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 the second in a three piece series. The stories follow one another closely and will make more sense if read in order. The other pieces are Table Manners and Repairs and Renovations.
Chris had seen Vin become overwhelmed at lunch after Nettie's statement. He knew Vin looked to Nettie Wells as a surrogate mother, but he also knew his friend would never dare ask for such feelings to be returned. The tracker had turned silent at the dining table after Nettie had fondly included him as 'family.' Chris and Nettie both knew to wait for Vin to break the silence, so they had exchanged light conversation until the meal ended, then Chris made his good-byes. Chris saw Nettie's concern as Vin nodded a quick goodbye and ducked back outside to continue his chores.
"Don't worry Nettie. I'll guarantee that's the best thing he's heard in a very long time."
Nettie nodded. "I can wait that boy out - he'll be back in for coffee. You give my regards to the rest of that rabble you ride with."
Vin had apparently saddled Chris's horse and left him by the porch rail. Chris took this as intended. Vin wasn't ready to talk yet.
"Thanks for lunch Ma'am." Chris swung up into the saddle and with a quick nod and a touch to the brim of his hat he headed out.
As predicted, Vin had returned to the house in the late afternoon. Nettie had the coffee ready. A strong, thick brew with liberal spoonfuls of sugar, the way Vin preferred. Nettie reached down over Vin's shoulder were he'd settled on the top step, passing him the steaming cup of coffee. The light was fading early as the temperature dropped in the late afternoon. She tucked the shawl a little closer around her and settled onto the porch swing, easing it into gentle motion with a push of one foot. Vin sat quietly on the top step leaning back against the post, head down, apparently considering the mysteries held in the swirling warm liquid in his hands. Nettie was accustomed to his silence. After Chris's departure at lunch, Vin had settled into a quiet afternoon of work. Nettie knew she'd been needling him this morning, but sometimes he needed a little prodding to come out of his shell. A different Vin appeared when he was around his friends. Around the farm , she could see the relaxed and happy young man she thought he should have been. In the company of Chris Larabee, he settled into pure contentment. The fire and fun would escape from him when that scoundrel Buck Wilmington started prodding at him. Lord help them all the day JD and Vin decided to join forces against Buck. But the Vin most people saw was the Vin she witnessed so often in town. Tense, watchful, always keeping a distance and always amongst the shadows. Nettie had decided it was time to drag him out of the shadows, he deserved to be in the sun. She knew there was no changing the past, but this was the here and now and this was her home. She wasn't allowing shadows in her home.
Nettie felt Vin's attention shift to her. She looked up to meet the uncertain gaze, blue eyes wide in the fading light. She waited patiently. Vin always took serious words deep within him, turning them over and over until he had organized his own thoughts and formed them into words. Judging by the length of time passed since lunch, Vin appeared to have taken her words very deep.
"Ya meant it." Vin had tried not to make it a question, but Nettie could detect the slight rise in his voice.
Vin had heard a lot of promises in his life and easily recognized empty words. Nettie's words weren't empty. There were filled with every wish and every dream he'd held dear during his early years. But he'd learned quickly that his wishes didn't mean much to other folk. Voicing wishes never made them real, they just got ya a thrashing for bein' ungrateful. So he'd learned not to ask, but they couldn't stop him from wishin'. But he'd been denied too many times over the years, so he'd grown out of wishing or believing. You only got what came by your own hand. Maybe he hadn't really understood Nettie. Maybe she didn't mean it they way he wanted it.
Nettie had watched the emotions playing over Vin's face and had heard the uncertainty in his words.
"Don't say things I don't mean, Vin."
She watched him with a gentle smile as he nodded slightly and dropped his eyes to his coffee again.
"Thanks." It was squeezed out of a tightening throat, so quiet it was almost a whisper.
Nettie was confused.
"Thanks for what?" She moved around to try to see Vin's eyes, but he had shifted and his face was now cast in shadows. Shadows were not allowed in her house. A little prodding was called for.
"Thanks for what?"
"Choosin' to take me in. Call me family. Diff'rent folks took me in when I's young. They didn't really want an extra mouth to feed, but if'n I worked more 'n I ate I could usually stay on some. But I's a mite small as a young'n and folks don't like to keep ya if ya get sick. It didn't matter much after a while. They weren't family, they's just folks."
Vin took a deep breath and shook his head as if to physically shake out the old memories.
Nettie was dismayed by Vin's tone of voice, the matter of fact way he described his childhood as if it had been a reasonable way to be raised. Nettie wasn't naïve. She knew the hardships faced by children abandoned or orphaned in the west. Suddenly Nettie was struck with a dreadful thought.
"Vin, you know you don't have to be doing chores here. You're welcome just as you are, just for who you are. "
The response was a little too quick, a little too startled for Nettie to believe it.
"Your work at Chris's place, the chores you do for other folk in town? You don't have to do for folks to be allowed to stay. "
"I know." Again the same reply, but this time a little defensive.
Nettie decided not to push any further. Too many others before her had destroyed this boy's sense of worth. She wanted to reach out and pull Vin into a warm hug, but she knew that he would be uncomfortable. He would allow an occasional hand to be laid on his shoulder or arm, but he skittered away from closer contact. It would take time to wear down all those walls a lifetime of neglect had erected.
"Well, I'm making you family. Don't be saying I'm taking you in - sounds like you're some stray dog," Nettie chided.
"Kinda am a stray. I just run with a pack o' strays now," Vin said with a crooked smile.
Nettie laughed at the sudden image. "So should I consider Mr Larabee pack leader?"
"Hah! Top Dog!"
"You know I care about all you boys. That includes your fancy gambler Mr Standish. But I want you to know you hold a special place with me. "
Vin's throat was tight and his eyes glistened as he looked over to this warm-hearted frontier woman. He couldn't seem to squeeze the words out that he wanted to share.
Nettie could tell she was upsetting him. This wasn't what she wanted.
"Vin, you don't have to say anything. Just know that this is how it is."
Nettie moved to him to retrieve the now empty coffee cup. As Vin passed the cup, his other hand reached forward to enfold Nettie's hands within his. Words had failed him, so he kept a warm grasp of Nettie's hands and his eyes contained all his flooding emotions of love, gratitude, relief, amazement. He released her hands as Nettie gently smiled in understanding.
"It's late now. You should stay the night. Casey is staying over at the Watson's so you can use her room or bed down in front of the fire."
"I got an early patrol. Should head on back to town."
Nettie remained on the porch and waited for Vin to go and saddle Peso. The afternoon temperature had plummeted and the sun was fading quickly behind the mountains. Nettie stepped down and approached Vin as he was checking the saddle again before mounting.
"It's cold out. You keep this on." Nettie handed him a dark blue woolen muffler.
"Yes Ma'am," he replied, knowing that more than the muffler would be keeping him warm on this ride.
"Thank you," he said quietly as he swung up onto the saddle.
"No thanks necessary, Vin," she replied and patted his leg gently, stepping back from Peso. "Safe Ride."
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