Author's note: It is raining where I live, so I thought I would re-post this old story of mine. It is one of the darkest tales I've written, but it is some kind of quest as you go along every chapter. I like mystery stories, and this one has a big mystery, and a mystery within another mystery. I hope you enjoy the story's shadows and lights.
It was a foul day. It had begun pouring just a couple of hours ago and the torrential rain fell like a thick layer that made it almost impossible to see. It was a very dark night; only a few gas lamps were still lit, casting a dim light in the city streets. Kid hurried his way through the darkened streets, cursing himself for the nuisance of being in the middle of the city, especially in this lousy weather. He couldn't have chosen a worse day. He wished he could now be relaxing at home, at his ranch, comfortably snug in his lounge. But no, he was roaming the streets of Meringdon in this awful weather. Hated as he did coming to the city, he only came when it was absolutely essential. Today he had to sort out some red tape with the bank and have a very long and boring dinner with a seemingly possible buyer. However, it turned out that the man had just wasted Kid's precious time. He didn't have any obvious interest in buying his horses; he was just a charlatan and he had dragged Kid to a restaurant in a part of the city he hardly knew.
Thunder resounded over him as he tried to find his way to the rooms he had in the city for when he needed to spend a few nights there. Despite owning a horse ranch in the area for a few years now, Kid still had difficulty in finding his bearings in this big city, especially on a night where he could hardly see a thing. He stopped for a minute, trying to grasp where he was. He cursed himself for having the brilliant idea of leaving his horse in the stables. When he had left that afternoon, the sun had been shining and he couldn't have foreseen that the evening would turn out to be so miserable. He had thought that walking to the restaurant would do him good; it had been such a lovely afternoon but now he was cursing his luck. Lightning flashed in the sky, lighting up the dark streets. From his position Kid could see the stone bridge ahead of him. Recognizing the place he felt relieved and grateful that his night wander was almost over. His lodgings were not far now.
Kid made his way across the bridge on the left-hand side. The bridge was the pride of the citizens in Meringdon. It was like an emblem of the city. It was not the typical wooden bridge which was common to find in most west towns. No, this was a robust stone bridge. On each side of it there was a sidewalk at the level of the road for the many passers-by who crossed the bridge over the river every day. It was usually very busy, being in the middle of the city, always full of carriages, men on horses and people going on their way to the city. Only now at this time of the night and in this weather the bridge was almost deserted, except for the occasional carriages crossing it.
As Kid was making his way over the bridge, he cast a glance down at the river; its rough and deep waters roared below. He hurried as he heard thunder booming above him again. In that moment a wagon passed by him at full speed, splashing water and mud all over Kid. He began shouting curses after the careless driver, but the wagon had already disappeared from sight.
"Damn!" he grunted and stopped a moment to take a handkerchief out of his raincoat pocket. He tried to wipe some of the mud which had stained his face after being drowned completely. He was having such a nasty day. He was already cold, wet and tired. Again there was a bolt of lightning, lighting the whole bridge and then something caught his eye. On the other side of the bridge there was a woman. Kid could only see her back as she kept looking at the river below. He wondered how he hadn't seen her before, but considering it was a really black night, it wasn't much of a surprise. Kid's attention got caught at once as he wondered what she was doing on the middle of the bridge on a night like that. She sure wasn't a tramp or anything similar. She was wearing quite a smart dress and her hair seemed very neat despite the rain falling all over her.
Without thinking twice, Kid crossed over to the other side of the bridge and approached the woman. He still couldn't see her face, but he gathered that she must be around his age. She was soaked to the skin as if she had been on the spot for a while. Kid didn't know why he felt the impulse to approach the lady, but it seemed as if she might need some help. The woman hadn't noticed his presence yet and Kid talked to her tentatively, not wanting to scare her.
