My glass of milk is empty. I ask the barman for another, but he says it's about closin' time.
I figure I'll let that slide – just this once.
The glass glints in my hand as I wait. It's got a right pretty orange glow from the afternoon sun shining through the swinging saloon doors. The saloon's almost empty, seein' as everybody's already left but me. Folks know what's about to go down, and seein' as I'm the big man around this town, they know it's a bad idea to get in my way. I glance at the sky through the doors and figure it's a couple hours before the sun goes down. Which means I won't have to wait near that long.
"Wranglin' Ron," come a pair of voices, "she's here!"
My two faithful buddies come burstin' through the saloon doors to stand next to me at the counter. Jim and Tim, the Teetotalin' Twins, were waitin' outside on the front porch to make sure we didn't get taken by surprise. They're called the Teetolin' Twins on account of them being twins, and on account of the fact that they're way too young to drink. Me, I'm just a milk man. I nod at the twins and set my glass down on the counter, givin' the barman a tip of my wide-brim hat as I get off the stool.
"Better clear out, friend," I tell him. He takes the hint and goes into a back room, away from the doors and windows.
I step outside into the hot prairie sun, keeping my head low so my hat gives me a little shade. The spurs on my boots give a little jingle every time I step, which is a sound what pleases me mightily, although maybe it ain't really that masculine when you think about it. The dust rises up in clouds as I walk into the middle of the street with the twins on either side of me. There's only one street, and I know who's waitin' for me at the end of it.
I stop and turn, and there she is. Booyah.
"Well well well," I say. "If it ain't Sheriff Joss. I heard you were comin' back soon."
The girl at the other end of the street takes a few steps closer, her hands stretched out, fingers wrigglin' like they're about ready to jump off her hands. She stops and looks me over. The street's empty aside from the two of us, although I know a few of them foolish townsfolk are lookin' out their windows at the spectacle. Little eyes peekin' out of the bank windows, the hotel, the saloon, Frugal Lucre's Trade Emporium. Which is a horrible place to trade, take my word for it. All those eyes are waitin' for one of us to stand and one of us to fall. And I know which one of us it's gonna be.
"You heard right, Wranglin' Ron. I'm back, and I got the law with me." Sheriff Joss nods down to the pistol in her pink and black cowhide-patterned holster. "I heard you been terrorizin' this town for well on a week now, holding these good folks hostage for milk and Nacos, what with me off fightin' evil and savin' the world. But it ends now!"
I spit to the side, and my mouth tastes like milk. Now's about the kinda time I wish I had my trusty sidekick by my side, but last I saw Ragin' Rufus earlier this morning, he was caught in the spell of some charming Prairie Dog out in Farmer Slim's field.
Rufus ain't the most reliable of partners.
Rufus or no Rufus though, things are goin' down. There ain't no way I'm lettin' Sheriff Joss send me to the hoosegow. Er, not again, anyway. "Tough talk, little lady," I say in my best tough guy voice, which I personally think is real convincing. "But I think it's about time to back those words up."
I nod for the twins to clear out a bit. This is between me and Sheriff Joss. We narrow our eyes at each other and wiggle our fingers, as two gunmen in a standoff ought to do if they're doin' things proper.
Well, a gunman and a gunwoman, to be more accurate. Accuracy is somethin' I need right about now.
I feel so much sweat on my back it's like I'm floatin' in a swimming pool. Not only that, but I start to wish I hadn't been drinkin' so much milk. Our hands get closer, closer. A tumbleweed tumbles past us, right in the middle of the road, from one row of buildings to the other. It might as well be a startin' flag, because our hands go straight for our pistols. It's over in the blink of an eye, but I can tell I was just the teensiest bit faster for sure.
A red flag sticks out of my pistol with the word 'Bang!' written on it in bright yellow letters.
"Ya got me, Ron!" yells Sheriff Joss. She spins around a few times and groans real loud before she falls on the ground. Looks like Wranglin' Ron just wrangled himself another victory.
I walk towards Sheriff Joss, real careful, and the two twins come back from the porch where they were watchin' the duel. The three of us get to where she fell on the ground and I look down. She groans again, to make it look convincing.
"She's a goner," Jim and Tim say.
Before I have a chance to defend myself, she jumps back up again. It's a trap!
