Cat had almost gotten to the bell when Nick walked out of the bunk house. She stood there watching him. The early morning sun streaked across the yard and lit him from the side. Cat tried not to stare, but it didn’t help. “Damn! Does he have any idea of how good he looks?” she thought. Jeans molded around the muscles of his legs and over his ass. The shirt floated over the muscles in his shoulders and his biceps swelled under the rolled up sleeves of his well worn denim shirt. Nick held his felt cowboy hat in his hand as his hair was still damp from combing it down.
“Morning,” she said.
“Hello,” said Nick. “Coffee inside?”
“Yes. Plus cinnamon rolls and aspirin,” said Cat as she followed him into the kitchen.
“Cinnamon rolls? You bake?” he asked as he sniffed the aroma of cinnamon and sugar.
“Pillsbury! Damn, I don’t have time to do anything else,” said Cat.
“Sorry! Too damn early to think,” said Nick.
“It’s okay,” said Cat as she put a plate of rolls in front of Nick.
Nick nodded as he sipped his coffee and then grabbed a roll. He’d slept well and while stiff and sore, it wasn’t anything a little work wouldn’t loosen up. He grabbed another roll and ate his share in short order.
Cat ate and tried not to stare. “Why in the hell am I so drawn to him? Yeah, I’m horny, but damn! This borders on a crush,” she thought. “Maybe I need a cold shower or need to get out more.” Cat finished her breakfast and took her plate to the sink.
“What’s on the list today?” Nick asked.
“Repair the tractors, fix a few things in the barn and just regular chores today. Tomorrow we cut the hay fields,” she said ticking things off on her fingers.
“Sounds good. I take it you have most of the parts?” Nick asked trying not to sound sarcastic.
“Yeah. If you’ll start on the tractor, I’ll muck out stalls and deal with the chores I ignored yesterday,” Cat said. Looking for eggs in the dark last night sucked. Wasn’t often that she forgot.
“Deal. Any more coffee?” Nick asked.
Cat poured him a cup and took the dirty plates to wash. She grabbed the chicken feed bucket and went to hunt eggs.
Nick put his empty cup in the sink and headed for the tractor shed. Keys were in the ignition and he cranked it over. He listened to the way the tractor hitched and coughed. Turning it off, he went to look for the parts. He found the box with oil, filter, plugs and air filter. The tools were in a box next to the supplies. He smiled and got to work.
Forty minutes and two scrapped knuckles later, the tractor purred. He took care of the trash and then walked towards the barn to see what he could get done. Cat was still mucking out stalls when he walked into the barn.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
“Just fine. Tractor’s running smooth. What next?” he asked.
“Two choices. Help me finish up with this or go start on that section of the barn. The upper door is swinging funny and I think the loft boards on the far side need a few nails,” Cat said.
Nick nodded, looked around for the wheel barrow and then brought it over to Cat. Once they’d filled it, he looked around for where to dump it and asked Cat.
“Out behind the chicken coop. You’ll see the pile,” she said.
Nick ran the load out and came back for a second and third one. Cat was putting down new straw when he came back, so he replaced the wheel barrow and went over to the tool bench. He grabbed a hammer, nails and a few other bits and pieces and headed up into the loft. He saw the problem with the door right away. A hinge had pulled loose. He’d need a new piece of wood to brace the door, so he went to work on the floor joists. Cat was right, they’d worked loose and he must have gone through a dozen nails.
“Cat, can you bring me up some more nails?” he called down to her.
“Sure. Just a minute,” Cat said. She grabbed the can of nails, took a deep breath and headed up the loft stairs. “Don’t look down!” she thought to herself. She came up into the loft and walked over to where Nick was repairing the floor.
“Here you go,” she said.
“Thank,” he said looking up just long enough to take the nails.
Cat went back down carefully. She made it all the way and then went out to weed the garden.
Nick finished the floor and took another look at the damaged door hinge. He took it off and wrestled it to the loft floor. Measuring the door, he went down to find a replacement piece. He’d seen 2 x 4’s stacked up behind the tractor shed and hoped that there were some 1 x 4’s. Digging around for a few minutes he found what he needed. He sawed it to length and headed back upstairs. Fifteen more minutes and he was ready to rehang the door. There was only one problem. He took it down easily because it was broken. He needed an extra set of hands to put it back up.
“Cat!” he called across the barnyard.
“Yeah,” she called back.
“Can you come give me a hand?” he asked pointing to the door.
