The early morning sun filtered through the clouds. After nearly a week of rain, the sun was finally shining again. With the rising sun, the town started to stir. Mrs. Potter stepped in front of her general store and began sweeping the boardwalk. Looking across the street, she smiled. Seated on chairs in front of the saloon were Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner. With a touch of sadness, she wished her husband had lived to see the changes the town had undergone. Changes that had occurred because the seven gunfighters had decided to stay when the judge asked them. Thinking about the men, she smiled. Seven gunfighters? Not quite. Nathan Jackson was a healer. Josiah Sanchez was a preacher. Ezra Standish was a fancy gambler with a heart of gold that he kept hidden. J.D. Dunne, the sheriff, was still just a boy, even if he didn't like it. Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington were definitely gunfighters, they wore their guns low and intimidated opponents with just their reputations. Vin Tanner wasn't a gunfighter, but she knew he was thought of as the best shot of the seven. She had also heard he was the best tracker in the territory. Sighing, she continued to sweep. And, oh, those blue eyes...
Startled from her reverie, her breath quickened and a slow blush started to redden her cheeks.
"I'm sorry if I startled you. I was just asking how you were," Mary Travis smiled.
"Oh, I'm fine, I'm fine thank you." Mrs. Potter began sweeping hurriedly, hoping that Mary would not notice that she had been daydreaming. She took Mary's arm. "Come, come inside." With one last look over her shoulder, she smiled and sighed. What is wrong with me? I'm a widow with a house full of children. I'm probably almost old enough to be his mother, but oh, that smile....and those eyes......
The subject of Mrs. Potter's daydreams was asleep. His chair was tipped back precariously, and his legs were up on the hitching rail. He was asleep when Chris joined him, but with his hat pulled down over his eyes, Chris did not know that. No one could recall when it had happened, but the seven had fallen into the habit of meeting each morning for breakfast. Chris sat silently waiting for the others. If Vin didn't want to talk, then fine, he could ignore him too. Sliding down in the chair, he stretched and yawned before standing. Looking down at Vin, he frowned. Vin hadn't moved. Seeing J.D. and Buck approach, he smiled. J.D. had been sick with a bad cold. Sick enough to remain in bed the last few days. It was good to see the kid up and around again.
"J.D., good to see ya.....feeling any better?"
J.D. sneezed and wiped his nose with his handkerchief. Nodding, he glared at Buck.
"Now look, you just take it nice and easy. Don't want you relapsing or anything. Wouldn't have gotten sick at all if you and that one had any sense to get out of the rain," Buck gestured towards Vin.
"Buck, I told you, there was no shelter.....had to just keep riding...." J.D.'s voice trailed off as he entered the saloon.
Chris followed the others and turned around to look at Vin.
When he got no response, he sighed and went through the doors.
Josiah looked up from his plate as Chris sat down.
"Brother Tanner not joining us?"
Chris shrugged his shoulders. "Guess not. Ain't been the best company lately anyway."
+ + + + + + +
Out on the boardwalk, Vin woke with a start. Every inch of his body ached as the chair fell down on four legs. Pushing his hat back off his head, he began to rub the back of his neck. The back of his head throbbed, and his chest ached with every breath. Leaning forward, he put his elbows on his knees and rubbed his eyes with his hands. He winced as he tried to swallow. Sighing, he placed his hands on the arms of the chair and stood wearily. He was lightheaded and exhausted. He tried to stop the cough he felt coming, but was unsuccessful. Leaning against a post, he clutched his left side as each cough sent a painful burning through his left side. Sighing, he stood straight, and pushed off the post to enter the saloon. When he reached the table the others were at, he stopped behind Buck.
".......Well, I don't care if he stays out there all day.......been nothin' but a grouch lately anyhow......"
Buck stopped when he realized the others were silently staring at him. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as Vin looked at each of the six men. J.D. broke the silence with a coughing fit, and with a look of concern, Buck started whacking him on the back.
With a small nod of his head, Vin quietly said, "Ain't hungry no how......" Going to the bar, he got a mug of water and walked back outside.
"No Chris, I ain't saying I'm sorry. You know yourself, he's been a real son of a bitch lately and I'm tired of it. J.D. here's been sick ever since he got himself caught out in that rain storm, he's done nothing but make the rest of us miserable."
"I'll agree with you Mr. Wilmington, his temperament is more disagreeable than usual, but this morning he does not look himself...."
Putting his coffee cup down, Nathan nodded his head.
"Ezra's right, he looked a bit flushed."
Vin sat in the chair, clutching the mug of untouched water. Sighing, he slumped down, and rested his head on his hand. Damn, I don't feel good. Should go see Nathan when he's through eating....
