Author’s Note: In this story Emma is still the housemother and Lou and Kid are not romantically involved.
No one could believe the events of the day just yet; they were all still in shock. Noah was dead. It just didn’t seem possible that the Rock Creek Pony Express Station could lose another rider so soon after Ike. They were still reeling from Ike’s senseless death and not yet ready to cope with another.
Sadness and grief hung thickly in the air during supper that night. Almost all the riders reacted in fairly predictable fashion. Jimmy was angry and itching to seek revenge, Buck brooded, Lou and Kid remained quiet. Both Teaspoon and Emma each looked about ten years older. Cody was sullen and tense, which was not surprising, just vastly different from his usual personality. The other riders were the extreme versions of themselves just now but Cody was the absolute opposite.
“You’ve hardly touched your plate, Cody,” Emma noticed in her most gentle voice. She wanted so badly to reach out to the blonde rider but time and experience told her the time just wasn’t right. She knew that while they all would grieve for and miss Noah, Cody would take his death the hardest. In spite of, or perhaps because of their vastly different personalities, Cody and Noah had been quick to become best friends.
“I ain’t hungry, Emma,” he said softly.
Lou was sitting by Cody and placed a hand on his forearm, “None of us are really hungry but we all got to keep our strength up.”
“Just leave me alone!” he snapped, rising stormily from the table. Grabbing his coat, he rushed outside. Maybe he could finally find some solace in the outdoors.
As if one mind, Jimmy and Emma rose from the table to go after him.
“Now hold on there one minute,” Teaspoon said with authority. “Let Cody be alone for a while. He needs to sort out his feelin’s. Noah meant a lot to all of us but especially to Cody. It’s hard to lose your best friend. Give him time.”
Although Cody had wanted to run as far away as possible somehow he found himself in the hayloft. At least it gave him some distance from the others. Cody knew he couldn’t keep his feelings all bottled up inside for long or else he’d explode. Heck, he’d already snapped at Lou and felt terrible about that. Even though he wanted to, he just couldn’t bring himself to cry or scream or release his great hurt in any way. All Cody felt was a great big nothingness. Empty. He felt so drained, like even if could grieve it would take too much energy. He didn’t even notice when it was getting cold or dark, or that Teaspoon had approached him.
“It’s getting’ late, son,” said the stationmaster kindly.
“I don’t know if I can sleep tonight,” sighed Cody. “When I wake up Noah won’t be there.”
“No, no he won’t,” Teaspoon agreed sadly. “But Noah wouldn’t want you just to stop livin’ and give up on everything. He’d want us to go on as usual and get the pouch through. You know how practical he was.”
It tore at Cody’s heart to hear Noah referred to in the past tense. Teaspoon saw the anguished look on the boy’s face and put an arm around his shoulder. Teaspoon half expected Cody to break down in tears or at least reciprocate the embrace but Cody remained stiff and distant.
“I guess I’ll head on to the bunkhouse,” he said coolly, removing Teaspoon’s arm from his shoulder. Cody felt a little guilty; he knew Teaspoon wanted only to help him but for some reason he just couldn’t accept any comfort right now.
When Cody entered the bunkhouse everyone else was getting ready for bed. He hadn’t realized it was so late.
“You okay?” asked Buck simply. He knew the pain Cody was experiencing more than anyone.
“Yeah,” he shrugged in response. They both knew he wasn’t really okay but that he would be in time.
Normally the riders chatted a bit after the lamp was turned down but no one felt much like talking tonight. It was eerily quiet in the bunkhouse.
Sleep did not come easy for any of the riders and especially not for Cody. He kept replaying the scene of Noah’s death over and over in his mind. Could he have done more? If only Noah had been on a scheduled run …if only there had been a doctor close by…The list of “if only’s” was unending and yet Cody could not help that line of thinking even though he tried to turn his thoughts elsewhere. He bittersweetly recalled his final moments with Noah, who took his last breath in Cody’s arms, “Let’s go home, Noah, let’s go home.”
