Palomino Ch. 10byLadyRoscoe©
Wesley looked at the hat as he pulled it down off the hat rack. It'd hung there for well over two months, the silent prayer hanging in the air that the girl he'd loaned it to would come back. But as it stood, it had been nearly three months. He ran his thumb across the buckle on the hat band and sighed, tucking the hat back into the box he'd dug it out and put it back up in the closet where it'd been for years. Even in the three months she'd been gone, Wesley couldn't get Lacey King out of his mind. He'd wrestled many restless nights with an empty bed and pillows. He'd woken up many mornings, tasting her sweet kiss on his lips. He sighed sadly as he closed the closet.
Wesley had invited everybody over for a cook-out tonight. The hands and everybody would be over soon. Lance told him he'd be over early to help get things on the table. The cook sure enjoyed the night off. If there was one thing Wes was good at, it was grilling steaks. He made the best meat in the west, according to a lot of cowboys.
Lance kicked the door once to act as a knock before barging right in, his arms full of paper plates and napkins and what not that Carolyn had sent down from the big house. "Hey, how 'bout a hand, pardner?" he said, glancing up just in time to see Wesley putting the hat he'd given Lacey back in the closet.
"Oh... yeah." He reached to take the cups that were about to topple off the top from the pile, also taking the bag of silverware Carol had packed up all nice. "Thanks for doing that. Was about to head up there myself."
Lance looked at his friend and then back at the closet, jerking his head a bit towards it. "Giving up?" he said gently, not wanting to start an argument but simply curious. He and Wesley had argued about Lacey many times over since she had driven away. Lance had always prodded his friend to do something, anything, call her, hell, even go after her, but Wesley never would.
Wesley just smirked. "Puttin' it away." He pushed past his friend to open up the swinging gates that mimicked the old-time saloons into the kitchen, showing him the table he'd put together with a nice table cloth and such.
Lance followed him, casting another glance back towards the closet, and then set the items down, letting the whole topic of Lacey rest for the night. He just nodded and turned towards the table with a grin. "Not too bad for a cowboy," he said. "What do you need me to do?"
"Set the dishes on the island there. There's potatoes in the oven, and Carolyn's bring over God only knows what. She was fussin' 'bout needin' more. I just lit the grill a little bit ago."
Lance chuckled and moved to set the dishes out, not sure if he was doing it right, but not really caring either. Hell, everyone was going to be digging in so fast it wouldn't matter where the plates were, or in what order. "Sounds good ... what struck you to do something like this?" he asked, glancing over at his friend. His spirits were higher than they had been in a long time. "Some special occasion?"
He scratched the back of his head. Now that was a good question. "I dunno, really. Just wanted to do somethin' nice." The truth was, he missed the cook-outs they'd had when Anne was around. She'd always hold a party of some sort every weekend for the hands during the summer whether it be their grill, a church social, or just tuna sandwiches and chips around a fire. It made everybody feel like a family around here, and he missed it. But there was something else. Something that had been nagging him for weeks and he couldn't put his finger on it.
Lance looked at him a moment and then shrugged, taking a look at the handiwork he had done on the table. "Eh, it's the best you're gonna get outta me," he said with a lopsided grin. He rubbed his nose and then sniffed, following the delicious scent of meat cooking out onto the back deck just as another knock sounded.
"Yoo hoo!" Carolyn waited patiently by the doorway, two cake containers balanced on top of one another.
Wesley went to the front door and pushed the screen open. Tick came running through the house yapping up a storm, wiggling all over as Carolyn walked in. Wes reached to take one of the cakes from her. "Carolyn... you shouldn't have."
Carolyn laughed and brushed past him, "There's a lot more of that in the car," she said. She stopped long enough to peck his cheek with a twinkle in her gray-blue eyes. "Gimme that one back and why don't you head out to the car to get some more?"
He muttered at the old biddy and handed it back to her. "There's only seven to feed, woman. What are you thinkin', we're feedin' an army?"
Carolyn laughed and walked towards the kitchen, calling back in her loving but irritating sing-song voice, "You just go on out to the car now," she urged, glancing back at him with a grin. "I got something special out there just for you."
He grumbled and scratched his head. The woman was rather irritating sometimes. "C'mon Tick... let's see what ol' Carolyn's got this time." He swung the screen door open and stepped out onto the porch with the dog zooming past him half across the yard, then bounding back up on the porch, having a grand old time.
