Topic #76: Too Much of a Good Thing
Circle of Love by: catsimmie Believe It by: Cindy
Weak In The Knees by: Miss Raye Silent Observances by: Michelle R.
A Girl Could... by: Miss Raye That's Rabbit Food by: Lori
Buck's Folly by: Lori As Cody Likes It...Or Not by: Dede
Circle of Love
by: catsimmie

AN: This directly follows my Quick Fic #74- Circle of Life & QF #75- Circle of Guilt.


Kid looked down at the grave before him while holding his four-day-old-daughter. "You'll never get to meet her, but I know she would've loved you."

"Papa! Papa!" Six-year-old Katy yelled as she ran across the yard to her father. She stopped when she saw him talking to her little sister about his beloved horse.

"Papa," she said slowly approaching him. "Momma said you needed to bring Emma in and put her down for a nap. Aunt Teresa, Uncle ¡¥Miah and everyone else will be comin' soon."

Kid nodded and followed his oldest into the house. He sighed when he saw Lou standing over the stove.

"Lou, I wish you would've had Rachel help you today," he told her as he kissed her cheek. "You just gave birth a few days ago."

"Kid, it ain't like when Katy was born, I'm fine. We've had three other kids since then with no more complications."

Kid understood, but that still didn't make him not worry. Lou's body had been so tiny back then, and Katy had been too big. He sat by her bedside everyday for the next week, praying that Doc Barnes was wrong.

He had just lost his horse; he couldn't bear to think about losing her as well. He knew that Lou was a fighter, and she proved him right when she survived the infection that had set in.

Three years later, when she told him she was pregnant again, he nearly had a heart attack. He couldn't stand her going through that again; he couldn't stand to go through it again. When the time came, he refused to leave her side, as Noah Aloysius came into the world without any problems. Less than a year later, Isaac Jedidiah followed, and now four days ago, Emmaline Rachel.

"I know that, I just think you should be takin' it easy."

Lou let out an exasperated sigh. "Kid, I didn't like you tellin' me what to do before we were married, and I still don't like it." She kissed his cheek and smiled when she realized she must have flour on her face. She wiped it from his cheek and turned him around.

"This is the first Thanksgiving we've all been together since the Express ended and I want everything to be perfect. So go and put Emma down for her nap and then get Noah and Ike bathed and dressed. Who knows when everyone'll be here."

Kid nodded knowing, as usual, he wasn't going to win this argument. "All right, Lou. But promise me once Rachel gets here, you'll take it easy?"

"Go!" she ordered swatting his behind causing Katy to start laughing. "Katherine Louise, if you don't stop laughing when you drink that milk, I'm not gonna let you help me with the pies."

"Yes, momma," the six year old said while trying to control her laughter. Lou just shook her head as the milk started to come out her nose. "I'm sorry," she apologized near tears.

"I know you are, baby. Go on and let your daddy clean you up to. If you hurry, I'll still let you help with the pies."

Four hours later, Kid looked at his family and those he considered his family. The room was filled with more love and happiness than he could ever remember experiencing before them.

He remembered someone once told him that you could never have too much of a good thing, but looking at those around him, he realized he'd never be able to get enough.

Believe It
by: Cindy

"Ooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh."

Buck clenched his jaw and stared resolutely ahead. Maybe if he ignored Cody…

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

Then again, no, that probably wasn't going to work. He'd been attempting to ignore Cody ever since they'd left Watson Mills, but it certainly hadn't stopped the other rider from complaining.

"I mean, the whole thing."

Buck finally gave in. "Don't recall anyone holding a gun to your head, Cody."

Cody gave that statement his best indignant look. "It was a matter of honor."

"Honor?" Buck snorted. "How do you figure that?"

"Well, it would have offended Maybelle if I hadn't."

"And the second one?"

"Would have offended Sue Ellen."

Buck just shook his head. That kind of 'logic' made his head hurt. "Cody, other people at the social managed to just eat one piece of pie." Well, maybe two pieces - Evelyn Maynard's apple pie had been awfully good, and she had handed him the second piece herself.

It was Cody's turn to shake his head - emphatically. "But see, Buck, they asked me to tell 'em which was better."

"And you had to eat the whole pie -- both pies - to do that?"

"Well, I couldn't tell right off," Cody insisted. "And I had to be sure." He closed his eyes, licking his lips. "Maybelle's blueberry pie and Sue Ellen's plum pie. Both so beautiful…"

"The pies, or the women?"

Cody's eyes shot open and he glanced over at Buck. "Both," he admitted with a grin. "An' I just couldn't see how I could disappoint either of 'em."

"But two whole pies?"

"Well, it didn't start that way! I tried a bite of one, an' then a bite of the other. Then I had to try 'em again, and…"

"And you wound up eating both pies."

Cody put one hand to his stomach and let out a loud belch as he nodded. "Yeah."

"You couldn't have just declared it a tie?"

Cody just shrugged as he burped again.

That brought another question to the forefront for Buck. "What did you tell them in the end?"

Cody hesitated before answering. "That I couldn't decide," he finally admitted. "Said it was 'cause they were both just too good."

"So after you ate two whole pies…"

"Yeah." Cody sighed and burped again. "Truth was, I liked Maybelle's blueberry pie best. But…"

"You didn't want to hurt Sue Ellen's feelings," Buck supplied. Cody just nodded and groaned, clutching at his stomach - which left Buck shaking his head. "Cody…"

"Did you see how pretty they were?" Cody asked, his voice dreamy. "I coulda stayed right there all day."

"So you just kept eating, and saying you couldn't decide?"

Cody belched again, grabbing at his gut. "I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

It was Buck's turn to groan. "Oh, I believe it," he muttered.