His eyes drifted closed, and he did not hear Chris sit beside him.
"Vin.....Vin what's wrong?"
When he received no response, Chris placed a hand on Vin's shoulder, causing Vin to jump. Startled, Vin spilled the mug of water on his lap. Standing suddenly, he dropped the mug and broke it. Breathing heavily, his eyes flashed in anger at Chris.
"What is wrong with you? You've been a miserable bastard for days now!"
Vin stalked towards the livery. By the time he reached his horse, he was panting. Placing his head against the animal's neck, he struggled to catch his breath. Sneezing, he clutched his left side and groaned.
Chris stood to follow Vin, but was stopped by Mrs. Potter.
Touching the brim of his hat, he smiled, "Ma'am."
"I wonder if I could impose on you, I hate to ask....but James usually does my deliveries and he's laid up with his back......and I really do need to get these things out to Mrs. Spencer....she's been patient enough. Oh, I know.... I shouldn't be bothering you with this silliness...."
Chris smiled and offered her his arm as he started across the street.
"Now, don't you worry, I think we can help you out. J.D. can run the supplies out. He needs an excuse to get out of town anyway. I don't reckon I ever met Mrs. Spencer......."
+ + + + + + +
"Chris, I don't like it, not one bit. Kid just got out of his sick bed and you have him out running deliveries. Look at that wagon! It's plumb full! You expect him to take that out there and unload it?"
Chris put his hands on his hips and sighed.
"Calm down , Buck. You're worse than a mother. Do the kid good to get out and get some fresh air. All he has to do is drive the wagon. I'm sending Vin along to unload it. Maybe after a little hard work he'll sweat himself into a better mood. If nothing else it'll give the rest of us a little peace this morning."
J.D. came out of the store followed by Mrs. Potter.
"Now J.D., you be sure to give those sweets to Mrs. Spencer's little girl....tell her it's my treat. And these dresses are for her also, my littlest one has outgrown them, and I have no more need for them..."
He climbed on to the wagon and taking the reins looked around for Vin.
"Now, do you know where you're headed?"
"No, Ma'am, I was hoping Vin did......."
"The Spencer place is just beyond Mrs. Wells'. She's out there all alone, don't think she has her hired man anymore....haven't seen him in some time.......she don't get into town often...... has a beautiful little girl, about two I think....... her husband's a banker back east, should be joining her soon...."
J.D. was only half listening as he was waiting for Vin. He wanted to get this chore done and over with, maybe with enough time, he could stop to visit Casey. Scowling, Vin walked up slowly, leading his horse.
"It's about time Vin, come on, I want to get going...."
"Shut up J.D., all you have to do is drive the damn wagon, I gotta unload it."
J.D. hopped down from the wagon and pointed towards Vin.
"No, I got the hard job, I gotta put up with you all day....."
Vin's movement towards J.D. was stopped when Chris stepped between them.
"J.D. get back on the wagon and start out. Vin can meet ya there."
Vin started to mount his horse, but was stopped by Chris.
"And you. You unload that wagon and come back here in a better mood. Way you been lately. no one wants to have anything to do with you."
Vin stared at Chris as he settled in his saddle.
"Anything else?" he asked quietly.
Chris was about to answer when he was interrupted by Mrs. Potter.
"Oh good, you haven't left yet. Almost forgot to give you this. Been holding this telegram for her too. Her husband will be joining her within the week.....she'll be so happy....."
Vin smiled tiredly as he reached down for the folded paper. Placing it in his pocket, he tipped his hat.
Looking at Chris, he started to say something, but stopped. Without a word, he rode out of town.
J.D. moved the wagon along the trail slowly. After nearly a week of rain, the trail was muddy and the wagon was difficult to maneuver. Stopping, he pulled out his handkerchief and noisily blew his nose. As he looked at the road stretched ahead, and then behind him at the wagon load of supplies, he found himself wishing he'd stayed in bed another day. Glancing over his shoulder again, he saw Vin coming at a slow trot and he stalled, waiting for him to catch up. J.D. sensed that Vin wasn't feeling well, but couldn't help feeling irritated that he was going so slowly.
"Vin, come on, hurry up, I..."
J.D. stopped when he caught the look in Vin's eyes. With a gulp, he decided it would not be wise to continue.
Vin had removed his jacket, and his hat was hanging down his back. J.D.'s brow furrowed as he looked at Vin. The sun had warmed the morning, but J.D. didn't think it was warm enough to cause the perspiration glistening on Vin's face. Damp hair was curling on his forehead and his cheeks were flushed. Vin reined his horse alongside the wagon and stopped. He was hot, tired, and really didn't mean to be irritable.
