Disclaimer: The character of Spot Conlon in this story is the property of Disney and his likeness is only used for fan related purposes. Any original characters featured are the intellectual property of their creators.
Summer came and left without a warning
All at once I looked and you were gone
And now you're looking back at me
Searching for a way that we can be
Like we were before
Now I'm back to what I knew before you
Somehow the city doesn't look the same
I'd give my life for one more night
Of having you here to hold me tight
- "Endless Summer Nights", Richard Marx
It was early October in Brooklyn, the first week in, and for once the weather was behaving. The sun was shining, it was still warm enough for Red to go out in the afternoon without her cape or a shawl, and the smattering of golden leaves left fluttering overhead, the few that hadn't fallen yet, they made a beautiful backdrop to their outing.
The picnic had been her idea. With everything that happened with Tommy Sanders on the evening following his birthday, Red hadn't seen nearly as much of Spot as she would've liked. Going down to the docks was out of the question; she was lucky if her father let her out of his sight long enough for Red to dare a peek out of her window. Sometimes she got lucky and Spot was waiting with a smirk under her lamp post and she could throw notes down to him.
At other times, though... other times she sat alone in her room, wondering where Spot was, worrying about Tommy...
Red gave her head a clearing shake as she spread out Spot's red blanket; she had insisted he bring it with him from his shed so that they could set up their little picnic meal on the blanket rather than the grass. It had taken her three days of continuous begging and pleading to get Mr. Woods to agree to this little affair and only because it was Spot who had been the one to save his daughter from danger did he eventually say yes. That, and the fact that, since Tommy was taken away, there hadn't been hide nor hair of the Beast.
She liked to think that it was purely coincidence, but she couldn't help but wonder—
"Hey there. Watcha thinkin' 'bout?"
Spot's voice cut into her thoughts like the steel blade Red could never forget. He was hanging back, watching as Red tugged absently on one corner of the blanket though, she noticed as she focused her attention on it, the blanket was as even as she could hope to make it.
Red let out a short, unconvincing laugh. "Oh, nothing," she told him, reaching for the wicker basket she used whenever helping her father on his errands. Instead of thread, though, the basket held a variety of food: two apples, some cheese, a loaf of bread, a small jug of cider and a plateful of cookies Red had made for just the occasion. She placed it right in the center, refusing to meet Spot's knowing gaze. Instead, she busied herself with pulling the jug out and two mugs she smuggled from her father's kitchen, pouring out the cider for them both.
Nothing, she said, but Spot's knowing gaze was, well, knowing. He knew what she was thinking about—the same thing he hadn't been able to get off his mind, either—and he knew why Red kept turning away from him when it came to the topic of Tommy Sanders. She didn't want to talk about it, he didn't want to push it, so Spot kept his mouth shut. For now, at least. Because, he asked himself, why ruin such a promising afternoon?
They were in Prospect Park again, only their second time together in the meadow. Still, Red thought of it as a place for her and Spot—and the perfect spot for their picnic. She'd excitedly told Spot of her plan to spend the day together yesterday, sticking her head out of her window and calling down to the street below. Red only offered two details: that they were to meet at the docks before heading off to the park and that, if he didn't mind, she would appreciate it if he brought his red blanket. She supplied the food—the food, and the company that Spot had been craving since that one night they spent together in his hideaway.
Red took her time measuring equal amounts of spiced apple cider into her pilfered mugs; Spot couldn't hide his smirk as he watched her. When she was done, she patted the blanket carefully so as not to disturb the two mugs. "Take a seat," she said invitingly.
Spot took a second to marvel that the invitation had been given at all. If someone would've told Spot Conlon a year ago—hell, even a month ago—that he would be sitting in Prospect Park alongside Red Woods, the autumn breeze sending the ends of her red ribbon flying around frantically, in love and loved in return... well, he would've had a few choice words for them all, beginning with telling them to take a dive into the East River to save him the trouble.
But look at him now. He sat down next to Red, hiking up his trousers and awkwardly climbing down so that he was sitting on top of the blanket. In an instant, though, Spot was lounging back, leaning on his elbows, looking for all the world to see as if he owned this patch of grass. His knowing gaze melted away into a lazy grin and the slant-eyed, content expression of a fat house cat as he exhaled loudly. Now this, Spot told himself, was worth giving up a round of selling a bum headline.
Red caught sight of his expression and just managed to stifle her chortle in time to tap Spot gingerly on his shoulder. "Here," she said, holding his mug out to him, "have a drink."
Spot accepted the mug of cider Red passed his way. He eyed it skeptically and gave it a tentative sniff. It looked like apple juice but it certainly didn't smell like it. "You sure this is made from apples?"
"Apples and spices. Why?"
"'Cause it smells like somethin' I could get at the pub, two bits a bottle." His lip curled, his cyan eyes bright and winning. "You ain't tryin' to get me drunk, are ya? 'Cause that ain't necessary."
