AN: This came to me in an odd dream a few weeks ago that I was unable to get out of my head. (Do not sleep stressed out with the television on.) After a talk with a good friend and her editing eyes I decided to turn it into a story.
I am purely writing this as an exercise in character development and for my own muse to stop talking to me about why I haven't written anything yet...
Loosely based on the movie Lawless and the characters therein, I naturally own nothing that is already spoken for, just my own work.
There are certain expectations and milestones that one hopes to reach in the course of their lifetime; and perhaps more importantly there is a due time and schedule for each and every one of these things to be completed by which is firmly set by society. It's not to be said that these rules are set in stone, as many people manage to meander around them with little care- but the simple facts of her situation couldn't be ignored.
Being a woman in 1932 who was coming up on her thirtieth birthday, who wasn't married and had no prospects thereof, who watched over her also unmarried twenty-year-old baby sister and had a seven-year-old orphaned nephew under her care, while escaping a deceased father's gambling debts by running off to rural Virginia- is not by any means an enviable or respectful position to be in. But, despite the unsavory nature of it all- it was the sad truth of their little family. Though, being born a Sullivan was never a particularly grand thing to begin with.
Bridget Sullivan wasn't unique. She grew up like most railroad worker's daughters did in the country during the Depression- that is to say poor, very hungry and Irish. She spent her youth in a small one-room tenement house just outside of Roanoke that she shared with her father and her two younger sisters. Her mother Molly had died when Bridget was ten, not long after she gave birth to her youngest sister Katherine, and for all intents and purposes, her father Angus was lost to the bottle not long after that- but it was a car accident the previous winter that finally did him in for good; to Bridget, it was a mercy killing if there ever was one.
And it would be fair to presume she loved her parents as much as any daughter is supposed to, and missed them when they were gone; but it was the death of her middle sister Mary and her husband John five years ago to scarlet fever that had truly broken her heart. Bridget did what she had to do as the oldest sibling– she put her own life on hold and took in their only son, Patrick, without a second thought; and though the little boy was an odd thing with who hadn't spoken a word since his parents died, walking with a limp courtesy of the same infection that took them- he was the light of her life. It had cost her dearly, but it was nothing that wasn't healed with time and the realization that her responsibilities outweighed her need for personal satisfaction. She was a mother and a father now, the head of a family- and that was all she had time in her life for.
"It's colder than I thought it would be up here," Katherine's high-pitched, musical voice floated into her distracted mind and Bridget couldn't help but smile as she looked over at the pretty little blonde girl. She had always been small, even as a grown woman she was lucky if she was five feet tall on a good day, and a hundred pounds soaking wet. But what she lacked in size she made up for in big, clear blue eyes, flawless porcelain skin, an adorable figure and the kind of smarts that belonged in a University somewhere instead of the backwoods.
Bridget may have been the eldest sister, but she'd always felt plain next to Katherine and even Mary. Whereas her baby sisters caught the eye of any who looked their way, she was just an average-looking girl of average height with a decent amount of curves that never seemed to go away no matter how hard she worked or how little she ate, crowned with a mop of unmanageable brown curly hair and unremarkable blue-grey she actively wondered if she hadn't been made so simple-looking for the reason that they both deserved a better hand in this life than she had been dealt; and maybe, just maybe standing next to her made them look all the more special.
Either way, whether that was the truth or not- Bridget was here to make sure that though Mary hadn't been able to enjoy her happiness, Katherine wouldn't settle for anything less than she deserved. And God help the poor, unfortunate soul that went sniffing around under her watch.
"Well it is April Katie. I guess spring hasn't sprung around here yet," she needled back with a tired sigh.
Katie quirked her eyebrow and picked at a ball of lint on the tattered brown woolen sweater that hung too loosely off of her body. "Now, that one's not even funny for you, Bridget."
Bridget couldn't help but laugh at her honest assessment; she wasn't exactly known for her engaging sense of humor. "Sorry, it's all I have, kiddo," she remarked as she ran her hands along the Model T Ford's smooth, worn metal steering wheel.
A little squeak abruptly popped up from in between them and they both turned to look at Patrick, who eagerly pointed out the windshield with one of his bony little fingers. He squirmed in his seat as he pulled on the sleeve of Bridget's coat, his crystal blue eyes dancing as the shock of messy white-blonde hair that stood straight up on his head bounced back and forth with the animated movements. For a moment, she half-expected him to finally get out the words, but he kept on with the little peeps and noises that the girls had come to understand as his way of speaking instead.
