It had been years since Mattie Ross had seen Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. From time to time, she hadn't been sure he was even alive.
But there he stood, tall in proud, in the middle of the post office, positively beaming at her. He smirked his overconfident grin at the profound surprise on her face.
"Mattie. It's been years. How old are ya' now? Seventeen? Eighteen?"
"Twenty-one. Twenty-two next month," Mattie retorted. Her lashed response caused LaBoeuf's crooked, cocky smile to seep deeper. "What are you? Eighty? Ninety?"
LaBoeuf seemed amused but narrowed his eyes in a playful, threatening way.
"I don't mean to interrupt, but may I help you?" The woman sitting at the scarred wooden desk asked. Mattie handed her the stack of letters her mother had sent her with. LaBoeuf mumbled an excuse about only coming into the post office because he saw Mattie come in.
Mattie sashayed out, her long skirt swishing behind her.
"Quite different from those pants, eh, Cookie?" LaBoeuf followed behind her.
Mattie rounded on him, about to make a witty retort or to at least tell him not to call her 'Cookie', but was stopped by the sight of red.
"You're bleeding," she murmured.
"Am I? Hunh. Wouldya look at that," LaBoeuf lifted a flap of clothing away to see a bullet graze on his side.
"What have ya' been doing?" Mattie demanded.
"This and that."
"This and that? What exactly, pray tell, is this and that, Ranger?"
LaBoeuf replied with another one of his cocky smirks.
"Ugh," Mattie sighed in frustration. "You're jus' the way I remember ya'." She tugged him by his arm over to a group of horses, recognizing his easily. He still rode the same one.
"Same horse?" she inquired.
"He's a good one. Like—let me put this in women terms—if ya' have a good…uh…chicken recipe—"
Mattie rolled her eyes.
"—ya' don't go getting rid of it too quickly."
"Can ya' ride?"
LaBoeuf looked at her like she had sprouted another two heads.
"Mattie, I didn't even know I was bleeding until ya' pointed it out. Yeah. I think I can manage."
A man dressed suspiciously like LaBoeuf came galloping down the dirt path of the main street. He was riding on an equally suspicious spotted pony and doing suspicious things like calling 'LaBoeuf!' over and over again.
"Here!" LaBoeuf called. The man came to a stop in front of the two.
"This here," LaBoeuf gestured toward the man, "is m' friend and fellow Ranger, Litrell. Litrell, this is an ol' friend of mine, Maggie Ross."
Litrell tipped his hat.
Should of seen that one coming.
There was a moment of awkward silence when no one talked. Mattie broke it.
"Do you have a place to stay? Are you staying here, in town?"
"We have ta—" Litrell started but LaBoeuf cut him off.
"If that's an invitation…"
"I never said that," Mattie shot back.
"Of course not. But if it was, we woulda said yes." The smirk was back. His eyes sparkled.
Mattie sighed. She exhaled the words, "Follow me, then," hopped on her chestnut horse, and rode to the east.
Mattie Ross lived with her mother, brother, and sister on a small farm a few miles from town. The wooden house that they lived in was far from elegant, but it was stable, roomy, and made to last.
Mattie's mother, Maggie, was quick to offer services to the Rangers. LaBoeuf saw her as an honest woman, with good morals.
The two Rangers got the loft area. Mattie would bunk with her mother and the younger children would sleep in front of the hearth.
Mattie climbed the ladder up into the loft with medical supplies. Litrell had gone off to who-knows-where doing who-knows-what for who-knows-why. LaBoeuf was lying on the bed, staring straight up at the wooden ceiling. He acknowledged her presence with a nod.
"Here to stitch ya' up," she told him.
His eyes widened a bit as she pulled out a rather threatening looking needle. He sat up. "Do ya' know how to use that thing?"
"Ya' don't think I jus' sat here learning chicken recipes for the past almost eight years, do ya'?"
"Trained by the town's doctor," she proclaimed proudly.
"Oh really?" he challenged. "What else have ya' learned?"
"Well, for one, I know how to fight."
"Yeah. You'll never pin me down again. Now take up your shirt."
The Ranger obliged while continuing the conversation. "Never can spank you again, can I?"
Her eyes narrowed as she threaded the needle. "You beat me."
LaBoeuf bit his lip as if regretting bringing up that little episode.
"Ya' ready?" Mattie asked.
She poked the needle through his skin in a fluid like pattern, receiving it on the other side with ease.
"Ya' done this before?" LaBoeuf asked.
"Looks like ya' haven't gotten married all these years."
"Looks like," Mattie replied, pulling the thread a bit harder than necessary. LaBoeuf flinched but didn't make any objecting noise.
"Why not?" LaBoeuf asked, ignoring Mattie's pain warning to drop the subject.
"I guess I haven't had time."
"Learning how to fight blocking up the nights? Or too busy sewing people up?"
Mattie tugged the needle through, hard.
"Ow!" LaBoeuf protested.
"What? Did that hurt?"
There was silence for a few moments. Neither dared speak. Mattie didn't know what to say. LaBoeuf was afraid of being more injured than before getting stitched up. Finally, Mattie spoke to the Ranger.
"Ya' know, maybe I woulda married someone if the right person came. Done," she tied a knot and cut the end off with a knife that she produced from who-knows-where.
He grabbed his shirt and tugged it over his head while saying, "and who's the right person?"
"Someone intelligent. Someone brave, with guts. Someone…well honestly none of your business. I have to go let the horses out."
"Mattie," LaBoeuf reached for her as she turned away and managed to grab her hand. "I'll be expecting you at the general store tonight."He dropped it. He thanked everything that she didn't protest. She just turned away and clinked down the ladder. LaBoeuf listened to her footfalls until they faded into silence.
It took a lot to resist naming Litrell 'Norris' or 'Walker'. Eastwood was quite tempting, too.
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