If the damn kid's in such a rush, what did he stop for?
"Vin, you okay?"
J.D.'s frustration increased as Vin moved on and he found himself looking at Vin's back. Vin stopped as he was struck by another painful fit of coughing. J.D. sat silently, waiting patiently for Vin to recover. When the coughing subsided, Vin turned to face J.D. His eyes were brimming with unshed tears, and his face was too pale over his blue shirt. Wincing as he swallowed, he cleared his throat.
"It's just a cold."
J.D. strained to hear the hoarse whisper.
"You look awful tired."
Vin gave a small nod of his head, and turning his horse again, started to slowly move away.
"WHAT?" Vin snapped and then instantly regretted it when he saw the genuine concern on J.D.'s face.
"Why don't you sit up here on the wagon, and you can rest 'til we get there."
Vin looked at the wagon bench longingly, he was tired and the chance to sit and rest was inviting. After a moment's hesitation, he agreed. Tying his horse to the side of the wagon, he climbed up beside J.D. With a contented sigh, he pulled his hat down over his face and slouched down. Listening to his slow, even breathing a few minutes later, J.D. grinned.
Asleep already! Guess he really was tired!
J.D. looked at Vin and shook his head. It never ceased to amaze him that Vin could fall asleep just about anywhere, in any position. He decided then, that regardless of what Chris or Buck had wanted, he would be helping Vin unload the wagon.
As the wagon became increasingly more difficult to drive, J.D. continued to urge the horses on. The rode was muddy, and the wheels were slowly becoming stuck. After the wagon jerked to a halt, J.D. tried vainly to remove the wagon from the mud's hold. With a start, Vin sat up, blinking.
"Sorry Vin, I got the wagon stuck in the mud."
Vin sighed tiredly, and looking down at the ground beside him, he noted that J.D. was right.
"Aw, hell, J.D......ya shoulda gone around it..."
Vin looked at J.D.'s face and smiled. After taking off his hat, he began rolling his sleeves up. Patting J.D.'s knee twice, he turned and jumped down from the wagon. Landing in the mud with a squish, he looked up at J.D.
"Well, come on, let's get her unstuck."
Going to the horses' heads, J.D. waited for Vin to say he was ready. Vin stood on the right side of the wagon and held the side. Getting a firm grip, he braced himself.
" 'kay J.D., get 'em movin'."
"Hyah! Hyah! Come on! Hyah!"
J.D. smiled broadly with satisfaction when the wagon lurched forward.
"Hey! Vin! We did it!" J.D. peered around the side of the horses to look at Vin. "Vin?"
Vin was slowly starting to stand up. When the wagon suddenly lurched forward, he had lost his footing. Off balance, he fell face first into the mud. J.D. started to laugh, but stopped and tried to look serious when Vin glared at him.
Boy wait 'til Buck hears about this!
Holding his left arm, Vin stood up and let out a string of curses. Leaning forward while clutching his left wrist, he closed his eyes and began to slightly rock back and forth as he continued cursing. When he ran out of all the English ones he knew, he started ranting in what J.D. assumed was an Indian dialect. J.D.'s smile faded when he noticed the bright red blood in stark contrast to the mud on Vin's wrist.
"Vin, you're hurt!"
Breathing heavily, Vin stopped and stared at J.D.
"Let me see."
J.D. grabbed Vin's wrist and then regretted his roughness.
"Ow!" Vin tried to pull his hand back. "Just leave me be!"
"No, Vin, you're bleeding. We gotta clean it and put something on it."
Letting go of Vin's hand, J.D. went over to Vin's horse and began to rummage through the saddle bags. He returned to Vin's side carrying his canteen and two colorful bandanna's.
As gently as he could, he cleaned the mud off Vin's hand and wrist. He let out a low whistle when he saw the deep gash the extended from the wrist up to the middle of his palm. Grabbing a bandanna, he began to wrap it tightly around Vin's hand.
"Maybe we should turn back."
Vin chuckled softly and shook his head.
"J.D. you can't keep this wagon movin' forward in all this mud....don't think you can turn the damn thing around. 'sides, we're more'n half way there...let's just get it over with..."
J.D. stood protectively behind Vin as he climbed once again up on the wagon. Smiling, Vin looked over his shoulder and down at J.D.
"I ain't plannin' on fallin', J.D."
J.D. smiled as he climbed up and joined Vin.
"Bet you thought that a few minutes ago, too..."