"Ma'am, are you all right?" Kid first thought that the woman hadn't heard him as she kept motionless. However, after a few seconds she turned her face towards him and, as another bolt of lightning struck, he could see her face clearly. He almost jumped as his eyes met her. "What!" He could hardly find his own voice. He couldn't be more surprised than right now and she had an expression of utter bewilderment as if she was looking at a ghost. Finally, he managed to get a grip of himself and said, "Lou?"
He really couldn't believe it was her, Louise McCloud, the woman he had loved most in his life. He had often had this silly dream of running into her somewhere, but never in his life had he thought that he would find her under these circumstances.
Lou was still in shock, unable to believe what her eyes were seeing. Kid was before her. Was she dreaming? She squinted her eyes as if she wasn't seeing all right, but her eyes didn't trick her. It was him, and he had called her name. "Kid?" she asked uncertain and saw him nod. "Kid," she repeated and couldn't help but smile broadly at seeing the man she hadn't seen in eight years.
He smiled back and they both joined in a hug. It had been so long. Kid kept staring at her, still unable to believe that it was her. She was still as beautiful as he remembered, even more so as he noticed her long hair and her obvious feminine traces that she had hidden when riding for the Express. She really was a sight despite being soaked to the skin. "Are you all right, Lou?" Kid asked, realizing that they were still under the rain.
Lou lowered her eyes, not daring to meet his. She noticed for the first time that she was wet to the bone, and it was pouring with rain. "I'm fine," she said with a feeble voice. Suddenly, she felt cold and shivered, and Kid hurried to take off his raincoat and put it on her. She wanted to protest but she didn't have the energy to do so and just voiced a soft 'thank you'.
"What are you doing in the middle of the bridge on a night like this?" Kid asked tentatively. He feared what she might tell him. Was she in some kind of trouble? Nobody in their right mind would be lazing around in this lousy weather.
"Uh …" Lou began clumsily. "I just got caught in the rain." She really didn't find anything else to say; there was no other excuse she could tell him.
Kid didn't press her any further. He knew that she wasn't being completely sincere. He was sure that there might be a reason for her being under the rain, but after finding her after so many years he didn't want to act as an inquiring pest. He just said, "I have some lodgings not far from here. Why don't you come with me? We can talk and get dry."
Kid looked at her expectantly. He still couldn't believe that he was talking to Lou; it really seemed incredible. In a way he feared that any moment he would wake up, and she would disappear before his eyes. Louise stared at him with big eyes and kept quiet for a few seconds, but finally she managed to say, "All right."
It was warm and cozy inside. There was a fire going on in the fireplace, lighting the whole room with its flickering flames. The storm was still raging outside. Kid had changed from his wet clothes to some dry ones. He was still unsure of how he was feeling about tonight's events. In the next room was Lou. Kid couldn't believe it. He had dreamt so much about finding her. It had been so long since they had last seen each other, but for Kid she had been the most important woman in his life.
Their courtship hadn't been easy at all back then, but Kid had felt so alive with her. Unfortunately, he had lost her on the way when he had decided to go and fight in the war. To tell her goodbye had been one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. He knew that Lou didn't approve of his decision, but she never said anything. Not once did she ask him to stay with her. She understood that he had to do it; he had to go back to Virginia. Kid didn't know what he'd have done if she had begged him to stay. Maybe he'd have stayed and right now after going through that damned war he wished she would have said something. But she didn't. The day they parted, they whispered promises to each other. Kid swore that he'd come for her as soon as the war was over. He had explained to her again that he was leaving her because of the war; that it was something stronger than his own wishes, but nothing would stop him from being with her when the war was over.
Kid never thought that it would be the last time he would see her. He had hoped that the war wouldn't last long, but he had been wrong. It had been four long years in which he hadn't seen anything but death. There had been nothing to be proud of in the war and Kid soon understood that he had made a terrible mistake; the war was a total mistake no matter the reasons. The first months he enlisted Kid had received loving letters from Lou. He longed for her so much and told her in his letters how much he missed and loved her; that he wanted to marry her as soon as they reunited. But one day her letters stopped. He kept writing to her; nothing could make him stop. He didn't know if she ever got his letters as he knew that the mail service wasn't reliable at all, especially in the south. Besides, he had changed regiments several times and maybe her letters just couldn't reach him. His only hope was that she somehow got his letters.
