Someone asked for this AGES ago, and I just now managed to finish it. I’m so sorry it took so long. LOL It’s not what I was originally going for, but the story had other ideas, and brought me this route. :)
Forest wasn’t normally a jealous man. Then again, he didn’t really have anything to protect the way he did Maggie. From the moment she’d set foot in the Blackwater Station, he’d felt the need to shelter her. He would always fight for his brothers, but Maggie was something entirely different. She was special. At first, he’d been threatened by her presence. She was a woman stepping in and mothering the boys he’d raised for so long. No one else had had a say in what he’d done before. Then, she had given herself to him. Part of him figured there was no time for love. No time for a weakness like her beautiful, perfect body atop his. He had boys to care for. Money to stash so that they would be set for life.
Another part of him realized that, without a doubt, he was in love with Maggie and wanted no one else to touch her, to look at her, to get the chance to take her away from him. He needed to protect what was his.
That’s why Forrest didn’t like it when he came back into the station and found Howard at the counter, leaned against it, his arms folded underneath him, Maggie in almost the same pose. Close to Howard. Smiling like she smiled at Forrest. He walked to the counter, just a few feet from them, and set his hat down upon it, his coffee cup in his hand. Maggie didn’t seem to notice. He looked over at her. She was giggling at something Howard said. He could see from this distance that her heel had popped out of her shoe as she crossed her ankles, putting all her weight on one leg. Forrest had seen her do that before, when they stayed up late talking by the bar. When she came around to the other side to sit with him.
He aligned his jaw just so, anger and jealousy getting the better of him. He set his mug down on the bar with a little too much force. Half expected it to break.
Maggie jumped, turning to face him. She saw the annoyance burning in his eyes and reached out to touch Howard’s arm, mumbling something to him. She pursed her lips together as she reached for the coffee pot and poured Forrest a fresh cup. She handed it back to him, trying to get him to meet her eyes, but he refused. “Sorry, Forrest,” she apologized. “Howard and I were just chattin’.”
He didn’t answer. He grunted and refused to make eye contact with either one of them. He took his hat and his coffee, and started towards the back room. Before he got there, he heard Howard laugh at something Maggie had said or done. His tolerance level had been hit. “Howard,” he said, stopping and turning back around. “Why don’t you take yourself elsewhere?”
Howard’s happy grin faded as he stared at his brother. Forrest was walking closer to them, his eyes burning with impatience and ire, which confused Howard. “What?”
“You heard me,” Forrest bit back, stepping closer. He set his mug of coffee on the counter and pointed to the door. “Get out.”
“Forrest,” Maggie tried to interrupt.
He met her gaze this time, his eyes cold and sharp. “I ain’t talkin’ to you,” he spat.
She was taken aback by his tone. She straightened and crossed her arms over her chest.
Howard shook his head. “I’m supposed to help—”
“I’ll do fine without you,” he interrupted.
Still unsure about what was going on, Howard glanced over at Maggie, who he found was already returning his gaze. Concern in her eyes. “Forrest,” Howard said gently, “what’s got into you?”
He pointed at the door again. “Go on,” he said, “you heard me.”
Howard looked his brother up and down. He knew that Forrest wouldn’t hurt him. Forrest knew that Howard could take him down, albeit with a damn good fight. But he respected Forrest enough to follow his directions. He backed away, nodding his head. Waved goodbye to Maggie and turned.
As if to make sure that Howard really did leave, Forrest followed him, coffee in hand. Howard wanted to remind him that he was on his way to the back room before he’d gotten so bent out of shape, but he decided that now was not the best time. He glanced over his shoulder, seeing Forrest put his hat back on his head as they pushed out of the doors to the station.
Howard moved down the steps, while Forrest stood on the porch, watching him. “Alright,” Howard said, resting his hands on his hips, all his weight on one foot. “You wanna tell me what’s got you so angry?”
