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Mature Content Filter is On
(Contains: sexual themes)
Sleep came less easily for Maggie.  She cleaned up the take-out in a giddy haze, and found herself humming as she changed into her PJs and brushed her teeth. She flung herself onto her bed with a happy sigh. When she closed her eyes, she could see his face, backlit by the light from her open door, but she could make out his smile – the biggest she’d seen from him yet. Remembering it made her heart beat faster.

‘And that kiss!’ The first had been as awkward as she’d expected, but nice nonetheless. The second one though. She hadn’t been prepared for the intensity. She put a hand to her cheek – she had felt his hands tremble as he’d held her face. Had that been from fear or passion? Both maybe. She rolled over, hugging her body pillow close. She hadn’t been kissed like that in…She’d never been kissed like that. She smiled to herself. The morning couldn’t come soon enough.

* * *

‘C’mon…time to cook.’

Jesse woke with a choked scream, gripping the blankets so tight he could feel his nails digging into his palms. Panting, he clutched at his head, willing the gruesome faces behind his eyelids to vanish. With a groan, he sat up, rubbing at his eyes.  Without sheer exhaustion to knock him out, would he ever have a good night’s sleep? Maybe finding a job in manual labor was the answer. If he worked himself ragged, he could just pass out at night, and then the demons of his past would be smothered.

He looked at the clock on the nightstand. 5:28 AM. He didn’t want to go back to sleep, so he showered, dressed and headed out to Josie’s on his own.

The diner was full this time, and the atmosphere was not unlike the bar had been his first night. The crowd, mostly men ranging from teens to seniors, filled the booths and the barstools, and the room was filled with the din of conversation. From behind the counter, Josie looked up from refilling coffee and waved at him. He nodded at her, and hung back by the entrance.

The older man who was the recipient of the refill turned around, spotted him, and smacked the young man seated next to him on the arm. “Get up, Jr. Let the newcomer have a seat.” The younger man frowned, rubbing his arm, but rose from his seat. “Come on, son, have a seat.”

“Ah, n-no, that’s ok!” Jesse stammered. “I can wait, really.”

“Don’t be silly. Sit!” The white-haired man patted the seat. “We’ve been wanting to officially meet you.”

Resignedly, he crossed over to the bar. “Um, thanks I guess.”

“Name’s Jack Wallace Sr.” He stuck out his hand.

Jesse wondered if he’d ever run out of hands to shake in this town. ‘There’s only 550-some total…gotta get through ‘em all eventually.’ “Josh Carpenter,” he said. It was getting easier, this new name, the more he said it.

“This here’s Jack Jr.” The older man jerked a thumb at the younger, who also offered his hand. Once it had been said, Jesse could see the resemblance.  Both men had the same square jaw, and light green eyes.

Jack Jr. held the handshake a bit longer than Jesse felt comfortable with, and said, “Was that you we spotted sneaking out the back way of the bar with Maggie last night? Alan wouldn’t tell me nothin’ when I asked.”

“Uh, I–”

He was saved from having to answer as a new hand came in and smacked Jack Jr. upside the head. It belonged to a large man with red sideburns growing down out of his John Deere cap. “Lord, boy, what’d I tell you ‘bout manners? You’ll have to excuse him, son, some people just ain’t got no decorum, I tell you what. You can call me Big John.”

Jesse shook the man’s hand. ‘I oughta just start a receiving line.’ “Nice to meet you, sir.”

“See?” Big John glared at Jack Jr. “Calls me ‘sir’ and everything.” The young man rolled his eyes and strolled off down the bar. “I gotta tell you, son. Every boy that’s come through this town in the last five years has made a run at Maggie, but ain’t none of ‘em had the luck that you’ve got.”

Jesse felt his face grow hot. “No way, huh? Well, luck’s gotta be it, but I figured I’d run outta that years ago.” Josie put a full mug of coffee in front of him and he snatched it up. “She’s, uh…she’s really something though.”

“That she is,” Big John said. Beside him, Jack Sr. nodded. “Go on then, eat. We gotta shove off soon.”

“You all fish, huh?” Jesse asked.

Big John chucked. “On good days, we do.”

“Any of you guys, like, hiring?”

The two older men exchanged a look. Big John patted his shoulder, smiling. “Put a little meat on those bones, son. Then come see me.” With that, he lumbered off back to his booth.
Jesse frowned, climbing up on his barstool at last. Josie set a plate of pancakes down in front of him. He looked up at her, confused.

“I took a guess,” she said, giving him a small smile.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, and picked up a fork.

“How come you’re looking for work so soon?” Jack Sr. asked. “Word on the street is you’ve got more than enough money to last you a good long while.”

‘That’s what you get for flashin’ your cash around, idiot.’ He stuck a forkful of pancakes in his mouth and mulled over his answer while he chewed. “I like to work,” he said at last. “I don’t do so good with nothin’ to do all day.”

“Sounds like my son,” the older man chuckled. “But work out on a fishing boat can be back breaking, and not always rewarding. Take the time you’ve got, with the money you’ve got left, and look around. There’s quite a few businesses in town that could use an extra set of hands. If you’ve got the option, don’t settle for the first thing, is all I’m saying.”

Jesse swallowed another mouthful and nodded. “Yeah, sure, uh, sir.”

Jack Sr. patted him on the back. “You’ll be fine.” He finished his coffee and set it down. “See y’round, son. At the bar tonight, most likely!”

“Not really any other nightlife, huh?” Jesse asked with a smirk.

