Hat Creek Trouble

The One with the Fist Fight

I set Newt at the table, and before I forgot, I pulled the biscuits out of the coals. I took a glance at them and they were golden brown. I set them on top of the wood range and brought over the wash basin. I grabbed an extra piece of cloth and used it for a rag. I then had Newt turn his chair to face me and I began cleaning his cuts.

“Why are earth would you hit Jasper?” I asked him quietly. He just looked away from me. “It can’t be bad enough you can’t tell me.” I said softly, gently dabbing at his lip.

“Ain’t right for me to say.” Newt said.

I frowned at him. “Why’s that?”

“It ain’t right to have been said in the first place, so it ain’t right to be repeated.” He told me, still not looking at me.

“Was it about me?” I asked quietly.

Newt said nothing and if it was even possible, he stared harder at the floor.

I gave a little laugh, making the boys look at me. I smiled at Newt. “I’ve been called much worse than whatever Jasper said about me.”

Newt shook his head. “No ma’am. It was bad.”

I smiled at him, resting my hand under his chin. “I swear to you, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.” I said as I stood up to move around the table and sit in front of Jasper. I wrung out the rag, gently touching it to Jasper’s cuts.

“See, I told ya she was a whore.” Jasper said in normal tones.

I’ve never seen a man move as fast as Newt did to stand up. Needle rushed forward and I stood up, turning to Newt. I could almost see the red in Newt’s eyes. I set my hands on his chest as he tried to move around me.

I started humming Let Me Down Easy again and it took a moment, but Newt calmed himself. He wouldn’t look away from Jasper though.

“Apologize to the lady.” Newt said, but Jasper just sat there. “Apologize this minute.” Newt said louder.

“Sorry, ma’am.” Jasper said.

“Newt, why don’t you dish up yours and Needle’s food and start eating? I’ll get my food as soon as I finish cleaning up Jasper.” I told him.

He was about to protest when Needle pulled him over to the range to dish the beans and biscuits.

I sat back down and started cleaning Jasper’s face with the rag I re-wetted.

“Why ya cleaning my face?” Jasper asked quietly.

“Because if I don’t, it’ll get infected.” I told him.

“Why ya cleaning it at all?” He asked, eyes slightly downcast.

“I might be harsh and somewhat rude, but I’m not cruel.” I told him, giving him a look.

His head dipped a little bit more. “I’m sorry, ma’am.” He said, almost too quiet for me to hear.

“I’ve been called worse Mr. Fant, and I’m sure I’ll be called worse again at some point in my life. But Newt seems to want to stand up for my honor, which I commend him for. Not many men do that anymore where I’m from. So unless you want more cuts and bruises or possibly worse, I’d learn to keep a hold of that tongue of yours for your sake, not mine.” I told him, standing up and putting the wash basin off to the side.

I then dished mine and Jasper’s plates, setting his in front of him on the table. We ate in silence for the rest of the meal. When the boys were done, Jasper and Needle dismissed themselves, Newt helping me pick up plates.

“Would you like help, Miss McCrae?” Newt asked and I looked at him over my shoulder. “Miss Selene.” He corrected himself.

I smiled. “Would you carry this for me?” I asked, handing him the tub of dishes.

“Yes ma’am.” He said, taking the tub from me.

I grabbed the pitcher for the wash basin and opened the door for Newt. When we stepped onto the porch, I saw Needle and Jasper smoking something out of pipe. I nodded to Needle as I closed the door and Newt followed me down to the lake.

I filled up the pitcher and set it off to the side before starting on the dishes. I was almost done with rinsing the dishes when Newt spoke up.

“What’s worse than being called a whore, ma’am?” He asked, looking like he didn’t know if he should ask or not.

I shrugged. “People are more creative with their insults where I come from. I’ve heard a lot of different ones.”

“Like what, ma’am? If that’s ok.” Newt asked.

I smiled at him. “I was once… courting a man,” I said, having to think about the right word. Dating wasn’t exactly an acceptable term yet. “And we were pretty happy for a while. But then he started ignoring me and it upset me, so I told him we couldn’t see each other anymore if he was going to continue to ignore me. He told his whole family that I was seeing several other men behind his back. I guess calling me a whore, but it hurt worse when he said it.” I said, looking over at Newt. “Does that make sense?”

He nodded. “Yes ma’am.” He said, staying quiet while I finished the rest of the dishes. “I don’t know what came over me, ma’am.”

I looked over at him as I stacked the clean dishes in the tub. “What do you mean?”

He took a minute to think it through before he stood up and grabbed the tub. “We was just talking and he asked me what kind of woman couldn’t make biscuits. He said a woman who couldn’t make biscuits was probably a whore.”

I stood up with him, picking up the pitcher.

“That wasn’t right of him saying that. So I just hit him.” Newt said, sounding sorry about it.

I carried the pitcher with my left hand, putting my right arm around his elbow as we walked back up the little hill. “I know of two men who would be willing to stand up for me like that. And one of them has a bunch of cuts on his face.” I told him, leaning towards him slightly.

“Who’s the other, ma’am?” He asked.

“My friend, Gerry. He’s very much like you. He gets pushed around sometimes, but if someone pushes me around, he’ll fight you hard.” I said with a smile.

“I’d like to meet him, ma’am, if I could.” Newt said.

I looked over at him. “Well, we’ll have to see. He lives a long ways away, but I’d like you to meet him if it was possible.” I told him as we came around the corner of the house.

Needle took a sip out of a bottle with amber colored liquid in it and handed it to Jasper, who in turn, handed it to Newt when he was close enough. Newt set the tub down and took a swig before handing it back.