Red smiled then, a real smile, and though it made her cheeks hurt, she couldn't help but notice that this was one of the first times she had cause to be happy in a long while. Her laugh, when she let it out, was genuine and sweet. Reaching out, pressing his mug gently to his lips—Spot didn't resist her touch—Red urged him, "Go on. Try it."
Spot took a small sip, barely a mouthful, and was surprised at the taste. It was thicker than apple juice, with a little bit of a bite to it. The spices Red mentioned were there. "That was good, Red." He went back to his mug and drained it in three gulps. When he was done, he licked his lips. "Damn tasty."
"I'm glad you like it."
He jerked his chin over at her. "What about you?"
"It's my favorite, especially this time of year. It reminds me of home," she said, before adding, almost as an afterthought, "wherever that may be."
"Home is here in Brooklyn. With me. Remember that."
"Yes, Spot." And, re-filling Spot's mug with the cider before topping off her own, Red looked down so that Spot wouldn't see the pleasured flush that colored her cheeks.
He gratefully lifted his mug back to his lips and drank. When he was done, Spot told her: "And I'll remember that cider's your favorite." He thought about it for a second. "I guess it can be mine, too."
"Like how red is your favorite color?" Red asked innocently. A little too innocently, if you asked Spot, who would rather hunt down Tommy Sanders and shake him by the hand than admit that he had once preferred blue until a little blonde girl, a simple tailor's daughter with a red ribbon in her hair, made him change his mind.
The silence that followed was content and cozy. There were children playing in the field over, a loud, rambunctious game involving a stick, a ball and lots of running, but it was more of a background noise than anything else. It didn't disturb them as Red continued to sip her cider and Spot, keenly aware that Red wasn't ready to yet, picked up the paring knife she brought in her basket and began peeling his apple.
With the knife in his hand and the way Red's warm brown eyes kept flitting nervously over to it each time a sliver of the red peel landed in a curl on the grass, it was no surprise that Spot's thoughts had fallen back on Sanders—and, not for the first time these last few weeks, his motives. He couldn't help it. For all the questions Red asked and the answers Sanders gave, Spot kept coming up with more and more in that brain of his. He couldn't ask Sanders, he didn't want to ask Red, but his curiosity was getting the better of him.
Munching thoughtfully on a slice of apple, he said suddenly, "I don't get it."
"Hmm?" Red put her mug down and, folding her hands in her lap, she looked over at Spot. Lost in a world of her own thoughts, she was caught unaware by his interruption. "What's that?"
"I said, I don't get it. Why Sanders offed Madge like that, I mean."
No one could ever accuse Spot Conlon of beating around the bush.
It was a good thing she had already set her mug on the blanket. At his words, Red jerked and, if she'd still been holding the mug, her blouse would've been covered in sticky cider. To say that she hadn't been expecting that—especially with the way everyone... her father, Mr. Sanders, even Spot... had been careful to dance around the subject with her lately—would be an understatement.
He slipped the paring knife back into the wicker basket before holding his free hand out in a calming gesture. "No, just... hear me out, Red. Can ya do that?"
She gulped and nodded. For Spot. "I think so."
He didn't want to push her. But he knew from his own experiences, watching his mother die in front of him as a boy, not bothering to stick around long enough to watch his father drink himself into his grave... Spot knew that it wasn't healthy, keeping it all inside. And what use was there in waiting?
"I've been goin' over it, over and over again, and I just can't seem to make any sense of it. I mean, he was a loon, there ain't no denyin' that, so I'm already tellin' myself most of what he says ain't worth goin' down a flush toilet. Still, there had to be some kind o' reason, right?"
"You were there. You heard what he said."
"Yeah, I did. That don't mean I get it. So what if Madge was chasin' after him? What was wrong with him just turnin' her down, eh?"
Red sighed, placing the lid back on the basket. All of a sudden, she no longer had any appetite. "I don't think it was that simple, Spot."
"You didn't believe him when he said he did it for you, didja?"
Red flinched like he'd slapped her. Spot knew at once he'd gone too far—it was too soon, the guilt still so very raw, and Red's face lost that red color as she paled. Feeling like a scoundrel, he started to apologize, to tell her that he'll drop it but, before he had, Red took a deep breath and said, "Do you really want me to tell you what I think?"
"I do," he said honestly. "But, if ya don't want to talk 'bout it, I... I get it. I never shoulda brought it up."
"No, no... it's alright. Really," and she said it in such a way that it sounded like she was trying to convince herself even more than Spot. Then again, this was the longest they'd been alone together since the night Tommy revealed his true colors. While Red thought they could have a nice, peaceful picnic together, she had been blissfully unaware to expect Spot wouldn't even try to bring up what had happened. "I've been thinking about it myself. I never got to speak to Tommy again after that, his father wouldn't let me, but I have my ideas."
