Second story in the Smile series.
Note: This is a sequel to For Your Smile, you don't have to read that to understand it but the OC's were introduced in that story. Special thanks to the Muse ladies for their help in cleaning up my errors. J Special thanks also to Jo, Bountyhunter's Lady, for creating such a wonderful collage for my story.
Little Betsy Mitchell walked down the boardwalk slowly, carefully protecting her precious gift. The five year old had made a cake, and decorated it especially for her favorite person, Vin Tanner. He was the first person she met when she moved to town with Gus Travis and his extended family. They had heard about the town from Orin and Mary Travis, Orin was the brother to Gus and Betsy's Grandma Prudence.
Betsy loved living with Uncle Gus and Auntie Rachel, their home was always full of love and laughter making several family members gravitate toward it when they needed support. Betsy was glad that when her Pa was killed her Ma, whose was Prudence's daughter, decided to move in with them instead of Holly's own parents who tended to be quite stuffy.
Gus and Rachel would always find room in their home. In addition to their own six children they had adopted four more, taken in two nieces Holly and Bess and their children, and Anna the aunt of one of the boys they adopted. They also became family of the heart to the other families that moved to town with them.
Betsy thought about the cake she made for Vin to thank him for finding Mabel and to celebrate his being cleared from the charges in Texas. Her Auntie Rachel did the actual baking of the cake for her telling Betsy that even though she would be six in four months, she was too young to use the stove. Betsy managed the rest all by herself and was very proud of her efforts.
She didn't really know what they meant by 'clearing his name' but she knew everyone was happy about it. Her cousin Amy explained it meant Vin was innocent of all wrong doing. Amy, her son, Josh, and daughter, Rosie, had also formed a fast friendship with Vin.
Betsy told her of course he was. "Who would think Mr. Vin would do something bad?"
Amy laughed and told her now everyone knew he didn't do anything bad and not just the people who cared about him.
All Betsy knew was, Vin hadn't stopped smiling since her cousin Matt showed up in town two days ago with the news. Matt was a Texas Ranger and was the oldest child of Gus and Rachel. Yesterday the two men were supposed to go fishing together. At least they were until Vin found Betsy, upset and unable to find Mabel, her favorite doll.
He dried her tears, took her hand, and then the two of them tracked down the missing Mabel. Neither Betsy nor Vin saw the smile of approval on Matt Travis's face as he watch the Texan showing Matt's young cousin how to read the clues they needed to lead them to her missing treasure.
Betsy thought about how carefully Vin handled Mabel when he found her. He even helped her stitch up the slight tear in the rag doll's arm. She wanted to thank him for taking time from his celebration to help her. Since Vin liked sweets, Betsy decided to make him his own cake.
Betsy didn't see him anywhere on the street, so she headed for the saloon knowing if Vin wasn't there one of his friends would be and she could ask where he was. Seeing JD, Nathan, and Josiah sitting at one of the tables, Betsy headed toward them.
Buck was walking over from the bar to join his friends when he saw Betsy, "Hi there, lit'l darlin'. What do you have there?" he asked looking at her cake.
"It's a thank you gift from Mr. Vin," Betsy said proudly only to have her smile drop when she realized she said 'from' instead of 'to'.
Before she could correct herself, Buck took the cake from her laughing. "Vin made you a cake? Well isn't that somethin'. Hey boys, look at the cake Vin made." Buck was showing the cake to the others in the saloon, laughing the whole time.
Betsy tried again saying, "Mr. Vin "
Unfortunately, Buck was too wrapped up in making a joke about the cake to listen to Betsy. "Lookie here at all that frosting and he even put flowers on it."
"Flowers?" JD asked looking at the cake.
"Yep, see them clumps those are Vin's impressions of flowers," Buck said getting the others in the saloon to join in with the laughter.
"What was he thanking you for, Betsy?" Josiah asked.
"Probably for letting him track down that missing doll, huh darlin'," Buck answered before Betsy could.
"Tanner is taking to tracking down missing toys now?" a cowboy in the back joked.
