Ike was sitting on the corral fence waiting for him when Buck rode into the Express station. Buck knew he was late, but he didn't expect anyone to be waiting up for him.
*About time you got back,* Ike signed.
Buck let out a deep sigh. He didn't owe Ike any explanations, but it really he was really starting to get on Buck's nerves.
"Ike, why don't you tell me what's going on?" Buck asked sternly. "You've been on my case about Lucy since the dance, and I'm sick of it."
Buck didn't like being angry with Ike, but he was also losing patience. For as much as he could hear the words just looking at Ike, it was different now. Ike had closed himself off and Buck didn't understand why.
*Nothing's going on,* Ike signed. *Teaspoon wants to see you. He asked me to tell you when you got in.*
"I'll speak to him when I've cooled down my horse," Buck said. "Ike, I think we need to talk. I don't like what's happening between us."
*I don't need to talk,* Ike signed. *I'm fine.*
"You're not fine."
*Teaspoon's waiting,* Ike signed then walked away.
Buck kicked a fence post in frustration. He would have to make good on his promise to do Ike's chores and hope that they could talk some. Maybe he would invite Ike to go fishing with him this week. There had to be something that could heal their friendship from whatever damage had been done to it. Buck really wished he knew what it was that had Ike so upset with him.
Buck decided now was not the time to dwell on it and led his horse into the barn. After he had cooled it down and settled it into the barn, Buck walked back to the bunkhouse to see what Teaspoon wanted.
Buck had barely walked in the door when Teaspoon ushered him back out again. Teaspoon wanted to talk to Buck in private.
"Son, I need your help," Teaspoon said. "Russell, Majors, and Waddell asked me to send a rider to St. Joe. I want to send you. You leave tomorrow morning."
"But, Teaspoon, I have the afternoon run tomorrow," Buck answered quickly. "Shouldn't you send someone else so the schedule won't get disrupted?"
All Buck could think about was Lucy and how he would miss their meeting. He wouldn't have time to tell her either.
"They need someone with knowledge of the Indian tribes in this area and someone with good knowledge on horseflesh," Teaspoon informed him. "That'd be you, wouldn't it?"
"I guess, but…"
Buck was thinking as fast as he could, but his thoughts of being able to help his people kept complicating his reasoning.
Teaspoon seemed to sense Buck's unwillingness and tried a different tactic.
"I guess I could send, Cody," Teaspoon wondered aloud. It was a cheap shot, but Buck always seemed to respond as needed when the threat of Cody dealing with his people came up.
Buck's eyes narrowed in irritation. "Fine, I'll go," he said, "But I promised Ike I'd do his chores this week though."
"Well, you'll have to work that out with Ike," Teaspoon said with his face turning compassionate. He'd seen the way those two boys had been acting lately. Something was going on with them, but Teaspoon didn't have the time to figure it out right at this moment.
"I should wash up for supper," Buck said resigned. He wasn't looking forward to telling Ike that he would be gone for a week and unable to fulfill his promise.
"Buck, pack your dress coat," Teaspoon added. "They said to make sure you had something nice to wear."
Buck's mood turned angry. "If they're gonna parade me around like some success story, I'd rather you send Cody," he protested.
"I was thinking they maybe wanted to make sure you had something nice to wear for church," Teaspoon said trying to smooth over his rider's ruffled feathers. "I know we don't make you go here, but when you're at company headquarters they may take a different view toward your attending church."
Buck calmed himself and tried to shake off everything that was bothering him. He nodded at Teaspoon to let him know he'd still go. Somehow, he needed to get word to Lucy that he wouldn't be able to meet her in the morning. Perhaps, he could ask Ike for one last favor.
Buck volunteered to help do the dishes with Ike when Rachel asked for help. Ike wasn't happy about it. In fact when Teaspoon told the rest of the riders he was altering the schedule and that Buck would be taking a special run lasting the whole week, Ike just glared at his friend for several minutes.
"Ike, can we I talk to you?" Buck asked as he set the last of the supper dishes next to the sink.
Ike ignored him and plunged the stack of dishes into the soapy water.
"Ike, please?" Buck pleaded.
*I'm not taking your run,* Ike signed furiously flinging water everywhere as his hands gestured.
"I'm not asking you to," Buck answered. "I just…"
*Then, what do you want?*
"I just want my friend back," Buck said calmly. He had taken advantage of his friend's kindness, but not to the degree that Ike was angry with him. Buck really didn't know why Ike was this upset.