"What is it, honey?" Bridget asked gently as she stared down the heavily wooded road, trying to discern anything in the deep tree cover. "I don't see anything."
He pulled harder on her coat and leaned forward more, this time staring at Katie as he did it. Bridget turned her head just in time to see a beautiful doe jump out of the bushes and land on the ground right in front of them. She gasped in surprise and slammed on the brakes, jerking the wheel as she tried desperately to reach across the seat to protect both the fragile boy and her sister with little more than her arm. The car jolted and slid out of control on the loose dirt road, the tires spun wildly, and she finally just abandoned all hope and let go of the wheel as she leaned across the seat and closed her eyes, praying to anyone who would listen that it would be alright.
The car lurched and went off hard to the left – it felt like they'd fallen for a mile – before she heard a loud metallic snap and a thud slammed her head hard into the dashboard. Bridget opened her eyes to see Patrick stunned and clutching onto her with tears in his eyes while Katie groaned and removed herself from the floor of the car. She'd fallen off the bench seat and managed to somehow end up with her legs in the air underneath the glove box.
"You alright?" Bridget asked, as she sat up and pulled Patrick onto her lap; rocking him tightly and trying to keep him from crying as she steadfastly tried to ignore the vicious pounding in her head.
Katie wriggled out from the uncomfortable space and sat back on the seat as she pulled her striped green dress back down. "Yeah, I'm alright." It only took a moment for her to look at the distraught little boy in her sister's arms before she reached over to grab the both of them in a big hug, "See, we are all fine."
Her easy, gentle smile instantly brought a sense of calm to the situation and Patrick relaxed, his big eyes looking around the tilted cabin of the car.
"This isn't good," Katie grumbled softly as she moved to the passenger door and gingerly opened it, stepping out onto the gravel road and eyeing the car up and down with a grimace. "I think the front axle is broken."
Bridget cursed under her breath at the ridiculous circumstances, feeling personally that there really should be a quota of bad luck that a person is allowed to have in a lifetime, because she was pretty sure that she'd used up all of hers by now. With nothing left to do but grumble, she sat up and handed Patrick over the seat to Katie before fixing her skirt and climbing out. After a moment's glance it was easy to see that the axle was most decidedly broken, and with that being the situation they were certainly not driving the rest of the way to their destination.
Her mind raced as she tried to sort out their dire was a little after three in the afternoon and they were at least a five-mile, uphill hike to the old homestead. The cabin was the entire reason that they were in Franklin County to begin with; it was her maternal grandfather's place and she'd hoped that the small house and the three-acre parcel of land that it sat on would be a fresh start for all of them. Far away from Roanoke and the trouble her father had left behind with his passing.
"I think there was a fork in the road a few miles back," Katie piped up as she grabbed onto Patrick's hand, coaxing him up off the ground and away from the small pile of white rocks he was meticulously starting to collect in his hands, which would no doubt end up in his pockets. The poor boy had the oddest habits in the world. "We should probably head downhill, it'll be easier to walk and I swore I saw a sign for a service station."
Bridget nodded in agreement and took one last withering look at the car before locking up their meager belongings and gesturing for them to head out. With a laugh Katie crouched down to let the small boy jump onto her back and wrap his arms and legs around her, clinging tight like a possum. A look of pure joy crossed his face as she began to skip off down the dirt road singing some sort of silly nursery rhyme at the top of her lungs.
And his answering giggles were enough to make even this irritation seem trivial for a moment.
The elation did not last as long as Bridget would have liked.
They weren't more than a mile or so down the road from the wrecked car when the skies darkened and literally opened up in an absolute downpour. Big, fat raindrops fell with a furious intensity and she pulled off her coat, draping it quickly over Patrick's head; there was too much of a risk of him catching a cold in the godforsaken weather. Unfortunately that left her in little more than a threadbare pale blue cotton dress that was getting more and more translucent as the deluge continued. In an attempt to stay a bit drier, and to take a load off of poor Katie's back, she took up Patrick a few minutes later. He was as heavy as a sack of potatoes and though she should have been happy that the boy was finally putting on some weight, the realization was less enjoyable when it came at the expense of her aching back.
Blessedly it wasn't five minutes later that they came to the intersection in the road, just as Katie had remembered, and there was a rickety old wooden sign with faded black letters that proclaimed that 'Blackwater Station' was just a mile and a half down the road.
The girls kept their heads down and walked the remaining distance as fast as they could, slipping and sliding down the dirt road that was growing more and more treacherous with each step. By the time they finally saw the wooden outline of the station they were exhausted, cold, muddy, and soaked to the bone. Bridget climbed up the stairs under the overhang on the porch and looked around; the place seemed to be completely empty.