Vin looked down at his mud covered body and shaking his head, began to laugh. The exertion of laughing induced another painful bout of coughing. When the coughing finally subsided, he was still clutching his left side. The painful burning flared with every breath he took as he struggled to catch his breath. He looked sideways at J.D. and saw the concern and fear. He shivered slightly as he settled into the seat.
" I'm okay, J.D."
"I know, 'it's just a cold'. "
"I've felt sicker and lived to complain about it," Vin wheezed.
With a gentle slap of the reins, J.D. urged the horses on. Vin sat quietly, and J.D. noted that he had not fallen back to sleep.
"Vin, you know where the Spencer place is?"
"Aw, hell, then how are we gonna know how to get there?"
"Don't worry J.D., just keep going. It's up the road a piece. We'll come to it."
J.D. looked at Vin with total trust. Even if Vin had no idea exactly where they were headed, he had no doubt that Vin would find their way there.
A few miles after the wagon passed the Wells' place, J.D. found himself growing more irritated.
What is it with the people around here? Everything is just beyond or down the road a piece. Guess they expect me to just keep driving the wagon until I bump into the Spencer place.
As he came to a fork in the road, J.D. brought the wagon to a halt and shook his head in frustration.
"Vin," he said softly.
Listening to the slow, rhythmic breathing, J.D. figured that Vin was asleep. There had been some improvement in Vin's mood, and J.D. was reluctant to disturb him. Since he had no idea which way to go, he felt he had no choice.
"Vin," he said a little louder.
J.D. bit his lip and concentrated on the two roads stretched ahead and turning, glanced at the way they had come. He lightly touched Vin's shoulder and gave it a slight shake.
"Wh...what?" Vin sat up and rubbed his eyes while licking his lips. Yawning, he stretched and turned to look at J.D.
"What's up kid?"
"Vin, I don't know which way to go." J.D. tipped his head towards the road. "Do you have any idea?"
Vin looked at the road and frowned.
"Hmmm...." He stood and placed his hands on his hips. Taking his hat off, he scratched his head as he concentrated. He whistled softly as he looked first left, then right, turning around, he looked behind them. He squinted up at the sky while absently drumming his fingers on his hips.
"The Spencer place! You do remember that, don't you? That's where we're supposed to be headed. Any idea which way to head now?"
J.D. looked at Vin hopefully until Vin grinned and cleared his throat.
J.D. threw his head back and looked up at the sky.
Dropping his head, J.D. closed his eyes. He decided that he definitely should have stayed in bed another day. Vin was seated again and had his legs up and his arms stretched out on the seat of the wagon. J.D. looked at Vin suspiciously. Vin knew all along that J.D. was in a hurry, and J.D. began to wonder if he was purposely stalling.
"Vin, come on, help me out here," he quietly pleaded.
Vin squinted as he once again looked at the two roads stretched ahead. Raising his eyebrows as he smiled, J.D. looked at Vin hopefully.
"Okay then, right it is..."
J.D. smiled as he lightly snapped the reins and moved the wagon towards the right. He looked sideways at Vin and wondered what made him chose the right road. He hoped Vin knew for sure this was the correct road and hadn't chosen it just because he liked the looks of it. J.D. turned in his seat and noticed the deep ruts the wagon was leaving behind.
Well, if we get lost, we can at least follow our own trail home...
+ + + + + + +
"Buck, will ya sit down and relax, it's no where near time for them to be back."
Chris smiled as he looked down at the cards Ezra had dealt. Buck returned to the table after looking out the saloon doors once again.
"I tell ya Chris, it wasn't a good idea."
Josiah looked up from his cards and smiled at Nathan.
"Buck, J.D. is fine, I wouldn't have given him the okay to be up if he wasn't," Nathan interrupted.
"What's taking them so long?"
"Now Buck, Vin could've ridden there and back by now on his horse, but don't forget that they're hauling a full wagon that they also have to unload," Josiah attempted to reason.
"They didn't even know where they were going..."
Chris chuckled softly as he threw down two cards.
"Buck, if it was just J.D., I'd be worried. Hell, when he first rode in to town, I would have believed he got lost trying to find his way out of his momma's womb...but don't forget that Vin's with him." Chris frowned as he looked at the two cards Ezra dealt him. "And I don't think he's ever been lost, even when he had no idea where he is. Only way Vin is lost is if he wants to be..."
"J.D. was in a hurry to get the chore done..."
"That's right, and don't forget that Vin knew that too," Chris added.
Chris spread his cards out on the table and smiled.
"Which means he just might have J.D. out there running that wagon in circles," he said as he collected his winnings.
Josiah chuckled and shook his head.