Ike's expression softened. *I'm still your friend.*
"I'm sorry I've not been there for you lately," Buck said. "I've never felt this way about a woman before and I guess I have let that take over my life."
Ike stiffened and his expression hardened once more. *Yes, you have.*
Buck shifted uncomfortably. "Ike, can I ask you one more small favor?"
*I knew it,* Ike signed irritated once more. He looked at Buck. He looked hurt. *What?*
"It's just…I was supposed to meet Lucy tomorrow morning and now I can't," Buck explained. "I don't want her to think I didn't meet her on purpose."
*Fine, I'll tell her,* Ike relented.
"Why don't you like her?" Buck asked astutely.
*I like her fine,* Ike answered. *I just think she's wrong for you.*
"Oh," Buck said burying his hurt. He wanted to say that Ike was mistaken and that Lucy was absolutely right for him. Buck believed it in his heart and wanted his best friend to believe it too.
*I'll finish up here,* Ike signed. *You should probably go pack.*
"Yeah, I guess I should," Buck said and sadly left the kitchen.
Cody helped Phoebe into her seat and then glided into the chair across from her. She looked so pretty. Her cornflower blue eyes had never sparkled more than they did that night. Cody thought the pretty blue dress that she was wearing was probably the cause. Cody felt himself sigh.
Phoebe looked back at Cody. She couldn't help but sigh right along with him. He looked so handsome. He had the suit he was wearing to the dance.
A waiter came over and lit the candles on their table. Cody loved the way the glow of the candles lit Phoebe's fair skin. It was all he could do not to drag her away to some secluded place and ravish her. The only thing stopping him was the innocent look about her. Phoebe was the kind of girl you waited until your wedding night for. She was classy. Cody wouldn't even think of sullying her or her reputation by acting inappropriately.
Cody asked for soft cider in wine glasses and Phoebe giggled appreciatively. It made them feel all grown up. Cody took the liberty of ordering dinner for them both.
Phoebe liked it when Cody took charge of things. The confidence in his voice and demeanor was really attractive to her. The most endearing thing to her though, was that Cody asked and listened to her ideas about the life and the world. He seemed to love listening to her talk about adventures she had read. They discussed many books over the course of dinner.
"Phoebe, you have a really beautiful mind," Cody said astonished.
"Many women do, Billy," Phoebe said with a confused smile.
"Not like you they don't," Cody said. "I've flirted with pretty girls ever since I can remember and I've never loved listening to a woman talk until I met you."
Phoebe blushed. "Oh, Billy, I bet you say that to all the girls," she said.
"I truly don't," Cody maintained. "I don't like to admit it, but I'm a little shallow sometimes. I sure could drown myself in you, though."
Phoebe let out another giggle and blushed.
Cody paid the bill to the waiter and offered a hand to Phoebe. "Shall we go for a stroll?" he asked.
"I would be delighted," Phoebe said sweetly and took Cody's offered hand. He helped her up from her chair as he kissed her hand and set her shawl on her shoulders.
Cody led Phoebe as they walked arm in arm around the small town of Rock Creek. They talked about what they wanted to do with their lives, which was surprisingly similar. Phoebe and Cody both wanted to see the world.
"If you could go anywhere, where would it be?" Cody asked as they gazed at the stars overhead.
"I would want to go everywhere, but if I could pick one place it would be New York City," Phoebe said. "They have everything there. I would sing in the finest theatres and opera houses. Where would you go?"
"I would go to New York City too," Cody said falling deeper in love. "I would bring the wild west to the city, so people wouldn't feel like they needed to move here to see it."
"That would be wonderful, Billy," Phoebe said excitedly. "You're a natural entertainer, you know."
"You really think so?" Cody said blushing himself.
"I know so."
At that moment Cody looked deeply into Phoebe's eyes. The moon and the twinkling of the stars made the night seem magical. Cody leaned in close and stopped. He pulled back.
Phoebe tried not to look hurt. She had just felt the butterflies in her stomach as Cody neared her and when he pulled away, they left a stone in her stomach instead. She looked up and met his eyes and saw the longing in his ice blue eyes.
"Miss Phoebe Jacobs, may I kiss you," Cody asked.
"You may," Phoebe answered with a bright smile.