“Nope,” Jack said. “But it’s Wednesday! That means Open Mic tonight! Wouldn’t wanna miss that, even if there was someplace else to go.” He stood, as, Jesse noted, were most of the other patrons. They pulled jackets down from hooks on the walls and filed out. Big John gave him another pat on the shoulder and Jack Jr. waggled his eyebrows in a way Jesse didn’t really like. And just like that, it was just him and one elderly couple left. He turned back to his pancakes, which he was able to finish without interruption. Josie gathered up tray after tray of dirty dishes around him, and then vanished into the kitchen. When he’d finished his coffee, he set a twenty dollar bill under the mug and got up to leave.

As he did, he heard the sound of dishes clinking behind the swinging double doors and paused. Then, with a decisive nod, he hopped up and over the bar. “Hey Josie? Need any help with those?”

* * *

“So Alan was pretty tight lipped about it, but I thought I saw you duck outta here last night with that newcomer in tow.”

Maggie looked up from the glasses she’d been washing to see the owner of the establishment leaning over the bar, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, Wy, you did,” she said, trying to look put-upon. She couldn’t help but smile though, and the gray-haired man slapped a hand down on the bar, as if he were proud of his deductive skills.

“I knew it!” he said, grinning, his teeth bright white against his weather-worn skin. “Now, I know it’s not my place.” He straightened his bolo tie. “But don’t you think that’s a, uh, a bit, er hurried?”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” she said, one hand on her hip. “And no, it’s not your place. And also no, I don’t think I am rushing things. I wanted to have dinner with an interesting guy – away from all the yahoos. Is that too much to ask?”

“You’re right, you’re right.” Wyatt raised his hands defensively. “Sorry to step on any toes there.”

She pursed her lips, eyeing him. Didn’t hurt to make him sweat a little. “You’re forgiven. Honestly, I know Alan and Wendy can be gossip hounds, but I expect better for you, Wy.”

He turned his gaze away, abashed. “Call me old fashioned if you want to, but I can’t help but worry about you,” he said.

“You’re not my daddy and even if you were, I’m twenty-six years old,” she reminded him, “I’ll worry about myself thank you. And he’s a nice guy. You should talk to him.”

“I plan on it.”

“And don’t go trying to scare him off.”

“I wouldn’t think of it,” he said, flashing her his best innocent smile. Then he turned on his heel and returned to his office.

Maggie shook her head. She knew generations of sexism, even in the well-meaning over-protective type, was hard to fight, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. She leaned back against the shelves of liquor, arms folded across her chest. She also didn’t have to like the implication that her judgment wasn’t reliable. It might have been true when she was younger, but only Wendy knew that. And she wasn’t a dumb kid anymore. ‘Still…he is a recovering addict…’ The admission had been a huge gamble on his part, she knew, and she respected that. Especially doing so right off the bat.

Her phone beeped and she pulled it from her apron pocket. A text from Wendy read, ‘I’ll be over for lunch. Be ready to spill!’ Maggie stuffed the phone back in her pocket. This was the main problem with a small town. It was nearly impossible to keep your business to yourself, which made it tricky when you were still figuring out your business yourself. At least Wendy would have a better attitude than the men.

Wanting to think of something else for a bit, she pulled her phone back out and shot a text to Alan. ‘Planning to do ‘I Wonder’ at Open Mike tonight – can I count on an assist?’

Her answer came back almost immediately. ‘You got it!’

Grinning, she pocketed her phone and set about rearranging the tables to clear a space in the corner for the evening’s performers.  
Mature Content Filter is On
(Contains: sexual themes)
The town tour took most of the morning, not because there was a whole lot to see, but because Maggie knew every shop owner and spoke to them all as if they were old friends who were catching up after years apart, though it had to have been more like days. Jesse shook dozens of hands and was given one too-tight hug by the woman who owned the bakery. That was his own fault, truthfully. He’d nearly moaned in ecstasy after trying one of her signature chocolate chunk cookies. He was careful to temper his compliments a bit with any other free samples he was offered.

The abundance of samples helped him dissuade her from a sit-down lunch at the taco stand. Instead, they picked up a small carton of blueberries from the grocer and shared them as they walked along the docks and toward the edge of town.

“So how long does it take to get to know everyone in town?” Jesse asked.

“I don’t know everyone,” Maggie said. She was walking along the edge of the piers, as if on a balance beam, and he marveled at the ease with which she did it. “But being a bartender at the only bar certainly helps.”

“Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” He popped the last blueberry into his mouth and deposited the container, basketball style, into the trash can that he spotted along their route.
“Nice shot!” She grinned at him.

He was finding it easier to smile the longer he was in her company. “So where to next? I think we’ve seen every square inch of this place.”

She hopped down from the thick wooden post she’d been perched atop. “The town’s only half of it. Follow me.”

So he did, along old railroad tracks and into the woods. The pine trees were so tall he could barely make out their tops, dark against the bright blue sky. The train tracks faded away and he was thankful for the workboots he’d bought, as the trail grew rocky and full of exposed roots. She was a few paces ahead of him, not hurrying but moving purposefully and silently through the trees. After a morning full of introductions, and the crowded bar the night before, the quiet was a welcome one. By the time she stopped, at what looked like a break in the trees, he was tired and sweating. He came to a stop next to her, panting, and dismayed to see that, aside from a slight sheen on her forehead, she seemed unaffected. “You make this trek often?” he asked.

