back! Now tell 'im to hurry up."

"Fine!  Done," Kid snapped frustrated and in ill-humor.  "Go ahead and get the lamp Jimmy."

Jimmy snuffed out the flame before crawling into his bunk with a groan.  "All clear, Lou," he yawned.

Lou's silhouette could be seen as she opened and closed the door.  "I was serious about that money thing, Cody," she whispered before crossing over to the bunk she shared with Kid.  She knelt and removed her boots before scanning the room.  The room was pitch black since it wasn't yet cold enough to keep the fire going. If Lou couldn't see the boys in their bunks, then they couldn't see her, she decided before beginning to unbutton her shirt.

Kid lay staring into the darkness trying to make out more than he could see.  He knew she was standing very close at the foot of his bed and he tried not to think about what the soft rustling of material meant, the pale swells of flesh he'd glimpsed once that haunted him and which he knew lay beneath the material she was removing.

It hadn't gotten any easier the longer she stayed; they'd only gotten closer which was why a part of him wasn't really all that upset that Amber wasn't coming to the wedding.  Seeing Louise standing in that corner all night at the last social had nearly broken his heart especially when Amber, whom he knew knew Lou's secret, cast a judgmental eye her way.  Kid had seen Lou as a woman and knew that given the chances in life Amber had gotten, Louise would have won his heart from Amber and kept it easily.  She was a sweet and gentle woman but also tough as nails too in her own way--she'd had to be.  In his heart, he knew Lou could handle her own, but it didn't make it any easier to watch her ride out into the unknown even if he hadn't felt the way he did about her.  He admired her; she was his friend but part of him wanted something more than friendship from her which was impossible as long as he was tied to Amber.  The thing was what should he do about it?

Chapter 5...coming soon!