Someone clearing their throat made him wake from his reverie. Kid lifted his gaze and found Louise smiling at him. She had changed out of her wet dress and had donned the shirt and trousers that Kid had found among his own clothes. Kid kept looking at her, mesmerized at the image before his eyes. His own clothes were just too big for her, but he still thought that she was just beautiful. He rose to his feet from his seating position on the settee and taking the wet dress from her hand he left it to dry next to his own wet clothes by the fire.
Louise stood in the middle of the room, feeling very self-conscious all of the sudden. She hadn't expected to finish the day in a man's room and much less Kid to be that man. He came to her and handed her a steaming cup of coffee. "This will warm you up," Kid said and steered her to the settee. They sat down and stayed in silence for a few minutes. Kid had dreamt about the moment he could be with Lou like now so much, but at the moment he felt speechless and didn't seem to find the words to talk to her. He wanted to say so many things to her but he didn't know how to begin. Finally he just said, "Are you going to tell me what you were doing in the middle of the storm?"
Lou looked at him with a serious face and Kid realized that she wasn't comfortable talking or being asked about that. She fidgeted in her chair and muttered, "Nothing really. I just lost track of time. It was just plain stupid."
Kid knew that she wasn't telling the truth. Despite the years apart he could still see through her. There was something troubling her; he could tell as much, but this was not the best time to press her. He knew that by doing so he would just scare her away. So he decided to drop the matter and asked, "How have you been, Lou?"
Louise looked at him and just said, "Not too bad."
"Do you live in Meringdon?" Kid asked again.
Lou nodded and added, "We moved here over a year ago."
"We?" Kid asked, wondering if there was somebody in her life. A few years ago he had run into Jimmy and had learned from him that Louise was living in St Joseph. To his chagrin he also told Kid that Lou was seeing somebody. Kid ended up having Lou's address on a piece of paper, but he just couldn't bring himself to go and see her. He just felt he couldn't face her if she was with somebody else. Even though he hadn't seen her for years, the thought hurt him terribly. The paper was in his pocket for months; he had almost worn out the little piece of paper as he read the address dozens of times even though he knew it by heart. When finally he had made the decision to end the agony and go and see her, she wasn't there any more.
"Me and Rachel," Lou said. "Well, she met somebody and got married last year. Andrew is a decent man and quite well-off. Has several businesses in the city. Actually, I work in a dress shop he owns."
"Really?" Kid exclaimed with an amused expression.
Lou nodded with a smile and said, "Who would have thought I would end up selling dresses to snooty ladies?"
She laughed, and Kid joined in her mirth. He couldn't really imagine that Lou actually liked that kind of life. She had always been so independent and so free-spirited that Kid found it hard to believe that she was happy doing that kind of job. He remembered their long conversations, and Lou had always talked about living out in the country where she could breathe the fresh air and feel completely free. They had even talked half-seriously about the possibility of owning a ranch. Neither had been bold enough to mention marriage; they just talked about partnership even though they both knew that the meaning underneath was clear. Kid was now the owner of his ranch and unfortunately, she wasn't part of it, not even as a partner.
"So you never married?" Kid blurted out the question he had wanted to ask her, dreading what her answer would be.
Lou averted her gaze from him and shook her head no. "Nothing really worked," that was all she said.
It was the truth. Men had wanted to court her, and she had even tried with a couple of fellas, but she had never felt to be in love, not the way she had been with Kid. She knew that she had tried to find a substitute for him, but no man was good enough for her. For a time she hadn't known whether Kid was alive or even where he was. Sometimes she had thought that after the war he had decided to stay in Virginia. She just didn't know a thing. The letters stopped even before Rachel and she had to leave Rock Creek. She had written to him, a desperate try, to let him know that they had moved. She never knew if he ever got that letter, and she had even feared that her letter hadn't found him.