“As often as I can,” she said. “Wouldn’t you?”

She was staring out ahead of them. He turned his attention in that direction and discovered they were standing at the edge of a clearing chock full of wild flowers. “Whoa…” he breathed. “Yeah, I guess I would.”

“Let’s take a breather,” she said, and jogged out into the middle of the field before flopping down on the ground. Her tattooed arm rose up above the flowers and tall grass, waving at him. “Come on, Josh!”

He was too winded to jog, but he ambled out to her spot only to find her beaming up at him behind her aviators. “Don’t you get, like, bugs all over you doing that?” he asked.

“Oh, you must be a city boy,” she laughed. She sat up and took hold of his arm, tugging him down next to her. “A couple bugs won’t hurt ya. Especially not with you all buttoned up like that.” She plucked at the cuffs of his shirt, which were indeed buttoned. “Aren’t you hot? Why don’t you roll these up?”

Instinctively, he pulled his arm from her grasp. “I, uh, I’d rather not.”

“Sorry,” she said quickly, folding her hands in her lap.

“S’ok,” he muttered. He drew his legs up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his knees.
They sat in silence for quite a while. As they sat, Jesse wrestled with himself. It was going to seem strange to wear long sleeves all summer, even if the weather was mild. And he was trying to blend in, not stick out. And Maggie seemed to like him already. She might be a good test. Depending on how she reacted, he’d be able to guess how others might. He glanced over at her. She was braiding blades of grass together absently. ‘Well, here goes nothin’.’ Silently, he began unbuttoning the plaid shirt.

“Hmm?” Maggie looked up. “What’re you–?”

“Hang on.” He shrugged the shirt off of his shoulders and shook one arm loose, then pulled the sleeve off the other, leaving him in only his white Hanes t-shirt, which was clingy with sweat. Carefully, he folded the long-sleeve shirt and set it in his lap, folding his hands atop it. He waited, feeling her eyes on him.

“You came up here to get clean?” she said at last.

“I am clean,” he answered, not looking at her. “Almost a year now. But I knew I couldn’t stay that way if I stayed where I was.”

Her hand was on his arm then, right over the scars of all his bad decisions, squeezing gently. “Sounds to me like you made a good call. But I can understand why you wouldn’t want to have to explain that to every new person.” She paused, and then added. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Thanks,” he said. “It feels good to tell somebody though. So, uh,” he turned a crooked smile towards her. “Thanks for asking, I guess.”

“That’s a weird thing to thank somebody for, but all right. You’re welcome for being nosy, I guess?”

She was smiling at him. She hadn’t backed away, or let judgment creep into her voice. She was just sitting there, the sun shining on her hair, smiling at him, and there were dimples in her cheeks as she smiled and he knew in that moment that he was a goner. Maybe it was a naïve reaction to the kindness she was showing, and maybe it was just a crush, but the same butterflies from earlier were going ballistic in his stomach and all he could do was smile back at her.

She reached up and ran a finger over his shoulder. “You look good in a white t-shirt.”

“Nah.” He shook his head. “But keep dragging me up this mountain and I will.”

She laughed. “Humble and cocky all in the same sentence.” She stood, stretching. “Now, as much as I could take a nap up here, I forgot sunscreen, and I gotta get these bad boys outta the sun.” She patted her arms.

“Oh, sure yeah.” He stood as well. “At least the hike back down will be easier.”

“That’s what you think.” She chuckled. “Your calf muscles might be crying in the morning, but a couple months of this and you’ll thank me!”

She was right about that. His legs were burning by the time they reached the edge of the woods at the base of the mountain. He was glad he’d kept the plaid shirt off. As they approached town again, he was able to slip it back on and hide the sweat stains that were forming on his t-shirt. “Thanks again,” he said, as they neared the main drag. “This was cool. Hanging out, I mean. Maybe we could do it again sometime?”

“How about we keep doing it right now?” she asked. She glanced at the time on her cell. “It’s only a little past two. We could have the foosball table all to ourselves at the bar. And I could use something cool to drink, how ‘bout you?”

“Y-yeah, great!” he said.

* * *

“Yoohoo, anybody home?” Maggie called as she pulled the heavy wooden door open.

“Yo!” Behind the bar, an tall, strapping Inuit man a few years her senior raised his dishrag in her direction. “Can’t stay away, huh, Mags?”

“You know it,” she said with a grin. She felt the weight of the door lessen and glanced back. Josh had one hand against it. He nodded for her to go ahead in. “Alan, this is Josh. Just came to town yesterday. I’ve been giving him the ten cent tour.”

As they approached the bar, Alan stuck out a hand. “You got swindled, my friend. Ain’t nothin’ in this town worth ten cents.”

Maggie pouted childishly, but her companion shook her coworker’s hand and said, without missing a beat, “Nothing but the tour guide, anyway. And she’s worth way more, so I got a bargain, I think.”

Alan laughed heartily. “Mags, you didn’t tell me your friend was such a charmer!”

She smirked. “Maybe because I didn’t want you setting your sights on him.”

Josh took a step back, mouth hanging open. Alan waved both hands in front of his chest. “Sorry, new guy, didn’t mean to blow your mind there. All in jest, I promise.”

“Uh…r-right, sorry,” Josh stammered. He looked to Maggie, eyes pleading.

She put a hand on his arm. “That’s alright. The tourists are always surprised to meet Alan.”

Alan shrugged. “I’m just breaking down stereotypes all over this joint. So what brings you in on your day off, hmm? Haven’t you got plenty of booze in your apartment?”

