Author's Note: One of two stories in this series... looking at the fallout from 'Daisy'
Kid sat down at the table, his hands nearly dry after the scrubbing he'd given them in the basin outside. Reaching for his napkin on the table he greeted Buck with a nod.
Kid looked up at Cody's bright welcome and saw Lou step into the bunkhouse, followed by Ike. She raised a hand in greeting and quickly elbowed Ike as he tried to squeeze in past her. The taller rider leaned into her and forced her off-balance. The two scrambled to find a place at the table, laughing and smiling as they went.
Lou managed to get the first open spot right in front of the door, stepping one foot and then the other over the bench before Ike could. "Sorry, Ike." Lou's laughter rang in her voice as Ike rolled his eyes and moved down to find a seat next to Jimmy on the end of the bench.
"Runnin' late?" Buck's question was innocent enough and Lou gave a good-natured shrug.
"Just a little." She hesitated. "But the story ain't fit for the table."
"Aw, come on now, Lou." Cody leaned closer, balancing his chin on his fists.
Rachel gave his forearm a soft whack with a serving spoon. "Elbows, Cody."
The blond rider looked up at her with puppy dog eyes. "Yep, I got two of 'em." His calm expression lasted long enough for Rachel to wave her spoon a second time. Cody set his hands in his lap for protection before he leaned toward Lou. "Tell us the story. I need a good laugh," he gave Rachel a pointed look, "while I'm starvin'."
Lou giggled as Rachel groaned quietly and started serving supper. As the laughter built around the table, Lou turned and caught Kid's eye.
For the slightest of moments her laughter stilled, the sparkle in her eyes dimmed as she drew in a breath.
As Kid struggled with his own reaction he reached into his thoughts for something to say: some kind of quip that would make her smile, something to lighten the heavy air between them.
"I bet Ike'll tell us." Cody swung his attention to the silent rider who was busy filling his plate. "Come on, Ike. There's got to be a good story behind this."
Ike barely looked up from his plate, keeping his hands too busy to say much of anything.
"Dammit, Ike, I don't get why you're so ornery that-"
Ike discreetly pointed to his nose and nodded at Cody, his mirth tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Huh? Why you-" Cody scrambled up and out of his seat, his feet tangling together so much that he felt flat on his face.
Lou's laughter rang out above the rest, her eyes nearly squeezed shut with mirth. "Just give up, Cody!" She leaned up against Buck's shoulder, the two of them shuddering with laughter at Cody's sputtering and stumbling as he found his feet.
Kid felt someone nudge his arm and looked down at the platter of potatoes that Noah was holding out. Noah gave Kid an expectant look and turned back to the conversation at the table after Kid relieved him of the platter.
Silently, Kid watched the others, joking and smiling at each other, and he wondered if there was hope for him. Hope that he'd get back some of what he'd had when he was with Lou.
He stood, suddenly, in the middle of the supper, drawing everyone's attention.
"Somethin' wrong, Kid?" Rachel paused as she ladled stew into Jimmy's dish. "You feelin' poorly?"
Kid set his napkin down beside his plate, jostling his spoon until it clanged against the edge of the plate. "No, no… I'm fine, I just," he looked at Lou, a knot suddenly in his throat, "I just need a couple of minutes to myself."
With that he excused himself, trying to ignore the curious look from Lou as he stepped outside.
He meant to stay outside long enough to catch his breath. And maybe… maybe, that was the problem.
Since he'd called things off with Lou he'd barely been able to catch one that didn't stick in his throat and make his heart hurt something awful. He made his way toward the corral, leaning against the rails with a sigh. It was hard to look at Lou and not want to see her smile, the same sweet grin that once was his.
She certainly had her fill of smiles from the others. They were able to make her laugh, take away the pain that he'd put in her eyes. It was hard to watch as they played the fool and coaxed mirth from her silences. He knew it was something he couldn't begrudge them.
Or did he?
It certainly made him ache to see it.
Gone were the days that he'd ride in to see her waiting smile, watch her take the reins from him and sneak a kiss in the shadows of the stable. Those days had passed, but they were still friends. Still able to sit at the same table and share a meal, a joke or a quiet moment.
But there was something changed between them. Something sad and wanting even when they laughed together. And it was in those times that he wondered… hoped… that there was a way to fix it. A way to get her to understand that he still cared… still loved her… and maybe they could open the door that he'd closed.
The door to the bunkhouse opened and Lou stepped out onto the porch. She saw him a moment later and a slight smile curved her lips.
He felt the familiar thunder of his heart in his chest and listened to it echo in his ears when he realized that her smile didn't quite reach her eyes.
Kid swallowed hard, shuffling his feet below the bottom rail of the corral. Her eyes were dark. He knew that look now, seen it across the supper table, in the light of the stable lanterns, and he felt it deep inside him.
She started to turn and head back inside, but stopped short of the door. Ike stumbled out onto the porch, pushed by Cody, the movement punctuated by the rider's laughter. Lou reached out to steady Ike, her hand firm on his arm. He righted himself and gave her a smile, his hand settling on her shoulder in a simple gesture of affection.
Kid felt it down to his toes. He wasn't jealous, not in the way that he'd been jealous of other men before. He didn't worry that Lou would take to Ike… not in that way. No. He was jealous of the fact that it would be a long time before he could touch her that way again.
He'd have to wait until he'd healed enough inside and wait… until she could look up at him and smile all the way to her eyes.
Author's Note: Thanks to Chyron Girl and LizM for all their help...