With casual steps Kid crossed the length of the living room, and stopped before the opening door of the study. He smiled as his gaze fell on Lou, who was atop a ladder, smoothing the new curtains she had just hung. For a couple of minutes Kid simply stared at her, admiring her graceful figure as she moved on top of the ladder.
Kid was glad that after their conversation a couple of days ago things had gone back to normal, and despite his reproachable behavior the night of the Grangers' dinner Lou had not kept any hard feelings. After that, in his moments of solitude he reflected upon his relationship with Lou and everything they had gone through, but now his thoughts drove him in another direction. In the past whenever he brought Lou and their marriage to mind, he was full of pain, resentment, and bitterness. Yet, now he looked at everything from a different perspective because Lou was back in his life and everything that hurt him real bad appeared in a new light. After talking to her about what still bothered him, Kid was able to face his real feelings, and relativize everything at the prospect of a happy future with the woman he loved.
Lou had not noticed his presence yet, and unable to stand back any longer, Kid walked inside. As he stopped next to the ladder, temptation trapped him, and his hand slid below her skirt, and brushed up and down her right calf.
The unexpected touch almost made Lou jump out of her skin, and for a moment she staggered on the steps, but quickly reached to grip the ladder frame. Looking down she smiled when she saw her husband. "Hey, you startled me."
Kid grinned and kept his hand under her skirt, caressing her leg. "Who did you think would dare touch you like this? Ari?"
At his comment Louise giggled, and swatted his hand off. "When did you get so forward around women? This ain't the Kid I know."
"I'm not forward around women, just you, because I can't resist your charms," he whispered, running his hand up her leg, this time over her skirt. Lou could not help but laugh and Kid soon joined her. "Come down here," he said, stretching both his arms invitingly. Lou smiled, and jumped off the ladder to fall into his waiting arms. Once safe in his hold, Louise circled his neck and kissed him hard on the mouth.
Kid gently eased her down, and resting his hands on her hips, she shifted her face to the window and asked, "So what do you think?"
"They look very nice. Good job," Kid replied, studying the new curtains. Lou planned to change all the drapes in the house, and spent a great deal of time cutting the material and sewing. The ones now hanging in the study were in a flowery pattern in different shades of purple. Kid had to admit that even though he had never cared about the color of the curtains or any decorative elements, the change made the room look more cheerful and lighter.
"They're much nicer than the brown ones you had," Lou pointed out. "Maybe we could do something with those old plain drapes… cloths or even cushions. I think we could have some cushions for those chairs you have in your shed."
Kid smiled at her enthusiasm. "I think that would be nice," he remarked with profound admiration. Lou had been the same when they had first bought the house in Rock Creek, full of plans and energy, and it pleased him to see some things never changed.
"So what are you doing here in the middle of the day?" she asked.
"Would you believe me if I told you I had an irrepressible desire to see you?" he said, smiling goofily.
"Yes, I would," she replied, playing along. "But I'm sure there's another reason."
"A second reason," Kid rectified, and then added, "Lou, I normally go for provisions in town once a week. I thought we could go together today since we're running out of a few things in the barn. But I'm afraid I'm really busy there."
"Do you think Carla might have her baby foal today?"
Kid nodded. "That's why I don't want to leave the ranch. Lou, do you think you could go to the store for me?"
"Thanks. These are the things we need for the barn," he said, handing her a paper where he had written down everything.
Lou studied the list and without lifting her eyes, she said, "I'll check what we have to buy for the house too."
"Talk to Ari, and tell her to go with you," Kid suggested. "She knows pretty well what we need." At his words Lou raised her surprised eyes and was ready to protest, but Kid's meaningful expression stopped her. "Maybe a ride to town will give you the chance to have that outstanding conversation with her."
"Yeah," Louise replied vaguely. It was true she had not talked to the woman yet as she had promised, but it was not an easy task. Whenever she intended to tackle the matter, one look at Ari's serious countenance put her off and she decided to wait for a more suitable moment, which had not yet come. At least, Lou thought she was coping better with her attitude, and it did not bother her so much to notice her judgmental eyes on her whenever she did something around the house. If Lou managed to establish a more friendly relationship with Mrs. Giles, things would be much easier for everybody. Maybe that would not be possible however much she tried, but at least, she had to try.