Forrest squinted out into the sunlight. The day was chilly. There would be a frost tonight. Taking a sip of his coffee, he remained quiet. He sat down in his chair and gazed out at the road.
“Come on, Forrest,” Howard encouraged. He’d always said his brother’s name as one syllable, ‘Forst.’ It never annoyed Forrest until now.
“Get on home,” he told his brother, pointing to the road.
“Ain’t no women folk ‘round,” Howard said. “Tell me what’s got your damn knickers in a knot.”
“You watch your mouth,” Forrest warned.
“Well, come on then,” he returned, opening his arms wide.
“Ain’t nothin’,” Forrest returned.
“That’s bullshit,” Howard said back to him. “You just about snapped Maggie’s head off in there. She ain’t done nothin' wrong, and you know it.”
“Maybe you ought not be spendin’ so much time with Maggie,” he growled at him.
Howard shook his head, staring at his brother for a few seconds. Watching him take a sip of coffee, the drink steaming in the chilled air. He’d heard Jack say something about how close Forrest and Maggie were, but he hadn’t bought into it. Not until now. “Is that it?” he asked. “You just jealous?”
Forrest met Howard’s eyes. “I ain’t,” he refused.
Suddenly laughing, Howard took a step closer to the porch. He slapped his knee, stomped a foot. “Damn, boy, you sure as hell is,” he laughed.
Forrest looked away from Howard, back towards the road. He listened to his brother laugh, talk on and on about how Forrest was a jealous man. All the while fuming inside. He set his mug of coffee on the table beside him and stood up from the chair. Howard lowed at the move, feigning fear of his brother.
“What you gonna do, Forrest?”
Forrest let him carry on. Let him dig himself deeper. He stepped down the stairs and faced Howard. The man was taller than him, bulkier. But that didn’t deter Forrest. And it didn’t make Howard stand his ground any easier.
Backing up from Forrest, Howard paused in his laughter for a moment. “Let me ask you somethin’,” he said, his eyes glittering with a smile, “you lay claim to Maggie, did you?”
He chose not to speak of what he and Maggie had shared. He looked at Howard, his gaze piercing and angry. “I ain’t,” he finally answered.
“And, do you own me, Forrest?”
“Howard,” he said, almost complaining.
That was answer enough for Howard. He leaned in a little closer to his brother. As if, all of a sudden, his size could be intimidating. “Then what the hell makes you think,” he began, “that you can tell me what to do with my own goddamn time?”
Quickly, Forrest lashed out at Howard. He gritted his teeth together and swung at him. The palm of his hand connected with his brother’s jaw, snapping his head to the side. It was silent between them, Howard not moving for several seconds. Cheek stinging and red.
“You can take that sass and bring it right on back home with you,” Forrest snarled at him. “I don’t want none of it here, Howard Bondurant.”
Finally turning to face his brother, Howard nodded his head. He respected Forrest more than he could ever put into words. When Momma had died, Forrest had become the disciplinarian. He still was.
Forrest gazed up at his brother. Saw the hurt look in the man’s eyes. He didn’t feel bad for hitting him. It was a matter of respect. He turned and walked back up the steps, pausing at the landing when he heard Howard’s voice, now much quieter than before. And though he’d been reprimanded, Howard’s voice was still growled in anger.
“We was talkin’ about you,” he said.
Forrest spun to face him. “What?” he asked.
“Maggie and me,” Howard clarified. “We was talkin’ about you. She wanted to know what to get you for Christmas.” He smiled. Rubbed his sleeve against his face, where Forrest had hit him. As if there was something to wipe away. “I’m guessin’ it ain’t gonna be much, then.”
Forrest stood there, trying not to show that he was stunned. That he’d been shown up. He watched Howard walk away. Half wanted to call out to him and ask him to stay. He should apologize. He should go in and see Maggie and talk to her too. Frowning, Forrest sighed and tugged his hat off his head. He raked his fingers through his hair and mumbled a curse.