Don't You Know?
by: Miss Raye

It took too long to dress for the dance, or at least that is what Teaspoon proclaimed as they mounted up less than an hour before the dance was to start. “I should’ve just left you boys behind to fend for yourselves,” he gruffed as he swung his body up into the saddle.

Six boys, well five really since Lou didn’t much cotton to dressin’ up for dances, crowded around the two mirrors and any polished surface in the bunkhouse. It didn’t make for a lot of room in any one location and certainly lent itself to a lot of sore elbows and bruised egos.

The pushing and shoving didn’t end there. Once off their mounts inside of Sweetwater, the boys all jockeyed for position, playfully shoving each other out of the way.  Later, Emma would comment to one of the other ladies at the dance that the boys seemed to think that there was some sort of ‘first come, first served’ rule and they all had to be first through the door if they had any hope of spendin’ time with one of the girls.

Buck ended up sandwiched between Jimmy and Ike in the crowded interior of the Hall. When a gentleman moved past Ike, he shifted over to give the man some room and pushed Buck in the opposite direction. Jimmy pushed back.  “Move over… you’re crowdin’ me.”

“Maybe you’re crowding me, Hickok.”

Ike blinked as the two went nose to nose in the confined space and even as their fists clenched other folks went happily by on the dance floor.  *sorry it was my fault* Ike leaned in so they could see it, but they were too wrapped up in their confrontation to notice. They weren’t interested in anything else besides seein’ who would be the first to blink.

“Now boys,” Emma began, and it was truly her well timed intrusion that made them back down, “don’t you think you should spend less time starin’ at each other and more time noticing the pretty girls… like Marion, here.”

All three of them looked at the girl standin’ to Emma’s right. “Marion Hartley, these are some of my boys out at the station.” Beaming, Emma continued on. “That’s Jimmy Hickok.”

“James Butler Hickok, Miss Hartley.” He bent over her hand and winked before he kissed it.

“And this is Buck-”

He took her hand from Jimmy. “Buck Cross, Miss. I’m pleased to meet-”

“Well, enough of this meetin’ and greetin’ stuff.” Jimmy peeled her hand from Buck’s and tucked it under his arm.  “How about we dance?”

Marion gave Emma a smile and was swept out onto the floor by Jimmy.

Emma moved away, giving Ike a pat on the shoulder.  Buck caught the gesture and leaned closer to Ike so he could hear over the noise.  “He shouldn’t have done that.”

Ike shrugged. Thankful that his friend was so thoughtful to worry about his feelings.

“Interrupting the introductions. I was going to ask her to dance myself.”

The music shifted into a schottische and Ike settled into his mood. A few girls walked by and he saw Buck smiling at them, but he couldn’t muster up so much as a little lift of the corner of his mouth.

Cody sauntered up with a girl on each arm. “Well hello there, boys.”

The girls giggled and Cody beamed. “I was dancing’ with Izzy here,” indicating with his head the girl to his left, “and she told me she had a sister… the lovely Helen here,” his head fell to the right.”

Ike stood a little off to the side and his mouth went dry. Helen was a little slip of a girl, with wide green eyes and a length of wheat colored hair. She was a little taller than Lou and looked like one of his sister’s china dolls in her green dress.  She was beautiful. She was delicate.

He moved to the side to reach his hand forward.

“Just when I was thinkin’ that both of these lovely ladies wanted to share me,” he chuckled as Izzy gave him a haughty look and Ike took a step forward, “Helen confessed that she wanted to talk to you, Buck.”

Buck? Ike shrank back behind his friend and didn’t even try to get an introduction. His future or rather lack of any chance with Helen had already been determined for him.

“Well, Miss Helen,” Buck extended his hand, “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“And you, Buck.”

Cody nearly rolled his eyes as the seemingly proper Miss drew out his friend’s name and gave him a look that spoke volumes.

“Would you like some punch?”

Helen nodded quickly, her long hair sliding up and down her back with the motion. “I’d love some.” 

Buck moved through the crowd with Helen’s arm in his and Cody followed right behind with Izzy tucked into his side.

Ike stood staring at their backs, his mouth slack with disbelief. He quickly shut it when he caught a look from Lou across the room. He was looking at Ike with a curious expression. From what Ike could tell, Lou felt sorry for him, and he didn’t like it one bit.

*  *     *  *

Catching Teaspoon’s eye through the crowd, Buck gave the station master a nod as they reached the dessert table. Reaching toward the punch bowl he filled two cups and handed the first to Helen.  “Here you go.”

“Thank you.” She took a sip and looked up at him through her lashes. “It’s very kind of you.”

“Kind?” He gave her a big smile. “Getting you some punch wasn’t about being kind. It’s about doing something nice for a beautiful girl.”

“Oh?” She cupped her punch in her hand. “You think I’m beautiful?”

He saw the way she fluttered her eye-lashes and the artful tilt of her head. “You know you’re beautiful.”

She tossed a look back over her shoulder and when she looked back at him she had a smile, “It’s just nice to hear once in awhile.“

“I’m sure you have people saying that to you everyday.”

“Sure,” she scoffed, “my father, his new wife can’t be bothered, but that’s not what we’re here for, is it? Talking about my family?”

“No,” Buck looked over her shoulder when she did again, trying to see what was bothering her so much. “Are you all right?”

She turned back, her smile in full force again. “Of course I am,” she playfully swatted at his arm and turned her green eyes on him in open adoration. “What a silly question.” She tossed her hair

Buck heard the band strike up a waltz and he looked down at Helen. “Care to dance?”  He held out his hand for her to take.