She draws her gun fast as a rattlesnake and shoots me with a spray of water. That ain't fair at all, seeing as we agreed on toy guns or pop guns, but Sheriff Joss never plays fair. I'm even more surprised when Jim and Tim draw their own pistols and start shooting me with more water. An ambush! My own gang turning against me!
"Gluglgblb – you turncoats! I'll get you -glublgh!"
Now they're sprayin' water in my face, which is just low. And here I thought I was the outlaw. Before I can fight back though, the fight breaks up when a new stranger appears on the scene. I guess she came to save me, seeing as I was near drowned already. It's the town piano player and my best girl, Miss Kimberly. She's real purty, but it ain't the purty what counts in a gunfight.
"Howdy Miss Kimberly," I greet her with a tip of my hat. "Nice of you to stop by and help avenge me!"
"Um, sure Ron," says Miss Kimberly. "Guys, enough horsing around. We've got dinner already set up outside on the picnic table over at the ranch."
The Teetotalin' Twins look like they're about to blast her with a spray of water, but Kim's got a look on her face like her favorite horse just got blown away in a tornado. "Don't even think about it, tweebs," she hisses. "What is it with you two and water guns today? And you too, Joss!"
She rolls her eyes at her cousin, but her glare turns into just a tiny bit of a smile.
The four of us holster our weapons and follow Kim back to the Lady C Ranch. Jim and Tim are already way ahead of us, even though Kim's yelling at them to slow down a little. Sheriff Joss looks at me with a baleful eye, and I know it ain't over with her. But right now, I reckon some grub is better than a water gun blast to the face, and Sheriff Joss seems to agree.
Jim and Tim are already eating by the time I get to the picnic table, even though it looks like Kim's mom and dad are trying to slow them down a little. Kim's parents and her uncle Slim are already there waiting for us. The table is set up on the back patio, outside of the ranch's glass plated living room doors. Now that it's evening, the weather is nice and cool enough to eat outside.
I look at the array of food set up at the table and lick my lips: steak, cornbread, collard greens, these little bite-sized bits of food that Kim's uncle Slim says are rattlesnake tails, although Kim told me in a whisper that they're actually just bits of chopped hot dog dipped in batter. I don't know why Slim didn't take my advice on ordering a few Nacos to round out the meal, but I sure can't complain about the spread!
"You guys have fun out there at the Crooked D?" Slim asks us.
"Definitely," I tell him. "That is, if it wasn't for a certain someone spraying water right in my face!"
I stare accusingly at Joss, who sticks her tongue out. It doesn't seem like much of an apology to me, but right now I'm so hungry that I don't care enough to demand one.
"Don't you guys think you're a little old to be playing cops and robbers?" asks Kim.
"Not cops and robbers," Joss corrects her, "Sheriff and corrupt landowner slash loan shark!"
I'm glad Joss corrected her on that very important distinction, but I'm shocked at Kim's question. "Too old?" I ask her. "For shame, KP! How can you object to anybody using their imagination? Besides, it's good practice for when we're fighting supervillains, you know."
I grab as much food as I can pile onto my plate and dig in before I realize that Rufus is still out in the field somewhere, past the mechanical horse paddock. I might have been using my imagination for the game with Joss, but he really did seem to be chattering at some prairie dogs earlier. I know Rufus would want to try a couple of rattlesnake bites before Jim and Tim finish the the bowl off, so I'm about to go find him when I notice a pink head pop out of the bowl and shower bites out over the table.
"Oh, there you are Rufus!"
Rufus grabs as many bites as he can hold and stuffs them into his cheeks, waving his arms in a sort of menacing ninja pose as Jim and Tim try to grab some of their own.
"Mine!" he squeaks.
I should have known Rufus would hear the sound of food being put on a table from a mile away.
Everybody starts digging in, but I don't need any invitation to get started. It's kind of weird Kim's such a bad cook, considering the rest of her family seems to be so good at it. I guess not everything runs in the family.
"I'm glad you decided to come out here more often, squirt," Slim says to Mr. Dr. P. And boy, Kim's dad doesn't look too happy being called that. "You folks oughta make it a yearly tradition!"
"We're thinking about that. Like you suggested at the graduation, we thought this would be a good way to celebrate our little Kimmie-cub going off to college!"
Mr. Dr. P. reaches over and ruffles Kim's hair. I don't think she likes that anymore than her dad likes being called squirt. "What about me?" I ask.
"Well, of course. You too Ronald."
