The closer they were to Willoughby, the more serious the look on Monroe's face grew. Charlie was also in her thoughts.
Monroe stopped the carriage, into a shaded part of some road. "It's better if you go alone and bring Miles by the river."
"Okay. It might take some time."
"I'll be waiting."
Charlie went to Miles. They greeted, and he was happy to see her.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine. But I've got something to show you."
"What? Where? You just came back. Your Mother is missing you."
"She can wait. Please come, it's important."
"Promise me you won't get mad.", she said.
"Why, of course.", he said.
When he got to the secluded beach down by the river, near the old construction, he stopped. Miles looked at the man standing there. And then Charlie. Then back to the man, who was the infamous Sebastian Monroe.
Miles hadn't seen Monroe in a long time. Was it four months ago? The last time he had seen him, he had fought with him and then set him free. Back then he had been still wearing the Militia leader suit. With suntanned skin, wild curls and a scruff, Monroe looked more like a survivor of the blackout than any Militia member.
"What did you do to her?", he said, menace in his voice and walked in front of him.
Monroe took a step back, but then he stopped. "Nothing."
"I know you, Monroe."
"I'd never hurt her.",
"I wouldn't let him.", Charlie said, somewhere close but Miles didn't look at her.
"I saved her life."
Miles watched Bass. He knew him thoroughly. Monroe was serious, very serious. But there was something new in his eyes. Determination. He wasn't going to back up on this. He was speaking the truth.
Miles sighed. "Then what the hell are you doing here?"
"I came to help you with the Patriots. You need my help."
Monroe pointed at his injured hand.
"Go away, Bass.", Miles said.
The bastard was still right, though.
"You won't survive five minutes without me, you handicapped fool.", Monroe said.
"Fine. We'll see what we are going to do."
"No. Rachel is not going to have a say in this. I'll rent my own place."
"Oh. Good for you."
Charlie knew why. Her Mother hated Monroe and they would never have privacy if he would live in Matheson farm back yard. In case they would continue seeing each other.
Monroe managed to find a little house for rent, just down the street where Miles and Rachel lived. It was only a few houses away from the Matheson's. It was a bit dusty but furnished. He cleaned the place, then went for a shower in the back yard. The water was cold, but the self-made shower did what it was supposed to do.
He washed his briefs and his t-shirt, then left them to dry on the clothesline outside. He walked in wearing only a towel, carrying his black pants, his shirt and the boots inside.
In the bedroom he opened his bag. There was the white t-shirt and the blue jeans he had bought. He put them on. There was someone on the door, knocking. He wasn't sure who it was. Maybe Miles, checking on him. Or Rachel, trying to make him leave. Perhaps Charlie, wanting something from him, which he was happy to give. Grabbing a bottle of whiskey from his bag, he walked to the door with bare feet and opened it.
Miles watched him, squinting his eyes. "There's something fishy about this and I'm going to find out what. In the meantime, get your boots."
"You're coming to eat."
"What the hell…"
Charlie was already eating the late dinner Rachel had made for them when Monroe walked in. His boots thumping on the floor, then stopping to the doorway.
"Come in, Monroe."
She heard the thumping again, it stopped when he was close to her. He took a seat next to her.
Charlie glanced at him, like she wouldn't care. And put some food in her mouth.
Miles got in and took some food as well. Rachel sat down, filling her plate.
Monroe waited until they were ready. He was the last to take his plate. He filled it with food, from the pans and kettles which were waiting on the table. Then he started to eat.
Charlie was done before him, so she took a good position on her chair and just watched him eating the rest, sipping her delicious, cold lemonade.
"So, you saved Charlie's life?", Rachel asked.
"Yeah. They drugged her. I killed them all and I took care of her.", Monroe said.
"Thank you.", Rachel said.
"I would have done it anyway, without trying to get back here with Miles..."
"But now you're here."
"Mom, I know you want to, but don't give his location to the Patriots.", Charlie said.
"I know how you think. You are still trying to get revenge. Stop it, Mom. Without him I wouldn't be here."
She could see from her face that she wasn't pleased.
"If you report his whereabouts, you won't ever see me again.", Charlie warned.
Charlie was serious. Miles and Bass just watched them two. Rachel looked a bit shaken.
"Is this true, Rachel?", Miles said.
"The guy saved your daughter's life. You don't get to do that to him. No matter how bad he has been in the past."
Charlie was aware of Monroe's silence and how tense he was. She was relieved that he remained silent. It would have only aggravated Rachel more. That was the last thing he, or they, needed. She also knew about the bad blood between him and her Mom. She wanted to ease him somehow. Not sure how, when they sat in the Matheson kitchen, at the table.
Miles was concentrating to Rachel; they were still having a conversation about Monroe and what to do with him. Charlie knew they wouldn't accept her being close with Monroe. She had to do something anyway.
She felt a bit nervous, trying to conceal it. Slowly she reached for him, her hand landing on his thigh under the table. It was strong, muscular and warm. He was still. But then he lowered his hand and touched her fingers with his own, keeping his eyes on Rachel and Miles. She felt exhilarated for the contact. He took her hand in his own. It was slightly bigger than hers. Warm, calloused. She loved the feeling which went through her body, just by a simple touch.
Charlie felt absurd. They were secretly holding hands while Miles and Rachel were having a family feud over Monroe's destiny. She heard him sigh and then felt his tenseness ease a bit.