"He can be a nasty little cuss when he wants to be..."
Nathan smiled in agreement.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, while it warms my heart to listen to you so lovingly discuss the two younguns," Ezra drawled sarcastically, "would it be too inconvenient to concentrate on the game?"
Buck stood and walking to the doors, looked out again. Chris sighed and shook his head.
"Buck, will you relax? You're worse than a mother hen."
"Can't help it Chris, just hope they ain't got themselves lost..."
Smiling broadly, J.D. heaved a sigh of relief when he saw a large white house come into view. Struggling with the horses over the muddy road had tired J.D. out. He looked over at Vin and frowned. Vin was hunched over and shivering slightly and did not seem to notice they had finally reached their destination. J.D. nudged Vin slightly with his elbow.
"Vin...hey Vin, we're here......"
Startled, Vin inhaled sharply and held his side as he began coughing. It took several long moments before Vin was able to regain control of his breathing. J.D. noticed the tears that had formed in Vin's eyes and thoughtfully turned away when Vin quickly moved to brush them away. Vin leaned back with a sigh and closed his eyes, his ragged breathing shattering the silence of the empty yard. J.D. looked at Vin sadly. He figured Vin had to feel at least as miserable as he looked. Vin groaned as he turned back to look at the supplies waiting to be unloaded.
"Damn," he hoarsely cursed as he climbed down from the wagon. He slowly walked to the rear of the wagon and began untying the ropes holding the load down.
"Vin! Wait! I'll help ya!" J.D. tied off the horses' reins and quickly scrambled down from the wagon.
"You! HOLD it! STOP right there!"
Vin stopped and glared at the woman standing on the porch.
J.D. pulled off his hat and nervously stepped forward.
"Uhh, my name's..." J.D. coughed and cleared his throat, "my name's J.D. and this here's Vin."
J.D. waved his hat in Vin's direction and gulped when he saw Vin. He had stopped unloading the wagon and was leaning against it, scowling. As J.D.'s eyes darted nervously from Vin to Mrs. Spencer, he wasn't sure who scared him more. Swallowing, he continued, "Mrs. Spencer, we, uh, we have the supplies you needed." He pointed to the wagon. "Mrs. Potter asked us to bring them out to you and unload them."
Mrs. Spencer grunted, and shaking her head, stepped of the porch.
"What is wrong with Mrs. Potter? I've waited this long for these supplies, could've waited another day or two. She needn't have sent out two sick boys to deliver them..."
"Ma'am, I'm not sick. I...I was, but I'm better now."
Mrs. Spencer frowned and looked at J.D. appraisingly.
"I ain't no boy," Vin quietly drawled.
J.D. looked at Vin and shook his head. He hadn't failed to notice that Vin didn't deny that he was ill. Boy, Vin really must not feel good.
"Well, enough of this." She pointed at J.D. "You,take those muddy boots off and come with me." Starting up the porch steps, she nodded to Vin. "And you, go around and wait on the back porch. Don't stand there scowling at me, do as I said."
J.D. couldn't hide his smile as he watched Vin stalk around to the rear of the house while muttering to himself. He followed the older woman inside and through the cool, dark house. When they reached the kitchen, he stood staring as she began boiling water.
"Well, don't just stand there. There's a tub in that closet. Pull it out."
"Your friend looks as if he was rolling in the mud. He isn't going to track that all through my house. He is going to have a hot bath, and clean, dry clothes before that wagon is unloaded."
"Ma'am, Vin ain't gonna want a bath."
"Well, I wasn't aiming to ask him."
Grabbing a blanket, she stepped out to the back porch and shut the door. J.D. heard the muffled sounds of an argument and smiled.
Boy, is she in for a surprise if she thinks she can tell Vin Tanner to do anything.
Stepping back inside, she turned and spoke again.
"And make sure you wash your hair too. I'll leave some clean clothes for you...you're about the same size as my son."
J.D. stood with his mouth open and his eyebrows raised. It looked like Vin was going to be taking a bath. Turning to J.D., she smiled for the first time.
"Okay. J.D., is it? Come with me, take these boots," she handed Vin's boots to J.D. "and clean them as well as your own."
J.D. followed her, but stopped when she turned suddenly and returned to the kitchen. He nearly choked when he heard the short yelp followed by sloshing of water.
"Really, young man, you have nothing to hide that I haven't seen before! Now get your head up out of that water before you drown yourself!"
J.D.'s boots dropped to the floor with a loud thud when the laugh he could no longer hold in burst forth.
Poor Vin, I bet he wishes he had gotten us lost now.... Buck is gonna bust his gut laughing about today.
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