I'm satisfied with that – the Ron man just needs a little recognition sometimes, that's all. I hope Mr. Dr. P. takes up Slim's offer to come by the ranch every year, because I think it would be a great idea. Taking a vacation with Kim and her family is a lot of fun. I can even ride Tornado without screaming in terror now – I think the ranch has done a lot to help me overcome some of those childhood robotic horse fears. Check one deep-seated terror off the list!
I mean, it got a little rough last time when Drakken and Shego showed up with another crazy scheme, but I've gotten used to that kind of thing. It doesn't really matter where me and Kim are, somebody bad is gonna show up sooner or later. Just part of the burden I have to bear for being friends – er, boyfriends – with someone like KP.
I already ate all my food, but I'm still feeling a bit on the hungry side. The picnic table is looking a little thin, I tell myself. Maybe Kim's uncle doesn't mind if I raid his refrigerator. I would take some more rattlesnake bites, but unfortunately it looks like those are all gone.
"Who ate all the rattlesnake bites?"
Jim and Tim swallow a mouthful of food at the same time, like I'm not gonna notice. "Whoops," they tell me. I guess they finished their meal faster than anybody else, because they gather around either side of Joss like they're planning something.
"Hey Joss," says Jim, "do you want to come inside and check out our new invention?"
"We were working on it this morning-"
"-and we just need a test subject to make sure all the kinks are worked out."
The two of them start jumping up and down in excitement. "So do you wanna see it?"
I shake my head at Joss, trying to warn her – I know how experiments with Kim's brothers turn out – but she doesn't notice me. "Boy howdy, do I ever!" she says. "May I be excused from the table?"
"Sure Joss, jus' be careful in there. I don't like the looks of them fellers," Slim says. I know he's joking, but he doesn't know how right he is.
Joss gets dragged inside before I can grab her attention. It doesn't take too long for everybody to finish their meals, and I sit back as Kim and her family help take the plates inside and clear the picnic table. I would help them out, but this is the Lazy C ranch. I'm just trying to fit in is all!
The scenery at the ranch is a lot prettier than it is in Middleton. Even the sun setting looks nicer, for some reason. Of course, I wouldn't want to leave Middleton and go out in the middle of nowhere if there wasn't a Smarty Mart and a Bueno Nacho nearby, but fortunately for me, Slim and Joss both live pretty close to town.
"Hey KP," I say when she comes out from the ranch house. "Finish up the plates?"
"Yeah. Thanks for the help, Ron."
"Er, you're wel-" I realize she's being sarcastic. "Oh."
The beautiful sunset is making me feel a little romantic – that, and Kim's sarcasm made me feel a little guilty so I want to change the subject – so I decide maybe an evening walk would be nice.
"Want to go for a walk around the ranch?"
Before she can answer, we both fall out of our chairs in surprise as an explosion goes off inside the house. I noticed one of the windows blowing out a little ways away as bunch of glass scatters all over the ground. Judging by the look on KP's face, she knows who did it. I mean, if there's an explosion related to her family, you've got two possible culprits. Er, no pun intended.
"We didn't do it!" shout the tweebs from the blown out window.
Joss's voice comes out of the window right after theirs, along with a wisp of black smoke.
"That was awesome!"
We don't walk far from the ranch, since the sun will be going down before too long and it's already getting kind of cool out. I'm enjoying the scenery but also making sure to keep on the lookout for rattlesnakes. Uncle Slim tells me Montana is full of them, although sometimes it's hard to tell when he's just pulling my leg. But still, I figure it's better safe than sorry.
Kim hasn't talked much on our walk. She's actually been kind of quiet ever since the vacation started. Even a while before that, really. Me, I like to just let everything hang loose, but KP holds things in sometimes, although she's made a few comments here and there that gave me an idea of why she's been so out of it lately. With the end of summer getting closer, I'm pretty sure I know what's on her mind.
"Still thinking about college, KP?"
"What about it?"
"I don't know, just the usual I guess. Worrying about how different it's going to be from high school, how much work it's going to be. I know anything is possible for a Possible and all that, but sometimes it's just a lot of think about. What if it turns out I can't handle missions and college work at the same time?"
"You can handle anything, Kim. You're still a teenager and you've saved the world, more than once – college is going to be no prob, believe you me! Especially not when you've got me by your side to teach you how to chill, am I right?"
"I suppose so," Kim says with a grin.
"It's like you told me when we were graduating, it's all going to be okay. I mean, yeah, you were talking about the two of us, but you just have to apply that attitude to everything else!"