"Want a beer?", she asked.
Charlie stood up and took two bottles from the cabinet. She opened them. In the meantime, Monroe disappeared into the living room.
When she got after him, Monroe had slumped into the armchair near the log-fire. Charlie chose the other chair. He was gazing the fire. Charlie gave the other bottle one to him. Their fingers touched again. She felt it like a jolt in her system.
"Thanks.", he said, giving her a rare smile.
She knew it was only meant for her, so it made it even more meaningful.
Miles found them, sitting in their own armchairs, staring into the fire, sipping beer. They seemed to have an easy-going relationship. Miles didn't know what had happened on the trip, but to him they looked like they were now friends, enjoying the beer and warmth of the fire in the evening.
Bass even looked different. He had let his beard grow, a messy scruff over his face. Blue jeans, white t-shirt, dark jacket thrown over the chair. Boots. Miles wondered what had caused the change in him. Miles could also see that he was in a good shape.
"I was wondering where my beer disappeared."
"Didn't want to listen to you bickering all night.", Bass grinned.
"What have you decided?", Charlie asked.
Miles sat on the sofa. "Your Mother is going to stay quiet."
Monroe went home, alone. He kicked his boots off and went straight to the bedroom. He took off the jacket and lied down on the bed. The silence was eerie. He was used to hear Charlie's breathing. Feeling her presence. And the sounds from the nature and wild animals, which never ceased outside.
He grabbed the blanket and put it on, resting his head on the pillow. The night was quite dark, he couldn't see much. He wasn't sure if Charlie would sneak to his place tonight. So, he closed his eyes and tried to sleep. If she would come, he would wake up. And if she didn't, then he would get some shut eye. Either way, it was good.
Charlie was alone with Rachel. "So, there's nothing I can do to change your mind?"
"I was drugged by a gang. Monroe saved my life. He took me to safety, kept me warm and dry for two days. He held my hair when I puked my guts out. Who does that?"
Rachel opened her mouth.
"Oh no you're not going to do that. You don't have the right. He has taken more care of me than you since you left me and Danny when we were kids."
Rachel's face turned red and she opened her mouth like a fish on a dry land.
Charlie stormed out and went to her room. Miles came out from behind the corner. "If I were you, I'd let her be." Rachel didn't say anything. She looked shocked. Miles didn't feel any pity for her.
Charlie waited. Rachel and Miles seemed to be up for ages. She fell asleep in the darkness of her room, tired of waiting.
Suddenly she was awake. It was still dark. She felt relieved. Maybe she still had time to sneak out and see Monroe. She took her jacket and boots and tiptoed out of her room. She stopped and listened carefully. Then she proceeded. The house was silent. She checked the living room and the kitchen. The fire that once burned there during the day, now it was only a glowing pile of charcoal. The kitchen dark and uninviting. There was nobody there.
She went out and closed the door. In the porch she dressed up, sat down on the stairs and pulled her boots on. She walked down the street and stopped over Monroe's little rental house. She knocked the door, but nothing happened. She got around the house and knocked on the back door. Then she waited. The door opened. She went in.
Monroe was sleepy, but he let her in. He had slept with his clothes on. His t-shirt wrinkled.
"Took your time.", he said and shambled for the kitchen.
"Rachel and Miles were up late. I fell asleep waiting."
Bass took the water canister and poured some in the bowl and to his glass. He washed his face and drank. "It's okay, I fell asleep too."
Charlie walked to him and he looked at her, with a slight smile and curious eyes. From a mutual agreement, they hugged. He was happy to see her and relieved that she came. He kissed her, keeping it soft and sweet. "I could get used to this.", he said.
Once they had drank, as in mutual agreement, they went into Monroe's dark bedroom. They took their own sides but, in the middle, Monroe let her snuggle close to him and he put his arm over her.
Charlie closed her eyes, feeling safe and sound, him behind her. So close and familiar. His closeness soothing yet exciting.
"I could really get used to this.", she said.
She felt Bass holding her a little tighter and planting a kiss on her neck.
Bass woke up. It was still dark. He realized he wasn't alone. Charlie was sound asleep next to him. He wondered what the hell woke him up. He got up and listened to the night. Then he looked at the form of sleeping Charlie. The sight soothed his nerves. Maybe it was a bad dream that had woken him up. He slipped back into the bed, between the blanket and the sheet. He shivered for the warmth, as the air in the room was already cool.
He lied on his back, thinking. This was fucking dangerous. If they would sleep too long, Rachel and Miles would notice that Charlie was gone. Then they would start to look for her. Yet, if they told them about their relationship, they would probably kill him or banish him for good.
He was too old and the things he had done… He could never take it back. His hands would always be in blood of his victims. And he would have to live with it for the rest of his life. Charlie deserved someone better, someone younger. He felt something in his chest. It tightened with pain when he thought about losing Charlie. He was torn in two directions. Then he decided.
Monroe rode his horse to the quiet road. It was still dark. He needed to get away from here. He needed to give Charlie a better life. It hurt like hell to leave her, but he had to do this. For her.
When he was nearing the next cross section, he saw something. He stopped the horse and went through the saddle's pockets. Where the fuck were the binoculars when you needed them? Finally, he found them. He picked them up and adjusted the image. There was some kind of an army coming at Willoughby, they had some torches up. Monroe saw men in khaki. "Damn it!"