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Forrest looked at her with hard eyes. “What do you want?” he asked.
“I...” Maggie said before she stopped, puzzled by Forrest’s hostility.
“You left,” Forrest pointed out for her. “You left Billy. Me.”
“Is he okay?” she asked.
“Why the hell do you care?” John couldn’t help yelling at her. The misery she’d put herself, Billy, and Forrest through flushed through him.
“Why the hell do you?” Maggie shouted back.
“Because all you had to do was just... fucking... breast feed that boy!” John fired back.
“Is he dead?” she asked with dread.
Forrest’s stare was icily. “No, Maggie. He survived no thanks to you. What do you want?” he repeated.
“I’ve come back.”
Forrest kept regarding her for a while making her look away. Then he hummed and nodded. “And then what?”
“I don't need your help. John is helping.”
“Mr. Truscott?” she said and pointed at John. “With what?”
“Everything. He don’t make no fuss and has plans that work.”
“And I made fuss?” Maggie asked.
Forrest rested his gaze on hers and she looked away once again, knowing that she had been nothing but problematic for a while.
“Can I see him?”
“What’s the problem, Forrest?” Howard asked. “She’s back. Ain’t that what you wanted?”
“The problem is she’s not fit to be his mother,” John said.
“Excuse me!” Maggie said looking hatefully at John. John didn't care.
“You didn’t take care of your baby, left him, and now that you’re fine, you think coming back will make you fit to take care of him?”
“You should have stayed away, Maggie,” Forrest said and he stopped next to her, took her arm, and forcefully guided her out of the saloon until she was standing on the porch.
“You can’t do this!” she said in disbelief. “He’s my child!”
“No. He’s my child,” Forrest said.
“Go. Go home to your folks. They’re looking for you.”
“No, they’re not. I have no folks. I wasn’t running from my folks...”
“Then who was the sheriff referring to was looking for you?”
Maggie looked frightened. Whoever was looking for her, she didn’t want them to find her.
“Damn, I’ll regret this,” Forrest said and let her inside again.
“Don’t tell the sheriff I returned.”
“For now,” Forrest said. “Go upstairs to your old room. Be quiet or you’ll sleep in the barn.”
Maggie scoffed, but Forrest sent her one of his special looks and she decided to drop her attitude and obey.
John sat down on a chair heavily. “I can’t believe I just said those things,” he murmured quietly to himself. The hostile environment was getting to him and he didn’t like that. The baby was Maggie’s. Hers and Forrest’s. Of course she had the right to have him, but so did Forrest. Maggie hadn’t been much of a mother to him. If she was to take him with her, she might not be able to handle him. Maybe she just thought she could. But a couple of days away made no miracle worker. Billy wasn’t going to suffer because of that. Perhaps a doctor could set things straight, figure out if she was getting better.
John shook his head mentally. If she was better, then Forrest would lose Billy if a doctor intervened and bullied his diagnosis down on them. He might also establish that Maggie wasn’t sane. That would be unfair as well. John thought she was emotionally unstable. Old terms like hysteria also came to mind, but he wouldn’t make such a drastic conclusion. That word was just something people sprouted if they didn’t know any better. Truth of the matter was that John probably didn’t either. He only had his own eyes to guide him and what Forrest had told him.
Forrest seemed understanding up to a certain point. But after Maggie took off, leaving Billy’s destiny in the hands of his father, John knew Forrest would fight for his boy even if it cost the child his mother.
One thing John was sure of was that Maggie would want to move on – away from the people she had been running from in the first place. This was just a pit stop for her; getting Billy and move on. No thanks to Forrest and John for saving the baby she hadn’t been fit to care for. She was unlikely going to breastfeed now and probably couldn’t when so much time had passed. Billy would still need Forrest to survive.
John was rambling. Why did he even care so much? He cared because he cared about Forrest’s well being. Maggie was nothing to him. Just because she had brought the baby into this life, didn’t mean she was the right caretaker. Forrest, on the other hand, was an incredible caretaker. Tenaciously, he took care of everybody.
John went to Forrest who was having a conversation with his brother.
“Why you gone and took this initiative by yourself? Hm?” Forrest asked.
Howard rubbed his neck. “I thought that’s what you wanted?”
“I never wanted her back. She’s... she’s...”
“I thought you liked her and everything.”