As the years had gone by and the war was over, all her tries to find out about Kid were in vain. She wrote dozens of letters to the southern authorities and the union army asking about the whereabouts of Kid, whether he was alive, but the answer was always the same. The information she wanted was reserved for relatives, and she was nothing. She wasn't even his fiancée, never had been. Eventually, Lou had accepted that she had to stop fantasizing about Kid, and after much insistence from Rachel she had let a first man court her. It still didn't feel right. She felt as if she was cheating on him even though she hadn't heard from him in years.
Then during one of Jimmy's visits he had astonishingly said that he had seen Kid, that he was alive. Louise would have leapt in joy at hearing Jimmy, but then her heart fell as her friend told her that he had given Kid her address. That had been a couple of months before and she had never heard or seen him at all. In that moment she had understood that Kid had definitely forgotten her and much to her chagrin from that moment on she had to do the same. She really had tried really hard, and even though she had thought that she might find somebody else, she had never got over him.
"I went to Rock Creek," Kid said after a while.
"What?" Lou muttered, lost at his words.
"I went for you to Rock Creek," he repeated with a serious voice, "as I promised." Lou looked at him and he added, "But you weren't there."
She was getting really uncomfortable with the conversation. She didn't know what to say to him. What was he trying to tell her? She kept her eyes downcast and just said in a feeble voice, "The company sold the station, and we couldn't stay any longer. We have been on the go quite a lot."
It was a painful memory for Lou when they had to leave the station, the place she had called her home. Rachel and she hadn't been able to afford to buy the property even though she had been saving while working in the Express. Anyway, Rock Creek wasn't the best place to live. When Teaspoon had left his job as the town marshal and had accepted to work with Sam, the town had been immersed in violence. It wasn't safe anymore, especially with her siblings under her care. That was why they had decided to move somewhere else. It had been a terrible decision for Lou, knowing that if Kid returned someday, he would go and look for her there. She had just hoped that he could find her anyway. They had left their address with Tompkins and some local acquaintances in case Kid came asking for her. But finally, Lou realized that it had happened as she had always feared, that Kid would never find her, especially since Rachel and she hadn't stayed in one place for long.
Louise remained in silence and felt his eyes boring in her. She noticed that he was very close, almost touching her. She could feel his warmth, and his closeness was making Louise extremely nervous. She knew that her cheeks were flushed and her heart was wildly racing. Like on an impulse she jumped to her feet and looking around the room breezily she tried to change the direction of the conversation. "It's a nice place you have, Kid," she said. She stopped for a moment and then asked, "Have you been living here long?"
"I don't live here," Kid answered. He noticed that she was withdrawing from him and he didn't know the reason. Maybe she had thought that he was reproaching her for moving on, but he couldn't blame her. If it was somebody's fault, it was his for leaving her behind to fight in a senseless war. Being here with her felt really strange. In a way it was as if the years hadn't passed. She had the same effect on him as before, and she seemed to have reversed to her old self when she shied away from him whenever he tried to come closer. However, at the same time, he felt like a stranger with her. "I only use this place when I have to come to the city. Actually, I have a ranch about fifty miles away."
"Really?" Lou exclaimed happily. She knew that it was what he had always wanted. He was so good with horses, and Lou couldn't imagine him doing anything else. He finally got what he really deserved, and Lou felt happy for him.
Kid nodded and said, "Mind you, it's nothing big, but I'm really proud of it." He smiled broadly and added, "You should come one day and see it."
"I'd love that," Lou said sincerely and smiled at him.
Without noticing it the night passed. They had spent hours talking about their lives, about their days in the Pony Express, about their friends and just about anything. The only thing that Kid noticed was that she was reluctant to talk about anything hinting on the love they had felt for each other. She just changed the subject as soon as Kid mentioned the smallest detail.