"My boy can't find his bag of marbles, maybe I should ask Tanner," another said laughing.
"Now, boys, Vin only finds dolls not all toys," Buck added.
Soon others in the saloon were making comments about the cake and the missing doll, everyone having too much fun to notice the tears sliding down the little girl's cheek.
"Inez, can we have some plates so we can taste Vin's delicious cake?" Buck called out.
Betsy was crushed. They were laughing at the cake she had worked so hard on, and making fun of Vin for finding Mabel for her. The tears started falling faster as her lip started to quiver.
A warm hand touched her shoulder. Betsy thought it was Vin, but when she looked up it was Chris standing there. He gave her a quick smile, and then looked at Buck saying, "That's enough."
"We were just having some fun with the cake Vin made," Buck said. "We weren't going to eat it all."
Chris didn't acknowledge his old friend, he squatted down to one knee next to Betsy. His voice was soft and gentle as he asked, "What's wrong sweetheart?"
Betsy tried to tell him, but all that came out was sobs. Chris pulled her against his chest. Feeling her arms wrap around his neck, he stood and carried her to a chair. He sat so he could rock her and stroke her back, letting the little girl cry her heart out on his chest.
A warning look from Chris kept the other people in the saloon quiet as he calmed Betsy down. Looking at the four peacekeepers sitting at the table next to him, Chris knew they felt bad about what they had done. Buck may have been the one who was making the jokes but the other three had all joined in the laughter and none of them tried to stop the teasing from happening.
Betsy finally calmed down enough for Chris think he might be able to find out what happened to upset her so much. Inez handed him a dish towel to use and he wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"Want to tell me about it?" Chris asked in the same gentle soft tone he used earlier.
"I made a thank you cake for Mr. Vin and it's ugly," Betsy said, her voice cracking as she struggled not to start crying again.
"*You* made the cake?" Chris asked loud enough for those at the table nearby to hear.
Buck was hoping Chris heard wrong, but his hopes were dashed when Betsy nodded sadly. Damn, he'd really stuck his foot in it this time. "It's not ugly, darlin'," he said.
"You said it was," Betsy insisted the tears filling up her eyes again. "You laughed at it, you all laughed."
Chris's glare stopped Buck from saying anything else. Both men knew right then Betsy wasn't ready to let Buck try to sweet talk his way out of trouble no matter how badly he wanted to.
"Is this the cake?" Chris asked. When Betsy nodded sadly he said, "You ever know Vin to worry much about what other people thought? Because you made it for him, it will be enough for him to like it."
"Really?" Betsy asked. Her voice so hopeful it broke Buck's heart. He remembered the bright smile on her face when she first walked into the saloon.
Josiah couldn't stop himself from saying, "With the sweet tooth Vin has he'll love your cake."
Chris saw her little shoulders drop in defeat. "I don't know what the boys said to you. That is a fine looking cake and Vin will think so too," Chris said as he stood with Betsy still in his arms. "We're going to wait outside for Vin and Matt to get back."
"They aren't back from fishing yet?" JD asked.
"Anytime now," Chris replied as he reached out for the cake, carrying it and Betsy out of the saloon.
The little girl raised her head from Chris's shoulder long enough to glare at the men in the saloon before she snuggled up against her savior again.
Damn, Buck thought, Betsy gave him a look Larabee himself would be proud of. How was he going to make up for the hurt his actions caused?
Out at Vins favorite fishing hole, he and Matt Travis sat quietly, both enjoying the day. They hadnt been there long but they already caught a couple of fish each. They would soon have enough for dinner for Matts family.
"I want you to know how much I appreciate all you did for me," Vin said turning to make eye contract with Matt.
"Well, I'm glad it turned out the way it did. I have to admit when I started, I was looking for evidence to prove you were guilty," Matt said honestly.
Matt waited for Vin to nod he understood before he continued. "I love Amy, she's my little sister, but I also know once she decides someone is her friend she won't turn her back on them. If I thought she would have let me take you back to Texas without a fight, I would have rode out and brought you to Tascosa."