"I'm surprised you remembered that," said Kim. "Wasn't that at the Bueno Nacho? I seem to remember you were freaking out at the time."
"Freaking out?" I ask, taken aback. "I never freak out, Kim. I was just passionate in my opinions. Anyway, what's important is that you don't lose your sense of childlike wonder. Growing up and working hard and everything is important, don't get me wrong, but you have to live a little. That's what me and Joss were doing with the cops and robbers game, see?"
"I thought it was Sheriff versus corrupt landowner and loan shark."
I realize my horrible mistake, but I can't let it get in the way of my point "Well, yeah, but the details aren't important. It's the big picture! Sometimes you just work too hard, Kim. You need to let loose a little. That's what this vacation is supposed to be for."
"I guess," she admits. "You know, it's a good thing you realized you forgot to apply to Upperton. I get the feeling I'm going to need you in college."
"I know Kim, it's hard to resist the Ron man's charms."
Kim rolls her eyes, but then flashes me a grin. "Maybe it is hard to resist. I think my cousin might have a crush on you, after all."
"Joss? No way."
"She's been hanging around you nonstop for the whole vacation."
Joss has been hanging around me a lot, now that Kim mentions it. And she did think I was a hero the last time we came here, since I always overcome my fear and fearlessly follow Kim into the path of horrible danger over and over again, which was a really good point on her part.
Not to mention Joss was the one who wanted to play over at the Crooked D. Oh wait, no – okay, that was me. She was just the one who made me play the bad guy even though I wanted to be the Sheriff. I mean, why wouldn't I be the sheriff? I'm the one always fighting the bad guys with Kim! Still, maybe Joss does have a crush on me. It's cute if she does, and I don't blame her – I guess the Ron man's charms work on more than one Possible.
A small pass through a couple of hills comes up ahead of us, and Kim and I start walking through it. The ranch lights are starting to get a little far away behind us, and the sun is starting to go down, so I'm about to tell Kim maybe we should go back when I feel my ferret-senses tingling.
A shape moves behind one of the hills, and no longer am I Ron Stoppable – I'm Wranglin' Ron. And Wranglin' Ron just got himself caught with his lady in an ambush!
"Kim, watch out!"
I try to dive and block the shot, but it's too late. Kim's sprayed with water as her cousin comes out from behind the hill along with Jim and Tim. I get a good spray myself. Sheriff Joss and those turncoat twins are back for more, and they done caught me without my sidearm.
"Rrrgh!" says Kim as she stands there dripping. "You tweebs are turning Joss to the dark side, aren't you? I'm soaking wet!"
"Psst, Kim," I whisper. "Childlike wonder, remember?"
Kim thinks about it for a second. She looks like she's about to throttle the twins, but at the last minute she decides to take my point and smiles a little. Not that she's gonna let the twins go just cause she's enjoying herself, oh no. I'm almost sure she's about to chase after them, but instead of taking the two of them down, she lunges at Jim and grabs his water gun only to turn on me and spray me right in the face. What in tarnation!
"How's that for childlike wonder, huh Ron?"
Kim laughs a little too maniacally and runs back towards the ranch, motioning for Jim and Tim to follow her as they flee the crime scene. The Teetotalin' twins run off screaming with their sister. Before she leaves, though, Kim looks back at me and points a finger.
"You'd better be ready, Ron! You ain't seen the last of Miss Kimberly!"
I gulp as the Possibles run away, except for Sheriff Joss. Looks like my own girl just turned against me and left me to fend for myself against the long – well, the short arm of the law. Today's been a day full of backstabbin', I tell you what! I look over at Sheriff Joss and start to form a plan.
"How's about an alliance?" I ask her.
"I reckon that'd be a good idea."
It's starting to get a little dark, so the two of us head back to the ranch. Maybe there won't be time to take my revenge tonight, since it's getting a little cold out, and there's a Captain Constellation repeat on television that I want to watch with Kim's dad in about half an hour anyway.
But tomorrow, I tell myself. Tomorrow, Miss Kimberly's gonna pay for shootin' up Wranglin' Ron!
Notes - Hope you guys liked it, reviews are appreciated as usual. I hadn't written first-person narrative or used a Western setting before, and I had this image of Ron and Joss in a duel, so I thought I'd combine the two and try something new. This was the one-shot I was considering over the weekend after I finished Life at the Top, so now my writing break starts for real. I swear!