“I do,” she admitted. “But I don’t have foosball.”

“Touché. I’ll bring a couple of beers over then, shall I?”

“Please, thank you.” With that, she linked her arm around Josh’s and steered him off to the game room, which was separated from the main bar by a short hallway. “You ok?”

“J-just surprised, that’s all,” he said, and she could see his cheeks flush above his beard. “Hope that wasn’t, ya know, rude.”

“Nah,” she assured him, “He likes getting that reaction out of new people. Here we are.”
The game room wasn’t fancy, but was crammed with every form of entertainment Wyatt had been able to get his hands on. There were arcade boxes along one wall, dart boards along another, and in the center of the room both foosball and pool tables.

“Whoa…” Josh said for the second time that day, “Sweet set up.”

“I hardly ever get back here, but it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon,” she said.
He moved around the room, peering at the arcade games. “Hardly ever get back here?” he asked, pointing at the screen of Arkanoid, which was displaying the tops scores. The letters ‘MAG’ sat in the number one spot.

She flushed. “Ok, so maybe I come back here when things are slow,” she said. “And things are slow a lot. It’s a tiny town.”

“No need to explain yourself,” he said, and she could hear the teasing in his voice. “Just, if I were that much of a badass nerd, I’d own up to it.”

She didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. “Well, if nerds can be badass, then I guess I fit that description.”

He smiled at her. She was happy to see it seemed to pain him less than yesterday. “So have you mastered all of these games, or what? Did you bring me back here to school me?”

She returned the smile. “You’ll just have to find out.”

They made their way around the room, playing each game that allowed for two players, pausing for beers as Alan brought them. She was pleasantly surprised to find that, while he talked a big game, he didn’t quite have the skills to back it up, but he was a good sport, and seem to enjoy being beat as much as he did winning. By the time six beer bottles sat on the bar shelf along the lone empty wall, they had run out of games. Maggie sat on the pool table and polished off her forth bottle. “Well, I’m beat, how about you?”
Josh leaned against the table next to her. “Yeah. And hungry too.”

“How ‘bout this?” she said, gesturing with the neck of her bottle. It had gotten to her, a little, she had to admit, but she wasn’t concerned. “Let’s order something to go, and take it upstairs to my place? We can end the tour there, and watch a movie or something.”

“R-really?” Josh was staring down his bottle, blushing again. “I mean that sounds nice an’ all, but we just met and uh–”

“Oh relax,” she teased, punching him lightly on the shoulder. “Did I say I wanted to have sex? No. I just wanna have dinner and a movie, and we don’t have an AMC in town.”

“Uh, oh, r-right, sorry, I didn’t mean to, uh, I mean - not that you’re not hot, but uh, I–”

She put a finger to his lips. “Shush now. Take it easy. Maybe no more of these tonight.” She shook the bottle. “Let’s just go order food, ok?”

He looked relieved. “Ok.”

* * *

The climb up the modified fire escape to her apartment was blessedly short, if not a bit treacherous, with both of them a little fuzzy-headed, but Jesse clung to the railing, and Maggie clung to him and the take-out bag and they managed. Once inside, she pulled two cherry sodas from her fridge and they spread out the food on her coffee table. Cheesesteaks and fries were just what he needed to sober up. She drew the curtains, to help it seem more like evening, then she perused her DVD collection and called out titles to him to ‘yay’ or ‘nay’.

“I need something dumb and fun,” she said, crouching in front of the bookshelf, “How about The Avengers?”

“Not the shitty remake of that British TV show, right?” he asked.

“No, the one with the Hulk.”

“Sold. Let’s do this.”

“Sweet!” She popped the disk in the player, switched off the lights and then settled down next to him on the couch.

They ate in silence and then, when there was no more food, sat in silence, apart from laughing at the appropriate places in the movie. Gradually, Jesse noticed Maggie inching closer to him on the couch. Then, as the characters on screen regrouped to collectively fight off their enemy, she reached out and took hold of his hand, interlocking her fingers with his. He felt his heart beat faster, but was relieved not to have a repeat of the morning’s humiliation. This was nice. There was no need to get overexcited or over-think it. One step at a time. That was the mantra, and he could apply it to all things, and especially this thing. It was only his second day; he was experiencing culture shock for sure. For the first time in years he was feeling safe, and that in itself was intoxicating. He couldn’t let himself get carried away. One day at a time. Keep breathing. Keep moving forward – but slowly, he amended. Slowly.

‘Still…’ He raised their joined hands and pressed his lips lightly against her fingers. There was nothing wrong with thanking her for her kindness. She’d never know what it meant to him. He couldn’t tell her, not with words. But maybe actions would get the message across.

He glanced at her, and she was smiling at him again. The light from an explosion on the tv screen lit up her face. “So, I was thinking I might kiss you. Just to see what it’s like. Would that be ok?”

He swallowed thickly. “Uh, ok.”

And just like that her lips were on his and his mind was racing. ‘Soft. Sweet. Cherry? The soda? And warm. Oh God, don’t stop.’ And just as quickly as it had happened it was over and she pulled away. She bit her bottom lip, grinning and…blushing? It was hard to tell in the dark. “I haven’t done that in ages.  Sorry if it wasn’t great.”

He balked. “Are you kidding?” he breathed. “I’m the one who should be saying sorry. I didn’t even, I mean, maybe we could try again?”

