Song: September Song ~ Willie Nelson

The Black Wolf

Chapter 3:

The Past

"The thing about happiness is that you only know you had it when it's gone. I mean, you may think to yourself that you're happy. But you don't really believe it. You focus on the petty bullshit, or the next job, or whatever. It's only looking back, by comparison, what comes after, that you really understand that's what happiness felt like." Conrad Kellogg - Fallout 4

He met Morning Dove in the fall of 1892. She found him unconscious from blood loss after a hog attack and nursed him back to health. For three weeks she stayed at his cabin fussing over him. He was sick and injured and she needed a warm place to stay. That suited Red just fine. He enjoyed her company, even though he'd never admit it out loud.

Red would eventually find out that Morning Dove was Apache and a runaway. Her sister planned on marrying her off to a white man named Joe Cottonwood. She explained that Joe was an arrogant and privileged man who only saw her as an exotic beauty. The marriage would help Morning Dove's brother in law's logging business. Whatever the reason, he knew it wasn't right what they did to her.

He eventually taught her how to use a gun in case she ever decided to leave and continue her journey out of the state. She never left though, much to his relief. He never asked her to stay, although, looking back maybe it would have been for the better if she'd left and never came back.

By the time Morning Dove's sister and brother in law had found her she was already "married" to Red and was six weeks pregnant. Seeing that she was happy, they gave their blessings to the couple and rode away. Unfortunately, days later Morning Dove would miscarry after an accident. She spent months in a depression before she felt right again.

In 1897 on a June evening, the cries of a newborn filled a lonely cabin in the woods. Red looked at his wife and infant daughter wishing he could stay in that moment. But nothing stays forever, no matter how badly he wanted it to.

"Are you sure about this?" Bonnie said, bringing a cup of tea to her lips.

Jack nodded. "Yes. I don't want to be a farmer. I've thought this over and I don't feel any guilt."

Jack took a bite of lemon cake that Bonnie had brought. Ever since John had died, the MacFarlanes made sure the Marstons were looked after.

"If this is what you want then I support you." Bonnie sat her tea down. "Now listen, I can't buy back the cattle, but I do know someone who'd be interested. Her name is Annie Stoakes."

"Sounds familiar."

"She was once a famous sharpshooter back in the day. She rebuilt her ranch after a fire and married, but she was widowed two weeks after the honeymoon. Her daddy and mine were drinking buddies years ago. I'll send word to her that you're sellin' cattle." Bonnie stood up to relieve her back, revealing her growing stomach.

"I think it's time we head back home. Thanks for having me over." She carried her cup to the sink.

Jack wanted to do it for her, but he knew she would've protested and done it anyway. He followed her out the door and helped her down the steps.

It was considered socially unacceptable for a woman in her condition to be seen out in public, but Bonnie MacFarlane(now known as Richardson), didn't care what anyone thought.

"Thomas, let's go!" Bonnie called out to a small boy by the corral.

"But mama, I wanna ride the horses!" Thomas pouted.

Jack smiled at the boy. "I'll take you ridin' on my next visit, okay?"

"Okay." Thomas sighed.

Jack walked with Bonnie and Thomas to the carriage. He lifted Thomas up first and helped Bonnie next, even though she insisted she was fine.

"I'm not a walking watermelon, yet!" She said and laughed.

"Stay safe, Bonnie. Bye Thomas."

"Bye, Jack!" Thomas said.

"And you stay out of trouble, Jack!" Bonnie said.

"I always do."

"When you finally publish that book of yours, I want a signed copy, you understand?"

He chuckled, "Yes, ma'am."

There was suddenly a look of sadness in her eyes, "They would be proud of you... You know that, right?"

"I know," Jack said, looking down at his boots.

Bonnie took a breath and finally said "Oh don't mind me, women in my condition tend to get like this. I'll see you later and get yourself a nice girl. You must be lonely."

"We'll see. One thing at a time."

Later that evening, Jack was at the kitchen table typing the final chapter of his novel. For almost two years, he worked on and off, but the last three months had him feeling inspired to finish. He didn't want the life of a farmer. Didn't want to spend the rest of his life with his hands in the dirt or bust his back trying to break a horse. He didn't want the responsibility. All he wanted was to be left alone and write stories.

He would stay at Beecher's Hope, though. The quiet and solitude of the ranch would help him concentrate more.

As he finished the last sentence, his heart began to hammer in his chest. He wondered if other authors felt the same as he did.

The final word was typed. Period.

I did it! He thought. I'm finally done.

He placed the draft carefully in a manila envelope and wrote down the address of the publishing company. Tonight he wanted to go out and do something. He hadn't felt a rush like this in a long time.

But what if no one likes it? What if I fail?

No, he wasn't going to think like that. He rode into town, mailed off the story, got a haircut and a shave, then went to the tavern for a drink.

Inside the Blackwater saloon, Summer Cloud finished buttoning up her shirt and pulled back her hair. On the other side of the room lying on the bed naked was Mary-Beth Martin, one of the few whores left in Blackwater. Her golden hair and creamy white skin glowed in the evening sun.

"I must say, Summer, no man can do what you do and I've had plenty," Mary-Beth said.