"So you needed to find proof that I was guilty to show Amy, so she wouldn't fight you," Vin said filling in the part Matt didnt say, thinking to himself he would have done the same thing if the situation was reversed.
"My family got close to you Vin. I didn't want them to get hurt if someone came for you. I wouldn't have bothered with you otherwise."
"I didn't want them to get hurt either," Vin said softly.
"I found that out as soon as I met you. If I would have found any proof I would have taken you in." Matt knew that Vin didn't blame him, but he wanted to be honest with the man he had come to respect.
"Thing was I couldn't find any proof, and some people I respect had dealings with you, they all told me they didn't believe you were guilty. From what they told me you were a good bounty hunter, and I don't mean just your skills at finding the wanted men. The men you brought in weren't starved and beaten, only those who were known troublemakers had extra measures taken. You showed honor in a profession not known for it."
Vin tried to live up to the Tanner name and not abuse his prisoners, unless he had no choice. He hadn't known others noticed; it made him feel proud to know he was well thought of.
Matt was able to read the pride in Vin's eyes at the compliment. "It just didn't make sense for someone like you to suddenly kill an innocent man and try to pass him off as the bounty you were after. Problem was, the people around Tascosa didn't know you or your reputation, so they were quick to believe the worst."
"There are bounty hunters who don't care much who gets hurt as long as they get their money," Vin said thinking how easy it would have been to fall in with some of those types.
"Sad but true," Matt agreed. "I figured since I couldn't find anything to say you did it, I should look into Eli Joe."
"Had to kill 'im, hard to get the truth out of a dead man," Vin said.
"True, but I found out Eli Joe was the kind of man who would kill an innocent man, and he ran with a gang. Tracked some of his gang down I heard were with him when you got yourself in this mess." Matt paused and with a smile added, "Amy isn't the only one in the family who learned things from the Kiowa. I know some ways to get a man to tell me the truth."
Vin laughed, remembering saying almost the same thing to Chris about getting the truth from Eli Joe. "You got one to admit what they did?"
"Better, I got three to admit it. The Judge didn't have any problem dropping the charges after he finished talking to them."
"That'd do it," Vin said reaching a hand out to Matt. "You're a good man Matt, thank you."
The two men shook hands, nodding with an understanding of each other. "I've been watching you since I got to town. Our folks taught us you can tell a lot about a person by the way he treats kids and animals. You're a good man too Vin, you didn't deserve what Eli Joe tried to do. My family was right to give you their support."
Vin saw a sadness in Matt and remembered one of the stories Amy had told him, and thought he understood why. "What happened to Amy wasn't your fault, she don't blame you none. She misses having you around."
"I know, I miss being around them too," Matt said turning to look at the water again.
"You can't change what happened to Amy any more than I can change what happened with Eli Joe. Hanging on to the guilt ain't helping anyone. 'Sides, I get the feeling Amy wouldn't trade having Josh for anything, he's a great kid." Vin reached out and squeezed Matt's shoulder. "Not having a Pa, Josh deserves to have his Uncle Matt around to help him grow up."
"Hell Vin, those kids dont need me. They all adore you especially, Josh, Rosie, and Betsy. As far as they are concerned the sun rises and sets with you."
"I feel the same about them. 'Sides, that's only 'cause you ain't been around," Vin insisted. "Ain't possible to have too many people carin' 'bout you, those kids want to know you."
Matt laughed. "You tryin' to talk me into stickin' around?"
"Yep, is it workin'?" Vin asked, a huge smile lighting up his face.
"It is, I'll think more on it. Now, let's catch dinner and get back to town."
"Bet I can catch more fish than you do," Vin challenged.
"You're on," Matt replied tossing his line into the water. He hadn't been this relaxed in years, he may have helped Vin get his name back but he also knew, Vin helped him see his priorities were messed up. It was time to get his family back.