She nodded, curls bobbing, and he cupped her face in both hands. He marveled at the softness of her skin before lowering his mouth on to hers. He fought the urge to use tongue. ‘Go slow, dammit!’ Instead he focused on breathing her in. She smelled like fresh mountain air. When he pulled back, she sounded as breathless as he felt.

“Well that was more like it,” she said, and draped herself against him, sighing.

“Yeah it was,” he agreed. He licked his lips, trying to savor the taste of her. Part of him wanted to ask if they could try a third time. The rest of him was petrified. What the hell was he doing, getting attached again so quickly? Hadn’t he sworn he’d live the life of a hermit once he got away, so no one would ever get hurt again because of him? But this town wasn’t going to let him do that, he could tell already. They were ready to welcome him in whether he was ready to be welcomed or not. But he was safe now, wasn’t he? Everyone who could or wanted to hurt him was dead, and the only person who even had a clue where he’d gone was living his own new life in hiding as well. All the bridges had been burned. The chains had been broken. The only one stopping him from trying to find happiness again…was himself. And that fight was going to be a tough one.

He wrapped one arm around her and let the movie finish. As it did, he rose from the couch. She slipped as he moved, and he realized she must have dozed off. “Leaving already?” she asked sleepily.

“I think I should.” He reached out and ran a hand over her curls. They felt like silk beneath his callouses. “Listen, this was, this was awesome. Could I, uh, see you again sometime?”

She leaned into his hand. “You can see me all the time. It’s a small town. But I know what you mean. And yes. I’d like to do this again too.”

“Cool. Ok. Yeah.” He fumbled backwards by the light of the tv towards the door. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you later then.”

“Have a good night!” She waved.

“You too.” His hand found the doorknob and, grinning like an idiot, he exited the apartment. Instantly he was blinded by sunlight. With a grunt of annoyance, he slipped on his sunglasses. “Way to kill the mood, sun,” he muttered.

As he reached the bottom rung of the fire escape, he found Alan standing outside the bar’s back door. A full trash bag sat at his feet, but he was apparently using the errand as an excuse to take a smoke break. “Look at you, being all gentlemanly and not sleeping over,” he said with a smirk.

“Yeah, yeah. What’re you waiting for me?” Jesse asked. He still didn’t know what to make of the man.

“Nah, just good timing.” He stamped out the cigarette. “Maggie’s a grown-up; she can do what she wants. Doesn’t mean she’s not like a little sister to me. So I’m naturally a little curious about this newcomer she’s so clearly taken with.”

Jesse shifted uncomfortably in his spot. “Not much to tell, really. As far as she goes, look, I’ve only been here two days. She seems like a cool chick, and I just wanna get to know her better, that’s all.”

The Alaskan native smiled. “Honest. Works for me.” He picked up the trash bag and trotted down the steps to the dumpster.

His path now cleared, Jesse hurried down to the street. “So we’re, like, cool, man?”

Alan heaved the trash bag into the dumpster with a grunt of exertion that melted into a laugh. “Yeah. We’re cool.” He brushed his hands off on his jeans. “Go on, ‘man’, get outta here.”

“Right,” Jesse nodded sheepishly. “Night.”

“Night.”

With that, Jesse turned and made his way back to the hotel. As he climbed the stairs to his room, he idly wondered if, along with this wardrobe, he should change the way he spoke. He realized dully that he’d hardly sworn out loud since he’d gotten off the bus. That was a good start. The rest would surely follow. He crawled into bed satisfied with that conclusion, and drifted off quickly.
The Last Frontier - Chapter 4
Previous Chapter: The Last Frontier - Chapter 3

The 'first date' continues! ^_^

Next Chapter: The Last Frontier - Chapter 5

Jesse (c) Vince Gilligan, Aaron Paul, and AMC
Everyone else (c) me
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The Last Frontier - First Steps by Invader-Sam
The Last Frontier - First Steps
A few weeks ago in a flurry of fangirlism, I came upon this amazing piece of fanart: 50 50 partner by the uber-talented enolianslave.deviantart.com/ and I knew I HAD to have her render a scene from my in-progress fic The Last Frontier - Chapter 1! So I commissioned this piece from her, along with one other. She did the wonderful line-art and I had a blast coloring it! It took me a while though, so I don't know when I'll get to the second one, but I already know I'll be saving my pennies to commission more in the future! I'm so in love with this! She captured so perfectly both Jesse's hesitancy and damaged psyche, and Maggie's gentle encouragement and curiosity at the newcomer!

Seriously, I could not love this more, and I just hope my coloring does it justice!

Lines (c) Enolianslave
Jesse (c) AMC, Vince Gilligan, Aaron Paul
Maggie (c) Me
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Mature Content Filter is On
(Contains: nudity, sexual themes and strong language)
Quiet blues on the jukebox (it was a Touch Tunes machine but Wyatt insisted on calling it a jukebox) mingled with the sounds of dishes being washed and coats being gathered. Outside the sun at had started setting and that meant closing time. Maggie emerged from the kitchen, having bussed the last table, and yawned. She scanned the room. Jacks Jr. and Sr. were making their way out, laughing to themselves at a private joke, and that was everyone.

‘Ooops, almost everyone.’ Josh was still at his corner stool, head down on folded arms, apparently dozing.  She approached quietly and tapped his shoulder. “Josh…?”

“Mmwha…?” he raised his head, eyes bleary.

“Sorry, but we’ve gotta lock up. You ok getting back to the inn?” she asked.