And it was going to be a very long trip back to Sweetwater.

Weak In The Knees
by: Miss Raye

"Hey come on over and fill me up, Sugar!"

Jimmy had no idea who the man was but at the moment he both wanted to choke the living daylights out of him and shake his hand at the same time.

"Right with ya, Cowboy!" She leaned past him to signal the man and he took in a short breath to hold himself together and got a good whiff of perfume.

'Oh, no…' his mind was going dark, 'perfume.'

It wasn't no perfume like he'd smelled on Grace's girls. That stuff was more alcohol than sweetness and this perfume brought to mind a field of flowers…. Flowers and soft green grass to-'

He was suddenly pressed against her body, her left arm thrown over his shoulder just as if they'd been in this position a hundred times before. Well if that was the truth, then what would explain the lump in his throat and the uncomfortable need to step away before he did something really foolish… like stay there.

The grain in the wood of the bar was amazingly uninteresting but he stared at it in hopes that his mind would stop thinking about how she was even closer… pressed up against him, her lips by his ear… her perfumed skin just inches from his mouth.

"Don't be a stranger handsome." She was suddenly gone and behind him.

Oh he wanted to say something… some silly phrase that the girls love to hear. Some sort of joke to prove he wasn't weak in the knees… but he couldn't seem to do it, not when the bar was the only thing holding him upright.

Jimmy's hand wrapped around his gloves so painfully, he wondered if he'd have nail marks in his palm later when he could think to check them. Then again the pain was helpful… it kept him from turning around and bringing her back to the bar.

Back to him.

"You want somethin' son?"

"What?" The tone of his voice broke a bit and Jimmy wondered if the smile the bartender gave him was just a little too happy and if it would be a problem if he busted the man's teeth for that kind of grin.

"I said," the man leaned on the edge of the bar, "you want somethin' that I can get you?"

Jimmy looked down into his coffee cup and shook his head. "Just need to clear my head a little."

"Suit yourself." The bartender grabbed his rag from the counter top and he walked off.

"Thanks anyway, I-" Right where the bartender's head had been was a mirror, angled slightly down and instead of ignoring the very thing clouding his brain, that was all he could stare at. Leaning over a table behind him, her smile captivating… her skirt curving over her… was Lou.

He swallowed hard. LOUISE she'd said… and Louise she was.

She danced away as a man tried to make a grab for that tempting curve of black velvet and she even gave him a smack on the back of his hand that Jimmy was sure that man was probably thanking her for as she smiled down at him.

Louise walked through a beam of light from the window and it shone on her foot. In the glass above the bar he caught sight of it, was fairly mesmerized with it. For, attached to that dainty little foot was an ankle. An ankle, the likes of which he'd never seen… which led up to a calf, with a muscle that was lean and fit.

Above that calf, a knee, smooth and pale like the moon itself. And above that knee, oh heavens, when she stepped out of reach of another grabby cowboy the skirt swished aside and rose above that heavenly knee-

Hickok leaned hard against the bar behind him, his forearms and sheer determination kept him upright and off the dusty spit-dotted floor.

She was a girl, they'd all known that for weeks... months… but there was no more denying what he'd been ignoring all this time… wrapped up in that black velvet dress was a woman… and now how the hell was he going to put it out of his mind?

Louise sashayed past him, coming to stop for a moment at his shoulder. He pulled himself up; straightening his back into a posture he'd rarely attempted and swallowed his breath when she leaned in close.

"Don't you have someplace to be, Cowboy?"

He growled out a response, unable to pretty-up his tone. "I guess I do…"

She slid a hand up his arm to brush his hair behind his shoulder. "Then what's keepin' ya here? See somethin' you like?" She laughed, continuing on without waiting for his answer, but he was man enough to know what she meant… to know that he'd laid his cards bare. And Lou, she was enough woman… 'Oh Hell,' he thought, 'she was more than enough woman.'

Swiping off his hat he stomped out to find Lambert's men. It was safer out on the street at least today.

A/N: Thanks to Dede for causin' yet another plot bunny to nosh on my ankle and then demanding the other side of the coin… darn you… and thanks to Cindy for making sure I didn't make horrible mistakes

Silent Observances
by: Michelle R.

He stood outside by the corral, watching the sunrise intently. He was taking in the beautiful hues of reds and oranges that seemed to seep out from the tops of the mountains in the distance. Taking in a deep breath, he could smell the sweet aroma of the morning air. This was the best time of day in the eyes of James Butler Hickok.

"The only thing that would make this better, would be to have Lou standin' here next to me to enjoy it," Jimmy whispered to himself.

That's when he heard the slamming of the bunkhouse door that startled him out of his revelry. "What the Hell?!" he said to himself.

He turned around and saw Lou storming out of the bunkhouse towards the barn, with an irate Kid following closely behind her. Jimmy just shook his head and watched the scene unfold before him.

It's as if he could narrate what every move would be between Kid and Lou and the same old argument that they had every time she was supposed to head out on a run.

He could hear the slamming open of Lightning's stall door and the startled whinny from Lou's faithful mount. He slowly counted to three in his head and then waited for the next outburst that he expected to hear from Lou.

"When are ya finally gonna understand Kid?! This is my job!! I'm goin' on this run and you've got no say in it!"

Jimmy shook his head and stared off into the sunrise again. He tiredly wondered when Kid was going to understand about Lou. 'Just let her be Kid. She's a grown woman and can handle herself out there.' That's when the next part of the argument started and you could hear Kid following Lou around in the stables trying to get her to stay behind because it was too dangerous out there for her.

"I'm not kiddin' Kid! Leave me be! You don't wanna mess with me right now!" With that Lou came stomping out of the barn with Lightning in tow and Kid still following behind her. Jimmy sat there and observed, just waiting in case he was needed by either of his friends.