Vin and Matt were riding into town with their catch when Chris caught Vin's eye. Rachel Travis was walking by when they pulled their horses to a stop in front of the stable.
"Boys," Rachel greeted warmly. "You catch enough for me to cook up for dinner?"
"Yes ma'am," Vin replied. "Want me to carry 'em for you?"
"We'll carry 'em for you Ma," Cody said when he and his younger brother Dave joined them.
Hey Sam, Dave called out waving their older brother over.
"Thank you for the offer Vin, but I'll let Cody, Dave, and Sam carry the fish home for me. You will be joining us for dinner won't you?" Rachel asked, having opened her heart and home to all of the Seven, especially Vin.
"I'll be there," Vin assured.
"How many of these did you catch Matt?" Rachel asked, her eyes twinkling with mirth as she teased her oldest son.
"I caught my fair share Ma," Matt said kissing her cheek. "We even caught enough for you to burn some of 'em with your cooking."
Rachel laughed knowing she was an excellent cook who taught all of her children, including her sons those skills. She was still laughing when she and her three younger sons headed back to their home.
Matt took Peso's reins from Vin. "You won the bet, I'll take care of the horses while you go see what Chris wants."
You saw the look too, huh, Vin stated with a laugh.
I didnt survive being a Texas Ranger by not noticing things, Matt answered, leading Peso and his horse, Ernie, into the stable.
Vin paid attention to the message Chris was sending him silently something had upset Betsy and to be careful with his words. Vin sat on the empty chair next to Chris who was still holding Betsy in his lap.
One look at the red eyes and Vin knew she had been crying. He also knew Chris didnt want any questions now. He would find out what happened when Betsy wasnt sitting there listening to them talk.
You and Matt catch enough fish for the Travis familys dinner? Chris asked.
Caught plenty, even got me an invite to dinner from Rachel, Vin replied.
Can Mr. Chris come too? Betsy asked not ready to leave the security of his embrace.
Reckon, I dont think your Auntie Rachel will mind if we bring him along, Vin said winking at the girl.
You gonna give Vin his present? Chris asked Betsy, giving her a reassuring nod that it would be fine.
You have a present for me? Vin asked.
I I Betsy stammered.
Its all right, sweetheart, just tell him, Chris encouraged.
I made you a cake, to thank you for finding Mabel for me and cause of what cousin Matt did.
This cake? Vin asked, lifting it up from the barrel between the two chairs. Thats right nice of you, Betsy. Thank you.
Im sorry its ugly, Betsy said so quietly the two men could hardly hear her as she buried her face in Chriss chest.
Vin laughed, What fool told you this was an ugly cake?
Mr. Buck and the other men in the saloon all thought so, Betsy said lifting her head to look at Vin for the first time.
I think Buck was jealous no one made him a cake, Vin said smiling at Betsy.
Before Betsy could reply, Nathan and JD came out of the saloon. Nathan was carrying some plates, forks, and a knife. I thought you might need this for Betsys cake, he said. Im sorry we made fun of your cake honey. An old fool like me dont know a good cake when he sees one.
JD put down the tray he was carrying, on it there was two beers and a glass of milk. Im sorry too Betsy, the cake reminds me of one I made with my Ma once. I thought you, Vin, and Chris might like something to drink with your cake.
Buck and Josiah came out of the saloon greeting the others as Matt and Ezra walked over from the stable.
What do ya say honey, should we let everyone have a piece of cake? Vin asked as he started to cut pieces.
But not Mr. Buck, Betsy said firmly.
Josiah handed out the pieces of cake Vin cut, he knew Betsy was watching him to make sure he didnt give one to Buck so he made a point of saying, Sorry brother, the lady says none for you.
What is the joyous occasion for such a magnificent cake, Ezra asked. Even though he had no idea what was going on, he was able to read the situation enough to gather there was something significant about the cake.
Betsy made it for me, Vin said, a hint of playful gloating in his tone.
Well then, I would say we are quite fortunate you are willing to share your treat with us, Ezra said taking a bite of the cake.