“Everything? Hmm?” Forrest was making fists with his hands. Clearly, he was agitated, but controlled himself not to take it out on his older sibling. Forrest peered at John and John leaned back against the bar. “If I’d wanted Maggie back, I’d asked you to get her for me,” Forrest said.
John straightened his back in alarm.
Stepping into Howard’s personal space, Forrest looked into his brother’s eyes. “Go on...”
“Jack thought... you needed someone... to.” Howard gulped. “Jack just meant well. He said, he thought we had to find some woman... to help with the baby.”
Forrest visibly gritted his teeth.
“Oh, c’mon, Forrest!” Howard opened his arms in exasperation. “You said the formula didn’t work. The stuff you feed Billy. And I saw Maggie sitting by her lonesome at the station and I thought...”
“Don't fucking think for me. It’s never been one of your assets, Howard,” Forrest said and licked his tongue across his plush lips. It made them bigger somehow. Shinier.
John lowered his shoulders. He hadn’t realised how wound up he’d become from watching Forrest handle his brother in that passive aggressive way of his.
“What exactly did Jack say about me?”
“Just that... he thought you... needed... a woman.”
Forrest closed his eyes, turned, and stepped behind the bar.
John closed his mouth, agape as it had out of the blue become. Another thing he hadn’t realised. He squinted at Howard. Jack had honest to God decided that the scene he’d stumbled upon in Forrest’s bedroom was exactly what it had looked like. His solution to his brother’s queerness had been to push a woman on Forrest to re-establish him as a non bender. Brought the idea to Howard who gladly took the task upon him. When he saw Maggie lurk around at the rail station, he immediately invited her to come back to the filling station, reacquire her position, Forrest’s bed, and everybody would be happy.
Forrest’s hands gripped the edge of the bar and took in stock with unseeing eyes the counter in front of him. Then he gradually looked up and found Howard standing where he left him.
“Tell that jackass to mind his own business. Not to make any decisions for me he knows fucking shit about.”
Forrest grunted annoyed and challenging, and finally Howard stopped counter arguing, nodded at his little brother, and rushed out of the saloon.
“What a refined way of not telling but still telling,” John said.
“Best be going checking on Billy,” was Forrest's response.
“Wait... you’re not actually gonna shoot Jack? Are you?” John asked, remembering what Forrest had promised earlier.
Patiently, Forrest stared at John. No. John was positive Forrest wasn’t really going to do it.
“Want me to come with you? Upstairs,” he asked him.
Forrest just hummed and shook his head.
John watched him leave for the stairs and decided to putter about in the saloon, tidy up, and prepare for the morning.
That night, John lay alone in his bed. He wanted to go to Forrest, but he didn’t because of Maggie. To his shock, he heard Maggie come out of her room and find her way down the corridor toward Forrest’s door.
Like the first time he heard her, John’s hearing sense intensified, and he hated that she thought it was all right to barge in on Forrest.
“Forrest?” she said, voice needy and desperate. He heard her open and close the door.
John squeezed his eyes shut, keenly aware that she might interrupt Forrest nursing Billy. But there was no outcry and John swallowed in disgust when he heard Forrest’s bed quirk. The woman picked up her liberties like it was okay, like it didn’t matter if Forrest wanted it or not.
This made John doubt if she really came back for Billy. Chances now were that in reality she’d come back for Forrest using Billy as an excuse; a hostage. If Forrest didn’t give in, she’d take Forrest away from him. She wasn’t necessarily conscious about this action, but John could feel it in his guts that that was just what she would do.
John sat up. This was too much and his head was spinning from analysing Maggie’s moves. He was in this bed, prevented from sleeping with Forrest because she was in there. Getting out of his room, John decided to put a stop to it.
Standing in front of Forrest’s door, John hesitated, nevertheless. There were no sounds indicating what was going on in there, and John turned the handle silently and opened the door.
Forrest turned his head and John looked at the display. Maggie was sitting on the edge of the bed wearing her dressing gown. The sleeve on one shoulder had slid down revealing a naked back, so Maggie’s intention had been clear.
“Get out, Mr. Truscott,” Maggie hissed at him.
“No,” John said, surprising her. “You get out.”
“I’m barely dressed,” Maggie said.
