Whistling happily, Teaspoon walked leisurely into the yard after his late morning stroll. He’d been down at the lake and had fallen asleep, snuggled in a copse of poplars, as the light summer breeze blew. Though later than he’d planned, he hoped he hadn’t missed lunch by too much. Chuckling softly, he wondered what Rachel had said about his absence. She didn’t take to people missing meals.
As he walked around to the front of the barn, he spotted Buck, Kid, and Jimmy on the porch. Lifting his hand in greeting, he stopped short of completing his wave when he saw the expressions on their faces. Kid sat alone on the porch swing, wearing a sheepish look, as Jimmy and Buck sat sullenly on the steps. The smile on Teaspoon’s face slowly faded as he sighed, readying himself for the upcoming conversation. Whatever had happened, the threesome did not look happy about it.
“So boys,” Teaspoon said slowly as he walked up to the steps. He placed a foot on the bottom step and leaned against the handrail. “Y’all don’t look particularly happy. What seems –”
“I don’t care if y’all starve!”
Teaspoon stared at the house, his brow furrowed at Lou’s harsh tone. Looking back at the boys, he just raised his brow in question.
“Ask him,” Buck grumbled and pointed his thumb over his shoulder in Kid’s direction.
“Fine,” Teaspoon said. “Kid what is –”
“I wasn’t gonna lie,” Kid said, glaring at Buck and Jimmy.
“Good grief,” Jimmy said, heaving a sigh. “Would it a’ killed ya’ to at least fib a little?”
Kid crossed his arms over his chest and his chin jutted out in a defiant look. Teaspoon pursed his lips and cast his eyes in the direction of the house as he heard Lou storming around, banging pots and pans in the kitchen. A quick deduction led Teaspoon to believe this had something to do with cooking. Something to do with what was cooked…something to do with what Lou cooked.
“Lou was cooking?” Teaspoon blurted.
Their faces finally matched, as all three wore rather uneasy expressions. Teaspoon nodded and sighed. “Rachel?”
“She had to ride out to see Mrs. Wanson,” Jimmy said, grumpily. “Somethin’ about a sick little one.”
Teaspoon nodded once more. “So….”
Buck and Jimmy turned to look pointedly at Kid, making him aware that it was his story to tell.
Kid let out a sound that was part sigh, part growl, and relented. “All I said was it needed a little work but was almost as good as Mrs. Maubry’s stew.”
Teaspoon’s brow contracted. “The restaurant cook?”
“All ya’ said?” Jimmy groused. “That’s like sayin’ ‘gee you’re almost as pretty as.’”
“Yeah the cook,” Buck confirmed as Jimmy nodded at Teaspoon. “At least he didn’t use Emma or Rachel.” A quick look back at Kid had Kid glaring at Buck and opening his mouth to retaliate.
“Wait, now, jus’ hold it,” Teaspoon said, holding his hand up to stop the rising tempers. The boys did as the stationmaster requested. “I’m still confused. Kid, why did –”
“Look,” he said softly, casting a guarded eye at the house and leaning forward, “I’m tired of her practicin’ on us but not gettin’ any better.” He moved off the swing and squatted down beside Jimmy, who moved over so Kid could sit. Kid stretched out his legs as he sat on the step and ran his hand through his hair. “I ain’t gonna lie to her.”
“Um, but you’re marryin’ her,” Jimmy said, as if pointing out something new to Kid. Buck laughed when Kid gave Jimmy a sour look. “No, I mean,” Jimmy laughed too, “I mean, ain’t it easier? That’s why Buck and me jus’ tell her the food is fine.”
“But it’s not,” Kid said. He turned imploring eyes to Teaspoon. “I want her to get better and she has.” He looked at the three in front of him. “Ain’t she?”
“Um, sure,” Buck said, hesitantly. He glanced over at Jimmy. “Do you remember that time when Sam took Emma to dinner, so Lou cooked?” Kid and Jimmy both looked queasy, and Teaspoon stifled his laughter but then something dawned on him.
“Wait,” Teaspoon said, rubbing his chin. “I don’t recall Lou ever….”
“Um, Teaspoon,’ Buck said, “To you Lou wasn’t a girl then.”
“Yeah, you weren’t there,” Kid added. “That chicken was, well, it was…”
“I ain’t sure what it was but I know it weren’t chicken,” Jimmy said, shaking his head and holding his stomach at the thought of what they all had gone through after eating the chicken.
Teaspoon nodded thoughtfully, happy he’d missed that incident, especially with how the riders were reacting. A sudden realization made him snap his fingers. “But I was there for what she done to that pig.” Their faces fell at the thought of that disaster.
“It was like eatin’ charred wood,” Kid murmured, his distant look almost woeful.
“I think I broke a tooth on one a’ her biscuits,” Jimmy said, rubbing his forefinger over his bottom teeth.
“No, the mashed potatoes about killed me,” Buck put in. “Like eating whitewash or paste.” He stuck his tongue out and shivered.
“I believe I burped vinegar for at least three days after,” Teaspoon murmured.
“Vinegar,” the three boys blurted out.