Vin also took a big bite; both mens eyes grew large as they swallowed. Betsy waited for all the others to take their first bite before she announced, Mr. Vin likes sweets. I used lots of sugar!
A clever idea, Ezra said taking a second bite.
They all knew if they didnt finish the cake Betsy would be crushed, so even though the cake was almost sickeningly sweet they forced themselves to keep eating.
Josiah was very glad he hadn't given a piece to Betsy, she was finally looking happy again. Just then, Chris reached out to take a drink of the beer JD brought him. Betsy took advantage of his inattention to take a bite of his cake.
It was all they could do not to laugh at the face she made when she tasted her cake. Before she could react Matt spoke up. "You know Betsy this is better than the first cake Amy made."
"No, cousin Amy cooks good," Betsy cried her eyes tearing up.
"Why thank you Betsy," Amy said, having just walked up to stand next to her brother Matt.
"Have a bite of the cake Betsy made for Vin," Matt said holding his fork to her mouth.
"No! It's terrible!" Betsy cried as Amy ate the piece of cake Matt was holding out for her.
"Good job Betsy," Amy said after swallowing. "That's a lot better than my first cake."
At the look of disbelief on the little girl's face, Amy added, "Trust me, I may be a great cook now, but when I was your age I made the family a cake. Only I got the sugar and the salt mixed up. A cake with a cup of salt in it is horrible."
"It's the truth Betsy, ask Pa. No one in our family will ever forget Amy's first cake," Matt said with a wink and a smile.
"I wanted my cake to be special for Mr. Vin," Betsy said softly.
"Honey, it was special. Instead of going out and playin' with the other kids, you baked a cake for me. Ain't no one ever done somethin' so special for me before," Vin told her, sliding his finger under her chin to make her look at him.
"Tomorrow is my turn to make dinner. What if you help me cook and we can invite Mr. Vin to dinner?" Amy offered.
"Can Mr. Chris and Mr. Ezra come too?" Betsy asked.
"Absolutely," Amy agreed.
JD, Josiah, and Nathan noticed they weren't included in the plans. Betsy may have let them have a piece of cake but all wasn't forgiven for what happened in the saloon.
Later that night the seven peacekeepers were together at the saloon. Buck, JD, Nathan, and Josiah were filling Chris, Vin, and Ezra in on what happened to upset Betsy so much.
"I would say the young lady is not planning to forgive you any time soon, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said.
"I know I shouldn't have made jokes about the cake. I thought Vin made it," Buck said sadly.
"Why would I bake a cake?" Vin asked pointing out the flaw in Buck's logic. If only Buck would have thought it through this whole mess never would have started.
"Maybe the same reason you spent over an hour looking for lost rag doll," Buck answered.
"Mabel, you joked about Mabel?" Vin asked sitting up straighter.
"Buck wasn't the only one, some of the cowboys made some jokes too. Everyone was laughing about it," JD replied.
"Aw hell," Vin said slumping back in his chair.
"C'mon Vin, I've seen the doll. It's a cheap rag doll, Miz Potter has ones just like it in her store," Buck defended.
"Buck, the cheap rag doll just happens to be the one Betsy's Pa gave her. He was killed a week later, it's the last thing he ever gave her," Vin explained.
At Buck's defeated look Chris said, "Give her some time Buck, show her you're sorry and don't push."
Four days later, a laughing Betsy came running down the boardwalk dragging JD with her. Josiah was standing outside the jail waiting for them to get to him.
"Hi, Mr. Josiah," Betsy said when she was next to him. "Mr. JD was showing me his rope tricks. He's really good at them."
"Sorry I'm late to relieve you Josiah," JD said. "Betsy and I lost track of the time."
"We run'd," Betsy said a huge smile on her face.
"No need to hurry, I'm just planning on doing some work over at the church with Nathan," Josiah said. "Would you like to help us, Betsy?"
"No, thank you. I'm gonna find Josh," Betsy said. Her cousin Josh was a couple of months younger than Betsy and they always had fun playing together.