Summer Cloud smirked, walked over to her friend and kissed her forehead.

"You've given me enough practice."

"How's your daddy doin'?" Mary-Beth asked.

"The usual: Hunting bounties," Summer said with a weary sighed. "I haven't spoken to him in months."

"He's okay. You know he can handle himself."

"I know, I'm just worried he'll end up on the wrong end of a revolver."

Mary sat up and wrapped herself around Summer. She took Mary's hand.

"Oh hun, it's gonna be alright," Mary said.

"I hope so. How are you anyway?"

"I'm doing as well as any whore these days. Business is slow and they're thinking about making prostitution illegal."

"I hope so! I can't stand that you're stuck here."

Mary leaned back and put her hands on her hips. "And what am I supposed to do? I ain't got a family no more and no decent man wants to wed a used whore."

"Well, I'd take care of you," Summer said.

Mary laughed. "And how would you do that?"

"I don't know... I'd figure something out."

"You're sweet, Summer Cloud, you really are, but the world hates women and you and I wouldn't last out there. Especially since you're an Indian and I'm a whore. The world has no use for us."

Summer Cloud felt her heart sink. She wanted to protest and tell Mary-Beth she was wrong, but deep down she knew it was true.

There was a sudden knock at the door, followed by a muffled voice.

"Mary-Beth, you got a customer still in there?"

Mary let out a frustrated sigh. "Yes Clyde, I do and they were just leaving." She turned to Summer. "See ya, hun and be careful out there."

"I will."

Summer threw open the door and was met with an angry Clyde.

"What is a woman doin' here?" he growled.

"I paid for my time, what does it matter?" Summer said.

"We don't serve Injuns. Your people are nothin' but drunks!"

"Did it look like I was wanting whiskey?" Summer Cloud said with a smirk on her face.

"Get out of here. I don't want to put my hands on a woman, but I'll do what I have to."

"I'm going." She held up her hands and turned away from Clyde.

As she walked out the door, she accidentally bumped into someone.

"I'm sorry, miss," the man said.

"It's alright," she replied

She studied him, trying to remember where she'd seen him before. Then it suddenly hit her.

"Jack!" she said, happily. "Do you remember me?"

He smiled and said, "'Course I remember. It's Morgan Harlow, right?"

He was very different from the last time she saw him. His hair was much shorter and his face clean-shaven. She had to admit, he was handsome when cleaned up.

"Jack! How've you been? How's the horse?"

"He's doin' great. Are you still at the cabin?"

"Yep, haven't found a decent living space yet," she said.

"I thought about paying you a visit, but I've been busy these days."

"Hey, no need to apologize. I understand."

There was an awkward silence for a few moments before Jack said, "Would you like to come inside and have a drink."

Summer Cloud shook her head. "I'd love to, but I'm not allowed in there. My people are banned from saloons, but we can do something tomorrow if you like!"

Jack was slightly taken aback by the girl's straightforwardness. Summer suspected that he wasn't used to girls asking to hang out with him. In fact, she'd guess that he wasn't used to proper human interaction at all. Well, she was going to do something about that!

"Look, Miss Harlow, I... well..."

"I'll come by tomorrow evening. We can have some fun in this town. I mean there's got to be something to do around here. Not everyone in Blackwater has a stick up their ass, right?" she said with a giggle.

Jack chuckled nervously and said, "I don't have a choice, do I?"

"No, I'm sorry, but you don't. I should be going now. It's getting late."

Jack adjusted his hat and averted his gaze away from her. She found his shyness to be adorable.

"Well, I guess I'll be seein' you, Miss Harlow," Jack said.

She smiled at him and replied, "See you, Jack."

Before he could offer her a ride back to her cabin, she was already too far away and he didn't have the nerve to call out to her.

Summer Cloud made the long walk back to her cabin. Jack had offered her a ride again but lied and said she had a mule. She felt guilty taking another ride from him.

By the time she made it home, it was dark out. All she could think about now was strawberry preservatives spread across some bread, but when she opened the door she had to stifle a scream. There sitting on the side of her bed was a dark figure.

"Morgan, huh? I thought you hated using that name?" The stranger said.

Summer Cloud stepped inside, shutting the door behind her.

"I guess we have a lot to talk about," she said nervously.

"I guess we do."

Jack knocked back his fourth shot of whiskey and decided he had enough. His mind was spinning, not from alcohol, but what had played out before him only a half an hour ago.

They hardly knew each other and here was Morgan Harlow asking him to hang out. Of all the people in Blackwater, it had to be Jack Marston. She didn't even give him a chance to answer. The last thing he wanted was to be bothered spending time with anyone and yet, at the same time, he found that woman fascinating. He wanted to get to know her, but he also felt he no longer had the energy to put the effort into relationships, whether they were platonic or romantic.

He would just have to go to her house and tell her he changed his mind or say that something came up. It was for her own good.

You're tired of the silence in a big empty house. You want to be happy after so many years of misery, now admit it.

But he couldn't. Isolation was better than ruining lives. He did enough of that at nineteen.

He set money on the counter and left the building, still unsure of what to do about the strange Indian girl.

When he returned to the ranch he found the wolf sitting under a tree.