“Huh? Oh…oh yeah, yeah…” he said, rubbing his face with both hands. “Yeah, I’m good.” He rose slowly from his seat, then stretched widely. As he rolled the stiffness out of his shoulders, he glanced around the room.  “Jesus, you could’ve kicked me out sooner.”

“Didn’t have the heart,” she shrugged. “Besides, I kind of wanted to say goodbye without everybody around…”

“You, uh, you did?”

“Yeah, I wanted to ask you…” she began, “I mean, tomorrow’s my day off and I thought maybe I could show you around town. It’s not like we’ve got a lot of sights or anything, but if you’re sticking around a while, knowing what’s where might come in handy, you know?”

“Y-yeah,” he said, looking a bit taken aback. “Sure…I guess that’d be cool. Ok, yeah.”

“Great!” she beamed at him. “I’ll come by the inn in the morning and we’ll get breakfast.”

“A-alright,” he nodded, heading towards the door. “See ya then.”

“See ya,” she said. As the door shut behind him, she bounced on the balls of her feet. Taking initiative felt good, and she sensed that he needed a bit of that. With a lightness in her step despite how tired she was, she returned to wiping down tables.

* * *

Jesse mulled things over as he made his way back to his room. His head was still fuzzy with sleep and that didn’t help. The inn was dark when he entered. Apparently people made up for the extra amount of daylight (which was still freaky) with heavy curtains and the like, so it actually felt like it could be midnight as he climbed the stairs to room number 7. The clock on his nightstand read 12:23 AM.

He stretched, cracked his neck, and groaned. ‘What a fuckin’ day…’  He undressed and crawled into the bed, left-unmade from his midday nap. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the town he’d chosen as his new home. A part of him knew that this was what he had wanted – someplace remote, small, filled with good, simple people – but getting what he’d wished for was unsettling. ‘My head’s probably so fucked up I’ll never get used to it,’ he bemoaned silently.  He ran a hand over his face, tracing his scars as had become habit over his journey north. They’d be with him forever, these marks of the monster he’d finally escaped, and he knew they ran much deeper than the skin.

He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. Maggie’s face drifted through his mind. She’d kept touching him, wanted to spend the day with him. This was more than being nice. And it didn’t feel like pity. What was she after? What could this vibrant, confident woman want with a wet dog like him? He sat up, able to make his reflection out in the mirror above the dresser through the dark. In the past he might’ve thought of himself as a good looking guy, even flirting his way out of a tight spot or two. But now? He looked like a zombie of his former self, sallow and masticated. He scowled and lay back down.

He tossed, turned, then shot up from the bed. He threw the curtains open and crossed to the dresser, staring hard at himself. Sure there were some things he couldn’t change about his new appearance, but that didn’t mean he was stuck like this. He didn’t have to stay this sad sack. His face was forever marred but his body could recover. He straightened up, running a hand over his stomach, which was still slightly distended from his monster lunch. A few months of regular meals (and crunches) would help fix that. He could build his arms back up, get some definition in his chest. His hand, hesitantly, almost shaking, grazed further down his abdomen, past his pubic bone. He let out a gasp and pulled his hand away. No, he wasn’t ready for that, but it was good to know he wasn’t dead down there. And none of the women he’d been with had ever complained about what he had to offer in that department. Plus, he’d managed to stay disease-free. (He’d give credit to clean living or playing it safe, but that’d be a joke. Dumb luck was the only explanation.) He took a deep breath. Nodded at his reflection. He might be pathetic now, but he didn’t have to stay that way.

And besides, she’d asked him out (Was that really what it had been? It had sounded kind of like it) in the state he was now. Maybe she wasn’t the shallow type. Whatever the reason, he felt a sense of relief as he crawled back into bed. Maybe he really could turn things around. As he huddled under the blankets, he tried smiling again. It didn’t feel quite as hard as before.

* * *

Maggie’s alarm went off at 7 AM. She kicked off the covers and stretched like a cat, good and long. She switched on her radio, hopped out of bed and into the shower to the sound of the local ‘DJ’ Nick Dio rattling off the day’s weather report. “Good morning, Bear Creek! Looks like we’ve got another 20 hours of sunshine ahead of us, with temperatures getting as high as 70! So get out there and enjoy it, alright? Me, I’ll be hangin’ here at the station, and hopefully you’ll take me with you wherever you go! Let’s get the day started right, shall we? How about a little 80s to kick off the morning?”

WHAM’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” floated from the little clock radio and Maggie laughed. She couldn’t have asked for a better day. She finished her shower and danced back into her bedroom, singing along. With a rare warm day ahead, she chose another tank top to wear (white) along with her favorite jeans (well-worn in with holes in the knees). She laced up a pair of bright green Converse high-tops and grabbed a stick of tinted lip gloss from her nightstand. She then slung a bag over her shoulder and headed out the door of her apartment, which lead to a repurposed fire-escape down to the alley behind the bar. It wasn’t the ritziest place, but you couldn’t beat the commute! With her Walk-Man radio tuned to DJ Nick’s ‘80s Wake Up’ she strode (ok, maybe danced) off towards the inn.

* * *

‘Sorry, Miss. It’s nothin’ personal.’ BANG!

Jesse shot up in bed, panting. He clutched at his chest, feeling his heart thundering within it. “Fuck…” he muttered. With how little sleep he’d gotten on the road north, he’d almost forgotten about the nightmares…and how vivid they could be. He shuddered, trying to focus on his breathing. That was it. Keep breathing. It was over. He had been helpless then, but he wasn’t now. He’d gotten away. So far away.