"I just passed him and Billy heading to the stable with Vin and Chris," Nathan said as he walked up to join them.
"Thanks, Mr. Nathan, bye," Betsy called, running off.
"Has she forgiven Buck yet?" Josiah asked JD.
"Not yet, seems like she's forgiven everyone but him," JD answered, shaking his head.
Betsy found Vin and Chris saddling their horses while Josh and Billy told her about their planned fishing trip.
"Can I come? I'll be good," Betsy said brightly.
"Josh is riding with me and Billy with Chris," Vin explained.
Buck, who had been in the stable taking care of his horse saw a chance to make peace with Betsy. "You can ride with me Betsy."
Vin and Chris both nodded their approval for Buck to go with them, hoping Betsy would agree too. Josh saw she was torn. "Mr. Buck can I ride with you and Betsy ride with Mr. Vin?"
"I'd like for you to ride with me pard," Buck answered, giving the little boy a grateful smile.
Vin squatted down by Josh to ask quietly, "You sure there pard?"
Josh nodded his head and smiled saying, "I like Mr. Buck."
"Let's ride," Chris said lifting Billy up on Pony's back before mounting behind him.
Buck made a little headway on the trip, at least Betsy said a word or two to him. He felt it was an improvement over the stony silence he been enduring the last few days regardless of how many times he apologized to her.
Billy rode with Buck on the way back to town, letting Josh ride with Vin and Betsy with Chris. Even though she wouldn't ride with him, the trip did give Buck some hope that he had a chance to make things up to her.
7*7*7*7*7*7*7 Chapter 3
A few days after their fishing trip, Buck still hadn't made any more headway. He was talking it over with Josiah when Amy rode into town yelling for Nathan.
They rushed out of the church in time to see Amy jump off her horse and run to Nathan who was coming down the stairs from his clinic.
"Nathan, it's Joey. He's hurt and they need you out at the ranch," Amy said, her voice showing worry for her brother.
Vin moved to Amy's side, lending her his support. "I'll get the horses Nate, get your supplies."
"How bad is he?" Nathan asked, needing to know what to bring.
"I'm not sure, he got trampled. Matt sent Lisa back to the ranch to get a wagon so he and Pete could get Joey back to the ranch. He told me to get you as fast as I could," Amy answered as her parents, Rachel and Gus showed up. Joey along with his sister Beth, her husband Pete, and some friends Max and Della, joined together to start the Rockin' T Ranch. Matt, Amy, and their sister Lisa had ridden out to the ranch that morning to help with the round up of their herd.
Chris took charge, "Vin's right Nathan, you get your supplies we'll get the horses. Josiah, you stay here in town with Ezra and JD. Take care of Gus's gun shop for him. Buck, get a wagon to bring Rachel and any of the ladies who want to come out."
Meg, who was one of the partners in the dress shop with Orin Travis's daughter Bess, offered to keep Rosie in town with her, assuming correctly that the rest of the children would want to be with the family. Amy gave Meg a grateful nod, knowing her daughter would be safe with Meg and her son Josh would want to see his beloved Uncle Joey.
"I'll help you with the wagon Buck," Sam said. At fourteen, he knew a ranch accident could be fatal to his brother. He would need to be strong for his younger sister Debbie, and younger brothers Cody, Dave, and Leo.
Holly said, "Josh, Debbie, and Betsy, come with me to find Cody, Dave, and Leo. We'll meet you back here at the wagon Auntie Rachel." She planned on going to the ranch with the wagon. She could help with the kids if nothing else.
Buck reached down and lifted Betsy into the wagon, the tragedy making her forget about being mad at him. "I'll get them to the ranch safely," Buck promised.
Gus nodded; grateful the Seven were there to help his family. Buck and Sam were loading everyone in the wagon when Nathan, Chris, Vin, Amy, and Gus rode out of town.
Rachel barely waited for Buck to pull the wagon to a stop before she let Chris help her down so she could rush in to see how Joey was doing. It seemed like hours before Nathan finally came out of the house to announce, "He has some bruised ribs and a broken leg so he'll be laid up for awhile, but he'll be fine."