Louise went around the store, picking from the shelves the items on her list and then placing everything in her basket. Her eyes casually scanned around the place, and stumbled upon Mrs. Giles. The housekeeper was at the opposite end, talking amicably to another lady. Shaking her head, Lou turned her attention back to the task at hand. Kid's suggestion to bring Ari along was not really working as he hoped. On the ride to town Lou had tried to engage the woman in conversation, but all Lou had managed was just monosyllables in reply or stiff responses. In the end Louise had given up, realizing she and Mrs. Giles did not have much common ground to stretch a conversation based on one-word sentences. Lou knew that eventually she would have to discuss their tense relationship directly, something she was trying to avoid by resorting to other tactics, but so far being friendly had proved to be a waste of time.
The mention of her name being called pulled her attention from the shelf she was checking out, and then she came face to face with a familiar smile. "Gloria!" she exclaimed in pleasant surprise.
"I'm so glad to find you here," the woman said. "The other day I didn't have the chance to tell you how much I enjoyed having you and Kid over for dinner."
"It was nice for us too," Lou replied politely. Her words were a blatant lie since her insane jealousy had prevented her from enjoying the evening, and then the argument with Kid had ended up ruining the rest of the night for her.
"I hope we can do it again some other time," Gloria continued. Pausing for a moment, she took a step closer to Lou, and said in a soft tone, "Louise, I'd really like to be friends with you. You were so good to me the other night. What we talked about helped me a lot. I don't think anybody can understand me like you do."
Lou smiled. "I'd like that too," Lou replied, silently thanking her for her honest offering of friendship. Gloria was the first person who paradoxically made her feel welcome in this new town. After what she knew from Kid's own mouth, Lou had been quite wary about the woman who she thought might have been a threat to her marriage, and in the end she had ended up liking Gloria more than she had anticipated. "Is everything all right with Channing?"
"Better every day."
"I'm glad," Lou said, and from the corner of her eye she saw Mrs. Giles walking towards them. The housekeeper held a wrapped up parcel in her hands. When she reached where Lou was, she politely greeted Gloria and was about to place her package in Lou's basket, but stopped to have a look inside. Lou noticed the look in Ari's face, and could almost feel her criticism on her skin once again. "Any problems, Mrs. Giles?" she asked, and when the woman kept quiet, Lou added, "I just picked up what you wrote on the list."
"Yes," Ari replied, and as she rummaged in the basket, she talked at the same time as she showed Lou some of the things from the hamper, "but this is beef, not pork. There should be five cans, not four, and this ain't on the list for sure."
Louise sighed tiredly. This was just the last straw she could stand, and her patience was running low. Couldn't she do anything right for this woman? Everything else was fine, but Mrs. Giles had to pick on her for a couple of things, and a bottle of syrup she wanted to buy that wasn't on the list. Lou would accept her rebuke willingly had it not been for the tone of her voice which sounded as if Lou had committed a crime. "Look, Mrs. Giles, I'm sorry. If I do everything so wrong, maybe you should take care of this yourself."
"I already told you, Ma'am. Just let me do my job. It'd be better."
Lou felt a terrible urge to scream, or at least, tell the housekeeper she was also wrong. Kid had told her it was him who came for previsions to town, not her. Yet, Lou had to swallow her words once again. They were in a public place, and she was not going to draw attention upon herself and make a scene with a respected woman in town. Leaving the basket on a display table with a powerful thud, she said, "I'll go to the feed store in the meantime. I guess I won't mess it up there."
Without waiting for an answer, Lou dashed out of the store, and stopped under the canopy of the covered walkway. Cursing herself for losing her temper, she punched one of the posts supporting the structure.
"She's being difficult, isn't she?"
Lou turned her head to find Gloria by her side, and realized that in her confrontation with Mrs. Giles, she had completely forgotten about the younger woman. "Oh I'm sorry. Please forgive my manners."
"You and Ari Giles don't get on well?" asked Gloria.
"You could say that," Lou muttered.
"She used to work for my father before she went with Kid, but I've never been too close to her. She was our cook, and as far as I know, she's a nice, honest woman. She's quite amiable too, and I'd never heard her sound so stiff before. It really baffled me."
"That's what Kid also says. I guess it's me who brings out the worst from her. It must be my fault then."
"Oh no, Louise!" Gloria exclaimed. "Some people just don't get along, but it's nobody's fault."
"Yeah, you're right. But it's imperative I get in good terms with somebody who's under my roof all day long."