He tossed the blankets aside and stood, crossing to the window and throwing the curtains open again. The sun helped. After so long in the dark, he was beginning to think the near constant daylight was really a blessing in disguise. He looked at the clock. 7:23  AM. Maggie had mentioned breakfast, so it didn’t make any sense to try and get back to sleep. Who knew what he’d see when he closed his eyes again anyway? Better just to start the day.
The shower was just as wonderful as it had been the day before, and he lingered under the stream of water again. He’d spent the majority of the past year stewing in his own filth, he felt like he could shower non-stop and still not feel wholly clean. But once a day was a vast improvement and he felt renewed as he stepped out of the bathroom amid a rolling fog of steam.

As he mulled over which color plaid he wanted to go with that day (blue was the ultimate winner), the room phone rang. “Yo,” he answered.

“Wake up call, sug,” Wendy’s voice sing-songed through the receiver. “You’ve got a guest.”

“Be right down.”

He trotted down the stairs two at a time. Maggie stood at the desk, chatting with Wendy. She looked up, smiled at him. He miscalculated the last step and lurched forward, stumbling and flailing his arms. He braced for impact with the floor but instead something thin and solid hit his chest. The wind left him but the floor stayed the appropriate distance away. Catching his breath, he turned to see it was Maggie who’d caught him. “Easy there, new guy, don’t go fallin’ so hard for me just yet.” It was such a cheese-ball line, practically lame even. But the way she said it, without a hint of irony, sent butterflies exploding in his stomach.

He straightened up, feeling his cheeks burn. “Sorry…” he mumbled.

“Forget it,” she said, punching his arm lightly. “C’mon, let’s get outta here. See ya later, Wendy.”

“Have fun kids!” Wendy waved them off.

They stepped out into the sun and he put a hand up, squinting in the brightness. Maggie waved something dark in front of his face. “Here. Thought you could use these,” she said.

He put his hand around a pair of aviators, similar to what she was slipping on. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” she said, as they started down the street in the opposite direction of the bar. “This time of year you really need ‘em. Once Fall hits though, I promise you’ll miss this.”

“Oh…it’s like, the opposite then right?” he guessed. “Like, dark all the time?”

“Dark a lot of the time, yeah,” she nodded. “Gotta stock up on Vitamin C pills cuz you won’t get much of it elsewhere.”

“Good to know.”

“Here we go,” she said, gesturing at the building they’d come upon. Though ‘building’ was a bit inaccurate. It was an old train car, reinvented as a diner. ‘JOSIE’S’ was lit in neon above the door.

Jesse peered at the rows of windows. “Doesn’t look very crowded.”

“Well, the morning crowd’s off on the boats already. They’ve come and gone a couple hours ago,” Maggie said, climbing the metal steps, “I wanted to come late so we wouldn’t have to fight for a seat.”

‘Late…? Guess people don’t sleep in around here…’ The smells that hit him as they entered did a good deal to ease his worries over becoming an early riser. This town was going to keep him well-fed,  that was for sure. He put the aviators in his front shirt pocket and surveyed the space.

Booths lined the wall where the front door was (cozy, with worn leather padding and countless pocket knife etchings on the tables) and opposite that was a long bar with coffee pots on burners and double doors leading to the kitchen in the back. Only a few seats were occupied by residents he assumed were long retired. A pair of men with wispy white hair peeking out from under John Deere caps were sitting at one end of the bar, discussing last night’s baseball game over their coffee.

“Mornin’ gents,” Maggie said as she sidled up and took the seat smack in the middle of the bar. They raised their mugs in her direction, and then returned to their conversation.
Jesse took to seat next to her, folding his hands atop the bar. He eyed the coffee pots hungrily.

Maggie must have noticed because she startled him by hopping this bar as if it were her own and pulled too mugs out from a cabinet on the other side. “Josie, I’m gettin’ coffee for my friend and I, ok?” she called out.

The swinging doors burst open and a middle-aged black woman strode through. She stood over six feet tall and Jesse straightened up instinctively at her imposing appearance. “Girl,” she said, putting her fists on her wide hips. “How many times do I hafta tell you that you don’t work here anymore?”

Maggie shrugged, plucking a coffee pot from the machine and filling both mugs. “Doesn’t mean I don’t know where everything is. And I don’t mind if you’re tied up.” She slid a mug in front of Jesse. “Josh, this is Josie. Josie, this is Josh. I’m showin’ him around town today.” She then walked to the end of the bar to come back around to the ‘customer-side’.

Jesse took his mug in both hands, grateful to have something to occupy them. He gazed at Josie who in turn stared back at him, lips pursed, scrutinizing. He swallowed thickly. “Pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” he said.

Josie frown twitched into more of smirk. “Keep up the good manners, boy, and we just might keep you ‘round,” she said. “You hungry?”

“Yes ma’am.” He nodded.

“Then let’s get you some breakfast,” she said, tapping her knuckles on the counter decisively. “You just sit tight.”

Maggie retook her seat. “Thanks, Josie.”

The proprietress nodded and disappeared through the swinging double doors.

“She comes on a little strong, but she’s really sweet underneath,” Maggie said. “And she makes a mean omelet. You’re in for a treat.”

She offered him the container of sugar but he put a hand up, declining. “Is it even possible for you guys to make bad food up here?” he asked.

