Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven are owned by MGM and Trilogy. No infringment is intended. No profit is being made from this activity.
Notes: This is a continuation of an existing series. This story makes some references to the previous piece Repairs and Renovations
The day had dawned overcast and gray, encouraging Nettie to keep herself and her niece busy attending to the long delayed indoor cleaning. She was occupied polishing the glass in the front windows when it provided the perfect vantage point to watch the rider approaching. The weather was dull but this visitor was sure to brighten her day. The circling motion of the cloth on glass stopped as the rider pulled up short of the outer fence and sat waiting.
Nettie hoped Vin hadn't suddenly changed his mind. She'd never seen him turn away before. Her concern eased as Peso started moving forward. Nettie called for Casey to make fresh coffee and stored away the cleaning items. The house was quickly returned to order and Nettie stepped outside to greet her young visitor.
"Good morning Vin. I wasn't expecting you today."
Nettie waited but Vin stayed mounted, his eyes drifting over the house. She wondered if perhaps he was going somewhere and that was way he'd hesitated at the outer fence.
"Are you staying?"
Vin looked down at her in surprise. Nettie waved her hand at his position. "Getting off the horse is usually the first step," she prompted.
"Sorry," Vin smiled a little sheepishly.
Nettie thought he seemed a little distracted. "I know you've been working with Chris for days so don't think you can start anything here. I don't need anything done. Fences are fixed, barn roof is fine, don't need anything sawn, nailed or painted."
"Did I say I was gonna do anything? Can't a man just stop by for a neighborly visit?"
"As long as all you do is visit. You so much as look at a hammer then I'm withholding the cookies."
Vin narrowed his eyes at the threat. "Raisin?"
"Sorry, just sugar cookies today."
Vin seemed a little more disappointed at that news than Nettie expected. Her teasing had been rewarded with only the faintest of smiles as Vin led his horse over to the corral. Vin settled Peso, rubbing the strong back lightly with the saddle blanket before hanging it over the fence. Nettie presumed that they'd been riding for some time as Vin carefully cooled and checked over his equine friend.
Vin was generally thought very even-tempered although Nettie would dispute the description. Nettie suspected that the calm that lay long and deep over Vin's emotions was there from deliberate choice rather than natural character. It was a shroud adopted to ensure he exposed as little of himself as possible to others, but Nettie knew there were times when it failed. She had seen for herself when the laughter in his blue eyes belied the seriousness of his tone, or like today when his casual greeting was backed with a brittle smile and shadowed eyes. Nettie sighed, concerned but patient as Vin hesitated again when he reached the front steps.
"Vin, is something wrong?"
"Tread's comin' loose," he replied, pushing the edge of the board with a booted foot.
"Not with my old house, with you."
"I'm fine," Vin denied but his actions were at odds with his words as he turned and settled down on the steps rather than enter her home. He rolled his shoulders a little to ease the ache from the recent heavy work. His back curved in a dispirited slump that only served to aggravate the ache.
Nettie watched that odd roll of his shoulders, as if he was trying to shift extra weight. "Vin?" she prompted. "Is there trouble in town?" Vin's only response was a brief shake of his head in denial. "Did you and Chris have words?"
"Chris and I are fine." Vin pulled the old slouch hat from his head, raking his fingers back through his long curls.
Nettie chose not to believe him and using Vin's right shoulder in support, lowered herself down to the step beside him.
"So how is the Larabee Mansion?" Nettie was pleased as the corner of Vin's mouth lifted in reluctant smile.
"He'll catch ya one day callin' it that."
Nettie pat his knee lightly. "And you'll be there to protect me." She watched the shoulders roll back again, a small movement that must have become so frequent that Vin didn't realise he was doing it.
"So how are the renovations?"
"We've stopped for now 'cause we're outa supplies 'n time. Place looks good with a bit more size to it. Chris could really turn it into something if he wants to."
Nettie was a little surprised at what she heard in that response. Envy was something she'd rarely encountered in Vin. It was a sad fact that Vin had limited options at the moment, and probably always had. If he'd ever been envious of Chris or any of his friends then he'd kept it well hidden.
"Do you want too?"
Vin turned toward her, confused by the question.
"Do you want to turn it into something?"
"It's not mine." Vin had a different picture in his head, but one he refused to give voice to. Building his own cabin was a wish that had burned brightly and briefly years ago. He had decided that he'd rather have a whole sky to live under that never needed repair and was painted anew each dawn and dusk. Nothing had changed to make that decision wrong, but somehow it felt like he was missing something.
Nettie was sorry to stir up memories for Vin but she knew he had a reason for visiting today, even if he didn't know it himself. While Vin always seemed to enjoy the repairs around her home something about Larabee's Mansion had taken that enjoyment and turned it around on him.
"Frames, windows, walls, watching it all come together is different that just a few odd jobs around here. I remember watching this place finally grow into a real home."