"Lou! Just stop for a minute…I'm just tryin' to tell ya that I'm worried is all. It's been really rough on the route you're takin'. I don't want ya gettin' hurt is all." Kid was desperate to get his point across to Lou. "I'm just tryin' to protect ya, 'cause I love you."

Lou turned around and stood before Kid, her eyes were alight with anger. "Kid! When are ya gonna stop this?! I don't need protectin' by you or anyone here. I've proven myself over and over to you and the boys, and it doesn't seem to bother them at all when I go out on a run. It's you that's got a problem with it."

She brought her voice down to a whisper, "Ever since we started…dancin', you've been even worse in tryin' to protect me. It's gotta stop, or maybe you and I need to stop for awhile to get it through that thick head o' yours that I'm not gonna break and that I can do my job."

Kid stood there dumbstruck by what he just heard and then finally noticed Jimmy standing there.

"What're you sayin' Lou? That we need to stop bein' together…is that it?" Kid looked upset but finally understood what Lou was saying to him.

"Yes Kid…maybe that's what we need to do. We'll talk about it more when I get back from my run." With that, Lou swung onto her horse and took off after Ben passed the mochila off to her, leaving Kid standing there in a daze.

Feeling sorry for Kid, Jimmy finally gave up on his peaceful morning routine and walked up to his best friend. "You okay Kid?" Kid slowly nodded his head and then looked at Jimmy.

"Tell me somethin' Jimmy. Did I just hear Lou right? Did she just tell me it was over 'tween us?"

Jimmy stood there not exactly knowing what to say to his friend. He couldn't help but feel that Lou was right in what she said to him. He also couldn't help but feel a little lighter knowing that maybe, just maybe he still might have that long shot with her. He would never move in on his best friend's girl, but he still couldn't help how he felt for her. Shaking the thoughts from his head, Jimmy spoke to Kid with as much kindness as he could, even though he felt his friend was in the wrong.

"Yeah Kid…you heard her say it, and all I can say is, maybe she's right." He put his hand up to stop the angry retort he knew was about to start from Kid. "Ever since you two started 'dancin', you've been overprotective of her. Even worse than from before. She's right when she said that she can handle herself out there…we've all seen it Kid. You're just bein' blind to it is all."

Kid stared ahead and looked despondent. "Maybe…I don't know Jimmy. Maybe it was too much of a good thing I guess. I can't help how I feel though. Maybe it would be good to stop for a while…"

Jimmy smiled slightly and then patted his friend on the shoulder. "I think you're right Kid. If you can't stop smotherin' her, then it's best to let her be for right now. For your sake and for hers. Just hear her out when she gets back and then go from there."

"Thanks." Kid walked off and headed over to the corral where Jimmy first started his morning and stood deep in thought.

Jimmy watched his friend walk away and then silently thought to himself, "You're right Kid. Maybe it was too much of a good thing. At least you're finally listenin' to her."

He shook his head and headed back to the bunkhouse where the others were getting ready for their day. "How they could ever sleep through those two arguin', I'll never know."

A/N: Thanks to Miss Raye for being the fabulous beta that she is, and of course a great sounding board for all those bunnies that like to come out of there corral when we talk. Thanks for your help.

A Girl Could...
by: Miss Raye

A/N: This is the companion piece to "Weak in the Knees"

Louise grabbed the post of the bed a little tighter and gasped out a moan. "More."

"I don't know if you can-"

"More," she demanded and gasped as the sharp pain made her see stars.

Sadie stepped away and gave her a smirk. "You're all tied up… can't believe you've never worn one before."

Louise turned to the mirror and looked at her reflection. The corset Sadie had helped rope her into changed her figure in a way that pinched and pressed to the point of hurting, but the woman… yes, woman that looked back at her… was worth it.

It had only been a few months since the problem with Boggs had resulted in her secret becoming common knowledge amongst the riders and while most of them had started into teasing her a bit, none of them were hurtful or mean.

And even though having the boys know was enough to allow her to let her guard down at the bunkhouse, it was nice to get a chance to… to…

Sadie tsked in her ear. "Didn't even hear a thing I said, did ya?"

Louise shook her head and gave the other girl an apologetic smile. "Sorry… I'm not used to wearing somethin' like this… it's different."

Thumbing at the pile of dusty clothes on the floor, Sadie laughed… rather, she cackled, "I bet, if that's what yer used to wearin'… you look better'n this get up… 'sides," she chortled, " you'll make a lot more money lookin' like sugar than wheat."

Lou didn't want to argue, not if she wanted to keep her identity a secret, but the Express paid $25 dollars a week, a good amount better than the four dollars that Tom Garver told her she'd get waitin' tables. Even the share of the tip money he promised her didn't make it that much better. "I guess this does make me look pretty…"

Sadie tugged on her arm and led her toward the bar room. "It makes you look like dessert and the men… they sure are hungry after a few drinks."

*** ***

Nearly an hour later when the door opened up and Lou caught sight of Jimmy she headed straight for him before she stopped and changed her mind.

She could… she should… just walk right up and tell him the news. Lay it out short and simple… but the way these boots lifted her up and the way the corset put her 'on display' it would be so much more fun… and satisfying to give Jimmy a little shock. She let her enthusiasm paint a smile on her face and light her eyes just a tad… and the shift of her stocking against each other and the tilt of her heels added a sway to her walk that flared the hem of her skirt. Passing a mirror she winked at her reflection and slid her arm along the arm of a man who wouldn't have given her a second glance dressed as a boy and saw him sit up and notice.

Oh, she'd give Jimmy the information alright… but she wondered if he'd remember any of it after she was finished.

