Buck made his way through the morning bustle on the main street of Robert's Creek. He had left Rock Creek early that morning on a special run to the local Marshal for Teaspoon and now was waiting for a reply before he made his return trip. His stomach growled in anticipation of lunch. Breakfast, only a couple pieces of toast before mounting up, had been a while ago, and Buck wanted to get a good meal in his stomach before he headed out again.
Just ahead, next to the mercantile, was a small café. Buck had eaten there before. The food was good and not too expensive, but more importantly no one seemed to have a problem with him eating there. As he entered, the delicious aroma of baking surrounded him, intensifying his hunger pangs.
"Sit anywhere ya want," called out an older woman serving meals to some cowboys seated to his left. "I'll be with you in a moment."
Buck nodded and headed to a table in the back corner. He sat facing out, with a view of the entire seating area in the café. He always felt better when he could keep an eye out for any potential trouble that might be coming his way.
"What can I get for ya?" Asked the waitress brusquely as she approached his table.
"What do you suggest?" Buck asked.
"Cook's made some chicken an' dumplin's today. Makes a good dumplin', cook does," the woman said with a nod.
"I'll take the chicken and dumplings then," Buck stated. He thought a plate full of chicken and dumplings would be just the thing, and his stomach growled again at the thought of them.
The waitress looked on Buck with approval now that he had had the sense to ask her opinion on the food. "You want some coffee?"
"Just water right now. I'll have a cup of coffee later with a piece of that pie I smell baking."
"Ya won't regret havin' a piece of cook's cherry pie," the woman stated, her expression actually cracking a very small smile. "I'll get that water for ya now."
As Buck waited for his meal, he surveyed the café. The place had not changed at all. It was a decent size with room for about twelve tables. There were a few tables already occupied, but it wasn't too crowded yet. He was a little early for the lunch rush though. He thought things would get busier before long.
The waitress came by with his water. "Have those chicken and dumplin's to ya soon," she threw over her shoulder as she moved on to the front of the café to take another order.
Buck continued his inspection. Seated a few tables in front of him were the cowboys the waitress had been serving when he came in. They were eating what he believed were plates of meatloaf. He assumed the two were in town from one of the local ranches. Across the room from him was an older couple deep in discussion. Their meals were already consumed, and they seemed to be enjoying cups of coffee as they spoke. Buck was debating to himself the nature of their discussion. He couldn't decide if it was something serious or not.
Buck's musings were interrupted by a peal of laughter from closer to the front of the café. Seated a few tables nearer to the door than the older couple was a pair of young ladies. One had her back to Buck, but he barely gave her a glance as he looked at her friend who was laughing. She was beautiful. In fact, he thought, beautiful wasn't a strong enough word, but he didn't have anything better to describe her. She was smiling now at her companion. Her blue eyes were sparkling with humor, while small, black curls that had escaped from the intricate style she had made of her hair, bounced around her face.
A plate full of chicken and dumplings clattered onto the table in front of him, startling Buck from his study of the young woman. "Miss Faraday, very nice young lady she is," stated the waitress with a knowing look at Buck before she went on to serve other customers.
He began to eat his meal while continuing to glance surreptitiously at the young woman he now knew was Miss Faraday. He wondered what her first name was. As he watched, the waitress served Miss Faraday and her friend pieces of pie. The waitress was heading back his way, so he looked back down at his plate and realized that the chicken and dumplings were, in fact, delicious. He had already eaten a good portion of them without paying attention.
The waitress passed by and entered the kitchen. Feeling safe from the woman's scrutiny, Buck glanced again at the two young women. They were slowly consuming their pie while continuing to chat. Miss Faraday was listening intently to something her friend was saying. Whatever it was caused her to break out in another smile.
Buck sighed to himself. That was the kind of smile he would like to wake up to every morning. He would not mind coming home to it after a hard day either. He could imagine it. Some day in the distant, and somewhat hazy, future, he would have a ranch where he would spend his days training the best horses in the area. At the end of the day he would head into his house where his wife, the lovely Miss Faraday, would be waiting for him, ready to hear about his day and smile that beautiful smile at him.
Buck was abruptly pulled from his fantasy by the noise of clattering dishes and cutlery. The waitress was clearing the table where the older couple had recently been sitting. Buck glanced the woman's way, and she sent him another perceptive look. He turned away quickly, his eyes landing back on Miss Faraday.
The lovely young lady had also been distracted from her conversation by the noise created by the table being cleared. She watched for a moment as the waitress stacked the plates and then glanced over to see whom the woman was looking at. Miss Faraday's gaze collided with Buck's, and she immediately blushed and looked down at the remains of her piece of pie.