With a sigh, she set Patrick down and wrung out her hair with a hard twist of her hand; the long, thick braid was absolutely drenched and she was glad she'd thought to tie it up. The auburn mass was generally difficult to manage, but with it being wet like it was now, it would look like a riot of messy curls and she really had no desire to meet anyone looking any more disheveled and wretched than she already did.
Katie shook out her long hair with a flip while pulling off her drenched sweater with ease. She dropped the sodden mass to the porch as she looked around the darkened windows of the station, making a show of pressing her face to the glass. "I don't think anyone is here."
It wouldn't have been unusual; it was probably coming up on five o'clock on a Sunday evening, not exactly the prime hours for people to be out needing sundries or looking for gasoline. But it was disappointing. Bridget wasn't exactly sure what they were going to do if there wasn't anyone around…she certainly didn't fancy the idea of sleeping outside on the porch in their current state.
To further emphasize her point, Patrick let out a loud sneeze from underneath the shelter of her jacket. A smile crossed her face as she looked down at the boy. His wide eyes peered out from the tent that the collar made on his head; a tuft of messy white, blonde hair stood straight up near his forehead. "You are just too cute," she murmured, crouching down to rub her hands over his arms briskly, trying to keep him warm.
A loud noise came from the side of the porch and suddenly a tall, lean body vaulted up the stairs with arms full of boxes and cans; the legs were moving so fast that there wasn't time for Katie to turn around from her lookout perch in the window and get out of the way before she was unceremoniously crashed into.
Bridget held onto Patrick to shield him from the raining supplies as what was soon found out to be a rather handsome young man landed smack on top of her sister. He jumped to his feet as quick as if he was on fire, surprised hazel eyes darting first to her and then back to Katie's prone form before he spoke in a rush, "I'm so sorry!" His hands shot out to grab hers and he pulled her to her feet with an enthusiastic yank.
"Gosh, I'm really sorry," he added again, removing his soaking wet brown hat and staring at the three of them, as he nervously toed his worn boot into the wooden floor, "I didn't hurt you, did I, Miss…?"
"Katie," She answered with a sweet smile as she stuck out her hand and shook his, before blushing. "Well, Katherine Sullivan actually, but I'm Katie- just call me Katie," She shook her head at her own flustered response, bending down to pick up the cans and boxes that were strewn all over the porch. "And I am fine; wouldn't have made it this long in life if falling on my backside broke me."
He stood completely dumfounded for a moment, before crouching down to join her; his eyes never leaving her face. "I'm Jack," he said, trying to catch her attention as he filled up his arms. "Jack Bondurant, my brother owns this place."
Bridget watched the young boy moon over her sister for another minute or two before she decided to make herself known, clearing her throat loudly. "And I am Katherine's older sister, Bridget."
Jack stood up, managing to balance the smaller load of food in his arms as a result of Katie's help before turning to look at her with a sheepish grin and an extended hand."Nice to meet you, ma'am."
"Likewise," Bridget answered evenly, returning the welcoming gesture automatically and sighing as the conversation dwindled. "Look, we are really sorry to show up on your porch unannounced like this, Jack, but our car ran off the road a few miles back and we were hoping to get some help."
He nodded quickly, not seeming to pay much attention to the words she was speaking as opposed to wanting to seem helpful in their situation. "Yeah, yeah, sure – of course. Come on in."
The inside of Blackwater Station wasn't exactly much to look at; just a simple wooden bar and a few crudely made round tables, but to a couple of soggy wet souls with nothing to their names it may as well have been the Waldorf Astoria in New York City for the immediate comfort it gave them. And it was so delightfully warm.
Bridget walked in and led Patrick over to a cast iron, pot bellied stove in the corner, hanging her wet coat on a chair as she held out her hands towards the heat with a sigh. "Just sit here a minute baby, and don't touch that – alright?" The boy nodded quietly as he mimicked the way she held out her hands instinctively rubbing them.
Jack dumped out the contents of his arms with little ceremony onto one of the tables before disappearing off with a shout. "Stay right here, alright? I'll be back."
Katie giggled from somewhere behind her and Bridget spun a weather eye in her direction, the warning look was not missed as her sister turned the smile into a cough.
"I sure am glad someone was here, would have been a shame to end up in the cold all night," she lamely explained as she wiped the water off of her arms.
"Yes, that was fortunate for us."