She swished up behind him and slid her hand along his shoulder, pouring her voice out of her body like it was syrup. "Buy a lady a drink?"

*** ***

She stood up from her latest drink delivery and paused. James Butler Hickok was still standing at the bar and if her eyes didn't deceive her he was still looking… at her.

He was looking and he liked what he saw.

Inside, the part of her that wanted… craved the attentions of a man let loose a laugh and shivered from head to toe. He was looking and darn if he wasn't going to be late to catch Lambert in the act.

She gave her hips a little extra swing as she moved nearly past him and smiled as he struggled to stand up just a bit straighter. "Don't you have someplace to be, Cowboy?"

He growled out a response and she fought down a giggle. "I guess I do…"

She slid a hand up his arm to brush his hair behind his shoulder. "Then what's keepin' ya here? See somethin' you like?" She laughed, continuing on without waiting for his answer. "I'll be more than happy to … 'entertain' you a little later, darlin'… but right now we should both be gettin' to work."

Jimmy swiped off his hat and nearly stomped out the door, her laughter bubbling inside her head. She'd gotten her answer alright… she'd found out what Jimmy thought of her in this dress… and she was darned if it didn't tickle her six ways from Sunday.

The only question was… who's next?

That's Rabbit Food
by: Lori

"No thank you, Emma."

The bunkhouse went silent as everyone stared, but he was focused on the station mother. She stood with a platter of steaks, a fork in one - no doubt the largest one - ready to put it on his plate, and he had stopped her.

"You don't want steak tonight?" she asked in confusion.

"No thank you," he repeated.

"Potatoes?" she asked.

"No thank you," he said again. He looked around her at the sideboard and asked, "Do…do we have any carrots? Or cucumbers? Or even tomatoes?"

"We do," she admitted slowly, still regarding him strangely.

"Any lettuce?"

"Are you feelin' alright, Cody?" she asked.

"I am," he assured her. "I…I just don't feel like steak tonight. Or potatoes."

Emma narrowed her eyes slightly at him, "Did you eat in town again before comin' home?"

"No," he shook his head immediately.

"Heck, Emma," Jimmy laughed. "Even if Cody had done that, you know he wouldn't pass up a meal that you cooked."

"He never passes up a meal," Buck laughed.

Cody felt a slow burn of anger begin in his gut. He ignored them and looked expectantly, and hopefully, at Emma. Finally she sensed he must have been sincere and she nodded.

"So…you just want some vegetables?"

"Potato's a vegetable," Kid pointed out, forking a steaming one onto his plate.

"It's…not what I want today," Cody shook his head.

"Are you feeling well?" Emma asked, concern now knitting her brows together.

"I'm fine," he assured them. "It's just…I'm not very hungry today. And I don't want something hot and heavy. I..."

He sighed and then said, "I just feel like a salad today."

"A salad?" she arched her brow.

"A salad?" Teaspoon echoed as he walked into the bunkhouse. "What's goin' on?"

"Cody says he ain't hungry and all he wants is a salad," Lou supplied, scooping parsnips onto her plate.

"A salad?" the stationmaster now laughed.

"Yes," Cody answered, sounding peevish. "A salad. Sometimes all the hot, heavy food is just too much. All the rich desserts, the pies, the cakes, the candy…everyone thinks I just lie around all day and gorge myself. Sometimes I just don't feel like it. I just want something light. I want a salad."

Ike held his hand up behind his head, two fingers extended as ears and laughingly wrinkled his nose. Buck laughed and said, "I think Ike says that's nothin' but rabbit food."

Cody stood and said, "Then maybe I'll just take my salad outside and eat with them. Better than sitting in here and eating with a bunch of horses' backsides."

There was silence as everyone regarded him. He turned to Emma as she held out a plate for him. "I 'pologize Emma. And thank you for the salad."

Then he turned and walked out of the bunkhouse, leaving silence in his wake. Sitting down on the porch, he smiled at the plate of vegetables and lettuce the stationmother had put together for him. Sometimes that's all he really felt like…and now he'd no longer have to hide it from everyone.

The End

Buck's Folly
by: Lori

I am taking complete artistic and creative license with certain elements of the story. Why? Because I can and it's easier that way.

It had become an addiction. He knew he shouldn't do this, and yet it was so delicious and he felt so good immediately afterwards that he couldn't stop. But then the guilt and the logic would set in and he would tell himself that it was over. He wasn't going to keep doing this. Hours later he would be back. Proving his weakness and giving into the sweet, delectable taste.

His first taste had been purely accidental. Well, not really. He'd known what he was doing when he first put it into his mouth, but he hadn't done it to indulge. He'd done it to punish. The other riders were always leaving things all over the bunkhouse and it had only gotten worse after the new candy shop opened. The proprietor's daughter was a cute thing with a little button nose and the riders had taken to going in there often to flirt with her and buy candy. It seemed to end up everywhere afterwards.

Sticky horehound on bunks and blankets, gooey taffy on the table and melty, get everywhere chocolate every other place. A piece of candy had been left on his bunk and after Buck had almost sat down on it he decided against setting it on the table and announcing to the general population when they came in that he'd placed it there. If they were going to be rude and inconsiderate, then he wasn't going to be polite. He was going to eat it.

It had been the start of his downfall.

The chocolate had melted on his tongue in the most sinful, decadent, explosion of flavor, taste and heaven. Silky and tantalizing, satin and enticing, he'd lamented the end of the piece because he hadn't savored it. He'd merely crammed it in his mouth and chewed hastily in punitive stupidity. It was only after he'd swallowed and the taste had lingered on his tongue that he'd realized his folly. Chocolate shouldn't be snarfed down like it was the last biscuit on the table. It should be appreciated and enjoyed, slowly.

