On his way home from the Marshal's office, James Hickok ducked into the Tompkins' store. He shook the snow from his hat outside the door and unbuttoned his coat as the warmth from the potbelly stove spread through his body.
"Open late, Jenny?"
The pretty blonde gestured back toward the curtained doorway. "Since we added the rooms onto the back of the store and started living here, Robert and I figured on staying open a little later and catching sales from folks on their way home."
Nodding as he considered her words, he looked around at the well-stocked shelves. "I'll make note of it in our books and when evening rounds are made I'll make sure someone stops by."
With a smile, Jenny moved around the counter, smoothing her apron over her skirts. "That's right nice of you, Jimmy. How is the family?"
He began to say they were fine, but before he could say anything a tow-headed toddler ran out from behind the curtain and barreled into his mother's skirts. Jenny laughed and grabbed at the counter, managing to steady herself.
The barrel behind her wasn't so lucky. The jostling movement sent some of its contents teetering over the edge and falling to the floor. One of the nuts bumped off of the toe of Jimmy's boot.
Jimmy leaned over and picked up the nuts in his hands. As he straightened he looked at the dark-colored gems in his palm. "Chestnuts?"
"Yes, well…" Jenny rumpled the boy's hair and managed to right the sign on the barrel at the same time, "the wagon driver that brought our last shipment had a barrel of them. Said he was trying to sell them for himself, had a bunch of trees at home and had more than he could eat."
"I haven't had these since I was a boy."
"I know," Jenny mused, "I vaguely remember eating them as a little girl, but Robert reminded me after the man had left, with my money, that we didn't have anything to roast them in." Jenny touched the side of her face, hiding half of the becoming blush on her cheeks. "I was silly to buy them , but I couldn't help myself."
Jimmy picked up another nut from the open top of the barrel and looked at it closely. The rich brown pigment of the shell felt firm under his fingertips. Raising the nut to his nose smiled at the fresh nutty smell. Looking up he found Jenny's son watching him as intently as his mother.
"I bet the boy's never had fresh roasted chestnuts, huh?"
Lifting the boy in her arms she shook her head. "No, William hasn't had any before."
Jimmy continued to pick through the small mountain of chestnuts. "Well, we'll have to see about that."
Walking toward home, Jimmy patted the pockets of his coat. He'd stuffed them full of nuts from the store. Jenny'd offered him a sack, but he had turned her down, especially after she'd practically given him the chestnuts. He wasn't sure if his 'plan' was going to work, but once he'd gotten it into his head that roasted chestnuts were even a possibility he swore he was going to try.
The curtain in the window beside the front door lifted and two faces peered out at him, their warm breath fogging the window, hiding everything but their eyes and the points of their chins.
He'd barely touched the doorknob when it opened underneath his hand. "Papa!!"
Dara took his arm and pulled him inside as Louis shouldered his weight against the door, managing to close it before too many snowflakes littered the floor, melting away in the heat of the room.
"You two look like you've been waiting for me."
Louis shrugged a little but his eyes were bright with the truth of his father's words. "Finished our assignments and put supper on the stove." He looked at Dara and then back at his father. "And no, I didn't let her cut anything."
The younger of the Hickok children raised her hands palms up to show him. "See? All my fingers!"
Shaking his head, Jimmy removed his gloves first, handing them to Dara to dry before the fire. He was in a rush to get the coat off before he melted. "A bit warm in here, isn't it?"
Dara looked over at her older brother. "I'd say so, but Louis built the fire. He's going to have to be the one to go out and get more wood when the box is empty, not me."
"If I left it up to you, you'd still be building the fire and we'd be frozen to the floor." Louis arched a look at his sister but the smile he wore belied his true feelings.
As Jimmy reached up to hang up his coat something fell from one of his pockets.
Louis tracked the movement of the object on the floor along with his sister, but it was Dara who chased after the awkwardly weaving nut. "What's this?"
"That," Jimmy informed his children, "is going to be dessert."
Louise wondered if she'd have a nose left come morning.
As Teaspoon flicked the reins of the sleigh, he looked over her at her curious expression and chuckled. "Tired?"
Raising a gloved hand to her face, she pushed on the tip of her nose and was relieved to have a little bit of sensation at the touch. "Very, but I'm more concerned about losing my nose to frostbite."
She turned to look at her old station master and scrunched up her nose. "It's pretty numb."
Shaking his head, he gave her a wink as he guided his team through the snowy street. "It is pretty, but if you don't stop pattin' at it, it just may fall off from bein' rubbed the wrong way."
Setting her hands primly in her lap, Lou managed to hold her frosty expression less than a brisk step of the two draft horses pulling them along. "You sure you won't come in and stay for supper?" She gave him an encouraging smile. "You could always pick up Polly and come back."
He shook his head. "Polly's been roastin' and bakin' since early this morning. She'll have my hide if I ruin my appetite 'fore I get myself home."
Lou leaned a little against his shoulder. "Another day then." She straightened as they drew up to the gate. "For now, I'm going to rush inside and warm myself by the fire." She brushed a kiss on Teaspoon's cheek and climbed down from the sled. "You get right on home now."