“The greens,” Teaspoon explained. As the boys nodded, none of them having tried those that night, he added, “Don’t rightly think she added water to the mix.”
They sat quietly, thinking of that night when Rachel had been ill so Lou had volunteered to cook the dinner. No one had wanted to dash her enthusiasm so they’d all agreed and suffered through the evening meal. Afterwards, Cody was the only one able to actually ride to town for something to eat. Everyone else had retreated to various secluded spots to deal with their woes.
“So what’s the problem?” Teaspoon asked, interrupting their awful memories. “She must be gettin’ better I take it, if Kid says the stew was ‘almost as good as Mrs. Maubry’s.’”
“That’s my point,” Kid said. “I don’t understand why she took it wrong.”
Jimmy threw his head back laughing while Buck’s jaw dropped as he stared incredulously at Kid.
“I believe it has somethin’ to do with someone sayin’ she ‘overreacted,’” Buck stated. Teaspoon grimaced.
“Ya’ actually said that?”
Kid sighed. “Yeah but she…well, she did.” He shoved Jimmy in the side to shut the rider up and continued, “Honestly, if she thought about it, thought about how awful a cook she was in the past, don’t ya’ think she’d be pleased to know she was almost as good as Mrs. Maubry. I mean, ya’ gotta admit, Mrs Maubry is a darn good cook.”
Teaspoon had to give Kid that point. Gertrude Maubry was an excellent cook and the restaurant was very lucky to have her. She had been a possibility when Emma left but she was paid too well by the restaurant for her to consider leaving. Plus, she didn’t like boys so that would have been a major problem.
“I jus’ thought that by comparin’ her to Mrs. Maubry it would….” Kid ducked his head, suddenly interested in a loose thread on his pants.
“It would what?” Teaspoon prompted. Kid let out an exasperated sigh.
“That it would make her happy that she’d done so good.” He glanced around at his friends. “I want her to be happy. And I wanna be happy and be able to eat.”
“Kid I think ya’ did the right thing,” Teaspoon said, proud of the boy for being honest. “Ain’t no way to start a marriage by lyin’.” He winked. “Or starvin’.”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy drawled, “I think he could afford to lose some more weight.”
“Oh definitely,” Buck teased. “I mean Katy seems to be almost swaybacked when he’s on her.”
“Very funny,” Kid said, making a face at his friends. The three laughed and tossed around insults as Teaspoon caught a glimpse of the curtain moving. He wasn’t surprised to hear the door open quietly.
Buck, Jimmy, and Kid were caught unawares and jumped up at the sound of footsteps on the porch.
“Kid,” Lou said, softly. “Ya’ mean what ya’ just said?” She dipped her head and twisted the front of her apron, which was covered in flour. “I mean about me gettin’ better.”
“You know I do,” Kid said, turning to face her. “I want ya’ to be able to trust what I say.” He took a couple of steps towards her so they were standing toe-to-toe.
“Um, I need some help in the bunkhouse,” Teaspoon said, reaching out to grab Jimmy’s and Buck’s arms. The two riders had been watching the touching scene, waiting to see what happened next. However, they begrudgingly followed Teaspoon to the bunkhouse, looking over their shoulders every so often.
Once inside, Jimmy pushed the curtain aside so he and Buck could continue spying.
“Boys,” Teaspoon said, “come over here and sit.” As soon as they’d entered, he’d spotted the covered plate and knew it was for him. Removing the napkin, he tucked it into his collar, and picked up the spoon. Deeply inhaling, he caught the enticing aroma and saw the succulent beef in the thick gravy. He scooped up a spoonful, popped it into his mouth, and chomped down on the meat, just as Buck and Jimmy turned around.
“Teaspoon!” the two yelled in unison, both holding their hands out in warning. But it was too late.
The myriad of expressions that crossed the stationmaster’s face told of how far-off Kid had been in comparing Lou’s cooking to Mrs. Maubry’s. He chewed slowly, then quickly, trying to get the taste out of his mouth. His eyes darted around, looking for something to drink. Buck figured it out, and as fast as he could poured water into a tin cup and handed it to Teaspoon, who gulped it down to wash away the bitterness. After a few coughs and three more cups of water, he finally stared at Buck and Jimmy.
“Why in all that’s holy did Kid compare this,” Teaspoon looked down at the plate, the contents not as tempting as they had been moments earlier, “with the stew from the restaurant?”
Jimmy and Buck exchanged amused looks, and sat down across from their friend. “I guess you missed our expressions when Kid said that,” Buck explained.
“Yeah, she may be better but she ain’t nowhere near Mrs. Maubry,” Jimmy said, laughing.
Teaspoon shook his head, pulled the napkin from his neck, and dropped it on the plate. “Love may be blind but it also can’t taste worth a lick.”
“So Teaspoon,” Buck said, eyeing the man, “you still say he did the right thing?”
“Son,” Teaspoon said, leaning his chair back, “I believe that sometimes things are just better left unsaid.” Buck and Jimmy nodded at his wise words. “Now, get me somethin’ to eat!”
A/N: Thanks to Raye for my prompt: sometimes it’s better left unsaid