Cody leaned in and gently brushed Phoebe's lips with his own. The butterflies soared in Phoebe's stomach and she felt her heart leap. His lips pressed against hers and then captured them entirely. Phoebe quivered at the tenderness of his kiss, but she could tell he was holding back. She ached for him to kiss her with reckless abandon.
Cody was almost shocked at the eagerness at which Phoebe returned his kiss. It spurred his confidence and he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss. The taste of her lips was delicious and he couldn't get enough. The two parted breathless and Cody had to wrestle with his self control.
"I should take you home," Cody said reluctantly. "If I keep you out much later your father will come looking for us, probably with a shot gun."
Phoebe giggled again. She hated her laugh, but Cody was so funny and she liked him so very much.
"It is getting late isn't it?" she asked. "I can't believe how fast our evening went."
"It did go fast didn't it?" Cody asked rhetorically. "I've never known anyone as exciting as you Phoebe."
"Oh, I'm sure that's not true, Billy," Phoebe admonished with a blush. "Why my friends, Lucy and Cece are way more exciting than I am."
"That's not true," Cody argued. "The way you see the world and all the possibility for adventure…well it makes me think I could do anything in this world with you by my side."
"I feel the same way about you, Billy," Phoebe said. "When we're apart, you're always in my thoughts and I can't wait to see you again. I love you, Billy."
"I love you too, Phoebe," Cody said almost bewildered. His heart swelled and he could see hers do the same.
Cody pulled Phoebe into his arms and crushed his lips to hers. She reacted in kind matching his intensity. They kissed for what seemed like a sweet eternity. Cody pulled away suddenly taking Phoebe by surprise.
"I have to stop," he said out of breath. "It ain't right to be kissing you like that in the middle of the street."
"No, you are right," Phoebe agreed. "You should take me home now."
They looked longingly at one another for another minute both seeming to be listening to their inner angels and devils weigh their options.
"I'll go get the buckboard," Cody said. He kissed her hand and walked her to the Express station to wait.
Lucy had tried several times to sneak out of the house only to find Ramona still working in the kitchen. Lucy had no idea how she was going to get word to Buck that she wouldn't be able to meet him in the morning like they had planned. It pained her. Their relationship was so new and she didn't know how he would take her absence. Would he think she didn't want to see him? After a week of not hearing from her, would he give up? The thoughts were almost too much for Lucy to bear. She decided to do the only thing she could. Her relationship with Buck was based on a twist of fate, so that's what Lucy would trust now. Fate would determine if she and Buck would still be together when she returned to Rock Creek. If it was meant to be, it would be. Lucy took a deep breath and decided she couldn't spend any more time worrying. She would make herself sick. What she needed to do now was help pack the wagon.
Ramona and Lucy brought the rest of the food for the trip out to the buckboard. Douglas had loaded the last of the luggage and was now seeing to Lucy's horse, Peaches. He put the tack in the wagon and tied the horse to the back. This was to be a buying trip for the Halstons and not a selling trip. Douglas was counting on bringing a few horses back with them and he or Lucy would probably need to lead them in a string back to Rock Creek. Peaches was the best horse for the job.
After everything was set, Douglas helped Lucy up onto the seat and snapped the reins. The team of horses lurched forward and they were off to St. Joe. Lucy took one last lingering look toward town wishing with all her heart that Buck would wait for her.
Douglas and Lucy sat together on the bench of the buckboard in silence for a good portion of the morning.
"I remember when you would point out all the interesting things on a long trip with me, Princess," Douglas said looking at his daughter hopefully. Their relationship had been strained in the last weeks.
"I'm sorry pa, I guess my mind is elsewhere," Lucy said.
"Your mind has been elsewhere a lot lately," Douglas observed.
"Yeah, I guess it has been," Lucy replied flatly.
"Honey, I don't see where we went wrong," Douglas said.
"Papa, I guess I thought you would be a little less angry about me being friendly to Buck," Lucy said taking a chance to have a real conversation about her beau. "He's a very nice young man and I think you would see it too if you took the time to look."
"Now, I thought I told you to put that heathen out of your head," Douglas said sternly. "A boy like that will never amount to anything. You'd be poor and starving and I don't want that for my daughter. Neither would your mother. She had high hopes for you."
"Papa, please don't make me feel bad by bringing my mother into this," Lucy said. "I know you only want what's best for me. I just don't see what's wrong with being nice to Buck."
"There are lots of other boys in the world," Douglas said. "Many of them have a good solid background. They'll make good providers. I think you should be looking at one of those."
