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Doc

 

 

Regrets
Part 13.1 in the Widow series (the link takes you to a list of all Widow stories in chronological order.)
It's also a Post-Lancer story: click here for the chronological order of all post Lancer stories.

(This happens sometime during the story “Healing”, which itself happens sometime during the story “Hurting”. Emily has been attacked by two men from Johnny’s past. The initial part of her recovery takes place in her own home, and Johnny stays with her with support from the rest of his family.)

Warning: Mature content, Bad language

 

Emily had been more alert today, and they’d talked some. Her mind was less muddled when she didn’t take the laudanum. As the sun went down, though, the pain got to be too much for her. Johnny measured out the medicine and sat with her until it did its job. Once she was sleeping, the ugly old dog by her side, he left her bedroom and quietly pulled the door shut.

They had talked about her animals, how they were doing; but Johnny knew before long Emily would want to talk about what happened. God, he wasn’t looking forward to that. A wrong word from a man could ruin a woman after she’d been raped. He didn’t want to be that man.

Worrying about it brought up bad memories, memories of his mother—the men in and out of her bed. And of mistakes of his own which he thought he’d buried long ago.

Johnny was lighting the lamps inside when Scott showed up. He waved Johnny into the upholstered chair by the window, then disappeared into the back of the house. After putting away the food and clean linens he’d brought, he came back into the front room with a bottle of good Scotch and two glasses.

Johnny smiled. “Ah, brother, you’re a goddamn jewel, you know that?”

“Don’t let it get around.” Scott handed Johnny a glass two fingers full and poured a measure for himself, then settled into the horsehair sofa. He set the bottle on the floor between them. “How’s she doing today?”

“Better.” Johnny took a sip. It burned all the way down, but it didn’t do a thing to clear the jumble in his head.

“Glad to hear it. You, on the other hand, don’t look so good.” Scott lifted his glass in a mock toast with that eyebrow-raised look of his.

Johnny breathed in a big breath, held it, blew it out. The silence grew, except for muffled snores from the old dog in Emily’s room.

How could he explain to his brother? Johnny had seen it all when he was a kid. When could Scott have seen or heard two people getting it on? Johnny had almost thrown up when he’d heard Mama cry, heard her getting slapped or slapping someone else, heard the grunting of the men who forced themselves on her… When could Scott have seen a woman abused or raped? Maybe when he went to war, but not when he was a kid. Not for damn sure.

Scott didn’t look away. “Talk to me, brother.”

Johnny grabbed a tumbling thought and spit it out. “When did you learn about bumpin’ uglies?”

Scott choked on his whiskey. “What did you say?”

“You know. Bumpin’ uglies. Screwing. Ticklin’ the pickle. Fucking. When did you learn about it?” 

Scott responded with a raised eyebrow. “That is not what you were thinking so hard about.”

Johnny couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah. You’re right. Not exactly, anyway.”

Scott knocked back the last of his whiskey, and waited.

“How did you learn about…about what men and women do together?” Johnny kept his eyes on his boots.

“Are you asking me about my first time?”

“Kinda.”

Scott chuckled. “A gentleman never tells, little brother.”

Johnny shook his head. “Ain’t no gentlemen in this story. What I learned and who I learned it from…no gentlemen at all.”

“All right. Must be quite a story.” Scott’s voice was careful, quiet.

“After my mama died I got taken on as a lookout for a gang of banditos. They were hard men…I was just a kid. It wasn’t a bad gig, though. They fed me pretty regular.”

He grabbed the bottle. He filled his own glass and then Scott’s.

“There was this bawdy house they went to every week or two. After a while they started taking me. They saw to it I got laid for the first time…”

Johnny shook his head, remembering the women there. Too much face paint, hardly any teeth…The gang made him watch so he’d know what to do; he’d been too ashamed to admit he’d seen it before. When it was his turn they looked on, shouting profanities and advice.

“They told me women liked it rough. I kinda believed ‘em. I was…what? Thirteen? Fourteen? I knew my mama got bruises sometimes…” Johnny gulped more whiskey. “The first time a whore told me I was hurting her, the bandits laughed. Then they told me to go harder.”