Louise felt that she hadn't enjoyed herself so much for a long time. It was just so easy to talk to him. She could stay like that for ever, but when she noticed that it wasn't dark outside, she exclaimed, "It's morning!" She couldn't believe it. She hadn't slept a wink, and she wasn't tired or even sleepy. She rose to her feet and looked out of the window. It was a beautiful day. The storm from last night had ceased and today the day greeted them with a blue sky and a bright sun. "I can't believe we've been up all night," she muttered.
"You remember the last time we stayed awake all night long, just the two of us like today?" Kid asked, looking at her intently from his position at the settee.
Lou nodded and without meeting his gaze she just said, "Davenport."
They had stopped at that town after Kid's insistence that they should have some time for themselves, just to be together. She had such fond memories of that occasion. They had dressed in their finest and had had a nice dinner at the local restaurant and had even walked under the stars like any other courting couple. It had felt so special. It was as if they were courting properly, something that they hadn't had much opportunity to taste; her having to dress like a man didn't make the task very easy for either of them. However, that night in Davenport Lou had felt for the first time how it felt to be free with the man she loved. But complications had arisen that night as a band had opened fire unexpectedly, killing the deputy marshal. Kid and Lou had to spend the night keeping watch over the prisoner that those criminals had presumably tried to liberate.
Kid looked at her, standing by the window and said, "I had planned to propose to you that night." He stopped for a beat and then added in a feeble voice, "But I lost my nerve."
"I know," Lou muttered. She had known all along what had been on his mind that night. She could read him so well, but he never spoke and she got really disappointed and angry with herself at the same time. She knew that her previous refusals had made him wary about the subject, and she was aware that he didn't want to push her. It had been all her fault and he had never asked her again.
"What would you have said?" Kid asked seriously, looking at her fixedly.
Lou averted her gaze, not daring to meet his inquisitive eyes and said, "It really doesn't matter now, does it?"
Kid smiled wryly and just muttered, "I guess not."
They stayed in silence for a few minutes and then Louise exclaimed, "I really must go.
Rachel must be frantic with worry. I normally don't stay out overnight. So I'd better hurry home before she sends the whole army after me."
Kid laughed and, as Lou was about to grab her now dry dress, he clasped her hand and whispered, "I've had a wonderful night."
Lou looked up at him and said shyly, "Me too, Kid."
"Now let me take you home."
Lou was about to protest but she knew that Kid wouldn't hear a no for an answer, so she simply nodded.
Kid pulled over the wagon and after jumping down he came round to help Lou get off. Following Louise's instructions he had driven the buckboard to a small square. He had never been in that part of the city, but he knew that it was where the best-off people lived. The square was just beautiful. It was framed with big houses, and in the middle there was a quiet park full of trees and beautiful gardens. The houses surrounding the park were quite imposing, big stone buildings. The house that Lou had pointed out at him was a stone three story stately home. It really was impressive. Surrounding the building itself there was an wrought iron fence which framed a tidy garden. Louise motioned for Kid to follow her as she opened the front gate.
"Do you live here?" Kid asked really surprised.
Lou laughed, watching his stupefied expression, and added, "I told you that Andrew is quite well-off."
"Quite well-off?" Kid exclaimed. "He must be rolling in money."
Lou let out a peal of laughter as she made her way along the path leading to the house, continuing up the steps to the porch. Kid followed her and, as she unlocked the main door, they both remained in silence.
As soon as Lou stepped in the house, she saw Rachel stomping quickly towards her. She was wearing her dressing gown and her hair was in complete disarray.
"Where the hell have you been?" Rachel barked, visibly infuriated. "Poor Andrew's out there looking for you. We've been sick with worry as you …" She stopped her furious harangue in mid-sentence as she caught sight of the man behind Louise. "Kid?" Rachel muttered flabbergasted.
He nodded silently, and Rachel quickly came to hug him. "Oh boy," was all she could utter.
Kid smiled at watching Rachel's bewildered expression on seeing him appear. "Rachel," he began after a while, "it was my fault, actually. We ran into each other, and as the weather couldn't be worse, we had to take shelter in my lodgings. We kind of lost track of time so don't be hard on her."
