Here is my contribution to the May Heart Stories Challenge- a revision of S7E7. It is far shorter than I expected, and I am hoping to do a second scene revision that I can tie back to this one.
The log split cleanly, right down the middle, joining its predecessors in a steadily growing pile. He placed the next piece and then paused to brush his hair off his face, only to have the breeze blow it back out of place. Nathan sighed, leaning on the axe for a moment as his thoughts once again got away from him.
He just couldn't believe that she'd actually done it. Elizabeth had gone to Union City with Lucas, even after he had warned her about the saloon owner's questionable intentions. What was she thinking? Their conversation a few days earlier kept running through his head.
"Elizabeth, can I talk to you for a moment?" Nathan asked as he paused in the doorway of her classroom.
"Sure," she replied, smiling up at him as he walked down the aisle towards her desk. "How can I help you, Constable?" she added, her eyes glowing with laughter.
He sighed, running his fingers through his hair nervously. "Actually, I'm hoping I can help you." At her puzzled look he explained about overhearing Lucas on the phone with someone as he walked past the saloon.
"It's warm out today, so the front doors were propped open, even though there weren't any customers inside at the time. I paused when I heard your name. I heard him say that he had a 'special plan' for you once he got you away from Hope Valley. I assume the person on the other end of the line must have laughed, because Lucas gave an eerie chuckle." He waited for Elizabeth to say something; when she didn't, he went on. "He said the reading was just an excuse to get you alone, and that if things go as he plans, you will stop leading him on and allow him to court you. Officially. He seems to think he's been calling on you for weeks already, just in secret." Nathan stopped, watching Elizabeth's cheeks flush.
It took a moment before she could meet his eyes. "Were you spying on him?" she asked.
Nathan shook his head, surprised at the question. "No, I was doing my job. I heard something suspicious and wanted to warn you. Protect you." When she continued to stare, he stepped back. "Do I hope that this makes you rethink accepting his invitation? Of course. Do I think it gives me any sort of lead in this… whatever you want to call this back and forth between us? No."
When Elizabeth didn't say anything else, he turned to go. He stopped partway down the aisle, turning back to find she hadn't moved. "I also wanted to let you know that Allie will be staying with the Weisses for a couple of days. I have to go to Cape Fullerton; I've been called to testify at a trial." He turned and was nearly out the door when he heard her quiet words behind him.
"Safe travels, Nathan."
He had made it back from Cape Fullerton late last night. When he stopped to get Allie this morning, she told him that she hadn't seen Mrs. Thornton for a couple of days, and that Mr. Bouchard was gone as well. His heart had sunk to his toes. She still went.
"Mind if I join you?"
Nathan turned to glare as Bill took his coat off and stepped up beside him at the chopping blocks. "You got something you want to talk about?"
"I'm fine," Nathan grumbled.
"If you're so fine, why have you chopped enough wood for two winters, hmm?"
Nathan shook his head, turning back to his task. The air was filled with an almost rhythmic cadence- the swoosh of the axes followed by the crack of the wood splitting. They continued in silence for several minutes before he finally spoke.
"I just can't get over Lucas inviting Elizabeth to accompany him to Union City. Overnight. Unchaperoned. Doesn't he care about her reputation?"
Bill stopped chopping, leaning on his axe. "I suspected something was off," he concurred. "Bouchard doesn't strike me as the type to enjoy that sort of thing, but we all know Elizabeth is. It was just too… convenient." He waited until Nathan had paused to line up another log before continuing. "That's why I called every hotel in Union City and asked if they had a reservation for Thatcher, Thornton, or Bouchard. Only one did, the same hotel that the book reading was being held at. A single suite, under the name Mr. and Mrs. Bouchard. I haven't asked Lucas about it yet, so it could have been a mistake on the hotel's part." He tried not to flinch as Nathan brought his axe down even harder, his skepticism clear. "Yeah, I don't think it was, either. I was going to confront him, see if he was planning to find another hotel, ask to stay with her due to the room 'mix-up', or if he really thought he could trick her into marrying him."
"And what about little Jack?" Nathan said bitterly, shaking his head. "To be stuck in the middle of all of this. What's he got to be thinking?"
"I know," Bill nodded. "The poor kid must be feeling awful, though I have to say, his timing couldn't have been better."
Nathan stopped suddenly, his arms already raised in another swing. The axe slipped from his hands, and he and Bill both had to jump out of the way quickly to avoid injury. "What are you talking about?" he asked, bewildered.
Bill looked at him sharply. "You didn't hear? No, I suppose you wouldn't have, being out of town at the trial… Nathan, Jack's sick. Elizabeth is at home with him. Nothing serious, just a stomach bug, but he was pretty miserable when I saw him yesterday."
Nathan sank heavily onto the chopping block, shaking his head. "I thought…. When Allie said Elizabeth hadn't been around for a couple of days, and that Lucas had left town, I just assumed she'd gone ahead and gone to Union City for the reading." His cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
This was as close as he'd heard to Nathan admitting his feelings for the town's teacher. Not that he needed to say anything. Everyone could see it, and Elizabeth wasn't much better. Bill smirked as he explained. "No, she turned him down flat. Told him she didn't want to damage her reputation by going on an overnight date unchaperoned. She actually seemed pretty annoyed that he would even suggest it." He chuckled as he shrugged his coat back on. "Bouchard left the next morning. Said he had some sudden business to take care of out of town. Seems to me he's just running away to try to save face. I mean, honestly. What was he thinking?"
Nathan was still sitting, surrounded by logs. Bill couldn't help but chuckle. "You seem to have more wood here than you and Allie can go through in a year. I bet Elizabeth and Jack could use some, what with all the extra baths and laundry she'll be doing for the next few days. Why don't you take some over. Maybe bring some dinner, too. I'm sure she's too tired to cook. I'll put something together for you at the café."
Nathan shook himself off and stood, helping Bill gather the results of their efforts into stacks. He collected one that he planned to take to the Thorntons' after he had the chance to change out of his sweaty Henley and wood-chip laden flannel.
"Can I offer one more piece of advice?" Bill mused as they started walking.
"Can I stop you?" Nathan sighed.
Bill chuckled, sensing the other man wasn't actually as annoyed as he was trying to sound. "Take Allie with you. While she reads a story to young Jack, you and Elizabeth could have a few minutes to yourselves. Maybe talk about a few things?"