Johnny stared at the glass in his hand. “I did.”

The whiskey swam in the lamplight; he blinked.

“Went with ‘em a few times. They bought me booze, too. Did I mention that? Drinkin’ helped, even though it made it…harder in some ways….so to speak.” He lifted his glass high. “But it made it easier to be rough. I just drank like they did and did what they told me. They thought they were big men for knocking women around.”

If Scott was shocked, he hid it well. “You were just a kid.”

“Not really. I already knew what men did to women. I’d seen mama and her men. Made it easier to…”

He stopped, cleared his throat. “Scott, I came close. I came real close to...”

Johnny stopped, lost in his thoughts. 

“Whatever it was you came close to, what’s important is that you didn’t. And I know you wouldn’t have.”

Johnny closed his eyes. He wished he had his brother’s faith in his younger self.

“I left the gang, moved on…A while after that I found a hurt girl in an alley. She had been…well, you know. Raped.” 

She’d looked to be about fourteen. Huddled on the ground, her face buried in her hands, she had rocked back and forth as she whimpered. The backs of her hands had been bloody.

“Hey, do you need some help?” She had jerked, terror in her eyes.  She opened her mouth like she was going to scream but the only sound that came out was a gut wrenching moan.

“I won’t hurt you.”

She covered her face again and went back to moaning and rocking. Her dress was torn in a couple of places.

“Come on.” Johnny knelt beside her and gently touched her arm. She didn’t respond.

“Let me help you up.” He pushed up on her elbow and she finally let him help her to her feet. He moved to put his arm around her shoulder, to support her, but when he felt the tension in her back he stopped. “Come with me. I’ll find us a place to sit.”

That must have been the right thing to say, because she started walking beside him. She moved stiffly, gingerly, bow-legged.

“Do you want me to take you home?” She shook her head violently no, disbelief in her eyes.

“Sorry.”

He wracked his brain for a safe place to take her. To a doctor? A church? A brothel?

In the end he took her to the doctor’s house. The girl didn’t resist. He knocked on the door and she stood there, arms wrapped around herself, eyes down. When the door opened she let him lead her in.

The doctor cast a knowing eye on the girl. “What did you do to her?”

“Nothing. I found her like this. I don’t know her, but she needs help.”

The doctor put a hand on the girl’s chin and forced her eyes up. “Did this boy hurt you?”

The girl had glanced over at him and shook her head.

“No,” she’d whispered. “Not him.”

Johnny rubbed a hand over his face. Then he  looked hard at Scott. “The doctor asked her if I was the one who hurt her. She told him no, but he made me feel like I’d been the one to hurt her. Even when she told him it wasn’t me, he thought I had done it. And I felt…guilty, I guess. Like maybe I had.”

“Johnny, that girl you helped was an innocent. Those women at the brothel were professionals. They knew the risks. They were prostitutes.”

“Which one was my mama?”

Scott opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again.

Johnny sighed. “You call ‘em ‘prostitutes’ but they were women, Scott. Women down on their luck, sucking on booze or laudanum all day just to get through. And I let some assholes convince me it was okay to hurt ‘em.”

“You were confused, inexperienced. Hell, you were probably drunk.”

“Men hurt women every day. Every damn day.” And he’d been one of them. He’d hit whores. It wasn’t until he saw the terror in that girl’s eyes that he really understood.

And he’d seen the same terror in Emily’s eyes.

Scott took a deep breath. “Johnny. Good men don’t set out to hurt women. And you are a good man.” Scott met his eyes and held them. “You were rough when you didn’t know any better, but even so, I’m sure you never…forced any woman against her will.”

Johnny nodded. There was that faith again. “Thanks.”

Scott leaned back. “Don’t mention it.”

Johnny’s thoughts were still whirling, but talking to Scott helped. He regretted what he had done, but he’d learned to live with his regrets. All of them.

Scott’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Johnny?”

“Yeah?”

“Tickling the pickle?”

 

 

~ end ~

Part of the Widow series

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