"Whaddya mean my cart's busted?!"
"I am so sorry, Mr. Smith. I really don't know how this could have happened."
"Of all the damn careless- nobody done run off with my horse now too, did they?"
"N-no sir, your horse is fine, and rest assured we will take care of the damages-"
"Well I should hope so!"
"And there will be no charge for the room while you wait-"
"WAIT! How long is this gonna take?! I'm a busy man, you know. I got a schedule!"
"Maybe a couple of days, sir," Jonathan admitted, shrinking under the redhead's piercing glare. "Our blacksmith... left town recently and we haven't got another. There's a carpenter who should be able to fix it, it just might take a little longer... I could talk to him for-"
"I'll do it myself," Willow growled and stomped out of the Inn. Only when she was outside did she allow a brief smirk to appear on her face.
When she'd come downstairs just after dawn, carrying her bags and dressed in her travel suit of heavy canvas, the clerk had paled and fidgeted noticeably before reluctantly addressing her. Before he even opened his mouth she had accurately read his demeanor, and breathed a sigh of relief. Her late night vandalism had already been discovered, but she was not suspected of having caused it. After the conversation she'd overheard the night before, it did not take much in the way of acting skills to feign anger with the clerk. By the time she was through with him, and to her immense satisfaction, he looked to be on the verge of wetting himself.
"Could you spare me the lecture, Tare? I don't feel so good."
"I'm not letting you off the hook just because you have a hangover, Donnie... this is serious."
Tara stood with her back to her brother and concentrated on stirring the eggs in the skillet. She was determined to stay mad - for a while at least - and knew if she looked at him she would see the misery and contrition on his face. She scooped half of the eggs onto a plate and poured a cup of coffee, ignoring the pained whimpers behind her when the pan and kettle clanged back down on the stovetop. Moving to the small table, she began to eat in silence.
"Don't I get any?" Donnie whined after a moment. Tara kept her face impassive and didn't look at him.
"On the stove, get it yourself."
Tara scowled at Donnie's back and waited until he was again seated and had a mouthful of food. She brought her coffee mug down with a bang.
"God, what is wrong with you?!"
Donnie looked up, his cheeks full, his face the scruffy picture of confusion. He swallowed in one big gulp.
"Whuh," Tara mocked. "Donnie, you're going to lose the saloon! And I know neither of us want to spend the rest of our lives here, but right now it's all we have!"
"I ain't gonna lose it, Tara. I've just had a run of bad luck is all... but-"
"But nothing, Donnie. I've seen the books, I know how much in debt we are. God... Donnie... what if the bank calls in the loan?"
Donnie opened his mouth to protest, but realized there was nothing he could say. Tara was right. The worst part was knowing that he'd walked right into it, even after seeing what had happened to the others. Things had been different when he'd first started playing with Warren and his group. It was win some, lose some, and more or less break even. That's how they sucked in their victims. Gradually the winning stopped, but then they were oh so gracious about extending credit. By the time Donnie realized he'd been marked, it was too late.
Tara didn't know everything, of course. She wasn't aware that before it was his turn, Donnie had reluctantly helped the others bankrupt the bank manager and the blacksmith. The banker had been allowed to leave town quietly, and the more cooperative Andrew was set up in his place. The blacksmith, however... Donnie shuddered, knowing what had probably become of his childhood pal Jesse. Warren had magnanimously let Donnie remain in the dark on that one, but his display of weakness had merely set him up as the next target. If it was up to Donnie, Tara would never have to know about the ugliness he'd invited into their lives.
"You're right," he remarked at last, startling his sister, who quickly recovered and arched an eyebrow, waiting for the 'but.' "I've made a mess of things. Dad trusted me to take care of you and the business, and I screwed it all up. Would've been better if he'd stayed here and I'd gone off to the War and got killed 'stead of him."
"Donnie - don't," Tara pleaded softly.
"But I can make one thing right. I gotta little money stashed away that they don't know about, and it ain't much, but it's enough to get you a one-way ticket back East."
"NO," Tara stated forcefully, shaking her head and moving to the washbasin with her dishes. "I'm not going to leave you here alone."
Donnie walked up behind her and spoke quietly.
"You got to, Tare. It's for the best and you know it."
"Then we'll both go."
"There's not enough. Dammit, Tara, can't you just do what I tell you to for once in your life?!"
Tara spun around and looked incredulously at her brother.
"Sure, if you ever tell me to do something that isn't stupid, but that seems pretty unlikely!"
The two stood several feet apart, glaring at each other. Donnie broke down first, his lip twitching a fraction, a strangled giggle escaping his pursed lips. Soon they were both doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down their cheeks. Once she'd composed herself, Tara gave Donnie a quick hug.
"I'm not going anywhere and that's final. The rest of it... we'll figure out together, okay?"
"Okay," Donnie sighed, accepting defeat for the moment. "Do you want a hand downstairs?"
"I thought you were going out to the Summers place to help finish up the barn?"
"Oh shoot! I forgot! Hank's gonna tar and feather me!" Donnie jumped up and ran to his room to finish getting dressed.
"Relax, it's still early" Tara called after him while she went about filling a bucket with water. She was already mopping the saloon floor when Donnie came racing down the stairs. He skidded across the slick wood in his stocking feet and slid to a stop by one of the large glass plate windows on either side of the door, grinning at his sister's look of mock disapproval. While sitting and pulling on his boots, he looked outside and laughed.
"Hey Tara, c'mere."
"I'm a little busy right now."
"But you gotta see this... there's some redheaded guy pacing around out front and talking to himself."
"What?!" Tara exclaimed, dropping her mop and rushing to window. One glimpse confirmed that it was indeed the mysterious Mr. Smith. The redhead glanced up at that moment, and Tara jumped away from the window, yanking Donnie along with her by his jacket collar.
"HEY! What's gotten into you? Do you know him or somethin'?"
Tara averted her eyes, but the bright red that exploded over her face and down her neck told Donnie all he needed to know.
"Well lookee who's blushing! Why Tara, have you gone an' fallen in love?!"
"I'm not blushing! It's just warm in here from all the hot air coming out of YOU!"
"Hoo-whee! Tara's got a beau, Tara's got a beau!"
Tara grabbed the discarded mop and flailed at Donnie with it, but he easily danced away, squealing and teasing her in a falsetto voice.
"Oh, my dearest darling, I can't wait to marry you and bear your redheaded babies!"
"SHUT UP DONNIE!"
The mop connected soundly with Donnie's backside before he wrestled it away from her and hopped back to the window.
"Christ almighty, Tara, what is he, fourteen?"
"Shhh... he'll hear you!" she hissed, looking curiously out to where the redhead continued to pace nervously.
"So who is he?"
"Nobody," Tara lied. "He was just passing through town and he stopped in last night."
"Uh-huh. Just passing through and thought he'd pop in this morning for a goodbye kiss?"
"Donnie," Tara warned, her face flushing anew at the thought.
"Maybe he's out there trying to work up the courage to ask for your hand," Donnie playfully mused, rubbing his scruffy chin thoughtfully. "About time too... Old Maid like you."
Tara rolled her eyes and ignored the barb.
"Course, we ain't got no dowry for you, but I suppose I could throw in a coupla chickens."
Tara took advantage of her brother's distracted giggling to wrest the mop away and began whacking away at him. Donnie was well on his way to being completely soaked when a sharp knock on the door brought both siblings to a standstill. Before Tara could stop him, Donnie had rushed over and opened it.
"Oh... uh... good morning... Mr. Maclay? Hi, my name's Will... Will Smith. We haven't met, but if it's not too much trouble, could I have a moment of your time?"