John couldn’t help laughing. “Oh. So, you’re playing the prudish card? But I’ve got you figured out.” John narrowed his eyes and crawled onto the bed to face her. Maggie looked positively scandalised. “You’re blackmailing Forrest, and because he would never harm a woman you think you can get away with it.”
“You’re out of line, Mr. Truscott!” Maggie said, quickly pulling up her sleeve.
Forrest was resting on an elbow following the conversation but he didn't tell John to stop.
“Your little seduction entré didn’t work, did it?” John asked.
Maggie flashed Forrest a quick glance but found his face expressionless. “No... he pushed me away.”
John got up and went around the bed smirking slightly when she pulled her feet to the side to avoid physical contact with him as he passed her.
John went to check on the baby, but Billy slept. “You’ve got a beautiful son, Maggie. It’s just sad you thought you could push yourself into staying here demanding Forrest to man up to his responsibility when you clearly didn’t show him the same respect.”
“I’ve been sick.”
“That’s fine. But that’s no excuse for basically starving your child.”
“He got that... formula.”
“Which he didn’t want to eat,” Forrest said with a tired sigh. “Look, Maggie. I get it. I know what you want, but I ain’t the man to give it to you. Billy stays here. Just go back to your room. Please. You’re not really here for the boy anyway, right?”
Maggie opened her mouth to protest but then she got up as dignified as possible.
“Why are you suddenly so interested in this? Aren’t you going to New York, Mr. Truscott?”
“I’m in no hurry.”
“Ah. I can tell what this is. You’re vying for Forrest’s affection, I can see that.”
“I’m just helping out for a while.”
John and Forrest shared an equally confused look. “What about Howard?” Forrest asked and simultaneously picked up Billy, when he uttered a tiny quirk indicating he would cry within a moment. Billy sensed who was handling him and his small hands were already grabbing for purchase at Forrest’s chest.
“Well, he was kind enough to help me when I needed... help,” Maggie said, and then she pulled a curl behind her ear and took a step toward Forrest and Billy.
“I should probably make some form...” She stopped. “What are you doing, Forrest?”
John was squatting next to Forrest on the floor and one of his hands held Billy’s little arm. Forrest had put the baby to his chest without even hesitating.
“Are you... nursing?” she asked.
John looked up at her and then back at Forrest who had his eyes closed.
“Yeah. Had to be done. Nobody could help. You had just taken off clearly in no position to help. I still don't think you’re in a position to help, so don't even think about offering formula because that shit almost killed my boy.”
“This is grotesque! Have you lost your mind?” she asked and took a step toward the bed.
“Stay the fuck away, Maggie,” Forrest said in a low threatening way.
Maggie stood rooted to the spot and just stared. “You’re a freak...” she muttered.
Billy was sucking his milk noisily and finally Maggie registered that it was no joke. Forrest was literally giving his baby milk. Her baby.
“I’m gonna tell somebody about this. That is... that is...” She shuddered bodily with disgust.
Slowly, John got up. A calm feeling came over him and neared her before he moved in. He grabbed her around the mouth and pulled her close. When she stopped struggling, he said in her ear, “If you tell a soul, I will kill you. I won’t hesitate, I won’t be nice, but I swear I’ll be quick. It’s a shame you got sick having Billy, but this is no excuse. We’re only doing this because you got sick.” Gradually, he let go and Maggie stumbled away from him. Her eyes were unseeing and she pointed feebly at them.
“I need to get out of here.”
Forrest looked calmly at her. “You do that, Maggie. Just keep your fucking mouth shut. If I hear any gossip, any at all, you know what’s coming to ya.”
Maggie fled from the room and John felt sick having touched another dark side in him he didn’t know he had.
“I’d never kill that woman,” he said shaken.
“I know. I never thought you would.”
“I believed I was able to when I said it.”
“The rush of fear will do that to you.”
“Survival instinct,” John added.
Forrest nodded slowly and licked his lips in thought.
A door slammed in the corridor, and cries of distress came loudly thereafter.
“I feel like such a shit,” John admitted and came around to crawl into bed with the others.
“I should never have let her stay that day when she came here. She was so cocky and sure of herself. She was great for the station, but just couldn’t stay away from me. Are people attracted to danger?” Forrest asked John.