"Yes, that's true," Gloria admitted. "You're gonna need a whole lot of patience." The woman paused, and kept thoughtful for a few seconds. "I think I know why she has this attitude to you. I imagine Kid has told you what happened to her son and daughter-in-law. Just horrible. Poor Ari. I'm so sorry for her." Lou wanted to tell Gloria she did not know the first thing about Ari or her son, and in fact, she was curious. Kid had just mentioned Mrs. Giles had had problems in her life, that was all, and now Gloria's words intrigued her. Yet, Lou did not have the chance to speak up as Gloria hooked her arm around hers, and said, "Let me walk with you to the feed store. That's where you're going, isn't it?"
"Yes," Lou replied, starting to walk along since Gloria had taken the lead and was steering her away.
"In the meantime you can tell me what your wedding was like. I don't really know yet what I've got myself into when I accepted Channing's proposal. I need all the advice you can give me."
Louise smiled as she kept walking arm in arm with her new friend. She did not think she had something useful to tell Gloria in that respect. Her wedding had been a discreet, small event. She and Kid didn't do anything special, and they had never aspired to have one of these extravagant weddings, so the arrangements had been small. Lou had bought her white wedding dress in Seneca, which was the only whim she had allowed herself to have despite the fact that she should not have worn white since she was not a virgin. That option had been taken from her unwillingly, so she had thought back then she should overlook that rule about the white color too. Kid had taken care of arranging everything with the reverend in church, and had hired the local music band for the small reception they had afterwards. And Rachel had kindly offered to cook the food. Besides that, they had invited just a small selection of friends and acquaintances. Apart from the Express family, they knew a few people in Rock Creek, among who was Tompkins, who were their guests at the wedding. Lou would also have wanted to have her siblings, and Emma and Sam on her very special day, but eventually none of them could make it. Emma could not travel since she had been heavily pregnant with the twins, and her siblings had stayed at the orphanage because Jeremiah had been fighting off a very strong cold, and Theresa had not wanted to leave her brother like that.
While they were in the feed store, true to her word, Gloria had asked Louise about her wedding, and talked about hers and her plans. Contrary to what Lou had imagined, Gloria wanted to have a small wedding. Even though her father had been a very successful businessman until recently and knew lots of people, she did not wish to be married among a bunch of strangers, but be surrounded by those she held dear to her heart. Both their families were not too big. Channing just had an old aunt who had raised him when his parents had died, and Gloria was just her father and a few relatives. Then they would invite some friends, who included Lou and Kid, the first ones on her list according to Gloria.
Louise had to admit she was enjoying the woman's company greatly. The more she knew Gloria, the better person she thought the woman was. Until now Lou had not realized how much she longed for some female companionship. She was used to having her sister around all the time, and it was now that she came to understand how much she missed Theresa and her friendship. Naturally, she was happy with her husband, but she had to admit she needed a female friend too.
Lou brought the wagon from where she had previously left it to stop in front of the feed store, and Gloria helped her load it with everything she had bought. Lou thanked her friend, and offered to drive her home. "But first, we need to pick up Mrs. Giles," Lou said.
Louise drove the wagon along the busy main street, and her eyes did not dare wander off as she had to maneuver the carriage skillfully so as to avoid other vehicles, horses, and people that mingled in a chaotic landscape along the street. "Ari's there," Gloria called, pointing at the woman, who stood in front of the mercantile holding a basket full of purchases.
Louise waved at the housekeeper at the same time that she called her name. The following couple of minutes seemed to go by in a blur, and Lou was not even aware of what happened. She was maneuvering the wagon, trying to approach the side of the street where Mrs. Giles was walking to. Crashing sounds reached her ears, and Louise just averted her eyes for one second to see a few drunkards involved in a fist fight. It had been just one second and then the worst had to happen.
"Louise!" Gloria's urgent voice cried at the same time that a sudden movement shook her body and a loud scream echoed above the dozens of noises around her. Instinctively, Lou yanked the reins strongly to stop the wagon, and as she turned her eyes to Gloria, and saw her look as pale as a ghost, she knew. Blindly she jumped off the wagon, and ran to the front where a group of people had already gathered. Her heart was pounding powerfully, her whole body was trembling, and when she saw her lying in front of the horse, an anguishing cry left her shivering lips. "Mrs. Giles!"