Cat nodded and headed for the barn. “I will not freeze. I will not fall. There is nothing wrong with being up in the loft,” she thought all the way across the barnyard. She made it up the stairs and across to where Nick stood with the door.
“I’ll lift it into place and if you’ll hold it, I can screw it in place,” he said.
“Okay,” she said quietly. “Deep breath!” she thought trying to find a place to look that wasn’t down.
Nick moved the door in place and Cat braced it. Nick turned, grabbed the screws and got the door up in a matter of moments. “You can let go now Cat,” he said.
“Good. It was getting heavy,” she said. “Need anything else?”
“Nope. Just have to gather the tools and I’ll be ready to tackle the next job,” he said.
“How about lunch?” suggested Cat.
“That sounds good,” Nick said as he walked past Cat and ran down the loft stairs with the tools and spare nails in hand. “See you in a few minutes,” he said as he passed her.
“Okay,” said Cat. She let him pass and then started down the stairs. She felt that oh so familiar nausea hit and watched the floor rush to greet her. “Noooo!” she thought. She grabbed the post by the stairs and took a deep breath. Then another. She looked down at her feet and froze on the second step down. “Dammit!” she cried silently. She closed her eyes again and did all the things she usually did. She managed to sit on the step, but if she opened her eyes, it only got worse. She closed them and tried to move down a step. One step. One more. Another one. Sweat was pouring down her back, and she tried to move again. Another step. Her sense of time evaporated as she slowly crawled down the steps. She stopped half way down and tried to relax. When she opened her eyes, the room swam. “Fuck!” she thought. “Not good!” She put her head down on her knees and cried.
Nick had washed up and headed over to the house. The kitchen was empty when he walked in. “Cat? Where are you Cat?” he called wondering if she had gone upstairs for something. No answer. He walked back outside and didn’t see her. “Where the hell did she go?” he wondered. Nick headed back to the barn wondering if she’d gone back for something. He walked into the barn and heard crying. Looking up, he saw Cat sitting on the ladder steps about halfway up.
“Cat? Are you okay?” he asked softly.
“No! I’m not. I’m damn well stuck and can’t get down,” she said between sobs and sniffs.
It hit Nick like a ton of bricks. “Cat, you having an attack of vertigo?” he asked.
“Yes dammit! Either give me a hand or go the fuck away,” she said. She pulled out her hankie and wiped her face and nose.
Nick walked over to the ladder. “What do you want me to do,” he said softly.
“Come up here and help me down. Stand in front of me so I can look at you and not the damn stairs,” she said.
“Okay,” Nick said. He walked up, took her hands and helped her stand. She was trembling. Cat put her hands on his shoulders and as one, they slowly walked down the stairs with Cat staring either at his face or his shirt collar. When they got down to the barn floor, he didn’t know what else to do, so he took her in his arms and hugged her.
Cat coped with that for about thirty seconds. Not that it didn’t feel good, but she was so embarrassed. “Thanks Nick. Lunch will be ready in a few minutes,” she said trying to pretend nothing had happened. She tried to pull out of the hug.
“Hold on Cat, You aren’t alright by a long shot. We’ll walk back together and you’ll sit while I make lunch,” he said.
“I’m okay now,” she said.
“I know what you said and I can see that you aren’t. Let’s go back to the house,” he said and walked beside her as they went to the kitchen.
“Sit down and don’t argue,” he said once they were inside.
Cat looked at him, started to open her mouth, shut it and sat down. In truth, she was glad to sit. She watched as he made lunch. He put a plate down in front of her and a glass of iced tea.
“Eat your lunch Cat,” he said quietly and returned with his own plate in a few minutes. They ate in silence. Cat went to stand up and take her plate to the sink and Nick took it from her hand.
“Do you want to go lay down?” Nick asked when he came back from the sink.
“No, I need to go get the rest of my work done,” said Cat trying to convince herself as much as Nick that everything was okay.
“Alright, but if you need to, come back in and lay down. If you want help upstairs, I’ll help you. Understood?” he said.
“Yes. I’m not an invalid. I just had an attack of vertigo,” she said.
“I know. I’m just trying to help,” said Nick. He knew she was still shaken, and admired her determination and yet… he felt rather protective.
Cat got up and grabbed her basket and headed out to the garden. She figured she’d be fine pulling weeds and picking vegetables for dinner. That had been a bad attack. Almost as bad as that time she’d been stuck up in the tree for nearly a day. Bobby had rescued her that time. She set her basket down and started pulling weeds.