He'd looked around the room, searching for any other twists of waxed paper that would reveal another tasty nugget of delight. There were none. But Buck was a patient man and he waited, knowing that sooner or later his slovenly roommates would leave another piece of candy out. What he got was peppermint discs and cinnamon chews and some awful concoction called Divinity. Then it happened, someone dropped a piece of chocolate and in their crazed, unappreciative state they did not even realize the atrocity they had committed. He didn't point out the occurrence, he merely bided his time until the room cleared out and then he pounced on it.

Picking it, almost reverently, and brushing the dust off the paper, he inspected it to make sure it hadn't come open in the tragedy. Thankfully the skill of the candy man had held up to the jarring action and nothing had seeped inside to spoil the delicate delight held inside. Slowly, tenderly, Buck unwrapped the chocolate and then placed it on his tongue, letting the heat begin its magic. He let it melt slightly, and then pierced it with his teeth, releasing the wonderful flavors contained inside. Slowly he chewed, rolling the heavenly morsel around in his mouth until sadly it was gone. It was a much better experience than the last time, but it left him craving more.

He wanted chocolate. Too much to rely on fate and others' carelessness for his pleasure. But he was caught in a dilemma. He had disparaged his friends for their foolish and indulgent behavior. He had sworn he would not go to the candy store because he didn't care for candy. There was no value to it, and it was ridiculous to spend so much of their salary on the confections. He would either have to admit he was wrong…or he would have to come up with some other way.

~*~*~*~*~

The nice thing about being a Pony Express rider was the fact that he often traveled to other towns. In these other towns, without the scrutinizing gaze of his friends, he could indulge in his desires. He could visit other candy shops and general stores and purchase his one weakness. Chocolate. He passed up all other candy and simply purchased the dark, delicious, wonderful delight.

The only problem was having to hide it. He couldn't put it in the bunkhouse, for it would prove to be too much of a temptation. There, in his trunk at the end of his bunk, hidden just under his shirts, it called to him, taunted him, tempted him. He had to move it. So he hid it in the barn. A nice little spot up in the loft where even if someone passed by it doing their chores they'd never discover it. Surely being all the way out there would keep him from eating too much during the course of the day.

Until his trips to the barn to check on his mount began to lead to taunts. Suddenly his obsession with his horse began to rival Kid's.

There was just nothing for it, though. A piece a day just wasn't enough. And then two no longer satisfied. Three…four…five…with every piece he ate he just wanted more. And more.

Until the day it all fell apart. He stayed behind after morning chores, saying he'd be in in just a moment for breakfast. He never came. Chocolate was so much better than flapjacks and bacon. Why not just have chocolate for breakfast? He'd recently bought a block of it, that he'd been breaking off a piece at a time…sure that would satisfy him for the day.

"Buck?"

He looked up into the concerned face of Jimmy who had found him lying up on the floor of the loft. No doubt his presence in the barn had been betrayed by his lowing that would rival a cow with colic.

"Are you alright?"

"No," he admitted with a small shake of his head. Too much movement and he'd be forced to part with his delicious breakfast. Even if it no longer seemed so delicious anymore.

He looked at his friend and pitifully admitted, "I ate too much."

"You weren't at breakfast," the dark-haired rider stated.

"No," he agreed. "Too much chocolate. Never…never again."

The End

As Cody Likes It...Or Not
by: Dede

“I think I’ve made a mistake about a girl.”

From where he sat at the table, Cody was tired of waiting for either of his friends to finally say something so he opened the subject. He looked expectantly at Jimmy and then at Buck now waiting for a response.

Jimmy and Buck had spent the better part of the last hour trying very hard to ignore the hints and openings Cody provided. The blonde rider had been sighing, grunting, opening his mouth to talk and then closing it, and had at one point gone so far as to stare at the other two in hopes that one of them would talk to him. Or more like listen to him. However, Jimmy and Buck weren’t naïve in the ways of Cody. Which is why, Buck continued writing and Jimmy continued reading, neither one saying a word.

“Did ya’ hear me?” Cody prodded, “I said I think I made a mistake about a girl.”

“A mistake about a girl,” Jimmy murmured, not taking his eyes off his book. “Hmmm, need to narrow that down a bit.” He glanced over at Buck and winked. Buck grinned back. If Cody was going to be annoying, there wasn’t anything that said they couldn’t be annoying back.

“Actually two girls,” Cody said, thoughtfully, ignoring Jimmy’s sarcasm.

“Well, that’s not actually narrowing it down, now is it?” Buck responded. Jimmy snorted his approval.

“I’m in a bind,” Cody moaned, “and neither one of you care.”

Jimmy slapped his book closed and jumped down from his bunk. “Fine Cody,” he said, walking over to the table, “what exactly is the mistake?” He saw Buck put his writing aside and grudgingly get up from his bunk. Another thing they both knew about Cody, in situations like this, it was like lancing a boil, best to do it quick and get it over with.

“I don’t think I can take Anna to the dance,” Cody said, looking up at Jimmy, pleased his friends were finally taking an interest.

“Oh,” Jimmy said, “then don’t.” He turned back to his bunk, adding, “Glad that’s settled.” He again shared a mischievous grin with Buck.

“Unh,” Cody grunted. “Most people would ask why.” He glared at his friend.

“And most people might just be interested,” Buck said. He and Jimmy laughed at the affronted look on Cody’s face. Another thing about Cody, it wouldn’t be over until he got it out of his system. Knowing this, Buck sighed and sat down at the table across from Cody. “Why can’t you take Anna to the dance?” Buck looked over at Jimmy, the expression on his face telling Jimmy that he’d better sit too.

Jimmy rolled his eyes and sat down beside Buck, facing Cody. He didn’t say anything just looked at Cody with annoyed anticipation.

