"Where's Cody?" Louise looked at the conspicuously empty space beside her at the table. "Isn't he back from a run?"
"Yeah," Buck looked over the spot, "but I'm not about to go looking for him and miss a meal."
Lou wasn't ready to let it go. "But doesn't that make you a little… worried?"
Kid handed Lou the basket of rolls. "No, it'll be nice to be able to finish a meal and not have to arm wrestle Cody for the last roll."
Jimmy was about to hand Kid a platter and thought better of it, handing it across the table at Ike. "Well, I guess you'll have to wrestle me, then."
Rachel rolled her eyes heavenward. "Both of you stop," she sighed, "Cody's probably still out thinking."
"Thinking?" Noah nearly spit out the water in his mouth. "If he's out thinkin' that might take some time."
"You're all horrible." Louise said the words but she couldn't help the laughter in her tone.
Ike caught Rachel's attention and asked her a question.
"I dunno, Ike… Cody looked pretty upset when he started walking off toward the pond. Maybe he's got something on his mind."
"A woman, maybe?" Jimmy nodded at his own words. It made sense given what they knew about Cody.
"Which one?" Buck handed the bowl of beans to Louise and gave her a questioning look. "He has a different one every week."
"More like every other day if he gets into town." Louise was finally seeing the logic in their line of thought. "I guess maybe one of us should go out and find him… just to make sure he's all right."
Ike looked down at his plate and then up in askance at the others. Buck nodded. "Can we wait until after supper?"
"If one of us was hurtin' wouldn't we feel horrible if the others waited to finish a meal before coming to help?"
"I'd just wonder why y'all didn't keep your nose out of my business." That got a roll thrown at Jimmy's head that he grabbed in his hand and ripped a chunk out of it with his teeth.
Louise gave them all a look that expressed her feelings in a most eloquent way. Dropping her napkin down on the table beside her plate she stood, stepping over the bench one foot at a time. "Well, I'm going to check on him."
"How are you going to find him out there, Lou? It's dark."
She gave Buck a look. "There's a moon out tonight and as long as he headed for the pond it should be all too easy to find him even in the dark."
She was reaching for the handle on the door when it swung open and nearly knocked her off her feet. She yelped as she dodged the door to keep her face out of the way.
Cody stared at her. "What's wrong, Lou? What are you doin' behind the door?"
"I was comin' out to see where you were, silly."
"Me? Why?" He saw the spread on the table and rubbed at his stomach. "Oh good, supper's on and I'm starving!"
He grabbed up his napkin and stepped over the bench with a grin. "Don't worry, Rachel, I washed my hands outside before I came in." His wide grin had her answering with one of her own.
Realizing that there was no need for her to go outside any longer she picked up her napkin and sat down beside Cody, suddenly realizing that she had less room than she did before. "We were worried when you didn't come in to supper."
"Awww, Lou… you were worried?" Cody elbowed her, moving her farther away from him.
"No," her voice was adamant, "not 'that' worried." She set her arm down between her plate and Cody's to protect her own food.
"Sorry to worry y'all," he scooped himself a healthy portion of mashed potatoes onto his plate, "I had some pretty heavy thinking to do."
"Heavy?" Jimmy paused with his fork mid-way to his mouth. "Somethin' wrong, Cody?"
"Oh, nothin' a man of my considerable intelligence can't handle." He waved off Jimmy's concern and reached for the plate of chops.
"Anything we can help with, Cody?" Rachel took his cup in her hand and poured water into it near the brim before setting it down beside him.
"Oh, I figured it out on my own… don't you worry."
"Now, I'm really worried." Noah hid his laughter behind his cup.
Cody shoveled a good forkful of potatoes into his mouth but still managed to strike back. "It's my turn, after all."
"Your turn?" Buck looked up from his plate. "For what?"
"Naming the new horse."
Lou slanted a look at Cody. "All of this was over naming the new Express horse?"
"Of course," Cody shot back. "It's an important thing to do and we don't get to do it very often, so I wanted to make sure that I did a good job." He swallowed and continued on. "So I sat down and thought of the color of the horse… and went through Butterscotch, Caramel, Molasses… none of them would do." He took a swig of the water. "Then I thought of the personality of the horse and that led to Fire, Flurry, Gadamm-"
"Cody!" Rachel's warning looked cowed him instantly.
"Sorry, Rachel… I was just explaining."
"Then explain carefully."
"Yes, ma'am." Cody's wide grin had her smiling right back at him.
"So, with all of those names I just didn't really like any one of 'em. I wanted it to be somethin' special." He cut off a piece of the chop and speared it with his fork. "Then I remembered what Buck said when I asked him back when it was his turn."
Jimmy looked at Buck. "Oh good, we can blame 'you' then."
Buck raised his usually eloquent eyebrow at the gunslinger. "Right."
*what did he tell you* Everyone could tell Ike regretted asking the question.
"He said to make it something you really liked. Something you were inspired by." He gave Buck a nod. "That's why he chose the name 'Freedom.'"
Lou smiled as turned to her friend. "I was wondering why you'd choose that name."
Buck shrugged and went back to his meal, but there was more than a hint of a smile on his lips.
"So," Rachel sat down in her chair at the end of the table, "what name did you pick for the new horse?"
Cody swallowed the food in his mouth down and gave Rachel a big smile. "Cake."