Annnnnd here's the third of them. ^___^;; was wayyy too tired to post it and link it last night...
Aside from the time Reno took that one bet about the carob nuts and Pop Shinra's big black chocobo, the town had been plumb dry on new gossip since Highwind arrived. Weren't no sense in whispering about a man when he'd go and curse you out to your face loud enough the whole town could hear it all straight the first time through, which made the gossip mill old news before it even got the chance to get properly going.
Having been brought up in the town, and feeling an odd kind of familial duty to the way things were done in those parts, Vince went and tried to explain to Highwind about how the womenfolk liked to gossip about new folks, and how it weren't sociable to deprive them of their entertainment.
Highwind said 'sociable' was a highfalutin word for 'a load of rubbish' (only with a few more curse words in) and he didn't pay the womenfolk no nevermind to start with.
There weren't nothing Vince could say to that. So he held his peace, and left the womenfolk to stew.
It was an outright scandal how there weren't no scandals at all fit to gossip over, though -- at least, none that hadn't been jawed to death already. Lu's baby had had all the gossip the poor wee mite could bear before it was even born. There were a few months of whispers when the babe turned out white-haired as one of Hojo's scientifical rats, what with old Myra swearing up down and sideways that it was proof of the devil's work in the village. But when the littl'un didn't turn out to spit up fire and brimstone after all, folks were a bit disappointed in old Myra's prognostications.
And that left them without a single new source of gossip for months.
Everybody knew about Reno, after all; folks reckoned there weren't hardly no surprises left, not after the chocobo. Or rather, nothing got to be surprising anymore, on account of he always came up with all kinds of tomfool stunts.
It would've been a fair sight more surprising if he'd pressed his shirts and tucked them in and shown up to church of a Sunday; but even Reno wouldn't be caught going that far to scratch up some attention from the womenfolk.
So the gossip mill was just about shriveled up and run dry as Pop Shinra's mercy, when the new preacher man came to town.
Nobody quite knew for sure who it was went and filled the new preacher man's ears about Zack and the Strife boy. Good money was betting on that hussy Scarlet, on account of how she could have just about any man in town who was single or discontented with his wife, but she'd been sniffing around their heels for years and never got so much as a pat on the head out of it, and she was mighty sour over that. But Zack was good with the kids, and he'd taught them all their prayers since he was old enough to read the good book himself; and if you were a new young preacher in a traditionalist town, you couldn't let rumors like that go flying about the town's Sunday school teacher, not if'n you wanted to hold your head up in civilized company afterwards.
Folks didn't envy Pastor Reeve a bit, but on the other hand once it had been brought up, he couldn't just let it lie neither, they reckoned. If the new pastor did go and leave that kind of accusation unspoken-about, well then, what kind of a pastor was he? The poor man was stuck between a rock and a hard place, but then that was what being a pastor was for, and they were all mightily glad it wasn't them that had to do the difficult talking.
So Pastor Reeve went and invited himself over to the ranch for tea, and brought a proper tea-cake and everything, because Zack was a fine young man otherwise, and it wouldn't do to go driving a wedge into the church over a mouthful of sour-grapes gossip, and so he had to try hard to make it all civilized.
It was a Saturday, so the kids had been let free from the schoolhouse, and their favorite thing to do on a free day -- well, no, scratch that; their favorite thing to do on a free day was run around kicking up mischief, but their second-favorite was to form up a posse and herd the Strife boy out to the pens and beg and plead and wheedle until he'd let them all take turns riding for a little spell.
Pastor Reeve complimented Zack's tea, and Zack chuckled over how it weren't good enough for that old coot Highwind but most other folks seemed to like it fine. And Zack complimented Pastor Reeve's tea-cake, which it turned out he'd gone and baked himself, on account of Zack really was a fine young man, and he wasn't looking forward to having this talk in any way, shape, or form; but there weren't no right-minded way out of it neither, and so he was plumb stuck, and rather sour on that no-'count Scarlet for getting him into this pickle to start with.
There was a certain kind of glitter in Zack's eye that said he knew damn well what Pastor Reeve had gone and invited himself over about, the tea-cake notwithstanding, and he wasn't about to go and make it no easier to say. Pastor Reeve couldn't rightly blame him neither, but he had a job to do, whether or not he liked it much.
"Zack," Pastor Reeve said, "you're a good young man. I know that. You know the good book better than some of the preachers I've met. And I am mightily sorry to have to be saying this, but it's my bounden duty to ask--"
"Yes, sir?" Zack wasn't giving a blessed inch, and Pastor Reeve could have cordially hated him for a minute, if'n he hadn't felt such a downright heel for being on the boy's porch repeating nasty rumors over tea in the first place.
"There's a verse in the book of Leviticus, chapter 22," Pastor Reeve said, and the pattern on the teacup was the most interesting thing he'd ever seen. "About how a man shall not lie down with a man as with a woman, and Zack, son, you know what I have to ask you."
"I know," Zack said, and took a sip of tea, and looked out at where the Strife boy was lifting a squealing little girl with pigtails down from the back of a big fat slow-footed chocobo with the sweetest disposition ever. "I reckon you didn't even need to ask, sir," he said.
"I'm sorry," Pastor Reeve said. "I really am. The children love you both--"
"I reckon you didn't need to ask," Zack said, with a sharp look, "on account of how I'll swear on my mother's grave that I never in my life laid down with that boy the way I would lie with a woman."
Pastor Reeve was plumb flummoxed over that, and spent a while trying to figure out how to get his head on straight again. "Huh?" he said, which weren't terribly pastorlike and highfalutin, but one had to make allowances for trying situations.
"I reckon," Zack said, with the sharpest grin Pastor Reeve had ever seen off'n something that weren't a swamp gator, "there ain't no natural way I could lay down with him the same way I'd lie with a woman, on account of men and women not having the same parts."
"Oh," Pastor Reeve said, a little befuzzled; and then he said, "oh," only it meant something entirely different that time.
"And if that two-bit whore wants me to prove it," Zack said genially, "you tell the interfering slut that there ain't enough hooch in Pop Shinra's warehouse to get me far enough out of my head to look at her like anything better than a used-up dishrag."
"I figure I can do that," Pastor Reeve said, trying hard not to grin too much, because that wouldn't be proper.
"Just because a man has better taste than to sniff around her skirts," Zack muttered, and scrubbed a hand through that hedgehog-mess of his hair. "You'd better be careful she don't take a grudge against you too, sir, on account of how I reckon you've got better taste than that yourself."
"Indeed I do," Pastor Reeve said, and shuddered a little.
"So I'll take any kind of oath you want out of me, Pastor, and you'll know it for God's own truth whether or not you believe another word I say--"
"No," Pastor Reeve said. "I mean, yes -- I mean I reckon that makes good sense -- I mean, even aside from how you've got better taste than that... that... anyhow. Thank you, son."
"Don't mention it, Pastor," Zack said, and his usual sunshine-smile was back on, and the only clouds in the area were out in the chocobo pen being swarmed around the knees by young'uns. "More tea, sir?"
"Yes, please," Pastor Reeve said, and so that was that.