She laughed. “Life’s too short for bad food,” she said. “Though you’d be hard pressed to find anything that veers from traditional American fare. No sushi joint around here, sadly. But we’ve got a taco stand now!  Maybe we’ll go there for lunch.”

Jesse felt like Mexican food might remind him a bit too much of home, but said nothing. He took a long sip of his coffee. He felt himself perk up almost instantly. How long had it been since he’d had caffeine? ‘Too long, apparently.’ “Thanks, by the way,” he said. “This was nice of you. Wasn’t exactly expecting a guided tour when I got off the bus yesterday.”

“No biggie,” she said, adding what had to be her fifth creamer to her coffee. “When I was new, it was Wendy who took the time to show me around. So I figured I oughta, you know, pass on the good karma.”

“You’re not a local?” he asked, surprised.

“Not quite,” she answered. “My family lives a few towns south of here. A couple of years ago I packed up and headed north. Had a lot of drama I needed to clear outta my head. Then I found this place, and wound up wanting to stay.”

Part of him wanted to think they weren’t so different. That maybe she would understand where he was coming from. The other part of him wanted to kick that first part straight up the ass for being stupid. They weren’t the same. But that was for the best, to be sure. He wanted, no, needed her to be far less damaged than he was. She had smiled wryly speaking vaguely of her past, the sign of someone who knows their troubles were paltry compared to the world at large. She brushed a stray red curl behind her ear and met his gaze. “So how long do you think you’ll be staying?” she asked.

“Forever,” he said, without even thinking. “I mean, as long as I don’t get run outta town,” he added, ducking his head lower between his shoulders.

She laughed. “Not much chance of that. We’re pretty forgiving folk up here.” She reached out and patted his thigh. “You’ve already won over Wendy. And Duke too. The rest of ‘em will follow, just you wait.”

He felt his whole body freeze. Her hand hadn’t left his leg. Suddenly his jeans were feeling tighter and he leapt up from his seat, stammering something unintelligible and making a beeline for the diner’s clearly marked bathroom. His face was burning from the neck up as he closed the door hurriedly behind him. ‘GAH!!’  It was all he could do to keep from screaming aloud. ‘What the fuck, man?! What are you thirteen?!?’ He slapped himself in the face, furious and mortified. As if almost crying last night wasn’t bad enough, but this, really?  He took a long, deep breath, pleading with his body to calm the fuck down. There was a nice girl out there, who might feel something besides pity for him. It could be just curiosity, but even that was better than pity. ‘C’mon, man, you can’t afford to blow this by being a spaz. You’re never gonna get a chance like this again.’  Honestly, he hadn’t expected to have such a chance at all. Even thinking about it felt like asking too much. He took another breath, relieved to feel things settling down.

For appearances sake he flushed the toilet. When he opened the bathroom door, Josie was standing across from Maggie and both women were eyeing him. “Everything all right, kid?” Josie asked.

“Yeah, sorry,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. He ambled back to his seat, relieved to find food there to occupy his attention. As he sat down, he caught Maggie’s eye and realized she was blushing. ‘Oh God.’ His heart sank into his stomach. ‘Don’t tell me she felt that?’

He was saved from having to consider that further. She chattered happily about the food and the history of the diner while they ate and by the time she had paid the tab – he tried to put money down, but she wouldn’t hear of it – he had almost forgotten his embarrassment.

“Come on,” she said, rising from her seat. “Let’s go walk around town.” She grabbed his hand, and he let himself be led back out into the bright sunshine.
The Last Frontier - Chapter 3
Next chapter! I swear this fic isn't dead, just slow-going!

Chapter 1: The Last Frontier - Chapter 1
Chapter 2: The Last Frontier - Chapter 2
Chapter 4: The Last Frontier - Chapter 4

Jesse (c) Vince Gilligan, Aaron Paul, and AMC
Everyone else (c) me
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So remember this story?  invader-sam.deviantart.com/art… What originally began as a one-shot, now has four chapters over at www.fimfiction.net/story/16445…

I'm about half way through Chapter 5 as well, so if anyone's intertested, please go take a look! I really am having fun writing it!!

deviantID

Invader-Sam
Samantha Lynn
Artist
United States
Current Residence: Nowhere'sVille, PA
Favourite genre of music: All sorts - Alternative Rock, Country, Some J-Pop, most anything from the 80s ^_^
Shell of choice: Turtle shell, of course!
Favourite cartoon character: Discord (MLP: FiM), Raphael (TMNT), Beetlejuice, The Cast of FMA, Cast of Shaman King, The Chipmunks & Chipettes
Personal Quote: When you're rich, you're not crazy - you're eccentric!
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:iconcassiemcfadden:
CassieMcFadden Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Why was I NOT watching you on DA!? You're amazing!
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Invader-Sam Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2014
Ha, well thanks!
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CassieMcFadden Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
No problem!!!!
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AceOfStCanardKLy Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014   Artist
Happy b.day, dear! :iconchampagneplz::icontigerplz::icontiger-plz::iconponyplz::iconhorse-plz::icondogplz::iconautumnplz:
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Joeycool1210 Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014
Happy birthday.
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StarDestinyEclipse Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Happy birthday! :D
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RueSinger Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I HOPE YOU HAVE AN EPIC ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :squee:
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awesomemortalkombat3 Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Happy Birthday! :cake: :D
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lovecharmmaster Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014
Happy Birthday!!!!!!
:tighthug: :party: :party: :cake: :party: :party: 
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Crazy-Croc Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2014  Student General Artist
Happy Birthday!!! :party: :cake: :donut:
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