“See,” Cody said, sitting up straight, very animated in his movements, “I asked Natty to the dance but she wasn’t sure if she could go, you know her pa,” he gave them a meaningful look, “but she said she’d–”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. He and Buck were both wearing confused expressions, staring at Cody.

“What?” Cody said, a hint of exasperation in his tone.

“Um, Natty?” Buck asked, “I thought we were talking about Anna.”

“No, well, yeah her too but I said two girls,” Cody reminded them.

“Yes you did,” Buck confirmed, looking over at Jimmy with a slight grimace. “Natty and Anna are the two?”

“Right,” Cody said, “anyway, so Natty said she’d try to talk her pa into it but I figured he’d say no, ‘cause, I mean, you know the man, he’s impossible and he doesn’t like anybody bein’ ‘round his girl. Remember how he yelled at me when I was talkin’ to her in front of Tompkins’ last week? You’d think I was doin’ somethin’ other than talkin’.” He chuckled at his innuendo. “Anyway, I figured since Natty couldn’t go, I’d ask Anna. She said she wasn’t sure she’d be goin’ ‘cause she thought she had to help her ma with somethin’, don’t remember what, somethin’ to do with laundry or washin’ somethin’,” he paused, trying to remember but waved it away, “but then Natty came back to me sayin’ her pa said yes, which I’ll tell ya’ I really didn’t expect. But, since Anna prob’ly wasn’t goin’, I figured I’d be fine. Well, guess what,” he paused, letting the drama build, waiting for them to ask.

Jimmy and Buck were staring at Cody without any sign of comprehension on either of their faces. They had no idea what Cody was babbling about. However, realizing he’d paused, Buck figured he was waiting for something so it seemed appropriate to ask, “What?”

Without really missing a beat, Cody continued, “Anna came back and said she could go. Now I’m not sure what to do. See, I did ask Natty first so I suppose I should explain that to Anna but I don’t rightly think that’s fair to Anna. I mean she’s prob’ly all excited about goin’ to the dance with me and I don’t think it would be fair to turn around and say no. And I can’t just tell Natty no ‘cause I asked her first and she’s prob’ly excited too.” He again looked at Jimmy and Buck expectantly. “So what should I do?”

Jimmy and Buck sat gaping at their rather brash friend. Jimmy shook his head and rubbed his hands over his face. Crossing his arms in front of him on the table, he looked at Buck who was still staring at Cody. Turning back to Cody, Jimmy leaned forward and pursed his lips, pondering Cody’s dilemma. Finally, he sat up and said, “I don’t think you should take either one.”

Buck snapped out of his stupor and looked over at Jimmy, curious as to why Jimmy came up with that. Buck knew it was the right thing to do but with Jimmy, it wasn’t always the right things that made the dark-haired rider come to such conclusions.

Cody thought about what Jimmy had said. He too was curious as to why Jimmy would suggest this, and his curiosity had nothing to do with what was right. “And why’s that?”

“Because yer an idiot,” Jimmy said simply.

Buck coughed to cover the laugh that burst forth. Before Cody could lash out at Jimmy, Buck said, “Jimmy’s right Cody. You really can’t take both girls.”

“I know that,” Cody said, staring sullenly at Jimmy. Wanting to come up with a solution to this problem, he turned to Buck. “At least I can’t take ‘em at the same time. And it really wouldn’t be right for me to take one and have the other meet me there. I can’t have one see the other. That would be a problem.” He stared over Buck’s shoulder, deep in thought.

Jimmy took that moment to turn to Buck and say, “I can’t believe he’s thinkin’ ‘bout doin’ this.”

Buck agreed and said, “Cody you actually can’t take either girl because if one sees you with the other it will –”

“That’s it!” Cody exclaimed, looking at Buck happily. “Yer right. And that’s a good idea.”

Bewildered at Cody’s announcement about “a good idea,” Buck and Jimmy looked at each other, once more exchanging confused looks. “What’s a good idea?” Jimmy asked, knowing he was going to regret it.

“Y’all can take the girls.” Cody sat back waiting for his friends to get the plan. It was so simple. At least to Cody it was.

“What?” Jimmy blurted.

“How does that help?” Buck asked at the same time.

Cody shook his head, smiling indulgently at the two riders in front of him. He should have realized he was going to have to explain it; no one ever got things as quickly as he did. “Okay, Buck you take Anna and Jimmy you take –”

“You aren’t serious,” Buck said, trying to keep his indignation at bay. “How do you expect us to explain why we’re there and you ain’t?”

“Oh that’s easy. Just tell ‘em that I’m doin’ somethin’ important for Teaspoon back here,” he winked at the two, “they know how important my job is. I’ll meet ‘em at the dance.” He rubbed his chin, thinking about what the other two should say and do. ‘Just like writin’ a book,’ he thought, happily. “Then when ya’ –”

“Cody,” Jimmy interrupted, “how d’ya’ know I ain’t askin’ someone?” He really couldn’t believe that Cody was just going along without giving them or their plans any consideration. Of course Jimmy didn’t have any but Cody wouldn’t know that.

“Oh come on Hickok,” Cody chided, “you ain’t taken nobody to a dance in months.”

Not trusting himself on how to answer, Jimmy put his elbow on the table and propped his head in his hand, keeping his hand over his mouth.

“And me?” Buck said quietly.

“Now Buck,” Cody said, the patronizing lilt just below the surface, “we really don’t have to go into that.” He gave Buck an understanding smile.

Buck clenched his jaw, his dark eyes like flint. He glanced over at Jimmy. Ready to tell Cody what he could do with his plan, he stopped. He knew he shouldn’t ask but curiosity got the better of him. “How exactly are you going to keep this up? If we’re all at the dance, how will you be with either one?”