Lucy rolled her eyes and tried not to be completely hostile. She really hated it when people tried to convince her of things she would rather not consider. Buck could be a good provider. He worked hard and he was very friendly.
"Are trying to marry me off, Pa?" Lucy asked sort of shocked.
"No, Sweetheart," Douglas said. "I brought you with me on this trip so you could meet some nice young men. You're a young lady who hasn't seen many different places. I just want to broaden your horizons past Rock Creek. There's a whole world out there."
"I know that, Papa," Lucy said. She couldn't help feeling annoyed. Usually she handled things with grace and understanding, but she didn't think this was one of those times. She loved Buck, she knew she did. It made her angry that she couldn't tell her father that. It angered her that she had to listen to her father insult the man she loved.
"Just wait," Douglas said. "They are having a dance at the conclusion of the week celebrating the horse auction. I thought we could go and meet people socially. I could really use your help making nice with future business associates."
"Sure, Pa," Lucy said obediently.
"That's my girl," Douglas said.
Lucy sat and decided not to talk anymore for the time being. She would leave it up to fate. She decided. She may not have Buck to come home to anyways. There was another dance. If she was meant to be with someone at the dance, he would be there and she would know. She wouldn't go looking though. She had the man she wanted.
The station was quiet after breakfast. Buck had left for his run and the other riders were busy with their chores. Jimmy felt sick and he thought he knew why. It had bothered him that he had taken something from Cecilia without giving her anything in return. He knew what he needed to do. He wanted to do it even. Cecilia was his for the asking. He believed that. He loved her and she loved him. What he needed to do was to court her properly. She deserved to be treated with respect. All he needed to do now was ask her father for permission.
Jimmy paced around the bunkhouse gathering his thoughts and his courage. He had faced fierce gun fighters before, but that was nothing compared to the fear he was feeling now. The only time he had asked a man for permission to court his daughter, it ended in disaster. He didn't want to think of Sarah Downs right now, but the nervousness he was feeling was partly colored by that experience.
Jimmy stopped cold in the middle of the bunkhouse. What if Cecilia's father said 'no'? What would he do then? He looked over at Buck's bunk. Would he have to do the same thing Buck was doing and sneak around? Yes, his Kiowa friend thought he had everyone fooled and maybe he had Cody fooled, but Jimmy had figured his sneaky friend out. Knowing that didn't help him with his current problem.
The mirror over by Lou's bunk never lied to him. Jimmy walked over and looked at his reflection. He was scowling. That would never do. Cecilia's father would take one look at him and decide he was too dangerous for his daughter and that would be it. Jimmy sat down on Lou's bunk and dropped his head in his hands. Who was he kidding? He wouldn't even need to be scowling. His reputation was all her father would need to get wind of and then it would be over. Jimmy growled in frustration and punched Lou's pillow.
It wasn't like they had never met him before. Jimmy had to keep reminding himself that. He had dessert with them just the other night. True, he kind of felt a bit like he was being studied, but her parents were very nice people. It wasn't the same now though. Before he was just a young man that was over for an innocent dinner, now he would be looked at as a potential mate for their daughter. There was a level of scrutiny that didn't exist before now. A level of scrutiny he obviously wasn't comfortable with.
Jimmy stood up. He looked into the mirror again and tried to smile. It almost looked like he didn't know how and it felt so forced. He thought briefly about asking Teaspoon for advice, but somehow he didn't want to talk about Cecilia with the old man. He was sure Teaspoon would take one look at him and know that he'd compromised her. Teaspoon had a sixth sense about trouble and especially trouble involving him. Jimmy didn't want to share the private details of his love life with anyone except Cecilia. He sat down at the table and thought back to the day he took Cece shooting. She was so beautiful and her skin was so soft. He remembered how he felt when she told him she was scared. It was a level of trust he had never felt from anyone before.
Jimmy took a deep breath and straightened the collar on his shirt. He was being silly. He just needed to get a hold of himself. Everything would be fine. He would ride out and ask her father and he would do it now. Jimmy grabbed his hat and looked at his guns. Perhaps he could tuck them in his saddlebags. There was no need for guns in Cecilia's house. He would calmly ask her parent's permission and be home before he knew it. Jimmy walked out of the bunkhouse and wore a genuine smile all the way to the barn. There was nothing to worry about. He almost had himself convinced of it.