He cast a sideways look at Lou and he noticed that she had a wry expression. She was looking at Rachel very seriously as if she were feeling very uneasy. Rachel nodded without saying anything else, and the three of them stood silent. Kid smiled, but both of the women kept serious stances. He began feeling really uncomfortable and their silence felt as his cue to leave. "Uh," he began clumsily, "I'd better be on my way." He tilted his head to Rachel.
"Nice seeing you, Kid," she said sincerely.
Kid then turned to Louise with a smile and added, "See you tomorrow?"
Lou just nodded, without saying a single word. Kid looked at her for a few moments, wondering why her mood had changed so suddenly. She had been, though in a way reserved, quite talkative all night long and they had even shared some laughs. Yet, since she had stepped in her house, Lou hadn't opened her mouth at all and seemed to have a bitter expression.
Kid turned to leave and as he was crossing the porch towards his wagon, he heard Lou call his name. He turned around and saw her at the door. He looked at her quizzically, and then she just blurted out, "I would have said yes." She closed the door without waiting for his answer or to see his expression. As the door clicked shut, she leaned over and cursing herself she grunted, "Why did I have to say something stupid like that?" She shook her head, and as she looked up she saw Rachel. She was still on the same spot, her arms folded, looking straight at her friend. Lou approached her and Rachel arched her eyebrows questioningly.
"He appeared out of the blue, just as if by magic," Louise began, still astonished at last night's events. "I couldn't believe my eyes." She paused and letting out a sigh she continued, "But why now, Rachel? Why precisely now?"
"I don't know, honey," Rachel said softly. "Sometimes life has a way to evolve that is beyond our grasp."
Louise had an annoyed expression as she listened to her friend and added, "If you ask me, life sure has a nasty sense of humor."
Both women relapsed into silence again, and after a few minutes Rachel asked, "Are you going to keep seeing him?"
"No, of course not," Lou said matter-of-factly, no hesitation whatsoever.
Rachel nodded in understanding and asked, "What about tomorrow?"
"I'm just going to see his ranch," Lou said, trying to disregard the whole thing. He had asked her, and she had accepted without thinking anything. "I'm logically curious to see how he's doing. After all, he was very important to me."
Rachel nodded but didn't say anything further. Again they kept silent for a few moments, staring at each other. "I've written the letter to Stanley, that friend of Andrew's," Rachel said with a husky voice, "I'll post the letter today."
Louise nodded and realized that she was feeling very tired all of the sudden. She lowered her eyes and kept looking at the floor. "I want to tell you how much I appreciate what you and Andrew are doing for me," Lou muttered, "It's really a lot of money and I…"
Louise tried to continue but taking hold of her hands Rachel didn't let her friend finish. "Don't even think about that, Louise McCloud!" Rachel exclaimed, sounding harsher than she had intended. Lou looked up at her surprised, and Rachel voiced a soft 'sorry' realizing she had been just too rough.
"It's all right, Rachel," Lou said, letting out an audible sigh. "I'm also furious myself." Rachel smiled wryly and Lou added, "I think I'll go to bed. Please tell Andrew I'm sorry about last night."
Rachel nodded smilingly as Louise climbed the stairs towards the bedroom. The older woman sank down on a chair, feeling now free of the tension of that morning. She had been frantic with worry when she had noticed that Lou hadn't slept in her bed. Louise had never done that before. She didn't really have friends in the city, and Rachel had wondered where she had been. Fortunately, her worries had been put to rest when she had seen her appear, but what Rachel hadn't expected was the sudden appearance of Kid. She knew that Lou had never forgotten him completely. Despite the years Louise sometimes talked about him and she just had that look that couldn't be mistaken. Rachel had always suspected that her friend had the hope of finding him and having him in her life again someday. And now he had shown up, but not in the best moment. Rachel just hoped that things wouldn't get more complicated than they already were, just for Lou's sake.