A cheer rose from the gathered family members, and Amy gave Nathan a hug and kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she whispered, tears streaming down her face.
Since it was late, they all decided to spend the night at the ranch. After the children were asleep, the adults made some plans.
"Joey's not going to be able to work for awhile," Gus said.
"I'm planning on staying out here to help Pete and Max with the place," Matt said.
"Does that mean you decided to stay?" Vin asked, knowing the answer.
"I'm staying, I resigned from the Rangers before I left Texas," Matt admitted.
"Welcome home son, we've missed having you with us," Rachel said reaching out to pull Matt in for a long hug.
Buck was walking through town when he spotted young Dave Travis sitting in front of his Pa's gun shop looking sad. Buck sat down next to the boy. "Something I can help you with son?"
"Easter is on Sunday," Dave said.
"That's right it is," Buck said. "I heard your family is hosting an Easter egg hunt and picnic at the Rockin' T Ranch for anyone who wants to come."
"There's the problem," Dave admitted. "You see, we have the picnic and Easter egg hunt every year and my brother Joey always dresses up as the Easter bunny to hide the eggs and entertain the kids."
"You worried about missing out," Buck guessed.
"I'm not worried about me, it's Betsy," Dave said. "Even though we have the picnic and Easter egg hunt every year, Betsy and her Ma would always go spend time at Easter with Aunt Prudence."
"So this would be the first time Betsy would get to join the family," Buck said seeing the problem.
"Yeah, Betsy was real excited about hunting Easter eggs. See Aunt Prudence is pretty proper and she wouldn't let Betsy play with the other kids in their town."
"Maybe someone else will step in and be the Easter bunny," Buck suggested.
"Yeah, maybe," Dave said. "Thanks Mr. Buck, for listening."
Holly opened the door, greeting Vin with a smile. "Mornin' Vin, come on in."
"Thank you ma'am," Vin said following her into the house. "I came by to see if Betsy would like to go for a ride out to Miz Nettie's with me."
"Can I Ma, please?" Betsy asked Holly with pleading eyes.
"If Vin's sure, it's fine with me," Holly said.
"I'll take good care of her Holly," Vin told her.
"I know you will Vin," Holly said smiling. "You two have fun."
"We will Ma," Betsy said almost bouncing with excitement.
Betsy was right. They did have a good time. Vin pointed out animals, tracks, and other things of interest to the young girl as they rode along. Out at Nettie's, Vin fixed the fence while Betsy helped Nettie and Casey make some baked goods for the Easter picnic the next day.
On their way back, Vin pulled Peso to a stop under a shade tree a little ways from town. He took Betsy by the hand and led her over to sit in the sweet smelling grass. "Honey, we need to talk. I know Buck hurt your feelings, but he's been tryin' real hard to make it up to you."
"Are you mad at me?" Betsy asked.
"No darlin', I'm not mad. I don't like seeing my friends unhappy," Vin said softly. "Right now, two of my friends, you and Buck, aren't happy."
Betsy nodded, knowing she needed to tell him the truth.
"Buck didn't mean to hurt you, he feels bad about what happened," Vin said. "Do you think you can forgive him?"
"But he made those other men laugh at you," Betsy said.
"Is that why you haven't forgiven him, 'cause of me?"
Betsy nodded, she had forgiven Buck for making fun of her cake but not for teasing Vin.
Vin pulled her into his lap. "Buck's a good friend to have Betsy. He's watched out for and protected me too many times to count. He has for all of us."
"You know when the Seven of us first got together Buck stood between JD and a sword to protect him. You've seen the way Buck teases JD, but there ain't nothing Buck wouldn't do for JD either."
"Buck, he loves life and he love to have fun. Teasing is his way of letting you know he cares about you. He helps us all remember the happy side of life." Vin waited for Betsy to nod that she understood.