“I’m sorry, what?” Helen looked around, the corners of her mouth tight and her eyes slightly panicked.

*  *    *  *

Ike moved backward inch by inch as the crowd pushed around him, but he didn’t realize how far he’d gone, until the border of the window bit into the backs of his legs.

He watched Buck and fought down the urge to scowl. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to his friend that he was standing back here pouting like a child, but if truth be told that’s what he felt like.

Didn’t Buck know? Didn’t he know how much it hurt that Buck could so easily ‘fit’ into everything? Sure, he knew sign, but it was Buck that had to translate for him most of the time.  How was he going to ‘talk’ to anyone if Buck was off dancing?

Suddenly the room wasn’t big enough to breathe in. He had to get out. Now.

Ike lit out for the door, jostling folks as he brushed by. He clipped Cody as he pushed past the dance floor and Cody called him on it. “Ike, what’s goin’ on?” Ike didn’t answer, he just tucked his head down and stepped out into the night. 

Kid moved closer and caught Cody’s eye. “What’s wrong with him?”

*  *      *  *

Buck cleared his throat and asked again. “Would you care to dance?”

She looked over at the dance floor. “It really is quite crowded…. Why don’t we just stand here for awhile? Talk a little more.”

“Sure…sure.” Buck looked over at Cody and Jimmy holding their girls tight and he wondered when he’d get to do the same. Of course for him things would be different. Difficult.  “Would a different dance be better?”

“No!” She looked startled for a moment and then seemed to school her features into a smile. “I guess I’m just winded. Really, Buck, I’m happy just being here… with you.”

“Oh, that’s all right with me… do you need more punch?”  He knew his voice sounded strained and try as he might, he couldn’t get it to sound… normal. He took her cup and moved over to the punch bowl, his eyes scanning the crowd for Ike. He didn’t see him on the dance floor and he hadn’t seen him leave… then again, he hadn’t been looking.

The dance ended and Cody walked his partner off the floor with a big grin on his face.

“That was grand fun, Billy, let’s go another round.”

Cody waved off with a hand as his other swept over his brow. “I’m done for awhile, Izzy… how about you take a turn with Buck, here? He looks rested.”

“Buck?” She looked around and caught sight of him standing at the punchbowl. “You know, Cody… I’m plum tuckered out myself. Why don’t I find my mama and take a rest.”

“Sure… whatever you say, darlin’.” Cody walked over and dipped a cup into the punch bowl and poured it down his throat. “Dancin’ and romancin’ are tiring, Buck… don’t you agree?” Cody walked off before Buck could answer.

And if truth be told, no one was close enough to the Kiowa to hear him say, “I wouldn’t know.” He lifted the cupful of punch and headed back to Helen’s side. “Here you go.”

“Thank you, Buck,” she reached out to take it and her fingers brushed Buck’s by accident.

He was about to apologize when he saw the look of revulsion cross her face. “I… I’m sorry.” She managed to stammer out.

“There’s no harm, Helen. It’s just-”

“What are you doin’ with him?”

Buck looked up at Thomas Mercer, a brute of a man that just hired on at the Smithy. “I was just-”

Helen cut him off. “I was just having a polite conversation with-”

“With the half-breed? What kind of fool are you, anyhow?”

“Fool?” She spat the word out and yanked the punch cup out of Buck’s hand so fast that its contents splattered all over the front of Thomas’s white shirt. “I talk to who I want, when I want, Tommy.”

“Not him you don’t, Helen. What are you playin’ at here?”

Buck waited, but he didn’t hold out much hope at that point.

“I’m not playin’ with anything, Tommy… that’s your game, not mine. Care to explain why you’re out there on the floor with Constance?”

“You noticed, did you?” He smirked at her.

“Just like you noticed that I was standing with the injun.”

It hit Buck like a bucket of cold water and he took a step back as if he could avoid the mess. Thomas noticed it. “That’s right, boy. You run along, now… Helen doesn’t need you around.”

He caught the sympathetic glances thrown his way and turned his head to avoid the curious stares that followed. “Excuse me…” he disappeared into the crowd and somehow found his way outside. He expected Ike to come out after him. He expected to have that comforting hand touch his shoulder, but it never came.

‘Maybe he didn’t see what happened.’

‘Maybe he was busy.’

‘Maybe…’

Buck took off into the night. He needed to walk… he needed to clear his head. He wanted to talk to Ike.

Stopping in his tracks, Buck saw their horses, reins looped around the hitching post, waiting. Ike was probably still inside, dancing… having a great time.

And really, could Buck deny his friend a fun night once in awhile? Could he expect that his friend would leave what he was doing, just to help Buck salvage what was left of his misbegotten pride?

Buck unwound his reins and walked his mount back a few paces so that he could swing up into the saddle. He knew he should be happy for his friend… he knew that he should want his friend to enjoy himself at the dance.

‘But doesn’t Ike understand that I’ll never have what he has? I’ll never be able to fit in with white people like he does. I’ll never be able to walk into a room and not have folks look at me like I was carrying some kind of plague.’

With a shake of his head, Buck pointed his mount in the direction of the station. He was lucky, it was a full moon and he’d be able to find his way back without having to wait until morning. He’d find his way home and bury himself under the covers and sulk.

‘Ike just doesn’t understand.’

The End

*This is one of SEVEN 'Sins' stories... Raye's chosen sin was 'ENVY.'

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