Lou awoke to an unusual rocking sensation, like she was on a boat. Waking more fully she realized the rocking was coming from Cody’s movement in the bunk above hers. Concerned, she climbed to the top bunk and discovered Cody sitting up in bed, clutching his pillow and rocking it as he would a small child.
“Let’s go home, Noah, let’s go home,” he repeated, his voice barely audible.
“Cody, wake up,” called Lou, shaking his shoulder. “You’re havin’ a bad dream.”
Cody awoke with a start but was relieved to see Lou’s face, “Oh Lou, I had the worst dream. Someone killed Noah.”
Lou closed her eyes in agony, trying to shut out the situation. Cody took one look at her crestfallen face and knew that reality had crossed over into his dream. At that moment the release he had been wanting finally came. Lou anticipated the sobs that were about to come and took Cody into her arms. There he wept openly, not even caring what the others might think. He was glad for Lou’s presence because he needed the comforting arms of a woman just now.
“I’m gonna miss him, Lou,” he wept brokenly.
“We all will,” she responded, wishing she knew just the right words to say. Lou did not usually grasp for words but she felt like nothing she could say would ease Cody’s pain right now.
One by one the other riders woke up to the commotion. Unable to sleep, Emma had heard the activity in the bunkhouse and went to investigate. She had sensed that this would be a difficult night and was keeping an ear on the bunkhouse. Emotions were running high tonight and she hoped she could be of some assistance. Despite her own grief Emma was touched at the scene that met her: Lou looking so womanly and maternal, Cody finally able to express his profound sadness. Emma knew that grieving was the first step to healing and Cody had a lot of healing to do.
“You were a true friend to him, Cody,” said Emma, climbing up on the bunk herself. “You saw Noah for the man he was rather than the color of his skin. That’s unusual in this world.”
“Thanks Emma,” he sniffed.
Surprisingly, Jimmy was the first of the boys to approach Cody’s bunk, “I’ll never forget the first time I met Noah in Seneca Falls. At first I thought he must be crazy-buyin’ slaves, standing up to white men, using his whip…then I came to know that he was a hell of a man.”
“He was true to his convictions,” chimed in Kid. He along with the rest of the riders had joined the group surrounding Cody.
“I don’t know who else would have gone along with me to transport Pete, the tiger,” recalled Cody, a smile involuntarily twitching about his lips.
“We’ll be sure to get word to the sisters in St. Jo,” Emma assured him. She’d heard almost all the details of that trip and knew it would be a fond memory for Cody in spite of all the mishaps.
“You know, Noah never questioned my being a girl,” Lou reflected. She had never really thought about that until now. “He just accepted it. I wish I had told him how much I appreciated that.” Lou used her sleeve to wipe away a few tears of her own.
“Noah was a good friend,” added Buck. “We may not have had the same skin color but we knew the same kind of prejudice.”
Everyone was quiet for a few minutes, each lost in his or her own thoughts and reminiscences. It had felt good to talk about Noah and remember him for the man he was. Cody’s gaze landed on Noah’s empty bunk that he had just made up neatly that very morning. For a moment it was almost as though Cody could see Noah sitting there, flashing his broad smile with a look in his eyes that assured him everything was going to be all right.
“I think it’s time to say goodnight,” said Emma. Everyone seemed to have settled down and she sensed the hardest part of the night was over. She stroked Cody’s hair back from his face and kissed him on the forehead, “Try to get some rest, Cody.”
When Emma left almost everyone else shuffled off to their own bunks except Lou. She wasn’t sure if Cody still needed her or not. Sensing her uncertainty Cody said, “Thank you Lou, for everything. I think I’ll be okay now.”
“You let me know if you need me,” she made him promise. He nodded in agreement.
“Goodnight, Lou,” he whispered. Then, looking over at the empty bunk beside his, “Goodnight, Noah.”