"I promise you, Buck may have been joking about me but, if he thought it would hurt me he would be one of the first there to help me out. He wants to be your friend too darlin'. I can't tell you who to pick for friends but I can tell you Buck's a good man to have as one."
"I haven't been very nice to him. What if he don't wanna be my friend anymore?" Betsy asked.
"He does, I promise," Vin said hugging her.
Easter morning the sun rose to a glorious day, a gentle breeze in the air spreading the smell of spring flower. There was an excitement in town, several people planning to head out to the Rockin' T Ranch after Josiah's service.
Josiah though it had probably been years since his old church had such a crowd attending. Although his father was more of a hell and brimstone type of preacher, Josiah favored looking for the joy in God's world rather than the punishment.
His Easter sermon was no exception. He talked about the rebirth of spring and of our spirit souls with the resurrection of the Lord. He prayed his words left a hope deep inside of those who heard it.
After Josiah's service, the peacekeepers helped the Travis family and their friends load a couple of wagons to head out to the Rockin' T. Several horses were saddled and ready to go, all they needed to do was to load the people and they could head out to the celebration.
"Anyone seen Buck?" JD asked.
"Not since the service," Chris replied. "He said he needed to take care of somethin'."
Vin saw Betsy's head drop, he lifted her up to ride with JD telling them both, "Don't worry, Buck'll be at the party."
"I hope you're right, I think Betsy is ready to forgive him," Nathan said quietly so only Vin heard.
"Me too," Vin replied just as quietly.
Once everyone was either loaded in the wagons or mounted on the horses, the group headed out. Several others of the town's residents accompanied them.
They didn't rush, wanting it to be a leisurely trip making the day both fun and relaxing. Once they arrived, everyone pitched in to set up tables and put out the food.
The kids were all excited. Even though their parents tried to keep them back from the field next to the picnic area, they could all see a giant bunny rabbit spreading out what they knew were the Easter eggs.
"No peeking," Rachel insisted herding the children to the other side of the house.
Nettie was handing out baskets to all the children when the bunny walked around the corner of the house.
JD spilled his punch when he saw the giant bunny was none other than Buck Wilmington.
The children all rushed Buck, yelling with excitement. "Y'all ready to go gather some eggs?" Buck asked.
"On your mark, get set, go!" Buck hollered.
Several of the adults were helping the little children, while the older kids ran from one egg to the next. Buck couldn't believe how much fun he was having. He was beginning to understand why Joey Travis volunteered to be the Easter bunny every year.
Someone tugged on Buck's hand causing him to turn with a huge smile. "Betsy."
"Mr. Buck," Betsy said softly. She cleared her throat and tried again. "I sorry I been mean to you."
Buck knelt down to be eye to eye with the little girl. "Oh darlin', you ain't been mean and I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."
"I know," Betsy said nodding.
"Can we be friends again?" Buck asked.
"I hoping you would be my friend," Betsy answered.
Buck held out his arms, delighted when Betsy threw herself into his embrace, hugging him tightly. "Don't you wanna go find some eggs?" Buck asked when she pulled back from him.
"Yeah, but tellin' you I sorry was more important," Betsy said laughing when Buck spun her around in a circle.
"C'mon, let's hunt eggs together," Buck said, the two of them went off hand in hand in search of more eggs for Betsy's basket.
Once Buck's apology was accepted it was as if a load was lifted off the spirits of the Seven. Buck's happiness was contagious. It soon infected the entire gathering.
Once all the Easter goodies were gathered by the children, they sat down to eat their Easter feast. Josiah said a short blessing before the crowd dug in. While they filled their stomachs, they shared stories and laughter.
After the meal, the adults cleaned up while the children and Buck played. Some instruments were brought out and music filled the air for the dancing to begin.
The day turned out to be a wonderful success, all those who attended vowing to make it an annual tradition. Sleeping children rode with several of the men on the way back to town. The one everyone was happiest about was young Betsy Mitchell who slept peacefully in the arms of her friend Buck Wilmington.
Next: It Was Just Supposed to Be a Relaxing Picnic