I really wanted a swig, but I wasn’t going to ask for it unless offered.

“Ma’am, we don’t usually offer liquor to women, but if you’d like to have some, you feel free.” Needle said and I could tell the whiskey was making him relax.

Jasper held the bottle in my direction and I took it from him, taking a swig. I swallowed and made a little bit of a face before handing it back. I coughed once. “God, that’s strong stuff.” I said, rubbing my collar bone like it would help.

Newt and Needle smiled. “Yes ma’am.” Newt said, picking up the tub and taking it inside.

I followed him inside, trying to breathe again. “I’ve never been a baby when it came to liquor, but that’s like gasoline.” I said, then paused.

Newt turned and gave me a funny look. “Gasoline?” He asked.

Shit. Shit. Think. Fast. Like, right now. “Uh, it’s stuff we use to make fires in Colorado.”

He just looked at me funny. “I never heard of it, ma’am.” He said.

I shrugged, trying to play it off. “It’s alright.” I said, stacking the dishes up on the shelf above the wood range. Hopefully he wouldn’t ask about it anymore. I went to the fire and added another log, momentarily forgetting that Newt was just standing there.

The fire was a bed of coals from the Dutch oven, so I had to blow on it a bit to get it to catch the wood.

“You’re good with fire, ma’am.” Newt said.

I smiled into the blaze. “My dad sold fire places when I was younger.” I said, looking back at him. “Ya know the ones they put in fancy houses with the grates and everything.”

Newt nodded. “Miss Allan had one of those in her house.”

I nodded back, despite the fact I had no idea who he was talking about.

Newt and I were quiet for a moment, enjoying the silence of the other. I didn’t feel like it was awkward; like we had to talk to fill the space.

“Why don’t many men stand up for you?” Newt asked and I turned to him.

“What do you mean, Newt?” I asked.

“When you were talkin’ to Jasper. You said not many men where you come from stand up for you like I did.” He said, leaning against the table.

I nodded. “They’re not as polite. And it’s not that all of them are rude, but they aren’t polite. They’re harsh when they talk to you. They don’t ‘yes ma’am’ like you do.” I told him. “I was once with a man that hit me when he got mad. I’d say something and his temper would flare, so he’d hit me.”

Newt looked angry as I told him this.

I shrugged. “It’s in the past and I can’t do anything to change it. But now I know for the future.”

“I ain’t never hit a woman. Captain Call doesn’t like women around much, but he hates rude behavior. Says he won’t tolerate it.” Newt told me.

I nodded. “I imagine that to be true in both parts.”

“Ma’am,” Newt started, still leaning against the table. “You suppose I could get another lesson?”

I smiled. “Newt Dobbs, you can have as many lessons as you’d like.”

He smiled back, blushing just a touch as he went to the door and opened it for me. I stepped through and Needle and Jasper halted their conversation.

“Don’t mind us. Newt just wanted another dancing lesson. The cabin’s a bit small.” I told them and Needle tipped his hat.

I led Newt to the dirt patch in front of the porch; the lanterns casting an eerie glow for fifteen feet or so. “Do you remember the steps?” I asked him as Needle and Jasper continued their conversation in hushed tones.

“I believe so, ma’am.” He said, taking my left hand with his right and putting his left hand on my hip.

I set my right hand on his shoulder with a smile. “Would you like me to count or would you like me to hum?”

“I believe it best if you hum ma’am.” He told me.

I nodded. “Then I’ll hum.” I told him. I took a second, then started humming to him.

This time, he seemed to be looking at my shoulder, instead of behind it. I had been humming for almost ten seconds when he took his first step, leading me. I tried to pay attention to the melody in my head, but it seemed the more I hummed, the harder it was. There was just something about Newt, in this light that made me want to just look at him.

He did amazingly well for his second real time dancing.

“How’m I doin’?” He asked warily, still leading me in a circle.

“Marvelous. You’re doing perfect.” I said with a grin.

“Am I really?” He asked as we continued to dance.

“Really, really.” I said, giving him a soft smile as he looked at me for the first time.

“It ain’t so hard.” He told me.

“Not at all.” I told him.

We danced for a few more minutes before he asked for a break. I said yes, of course. We all sat on the porch for a long while, listening to the sounds of the cattle and the coyotes off in the distance. I hadn’t even realized how tired I was until I yawned two or three times.

“It’s getting’ late, miss. Maybe you should get to bed.” Needle said.

I nodded and stood up. “Goodnight.” I told them.

“Goodnight ma’am.” Needle said, slipping his hat off his face.

“ ’Night ma’am. Sleep well.” Newt said, a bit too eagerly.

I smiled back at him. “You too, Newt.” I said, before closing the door to the cabin. I put another couple logs on the fire place and looked over at my clothes that still sat in the corner. One gray hoodie, one rocker tee, and one pair of dark blue jeans.

I shook my head, not sure how I had gotten into this whole mess. And it was such a mess. How was I supposed to get home? I knew there was supposed to be another storm, at some point. And Gerry said I had twelve days to get back through. Ok, eleven now. But what happened if a storm didn’t come back through?

Or what if it did? What if I got attached to these men and then had to leave? How would I feel about that? I didn’t have answers to any of my questions and as best as I could figure, I had no one to ask that wouldn’t commit me to the crazy house.

I sighed, wishing the tension in my shoulders would go away and I pulled my hoodie over to use as a pillow, pulling the blanket around me. I still didn’t enjoy sleeping on the hard floor, but it could have been worse. I could have ended up wandering the forest for a day or two. I fixed my eyes on the fire, wondering if I could get to sleep.

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