A week had passed since Chelsea's fainting episode. She'd been careful to space out her work so that exhaustion wouldn't overwhelm her. It had lengthened her days significantly, but it was well worth it to improve her health. The turnips had grown plump and ripe for harvest. She felt accomplished. In fact, seeing her successful crops lying before her she was tempted to continue growing the same number. It was only an image of Denny's concerned face that stopped her. It was one thing to inconvenience herself; it was another thing to impose on others.
Chelsea left Chen's shop with only 2 bags of seeds. She knew it was for the best. On a whim she stopped in Mirabelle's shop too, hoping to see the new baby chicks. All that yellow fluff was too adorable to resist!
Chelsea walked in to find Mirabelle arguing heatedly with Vaughn. "Whaddaya mean, you're busy? There's something bothering the animals, and I want you to check it out."
Vaughn said nothing; he just stared evenly at her over his tuna salad sandwich. He was sitting at the counter, and it didn't seem as though he was ready to leave it.
"I pay you to look after the animals, Vaughn! They're working themselves up into a frenzy out there! Your lunch can wait. Go take care of them!" Mirabelle demanded, huffing.
Vaughn reluctantly place his sandwich on his plate and stood. "Fine," he relented.
"Hmph," Mirabelle snorted. Chelsea took a tentative step back. Perhaps this wasn't the time…?
"Oh, Chelsea! Wonderful. Could you be a dear and help Vaughn out checking on the animals?" Mirabella asked. Leaning closer, she whispered, "When he's in a mood like this he tends to overlook things."
Vaughn let out an irriatated grunt. "I work alone," he dismissed.
Chelsea looked first at Mirabelle's pleading eyes, then at Vaughn's cold expression, then back at Mirabelle's pleading eyes. Darn it, she couldn't resist that face.
"Alright… But I can't be too long. I still have to plant these," she provisioned, holding up her bags of seeds. Vaughn gave her a cool stare and walked stiffly out the back door. "What crawled up his butt?" Chelsea asked. Mirabelle just shrugged.
"He's a hard worker, but he has a bard time relating to people," she replied, pressing two fingers into her temple. Straightening, she motioned Chelsea towards the door. "Well, go on then, before the cows chew through their tethers," she ushered.
Chelsea followed Vaughn out the back door into the barn, where the animals were indeed going crazy. One cow reared up next to Chelsea, nearly clobbering her in the head. Vaughn was there in an instant, soothing the animal. "Easy, Penny," he murmured, stroking her nose, "Easy."
He caught the cow's gaze and held it. The cow's eyes slowly lost their dilation and less of the whites showed. Her pelt was still shuddering, but the cow seemed content that Vaughn would help her. She trusted him.
Chelsea nodded shakily toward Vaughn and turned to study the ensuing chaos. Something was wrong, no doubt about that. There was an odd smell, and the hay on the ground was splayed at odd angles. It looked almost like… no, it couldn't be…
"Vaughn?" Chelsea squeaked, feeling her throat start to close up. "Vaughn, did you drag a hose through here, by any chance?"
"Huhn?" Vaughn grunted incredulously. He turned to look at her. "Why on Earth would I-" he trailed off, catching sight of something over Chelsea's shoulder. His face drained of color. "Holy… Watch out!" he cried, tackling her to the ground.
Just then a monstrous, green creature slithered off the rafter, depositing itself on Vaughn's back. Chelsea stopped breathing, which was probably for the best. Between the 170 lbs of cowboy and 50 lbs of snake on top of her, her lungs were beyond crushed.
Vaughn was motionless as the snake glided onto his shoulder. Its pointed head slowly danced from side to side while its forked tongue darted in and out of its maw. Vaughn was tense beneath it. His hip was digging into Chelsea's stomach; his breath was hot on her forehead, causing her bangs to rise and fall.
The snake turned to face Vaughn, and it began thoroughly tasting his ear. Vaughn's breath hitched and stilled.
The straw beneath Chelsea was poking into her, and her back itched. She felt a sneeze coming on. Panicked, she bit down on her lip. Don't sneeze, don't sneeze, she chanted to herself. She scrunched up her nose.
The snake decided it wasn't interested in Vaughn and slithered down his outstretched arm onto the ground. It looked around one last time, satisfied with itself, and glided away under the door.
Vaughn and Chelsea stared after it for a beat, and Chelsea sneezed. Vaughn chuckled, collapsing into her. Chelsea giggled. Suddenly they burst into side-splitting laughter, clutching each other for support.
After a couple minutes they calmed down and Vaughn lifted himself so he was hovering over her. They grinned at each other.
"You know, Vaughn, you're not half-bad," Chelsea told him.
His grin widened. "Yeah. You're not so bad yourself," he replied, letting out another small chuckle. They were still beaming idiotically at each other when the door swung open.
"Hey Vaughn I need you to… Oh my," Mirabelle faltered, "Am I interrupting something?"
Vaughn looked at Mirabelle, then at his position over Chelsea, then back at Mirabelle. He quickly extracted himself and brushed off his clothing. "No," he punctuated.
"We were just- We weren't- I mean, there was this snake and- Vaughn pushed me out of the way- It isn't- I mean-" Chelsea rambled, fumbling to pull herself into sitting position.
Vaughn shushed, "She gets it, Chelsea." He extended a hand and pulled Chelsea to her feet. She felt cold now, without Vaughn's body heat.
Mirabelle looked skeptically between the pair and then threw her hands in the air. "Whatever," she dismissed, "Just remember to feed the chickens, Vaughn." She turned around quickly and tugged the door shut behind her.
"I… better get going," Chelsea declared finally, furiously rubbing her ear. "Thanks for saving me from the snake," she added.
Vaughn shook his head slightly. "Nah. It's all good," he evaded, shoving his hands in his pockets. "You helped speed this along by figuring it out about the snake, so…" he started, then pressed his lips shut. Expressing gratitude did not come easily to Vaughn. "Anyway, you shouldn't have helped. You didn't have to," he continued.
It was clear the cowboy was happy to have had her help, though he didn't seem to know what to do about it. Chelsea gave him a mysterious smile and a finger wave before then flouncing out the door, thinking to herself, How do you like that, Mr. I-work-alone?