Carolyn's car was parked just to the side of the front porch, kind of in the shadows, but it was easy to see that someone was pulling something out of the trunk before it slammed shut. The silhouette stopped for a moment as Wesley came out onto the front porch, holding a large casserole dish in their hands as they seemed to just look in Wesley's direction for a long time before moving forward and into the light that was cast from the front porch light. Tick barked for a long moment and then began to wiggle all over, an excited whine reaching Wesley's ears before he bounded off the porch to run towards the figure stepping closer into the light.
Wesley stopped as he saw somebody already helping the old biddy out and he held the screen door open for whoever it was. The sun was starting to cast an orange light everywhere as it sank lower in the sky.
Lacey stepped into the circle of light, her long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, giving him an unobstructed view of the soft smile kissing her lips as she drew closer. She had arrived earlier this afternoon, surprising Carolyn and now, Carolyn was surprising everyone else in return. She stopped before Wesley, blue eyes locking with his as uncertainty and every fear flashed in her eyes, unsure of what he would think about her suddenly being here after all this time. "Wh-where do you want this?" she asked softly, never breaking eye contact with him.
It didn't take any time at all to recognize who it was and a lump rose in his throat. He wasn't sure how to react to her. He rubbed the back of his neck then pointed in the house. "Ah... on the island in the kitchen, if you would please."
Lacey watched him for a moment and then nodded, gently brushing past him, the hint of her perfume tickling his nose. She took a deep breath and tried to calm her nerves as she stepped into the house and moved towards the kitchen. What had she expected him to do? Grab her and kiss her and act like he was overjoyed to see? Yeah ... she did. And disappointment stung in her throat, but she knew she had expected too much. Stepping into the kitchen, she smiled gently at Carolyn as the old woman looked at her and then looked past her for Wesley, her eyebrows furrowing some in agitation. Damn that man. He was going to be stubborn again it seemed.
Wesley didn't even have to call Tick in. The dog was bounding along behind Lacey right at her heels the whole way down the hall. He sighed and let the door shut softly, rather than slam like it had the habit of doing. Not soon after, the noisy trio came meandering in, hanging up their hats and dusting their boots as they filed into the Foreman's house. Wesley stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a pair of oven mitts to pull the potatoes out of the oven. Lance had taken over the cooking part, it seemed, and once that man got started in on a grill, it was hard to stop him. The only thing was to watch out for fire if he got carried away.
As Lacey stepped out onto the back deck, excitement erupted as Lance grabbed her up and swung her around, the rest of the men lighting up like a long-lost sister had rejoined the family. "Damn Lacey! I didn't think you could look any finer!" Lance gushed, pushing her back to give her the once over, whistling sharply as the rest of the men greeted her and pulled her into a hug one by one. Questions were firing left and right about whether she was just here for a visit, or if she had come to her senses and was coming home.
Wesley could feel Carolyn's cool glare on the back of his head as he bent toward the oven, digging the potatoes out. She'd be standing behind him with her hands on her hips, looking at him with those beady little eyes and that.... look. He knew it. Instead of acknowledging it, he put the potatoes on a plate and shoved them onto the island with the rest of the food.
"I take it you didn't like my surprise," Carolyn asked, moving closer to the island so that Wesley was forced to acknowledge her.
"What am I supposed to do, Carol? Pretend nothing happened?" He stepped toward the fridge to pull out beer that had been chilling all afternoon and popped the tops off the bottles so he could serve them to the fellas.
Carolyn crossed her arms as she just looked at him. "You are, without a doubt, the most stubborn man I've ever had the displeasure of knowing. How about showing some kind of emotion, Wesley Hardigan? How about listening to your heart for once, instead of that damned, play-by-the-rules head of yours?" Carolyn glanced toward the door leading out to the back deck and then to the cowboy standing in front of her. "She's back for good. Sold her townhouse and quit her job so she could come back here and be near you. It took this long to get all her shit straightened out, and you act like you barely know the woman!"
"Well... it's true, Carolyn. I barely know the woman." The news of her being back for good was rather shocking. He didn't expect anything from her, but he'd spent hours staring at the phone on the kitchen counter wondering if it'd ring, and it be her on the other end. He offered a beer to Carolyn. "She left. What was I supposed to do?"