Embarrassed to be caught staring, Buck grabbed his water glass and took a big gulp. The waitress came and took his empty plate. As she added his dish to the top of the stack on her tray, she gave him a shrewd look. Buck wondered if the woman could see right into his head and read his thoughts.
"You should say hello to her," the waitress suggested.
"I, um, I couldn't," Buck stammered.
"Hmm," she murmured. "Didn't think an express rider would be afraid of a young lady."
"I'm not afraid, it's just-"
"I'll get that pie and coffee now," she said, not willing to hear his excuses, and headed back into the kitchen with the dirty dishes.
How, Buck frowned to himself, did she know he was an express rider? And, who was she to say he should just start talking to young ladies he did not know? He was not afraid. There were a lot of things to consider. What if she didn't like Indians? Maybe she already had a beau.
The waitress returned with his pie and coffee, putting an end to his list of reasons why he could not approach Miss Faraday. As she placed his desert on the table, the waitress frowned at him in disappointment, then went to wait on the cowboys up front. Buck looked glumly down at his pie. She was right. He was afraid. If he were Cody, he would already have gone up to Miss Faraday and started telling her and her friend how great he was.
He slowly began to eat his pie and consider what Cody would say if he were in this position. Buck thought if he could figure out what Cody would do, then he could do it himself. He debated what to possibly say after "hello." As he contemplated his options, he took a quick look over at Miss Faraday. She was chatting with her friend again, but seemed to be conscious of his glance. As he looked away, her eyes peeked his way.
The waitress approached Buck to see if he wanted any more coffee. He could tell from her expression that she was aware of the interplay between himself and Miss Faraday. The waitress gestured with the coffee pot, and Buck slid his cup her way to be filled. He tried to avoid catching her eye, nervous she would harangue him again about approaching Miss Faraday. If she had any plans for doing so, they were halted by the noisy opening of the café door. The young man who stepped in seemed to be on an urgent task.
"Deputy Wilkes," the waitress called from her position by Buck's table. "Are you here for lunch?"
"No, ma'am," the deputy replied. His gaze fell on Buck. "Are you the express rider, Buck Cross?" He asked.
"I am," Buck answered.
"Marshal's ready with his reply. Wants you down at his office to get it. I think he wants you to get it back, right quick to Marshal Hunter."
Buck nodded. "I'll just settle my bill here and head to the office."
The deputy nodded in return and headed back out the door. Buck reached into his pocket and dug out a few coins, enough to pay his bill and leave the waitress at tip.
"I think this should cover it," Buck said as he handed over the money.
The waitress glanced at the coins and nodded. Another small smile passed over her face. "Maybe next time you come to town you'll be braver," she said in a voice low enough that only Buck heard her.
Buck shook his head and smiled as he turned and headed out the door. As he passed Miss Faraday's table he kept his eyes up to make certain he didn't catch her eye again.
When he entered the jail, the Marshal was still writing his reply. Buck was a little surprised as the deputy's urgency had made Buck think the reply was already written. Perhaps, he thought, the Marshal was working on something else.
"Marshal, your deputy said you were ready for me to take your reply back to Rock Creek," he said to get the man's attention.
"Yes," the Marshal replied, while continuing to write. "I had it all ready to go and I remembered something else I needed to tell Marshal Hunter. I should have it ready again in just a few minutes. Take a seat while you wait."
Buck shrugged and did as suggested. He settled himself into a chair near the wide window at the front of the office, by the door. He watched a fly as it made its way up the glass slowly. Buck made a bet with himself as to how long it would take the fly to reach the hand print further up the glass. After a minute Buck lost interest in the fly. He began to pay attention to what was going on outside the window.
There, passing by the Marshal's office, was Miss Faraday. Now that she was standing, Buck could see that she also had a very nice figure. As he admired her looks once more, Miss Faraday looked right into the Marshal's office and directly at Buck. Buck froze. Miss Faraday, however, just smiled her sweetest smile at Buck as she passed. Buck started to rise from his chair, but it was too late. Miss Faraday had already passed by.
Before Buck could do anything else, the Marshal spoke. "This is ready now. You get it to Marshal Hunter fast as you can."
"Yes, sir," Buck replied as he took the missive. He headed out of the office and looked up the street to where Miss Faraday could still be seen walking away. He wondered when Teaspoon might need to send a message to Robert's Creek again. He figured it probably wouldn't hurt to mention to Rachel that he'd like the next run, or better yet, all the runs to Robert's Creek.
Author's Note: Thanks to Raye for her beta. I love debating grammar with her.