“That’s what I was tryin’ to say b’fore Hickok interrupted me.” Cody shot Jimmy another annoyed look. “You and Anna,” he pointed at Jimmy.

“I thought I was taking Anna,” Buck said without thinking. He shook his head at the thought that he was actually being pulled into this. He ignored the amused look Jimmy was giving him.

“Fine,” Cody said, sighing dramatically at being interrupted again. “Jimmy, you and Natty,” he looked at Buck for approval but Buck just waved his hand for Cody to continue, “will stand on one side of the barn and Buck and Anna will stay on the other. I mean, it’s in the Anderson barn and that thing is huge. That way I can go back and forth without ‘em seein’.”

Once more Buck was ready to tell Cody where he could go, his plan too, but he actually heard Jimmy say, “Okay.” Dumbfounded, Buck turned and looked at Jimmy. “Excuse me?”

As Cody grinned happily, Jimmy turned to face Buck. “Come on Buck, it’s the least we can do. We oughta’ help Cody.”

Buck heard the words but Jimmy’s eyes were saying something completely different, as was the sly grin on his face. ‘Jimmy’s up to something,’ Buck thought, ‘and I bet it’s gonna be good.’ Buck imitated one of Cody’s dramatic sighs and gave in, or so Cody thought. “I suppose we should but I think we at least deserve something in return.”

“Ya’ know Buck,” Jimmy drawled, “yer right.”

Cody eyed Buck. He’d expected it of Jimmy but not of Buck. “Wha’d’ya’ have in mind? Chores?”

Jimmy and Buck each barked a laugh. “Naw,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t do ‘em and we’d be the ones gettin’ in trouble for ‘em not bein’ done. Naw, somethin’ different.” He sat, bottom lip jutted out, thinking of what they could ask of Cody.

“I know,” Buck said, grinning at his cohort, “you take one of our rides.”

“Oh, that’s all?” Cody asked, quietly releasing the breath he’d been holding.

“No,” Buck said softly, “one of our choice and we decide when, whenever we want.”

Cody shrugged, still fine with the deal. He looked at Buck and then Jimmy, not understanding why they seemed so pleased, until he thought about the “whenever” part. Sighing he said, “Ya’ mean ya’ can decide the mornin’ you wake up that you don’t wanna go and I have ta’ take it, right?”

“Right,” Jimmy and Buck said together.

“Fine, fine,” Cody said, noticing that the daylight was waning. He stood up and stretched. “So tomorrow evenin’ Buck will go to Anna’s and Jimmy will go to Natty’s?”

Jimmy and Buck nodded, both thinking of what exactly they’d do to get back at Cody. Neither one was aware Cody had left the bunkhouse.

*~*~*~*~*

Buck stood beside Anna in the large barn. The Andersons had been kind enough to let the town use the building for the dance since it was very large and wide open. They had a separate, smaller barn they used as stables so there was more than enough room around the perimeter for the tables of food and for dancing in the middle. Unfortunately, Buck was neither dancing nor eating at that moment, he was just standing silently by Anna.

It hadn’t gone very well when he went to get her. He and Jimmy had argued over who would get the buggy and who would be stuck with the buckboard. Lou had finally solved it by writing a number between one and twenty on a piece of paper and whoever was closest got the buggy. Needless to say, Buck had lost which was apparent on Anna’s face when she’d opened the door. She’d looked like the one that had lost after Buck explained that Cody had been detained by Teaspoon so Buck had volunteered to take her to the dance to meet Cody. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to say Cody was doing something important; lying was one thing but making it sound like Cody was in some way more significant than any of the other riders didn’t sit well with Buck. Odd thing was, they hadn’t seen Cody before they’d left.

They’d been at the dance for about forty minutes, neither one saying a word. When they’d arrived, Buck had seen Ike standing with Emma and Sam and a very attractive young redhead who seemed enthralled at learning sign. Buck was happy for Ike but a small part of him was jealous. He’d also spotted Kid and Lou, leaning against the wall just past the band. Though Lou was dressed as a boy, at least she had Kid to keep her company. Buck kept glancing around, wanting Cody to come relieve him from this humiliating situation. Anna hadn’t been very successful in hiding her seeming dislike at being at the dance with an Indian, half or otherwise. She’d been the one to walk over to a far corner, almost in the shadows to stand. He’d dutifully followed.

Sighing, he decided to get something to eat and drink. He was hungry and there wasn’t any reason he had to starve himself. He was getting ready to just walk away, since he didn’t think Anna deserved his consideration but thought twice. Teaspoon had always told him that the best way to prove people wrong was to act in a way that would surprise them. Turning to Anna, he bowed his head slightly and, in a soft voice, asked, “While you wait for Cody, would you care for something to eat or drink?”

Startled, Anna turned to face him. He watched her expression soften from a grimace to almost a smile. “Yes, please that would be nice.”

‘At least she’s polite,’ he thought as he returned the lukewarm smile with one of his own and walked over to the tables loaded with all kinds of sweets. As he poured some punch into two glasses, he looked up to see Jimmy walking over and noticed that Jimmy’s scowl matched his own. “So was Anna as happy to see you as Natty was to see me?”

“Probably more so,” Buck answered. “At least you’re white.”

Jimmy gave Buck an apologetic look. “Have you seen our Romeo?”

“No I haven’t,” Buck growled. He picked up a plate and put a few cookies, a small slice of Mrs. Devlin’s plum cake and a slice of someone’s chocolate cake. He grabbed a fork, two napkins and the two cups of punch. “If you do see him, tell him to get his,” Buck cleared his throat when he saw Mrs. Anderson standing nearby, “tell him to get over here.” He nodded to Jimmy, who was stuffing a piece of the chocolate cake in his mouth. “Mm-mm,” was all Jimmy could respond by way of acknowledgement.