Teaspoon raised his hand in a half-frozen salute and a broad wink. "Yes, Ma'am. Take care up that walk, Lou, might have some ice."
She waved with one hand as she opened the gate with the other. "I will. I'll see you tomorrow!"
It was something, she mused as Teaspoon started the team back down the street, the soft chimes of the bells on the harnesses in the heavy winter air. She drew her coat tighter about her body as she moved swiftly toward the house.
"Hello?" She called out her greeting toward the door but she was sure the sudden gust of wind had buried her voice in its own sweeping sound. Instead of raising her voice she reached for the door and opened it.
Inside she whirled around and shut the door behind her. "I'm home!" She swept off her coat and shook off the snow before she turned around to avail herself of the warmth of the fire.
She found that she didn't have to move a single step.
Seated on a foot stool drawn up near the fireplace, Jimmy was hunched over shaking a covered pan just above the flames of the fire. He turned to look at her with a grin. "Welcome home, darlin'."
Louis, seated nearby, looked up from the cutting board and grinned, his smile a smaller version of his father's. "We're roastin' chestnuts, Ma."
She moved closer, rounding the loveseat, drawn by her family more than the warmth. She watched Louis carefully cut into the side of the last chestnut on the cutting board and drop it into his sister's hands. Dara tugged at Jimmy's arm.
He withdrew the pan from the fire and grasped at the cover with a rag-wrapped hand. Once it lifted from its mate, the warm delicious smell of roasting nuts filled the room.
Dara shook the last bunch from her apron into the pan and leaned against her father, her head resting lightly on his shoulder as she watched him settle the pan back into the fire.
The scene before her did more to warm her chilled frame than the fire itself. She sat down and gave the seat beside her a pat. Louis set his tools aside and sat down beside her, allowing her the chance to wrap her arm around his broadening shoulders and pull him closer. She gave her son a bright smile. "So, where did this surprise come from?"
He nodded toward his father. "Pa brought 'em home from the store. Said he hadn't had the like since he was my age."
"Younger." Jimmy smiled at her over Dara's head. "It reminds me of my Ma. When she'd bring out the roasting pan we knew we were in for a treat."
"Hmm…" Lou felt the stirring of a question when Jimmy's head ducked down and she saw him study the pan a little too closely, "I wonder what it is that you… Jimmy?"
"Hmm?" He drew Dara back onto his lap, careful not to get the ruffles of her skirt or petticoats too close to the fire. "You should get washed up; the children have supper almost ready."
She saw right through his attempt at a diversion and knew from the mere attempt that she was on to something. "What is it that…" her mouth dropped open in shock. "Jimmy, where did that pan come from?"
"Pa made it." Dara beamed at her mother. "He took a hammer and a nail and-" Jimmy covered his daughter's mouth with his free hand, but it only lasted a moment before she danced away to squeeze in between her mother and brother on the chair. "He said you wouldn't mind."
Lou touched her daughter's face with her hands and enjoyed the warmth of her skin. "And did either one of you believe him?"
Both of the children shook their heads, eyes bright with mischief.
Jimmy, not nearly contrite, rolled his eyes for the benefit of his wife. "You know I'll get another pan at the store." He sighed, in a melodramatic sigh learned ages ago from Cody. "Besides, I think Jenny'll want me to make one for her. She doesn't have one either."
Her pointed look told him he was far from being in the clear with his project. "Well, children, let's get supper on the table so we can see if ruining my pan was worth it." She nudged the children toward the kitchen door and stood up, her hands automatically smoothing the volumes of wool. She looked up to see Jimmy watching her intently. "Careful, or you'll burn them."
"I won't burn them." He shook his head. "Besides, you know it'll be worth it."
She shrugged, but her dubious look spoke volumes. "So you say, Jimmy Hickok, but I'll wait until I can taste it for myself." She turned toward the door.
She looked back and saw him reach over to a small side table beside him. A few chestnuts sat on a plate, their shells nearly black from the heat of the fire. He set the pan aside for a moment and peeled away the skin of one of the chestnuts.
With the morsel held carefully between his fingers he gestured for her to move closer.
Lou gave him a curious look and moved closer, her movements slightly hesitant, as if she was waiting for him to play a joke on her. When she was within arm's reach he held it out for her to taste. She reached for it but he shook his head. "Open up."
With an impatient sigh she leaned in and opened her lips slightly.
Taking advantage of the moment Jimmy pressed the little bit between her lips, his fingertips brushing lightly against her skin.
She chewed carefully, tentatively searching out the flavor on her tongue. Her expression melted into a smile. "Delicious."
He gave her a wink that completed his satisfied smile. "I'd say so."
With a playful swat at his shoulder, Louise followed her children into the kitchen a blush coloring her cheeks. The bitter cold was forgotten as she was warmed by the fire.
Author's Note: I was looking for pictures online for graphics and came across the one in this title-graphic... and it inspired the story... Thanks to Liz M for the beta on this... as always it was a HUGE help to me