Carolyn ignored the beer he offered and just glared at him. "Well, you did exactly what you're doing now," she accused. "Nothing." She turned to go, and just before she walked out the door to go out onto the back deck, she turned around and walked right up to Wesley, shoving her index finger into his chest to poke at him, dramatizing her next words, "Keep it up, and you are going to be alone, and miserable, for the rest of your life." Then she turned and went out the back door, letting it slam behind her.
Wesley growled at the presumptuous woman. What did she know about anything? What if he WANTED to be alone and miserable the rest of his life? Hell... that's all he'd wanted for the last three and a half years. Why he'd lived, and Anne didn't, was a question that nagged at the back of his head, always. Ignoring the fury that boiled through his veins, he scooped up the bottles and carried them outside, offering them to the cowboys chattering up a storm out back. His eyes gazed on Lacey as he offered her the last beer in his hands other than his own. Their eyes met a long moment. It was an uncomfortable moment. One filled with indescribable confusion and heartache.
Lacey sat perched on the top railing of the deck, close to the grill where she and Lance had been chatting and catching up until Wesley had appeared with the beers. Lance gave her a wink and a jerk of his head towards Wesley before taking a beer and moving towards the other hands chatting to give them a semi-private moment. She reached out to take the beer bottle from Wesley's hand, her fingers gently grazing his before pulling the bottle close with a gentle smile. "Thanks." She could tell by the look on his face that he wasn't sure how to react to her. and it stung. But there was no turning back now. She had come back, and the moving van was on its way with her things.
"It.... it's nice to see you again, Miss King." he said gently, his voice cracking with nervousness as he took a swig of his beer. He hadn't expected to see her again, let alone just have her show up on his doorstep. "If I had known you were comin' I would've baked another 'tato and thrown more meat on the grill."
Lacey couldn't help but smile, lifting her own bottle to take a sip before lowering it to look at him again. He was just making small talk to avoid the real conversation that they needed to have. "Don't worry about it ... I'm not really hungry, to be honest."
"Ya sure? I can whip another out of the freezer quick. I make the best meat in the west, according to these guys." He grinned a bit. The moment was becoming more comfortable as he saw her smile and the light in her eyes. She was back. Carolyn said for good. What he was going to do with her, heno idea.
Lacey smiled gently as she saw him relax and reached out to capture his free hand in hers, slender fingers gently stroking over his knuckles as she just looked at him a long time. "I'm sure," she said softly, knowing one of them had to make some kind of move or they would forever be stuck with polite manners and unanswered questions.
He stilled when she grasped his hand and he gazed into her eyes with a soft half-smile. "So I guess you're the big boss lady around here, eh?"
Lacey chuckled softly as her fingers continued to gently caress his knuckles, shrugging gently as she answered his question, "I guess so ... know a good foreman that could teach me a thing or two?" She knew that her question had a hidden double meaning but she wanted to see what kind of reaction she would get from him. She hadn't been able to get Wesley Hardigan out of her mind for one moment since leaving Wyoming. There hadn't been a night that she hadn't reached for him in her sleep or a day that she didn't long to kiss him once again.
"Yeah... I think I know one. Don't know if he's much of a talker, though. Keeps to himself a lot." His fingers tightened around hers as if to signal a bit of forgiveness for what she'd done, or hadn't done. "He's goin' with his best friend down to Cody for team ropin' next weekend... in the market for a hot date, if she's willin'."
Lacey smiled, turning her fingers some so that they interlaced with his, pressing their palms together and she nodded. "I think I know a blonde from New York who finally came to her senses about where she really belongs. Seems she's been aching to get back into a pair of jeans and going to a rodeo for some time now ..." Lacey could only hope that the gentle banter was the beginnings of healing the time they had been apart without a word from either one of them. Pride had gotten in the way for far too long.
He squeezed her hand gently before releasing it as he heard Lance's call that the medium-rare steaks were done and who wanted one. Most everybody except Carolyn raised their hands. Wesley looked back at Lacey with a small smile and pulled her close, placing a soft kiss to her forehead before he went to go get food.
Lacey held him close for a moment, her fingers tightening into his shirt before he moved off and she watched him go, relief flooding her as she grinned and sipped happily on her beer.
Lance grinned as Wesley walked over this huge, shit-eating grin and just looked at Wesley a moment before glancing to Lacey and then back to Wesley again, shoving the turning fork into his hand. "I saw that!" he teased, passing out steaks to the men crowding around.
"No you didn't." Wesley said with a wink as he passed plates to the men and they filed into the house to go get the other fixings for a huge meal.