"Don't think Chris is heading toward a real home. He might lose interest before it gets finished," Vin shrugged.
Nettie remembered how she'd badgered Vin about doing chores for her because he had to. She'd thought he was just being polite when he denied it. Now she realised he did enjoy the work and hated the thought that perhaps Vin was picking up scraps of his own dreams from Chris and herself.
Nettie rubbed a hand comfortingly across the back of Vin's shoulders, pleased when he didn't pull away at the touch. "Vin, I know it's not the same as building your own home, but his house continues to stand because of your hard work. You help keep my dream alive."
She took a risk and left her arm draped across his back, tightening her grip to pull him close in comfort and reassurance. For a moment she felt him relax his weight against her, his head dropping to the side to barely brush her shoulder before straightening and pulling away. Nettie released him easily and stood, brushing the dust off her skirts.
"Come on in when you're ready."
Vin turned, his eyes following the older woman's departure. He'd never really thought about this house being Nettie's dream. If you were lucky to get what you wanted in this world then it could still take you the rest of your life to hold on to it. All the work at Larabee's had stirred up old yearnings, but he'd come to realise it was the construction not the cabin itself that held his fascination. He had been disappointed when Larabee had called a halt to the work on his shack, more disappointed than he'd expected. He smiled as he remembered how easily Nettie had read him. She always seemed to know how to ease his heart, even when he didn't know for himself what the problem was. Maybe they were chores to most people, but keeping Nettie's dream was a job he was proud to do.
Vin finally pushed away his thoughts and entered the house, annoyed with himself for being such poor company. He found the front room empty but the sounds of cups and plates clinking in the kitchen drew him further into the house. He heard the back door slap shut and voices where added to the domestic clatter.
"Aunt Nettie what's wrong?" Casey asked.
"Nothing dear, nothing important."
Vin frowned at the false note he heard in Nettie's voice. He hesitated to pry but the anxiety in Nettie's voice drew him to the kitchen doorway.
Casey had no such compunctions about prying and stopped her aunt. "What's wrong?" She pulled up her Aunt's hands as they were rubbed together fretfully. Casey's attention was drawn to Nettie's circling of her now empty ring finger. "Where is it?" she gasped.
"I'm just a careless old woman."
Vin felt compelled to join the discussion at Nettie's disparaging remarks of herself. "Nettie?"
"I just dropped my ring."
"You've lost it?" Casey asked, horrified for her Aunt.
"No, I just dropped it. It'll be fine."
Vin was a little confused as Nettie was upset, but seemed to know where the ring was.
"It's been getting loose and slipping from my finger. I should have just stopped wearing it," Nettie explained.
"If you know where it is, I'll go get it for you," Casey reassured her. "Where did you drop it?"
Nettie hesitated a long moment. "In the privy."
"Yes, in. If I'd dropped it on the ground I would have just picked it up girl," Nettie snapped, flustered and a little embarrassed by the incident. "I'll get it, I just needed a little more light."
"No you wont," Vin stopped her. "I'll get it for you."
"You will not. That's my ring, my outhouse and my stupid fault."
"Can't say I've ever dropped anythin' in that I wanted back. It's just a hole, it'll be like ice fishin'."
"You are not going to fish around in my privy," Nettie insisted.
"Why not? It's not gonna be too far down 'cause its getting' a little full."
"My privy, my problem."
"You said I was family. That makes it my privy too. You're not the only one who contributed to the pile." Vin couldn't see any reason for argument. The problem was small and the solution simple. He understood that Nettie didn't want to poke around in there, that was why he was offering.
"Vin Tanner, you hardly ever say two words now you run off at the mouth about the contents of my privy," Nettie chastised.
"What? I didn't mention any contents, just the depth."
"Well none of it needed mentioning."
Vin still couldn't keep a slight flush from his cheeks at the rebuke.
Casey ignored the bickering pair and lifted down the old lantern that was kept on a hook by the door. She used the striker to light the wick and handed it over to Vin.
"Glad you dropped by today," she said with a grin.
Vin took the lantern and headed to the small building, pleased at his victory over Nettie even at this price. He chocked the door open for more light then moved the seat aside. He had to swing the lamp back and forth until finally he caught a glint of light reflecting in the dark hole.
"Things ya gotta do some days," he mumbled. It didn't appear to be too far out of reach so he set the lamp down and went outside in search of some wire to use as a grappling hook. Knowing he'd still have to reach down into the hole he dropped his coat on the grass outside the outhouse and rolled his sleeves up as high as he could. Crouching down he went to work.
He'd barely started when Casey called from outside. "Vin, you staying for lunch?"
"Jeez Casey, it's not really the time to ask that."
"I can see it, just got to get the hook to it."