Spot had forgotten about his half-eaten apple. He held onto it, the pulp already browning, no intention of returning to it. As always, Red had every ounce of his attention. "Yeah?"
"As simple as I can make it," she said, and she felt her heartbeat speed up a little as she remembered that night, the knife with the patches, the crazed look in Tommy's hazel eyes, "I think it has to do with you. Not that it's your fault," she said quickly before he could argue, though she didn't say anything about it not being her fault, "but Tommy... he was really intent on marrying me." She shrugged her shoulders apologetically, not really sure what she was sorry for. "He wasn't going to get to do that with Madge telling him that I was in love with you, so... I think he thought that if he silenced Madge, then that made what she said go away. Then I wouldn't be in love with you... then I would be with him."
Spot accepted everything she said with a slow, curious nod. When she was done, he said, "Let me get this straight—you're sayin' he killed Madge 'cause you love me?"
"As far as I can tell," Red said weakly. "But that's just my idea."
"How was that supposed to work? Why didn't he just come after me?"
"I have an idea about that, too," admitted Red.
Spot looked like he couldn't wait to hear it. "What's that?"
"Because you're Spot Conlon."
And though she said it with a small, sad smile, there was truth in her statement—and they both knew it. Madge was a seventeen-year-old girl with as much fight in her as a kitten; Spot could give the Beast a run for his money. That was why Tommy never went after Spot, that was why his plan solely centered on disgracing Spot in Red's eyes, because, even with a knife in his hand, what could he do to Spot Conlon?
It was Spot, after all, who managed to bring Tommy in. Even though Red had used Spot's slingshot to knock Tommy down, Spot's way of expecting everyone to do what he said enabled him to convince Sanders to get back on his feet. With a hint of satisfaction, he used his faded red suspenders to tie Tommy's hands behind his back and, together, he and Red marched up to the first copper they happened upon.
That was Red's idea. If Spot had it his way, he would've soaked Tommy Sanders for what he'd done—murder, first and foremost, but dirtying his name and trying to hurt Red—and then left him in that dank, damp alleyway. But she wouldn't have it. Usually, the fact that Red was a soft touch intrigued Spot, she wasn't anything like Cinder Harrows, except in this case, Spot felt she was wrong. Not that he tried to tell her so. He didn't. Which was why Sanders still had limbs that weren't broken and a nose that wasn't smashed in.
Of course, if he ever got the chance...
"He's safe now," Red said softly, decisively, making it clear that she was done with this conversation. She patted his hand, then squeezed his fingers with her own. "Thanks to you, I'm safe."
"I still think he should've been sent downriver," Spot said gruffly, though he didn't seem to mind that Red was comforting him. "Killin' poor Madge like that, no matter what his reasons. I could've protected ya without resortin' to killin' no one." Except when it came to the Beast, he added to himself. That was one monster who deserved to be put down for good.
Red, who knew Spot well enough by now to figure what he was thinking even when he didn't tell her so himself, just pursed her lips and said nothing. Which didn't mean that she disagreed...
Mr. Sanders was a very respected merchant in Brooklyn. The sons of respected merchants, be they butchers, bakers or candlestick makers, they didn't get shipped off to Sing Sing. Bellevue Hospital was the place for Tommy to go to pay for silencing Madge Harris. Spot thought he got off way too easy; Red, remembering how it felt to be in her own cage, just shuddered when she thought of Tommy behind bars of any kind
At least Madge was free now. And sitting here with Spot, so was she.
The two of them were shoulder by shoulder now, hand in hand; Spot's apple was nowhere in sight. Red wasn't sure when that had happened, though she suspected Spot might have moved closer when she was pouring out more apple cider for them both, and it felt so nice to have him so close that she didn't even mind when an older lady in her bonnet passed them by with a scandalized gasp and a muttering about how girls this century didn't know the meaning of being proper.
They were still sitting together like that when, somewhere in the distance, a howl erupted through the early afternoon air. Maybe it was a dog playing in the park, maybe not, but the howl sent shivers down her spine. Spot, feeling her tremble, pulled her even closer to him.
Red simply sighed again, this time in contentment.
The Beast was still out there somewhere. There was no doubt about that. But, with her guard dog faithfully at her side, she had nothing left to fear.
End Note: And that's all she wrote.
Well, no. Not really. For this story, yes, but I've made my decision: there will be a follow up to this fic. Curious? Let me give you a couple of hints: Spot. Red. Cinder. Revenge. Rapunzel-
Yes. I did just say Rapunzel. I'll leave you guys to wondering about that and, depending on how my jury duty tomorrow goes (ah, I actually have to go and do jury duty!), I'd like to get the first chapter of the sequel up as soon as possible.
Now it's your turn - for the last time for Red, please let me know what you think :) Oh, and, if you liked this story, would you think about nominating it for either the NML Awards or Pegasus' "Summer Reading List" fan fiction awards? Both are in nominations now, and you can find more information about it on my profile! Thanks :)
- stress, 08.29.11