It wasn't another few minutes before Jack returned, this time with an armful of plain white towels handing them each one before brushing himself off.
Bridget gently folded the one he'd given her in favor of sharing one with Patrick; there certainly was no need to go about dirtying all those towels for no reason. Wet as she was, it was only rain water and that would take care of itself soon enough by standing in front of the stove.
"So," Jack piped up as he jumped over the bar with a bounding leap, his long legs cleared the counter with little effort. "What brings you ladies to Franklin County?"
"We're moving here from Roanoke," Katie answered, wrapping her towel around her shoulders and taking a seat on a bar stool, leaning her chin on her hands before continuing. "You see, our daddy had –"
"Katherine Anne," Bridget cut her off sharply, "there is no need for Jack here to listen to your life story."
"That's alright, Miss Bridget," Jack replied quietly, his voice and eyes lowered. "I don't mind hearing about it if she wants to talk."
She smiled in a practiced way at his politeness; the boy was certainly sweet, but there was no reason he needed to know anything about why they were here. "Well, that is very nice of you. But we are just making our way up to my grandfather's homestead on Cooper's Mountain, nothing special."
He seemed to instantly perk up at the mention of the location. "Cooper's Mountain, huh? Whose land?"
"Eamon MacManus," Bridget answered simply. "Passed away a few years back, I believe. Did you know him?"
For the first time in the half-hour that she'd known him, the boy seemed not to know what to say; instead, he rubbed at the back of his neck and avoided her now very interested eyes. "Uh, yeah, yeah, old man MacManus; he was a real nice fellow, did a lot of, uh, business with my brother, and yeah, it'd be about two years now he's been gone…so his place, huh?"
His ramble made her pause for a moment, but just before she opened up her mouth to speak, a loud rumbling noise echoed through the quiet room that Bridget very quickly identified as Katie's empty stomach. If there was one thing that was certain in the world aside from the sun and the stars, it was the fact that her sister required three square meals a day or there would be hell to pay.
Jack picked up on it instantly and laughed out loud, completely dropping the conversation. "Wow that sure was noisy! Are you hungry, Miss Katie?"
"A little," she answered with a shy chuckle, her cheeks reddening at the sudden attention to her hunger pangs. "The way some around here will tell it I always am. But I don't want to intrude; you were nice enough to let us in here and dry off. I don't want to eat you out of house and home too."
He shook his head emphatically and spun around to the stove. "No ma'am, my mama would strike me down from heaven if she knew I let a lady go hungry. How about I make some hamburgers? I ain't really good at much else, 'cept maybe fried eggs and bacon, but that's not a proper meal for suppertime. I don't really cook much."
A pull at Bridget's skirt let her know that Katie wasn't the only one who was hungry, and she reluctantly acquiesced to the offer as she helped the little boy climb up onto a stool at the bar, "That would be great, Jack." She frowned again at their ridiculous and unending misfortune; she couldn't even manage to feed her family these days without a handout from a stranger. "I'm fine, but I am sure Katie and little Patrick here would enjoy a hot meal. I just…I can't pay you much. I only have a few dollars to my name and we still have groceries to buy. But I'm good for it."
Jack only smiled warmly as he ruffled Patrick's hair, "Well, I gotta eat too, so it ain't any trouble. 'Course I can't be responsible for what it tastes like – I'll go ahead and warn you about that from the start."
His cheerful demeanor served to make her feel a little better; either the poor boy was too foolish to realize that she was absolutely mortified to take a hand out, or he didn't care. And as she sat there and smelled the amazing aroma of beef cooking for the first time in months, she found that she really didn't care much either. In fact, by the time he served up the simple meal, Bridget was actively smiling and conversing with her sister and the charming young man. It seemed, when a huge smile broke out on Patrick's face as he contentedly ate the greasy meal that maybe their luck was starting to change.
Suddenly, over the loud pounding noise of rain on the roof a car engine could be heard rumbling down the road. It cut out just outside the building and Jack put down his fork and took a few steps to the front of the store to look out the window. He cursed to himself loudly and ran around the room to grab the two extra towels that weren't being used and covertly stashed them behind the bar where he was standing before going back to his meal without a beat.
Bridget watched the entire scene and swallowed hard as a wave of uneasiness washed over her at his odd behavior. "What's going on?" she asked nervously. "Who is that?"
"Nothin' much at all, Miss Bridget," he answered nonchalantly with a shrug, keeping his head down. "My brothers are just home."
Please let me know what you think, reviews are so very welcome and I prefer PM's on questions and issues...