Vin was finally successful in his quest and took his prize and himself to the pump at the back of the house to clean up. He was thankful that the wire was long enough without him having to reach in too far. He rinsed the ring and his arms under the cold pump water. His splashing at the pump brought Nettie and Casey out to the yard.
"What are you grinning about," Nettie asked, pleased at the lift in Vin's spirits even if the cause was a little unusual.
"Word gets out that there's gold to be found in the Wells' Homestead, then you won't get a peaceful minute sittin' out there."
"You still wanting that lunch?" Nettie threatened in return.
Vin dutifully wiped the smile from his face. "Yes ma'am."
"I'll take it Vin," Casey requested. "The kettle's nearly boiling so I'll clean it before you wear it again."
"I won't bother putting it back on. I might lose it for good next time, and I just couldn't bear that," Nettie explained but Casey had already disappeared inside.
Nettie handed Vin the soap she'd brought from the kitchen. "Clean up properly before lunch." She ignored the roll of his eyes and crossed her arms to stand determinedly and make sure her order was carried out.
Vin had dried off and was rolling his sleeves back down as Casey returned with the ring. Vin intercepted the ring before Casey could pass it back to Nettie. Without a word, he slipped the medicine bag he wore around his neck off and slid the small pouch from its leather tie. Pocketing the cherished item, he slid the ring onto the narrow leather strip and retied the ends.
"Now you can wear it and not lose it," Vin explained, handing the item back to Nettie. "I can cut another for myself." Vin saw the gold sliding on the leather as Nettie hung the ring around her neck and had second thoughts about his choice. "It's not fancy, but it would be safe until you could put it on a chain or something pretty."
"I don't need pretty Vin. Comfortable and secure is just fine with me. Thank you for recovering it for me. Now come in for that lunch."
"I'm not sittin' at yer table after messin' about in yer privy."
"You washed up, that was the point of the soap."
"Don't matter. I'm not sittin' at yer table after bein' in yer privy."
"There is nothing wrong with that. People do sit down to dinner after visiting the outhouse, it's the way things sometimes work."
"Well I was doin' more than visitin', so I'm not comin' in."
Nettie took in the stubborn set to Vin's mouth. "Fine, stay on my back step."
"Plan too." Vin replied with a grin now that he'd won. He made himself comfortable, turning sideways and stretching his legs out along the step-tread. His time in the outhouse had kept him from noticing that the gray cloudbank from this morning was finally starting to break up. The sun's rays were weak, but he wasn't going to complain. Instead he closed his eyes and dozed quietly in the warmth.
The aroma of fresh coffee wafted past Vin's nostrils. Silently he reached out and stopped the next pass of the mug, never disturbing a drop. Nettie handed the mug over and set a plate down by his elbow.
Vin drew the plate closer. "What is this?"
"Lunch. You wouldn't come in so I brought you some sandwiches."
"But they're just itty bitty things," Vin complained pointing to the little triangular pieces of bread and meat.
"Oh stop your complaining, they'll still taste the same. How am I supposed to remember you're here if you're sleeping out the back like this," Nettie explained. She'd automatically assembled the bread, beef and mustard then cut the bread twice on the diagonal. She preferred the smaller triangles and had forgotten to leave some man-sized for Vin.
Vin picked up the little sandwich, turning it over and inspecting it on all sides. He took a suspicious bite and rolled the mouthful around before swallowing and nodding approvingly.
"I told you they'd taste just the same. Men!" she huffed, exasperated at his fussing.
Vin waited until Nettie was nearly inside the house. "Nettie, you didn't cut the crusts off," he called. He grinned as the door was slammed behind her, finally getting the last word. He consumed the pile of sandwiches contentedly, washing them down with the hot coffee.
Vin heard the door open and raised the now empty plate, eager to exchange it for the dessert being delivered.
"Thanks Nettie." Vin looked down at his pie only to be disappointed. "Ah, Nettie, I thought you made apple pie?" Vin asked of the dollop of cooked apples on his plate.
Vin frowned suspiciously at the smug tone.
" I thought you wanted the crust off," Nettie replied.
Vin stared in horror at the vandalism that had befallen his dessert. "Nettie!"
"Of course if you came into the kitchen you'd probably find another piece of pie, crust and all," Nettie tempted.
Vin's gaze flickered from his plate to Nettie, now holding the back door wide open. The internal debate ended quickly. There were no witnesses to this dismal failure to hold out against Nettie so he had nothing to lose but a real piece of pie. Defeated, Vin followed Nettie into the kitchen.
"Don't think I'm gonna fold every time ya offer food," he warned trying to salvage the situation.
"Of course not Vin, I'd never think that."
Vin looked back but could only see the smile of a genial hostess.
"Pie," Nettie pointed toward the side bench and Vin automatically turned toward it. Realising what he'd done he snapped his attention back to the manipulative old woman.
"That's all right Vin," she laughed. "Just be grateful they throw bullets at you and not bakery items."
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