“I’m not sure I’m the right...” John chuckled but stopped. “I’ll tell you something about Borneo.” John had deluded to a few of the funnier stories about Borneo, but hadn’t touched the subject of Selima and Belansai yet. “On Borneo... I met this warrior, and he’d killed people. Anglers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – or so I prefer to see it. I was with him the last night I was there.”
Forrest’s eyes lit up with interest. “You slept with that man?”
“Yeah, he was very good in bed,” John admitted and chuckled again.
“Uh,” Forrest said and hummed. He checked on Billy’s position and looked at John again. He had a little smirk on and John knew he was looking for details. John smiled and shook his head.
“No. I’m not telling on him.”
“He don’t know that. He’s far away on a little island, ain’t he?”
“No, I suppose he doesn’t.”
“Did you fuck other people”?
“You make me sound like a slut!” John laughed.
“I know you’re no slut, John,” Forrest stressed.
“There was this old arrangement from way back when England colonised Borneo. Native girls were used to sleep with the British men who came out there in order to make them learn the language faster. Afterwards, they were free to dispose of that girl and she would be passed on to someone else.”
Forrest looked at him with round eyes. “Legalised prostitution?”
“The natives don’t seem to think about it that way, but the English men certainly do. I was set up with such a girl and it was a disaster. I accepted the tradition because I had no other alternative. The worst part was that she was actually the daughter of the governor and she didn’t even know.”
Forrest was astounded staring at John for several seconds before he looked away. “What a jackass,” he said.
“Are we better?” John said.
Forrest looked at Billy and closed his eyes. “It’s different when it’s your own blood. You’re biased.” Forrest opened his eyes and said. “You make me different, John. I do things with you, I say things to you. I’m a better person around you, and believe me, John. I’m not a particular good person.”
John leaned in and kissed Forrest. “It’s this hostile environment...”
Forrest sighed. The argument was straining and Maggie slamming things around wasn’t helping. “You better lock her out when she’s ready to leave.”
“Should I drive her to the station?”
Forest shrugged. “If you want.”
“I don't but it’s the least we can do at this late hour.”
“All right. The keys are under the...”
“Glass cabinet in the saloon. Got it,” John said and got dressed in a hurry, pressed another kiss to Forrest’s lips and one to Billy’s head, before he left the bedroom and went downstairs to wait for Maggie.
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“I would never kill you. I apologise profusely for even saying that, Maggie. I’m so very sorry.”
“You two scared me. I can’t understand how you even think Billy belongs in this house of... of... evil.”
“Come on. You’re a modern woman.”
“I’m not well, Mr. Truscott. You should know that. I don't know what to think about that... that thing upstairs.”
John sighed. Perhaps it was easier for her to process Forrest as a monster. “Can I take you to the station?”
“Yes, please,” Maggie accepted without a second’s pause.
John opened the door and let her out. Locking the door, he went to the truck where Maggie already sat clutching her bag. It was dark, and John could easily get rid of her if he chose to.
The tension was thick in the vehicle. Maggie was shivering and John was battling his own demons.
Occasionally, Maggie broke the silence to give him quiet instructions how to get to the station, and finally they were there.
John was so relieved when he could stop and let her out.
As a last gentleman’s gesture, he took her suitcase from the back and carried it for her into the waiting area of the station building.
“Hello, Mr. Truscott. Fancy seeing you here!” a voice greeted him.
John looked up in surprise and it took him several seconds to recognise the man who came toward him. It was one of the passengers from his flight.
“Our plane is flying out tomorrow 4 am, so best be ready,” he said cheerfully. “Where have you been these past many days? Been looking for you as a matter of fact. The word is that you didn’t get a room in town?”
John just looked at him. “Already? So soon?” he then blurted.
“Yeah, quite unexpected. Can’t wait to get out of this dump. The missus and I decided to just wait here. It’s just in about five hours anyway.”
“Five hours?” John repeated.
His eyes slowly panelled toward Maggie who looked back at him. There was something in her eyes John couldn’t quite figure out. A plea but for what?
“Take me with you. You don't belong here either,” he heard her say.
John wasn’t aware of what was going on in his own subconscious, but when her hand touched his arm he had already reached inside his jacket. His plane ticket was still in his inner pocket and looking at Maggie, he slowly pulled forth the slip of paper.
“Maybe you don’t, but I think I do,” he said, and put the ticket in her hand.
End of tale 5th of July 2015