Buck walked back to where Anna was standing and saw a young man talking to her. Not knowing what to do, especially since he really wasn’t Anna’s escort, Buck decided to leave them to talk when Anna caught his eye. She looked uneasy so Buck continued towards her. “Miss Anna,” he said, “here’s your punch.” He held his hand out so Anna could take one of the cups.

Buck looked at the young man and realized it was Tom Anderson, the son of the owners of the barn. Tom wasn’t always a nice person, always flaunting his family’s money and pushing people around, normally people smaller than him. He hadn’t been able to do much in the way of intimidating any of the riders. He’d tried one time in town with Lou but when she stood up to him and then was backed by Kid and Jimmy, Tom hadn’t bothered the riders again. Now it seemed he was being his usual braggart self.

“Oh thank you Mr. Cross,” Anna said, probably with more enthusiasm than she needed but her smile did seem genuine to Buck so he responded in kind. “Mr. Anderson was just leaving.” Buck saw her swallow nervously.

Buck straightened and looked directly into Tom’s eyes, not saying a word. It took only a moment for Buck’s dark eyes to relay the message that Tom wasn’t wanted there so the young man made some excuse about having to play host and disappeared into the crowd by the dance floor.

“Thank you,” Anna said, softly. “He was being rude.” She didn’t elaborate and Buck wasn’t about to ask so he just nodded.

“Oh, I brought these,” he said, holding out the plate with the fork towards Anna. She took the plate and smiled at him again. A real smile. Buck blushed as he smiled back. He felt a bit disconcerted by the change. He handed her one of the napkins.

“Don’t you want any?”

Buck shrugged and nodded. She cut off a piece of the chocolate cake with the fork and placed it daintily on his napkin. He blushed again and murmured, “Thank you.”

As he took a bite, the crowd parted just enough so he could see where Jimmy and Natty were standing. It still seemed that they were uncomfortable together, though she did have a cup of punch in her hand so Jimmy had returned with some refreshments. Buck felt bad for Jimmy now that Anna seemed to be warming up a bit, resigned to the fact that she was stuck with him. Just then he saw a little girl slip and fall right beside Natty. Jimmy kneeled down immediately and picked the girl up.

Buck watched as Jimmy whispered something to the girl and she giggled. Jimmy stood up, still holding the girl and looked around, Buck assumed, for the girl’s parents. Spotting the mother, Jimmy took the girl over and handed her off to the woman, who looked very appreciative at Jimmy. Buck also noticed that this hadn’t been lost on Natty. The young woman was smiling as Jimmy walked back over. She touched Jimmy’s arm and seemed to stand a little closer to him as she said something. Buck smiled, happy for his friend.

“Mr. Cross,” Anna said, startling Buck out of his thoughts, “I do appreciate you takin’ the time to escort me here. I just don’t understand what’s keepin’ Cody. This isn’t fair to you, makin’ you miss the festivities.” She had moved over to stand right beside Buck. When had that happened?

“Um, well,” he stammered. He cleared his throat. “It’s alright. I didn’t have any plans this evening anyway.” He realized how rude that sounded. “I mean other than coming here. So if I was coming here anyway, escorting you wasn’t a problem.” And that really didn’t sound much better. He grimaced.

She placed the plate, which still had the cookies and plum cake on it, on a chair nearby and put her arm through Buck’s. “If you’d be kind enough, I’d like to dance.”

Buck swallowed hard. She wanted to dance. With him. Here. In front of everyone. He didn’t trust his voice so he just smiled, nodded and escorted Anna to the dance floor. He noticed that Jimmy and Natty were whirling around already, Natty laughing at something Jimmy had said. Jimmy winked at Buck and gave him a huge, goofy grin.

When Buck had asked Jimmy how they were going to get Cody back, Jimmy really hadn’t known. He’d just said something would come to him. Buck guessed this wasn’t exactly what Jimmy had thought of but it definitely would do.

*~*~*~*~*

The band was playing the last tune but only a few couples were dancing. Most of the people that were still there were getting ready to go, collecting their coats and their families. After their first dances, Jimmy, Natty, Anna and Buck had ended up standing together the rest of the evening. It was only by a miracle that neither young lady brought up Cody’s name. As the two couples were walking towards the door, Cody suddenly came running in.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, seeing Natty first. He then saw Anna right behind her. Neither of them even looked at him as they walked by, tightening their hold on their escorts’ arms. Jimmy and Buck grinned at Cody as they walked by.

“Aw fellas,” Cody whined as he watched the two couples walk away. “That’s just not fair.”

Teaspoon, Sam and Emma came walking up behind him. “What’s not fair?” Sam asked.

“I’d asked them to the dance,” Cody mumbled, pointing in Anna and Natty’s direction.

“What?” Sam exclaimed laughing. “You asked two girls to the dance?” He shook his head and put his arm around Emma. “You must be crazy. One is enough.” Emma smacked him playfully on his arm.

Cody just nodded and, hanging his head down, walked back out the door.

“Mr. Spoon,” Emma said, watching the stationmaster curiously. “Do you know anythin’ about this?”

“Well,” Teaspoon drawled, his thumbs hooking his suspenders together over his chest. “I may know a bit.” He winked at Sam. “Seems Cody was in a predicament and, as I’ve always taught my boys to be helpful to each other, Jimmy and Buck did just that. Now, Cody needed an important job so I gave him one.” He paused, smiling at Sam and Emma. “Choppin’ enough wood ta’ last us a few winters.” His audience laughed as he knew they would. “I just think the boy needed to be taught that too much of a good thing ain’t always so good.”

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