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Numb Without You

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Blackwater Station was Florence Bell’s home.

She grew up on a farm with her family not too far from the Bondurant’s own. Being the only child, she always found herself running around and playing with the two oldest Bondurant’s, Howard and Forrest. They would spend hours running through the grass and dirt until they were such a mess they would have to go home and change, but they had not a care in the world.

As they got older, they spent less time together running about playing games like hide and seek and more time helping their families on their farms. But as soon as dinner was over, they were out the door running to meet up by the lake for what little time they had together. Florence would sit on the blanket she always brought with her along with Forrest as they watched Howard try to show Jack how to skip a rock along the water. She was fond of Forrest most out of the Bondurant’s. He was a man of few words even as a teenager. But whatever he had to say was always important. And he was sweet in his own way.

Everything was so perfect and happy. Florence had loving parents who cared so deeply for her and she had the Bondurant family who were basically her second family. Some nights she would have dinner at their home with her parents for get togethers. There would be so much food and dessert, it was as if they were celebrating a holiday. She couldn’t have asked for better people in her life.

But then Howard went off to fight in the Great War and the Spanish flu hit shortly after destroying almost everything. It took away her parents, the Bondurant boys’ parents and almost took Forrest from her. She thanked God every day for at least letting her keep Forrest.

Once he recovered, Forrest took over running the household especially since Howard struggled since returning from the war. Forrest thought it would be best for Florence to move in with the brothers rather than living completely alone and trying to run the farm.

She knew Forrest was right, but it didn’t ease the devastation Florence felt selling her home and farm to another family even though the sweet old man told her she could visit whenever she liked. The pain of losing everything was so raw.

The small home with the beautiful weeping willow tree nearby that she used to have lunch under with the boys or lay under on a blanket with Forrest as Howard chased Jack around. Back when things were perfect. But nothing lasts forever.

The years passed as she lived with the Bondurant boys. They were running a gas station and restaurant, Blackwater Station, which helped to conceal the boys’ more illegal business. Florence knew all about the moonshine and white lightning but rather turn a blind eye to it. She hated how dangerous it could be for them.

As the boys’ illegal business grew, so did Florence’s love for Forrest. She always thought it was just a childhood crush when she was younger and that it would pass with time. Oh, how wrong she was.

At one point in their lives, Florence even built up the courage to let Forrest know about her feelings and how deep they ran.

It had been one of the slower days at the station and the boys weren’t due another run until the next night. They shut down the station for the night and the two decided a night on the porch would do them so good. It was the middle of September and the days were getting cooler. Much to Florence’s enjoyment because she hated the warmer weather and the sweat it caused. 

The two sat in the matching rocking chairs on the porch. Forrest sat with a more than half full jar of shine in one hand and a cigar in the other. She never understood why Forrest really bothered with the alcohol when he never took more than a handful of sips before he was done with it.

Florence sat knitting. She enjoyed winding down her days by slowly bringing something to life. Forrest didn’t know it yet, but she was making him another cardigan. The man loved his cardigans and the one he was currently wearing had a slight tear in the sleeve. She wanted to surprise him since his birthday was coming up in a few months.

As they sat there in a peaceful silence, Florence began thinking about Forrest and what he truly meant to her. And has meant to her for years. She often wondered if Forrest felt it too. Was she the only one feeling this pull whenever they were near one another?

Her hands stopped moving and she slowly prepared herself for a conversation she needed but was absolutely afraid of.

“Forrest?” She spoke softly.

He took another puff of his cigar as he responded, “Hmm?”

Her heart was racing so fast and she felt like she couldn’t breathe suddenly. She needed to know if he felt anything at all, but she was so afraid that this could possibly ruin their relationship. But if she didn’t at least try she’d always wonder, what if?

“Flo? What’s wrong?” Forrest asked as he turned and saw the look on your face.

Biting her lip, she turned slightly and grabbed the jar from Forrest’s hands thinking maybe liquid courage would be what she needed to go on.

Forrest grew concerned at Florence’s silence and it grew even more once she took a drink of his moonshine, something she almost never ever does. He couldn’t imagine what could be bothering her though. They were never too far from one another, so he knew no one’s been bothering her. Everyone knew better or they’d face Forrest’s silent wrath.

“Florence?” He pressed harder.

Wincing as she took another small gulp before handing the jar back to Forrest. Lord knows she hated the taste. But not as much as the thought of putting her feelings out there. She knew she didn’t have to do it, a small part of her still screamed at her to keep quiet, but she couldn’t bear him not knowing any longer. Maybe if he knew just how strongly she felt, she could have him close to her in a way she’s wanted for years.

She struggled with how to even tell him. Should she give a big long explanation leading up to her feelings? Or was it better to just come out with it? The latter seemed best because Forrest wasn’t one who liked waiting for whatever it is someone had to say.

“I like you.”

Feelings of anxiety coursed through Florence when the expression on Forrest’s face hadn’t changed any. Not even a budge of a slight smile letting her know she made the right decision.

“Mhm. I like you too, Flo. Wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. If we didn’t.”  

For as smart as Forrest was with things like money, he could be quite rusty when it came to feelings and emotions. It went right over his head what Florence was trying to tell him and he couldn’t understand why telling him that had been troubling her.

A soft chuckle left Florence as she continued, “No, that’s not what I…”

She hesitated as what she was about to say really hit her. It suddenly overwhelmed her how much she felt for this man she’s known all her life.

Looking up to see his focus was entirely on her, waiting for the words she was about to say.

“Forrest, I’m in love with you.”

Those words caused the expression that always sat on his face to fall completely. Florence has never seen his eyes bug out of his head quite like they were in that moment. He’s always been a quiet man but suddenly that was crippling her. She felt like she was suffocating, hoping for anything to leave those lips that taunted her every day.

“Please, Forrest. Say something.” She begged frantically.

They sat there staring at one another. Forrest completely blindsided and Florence all but crumbling to pieces.

Tears started forming in her eyes. She’d be damned if she’d let them fall. She wouldn’t let Forrest see her cry like this. It hurt so much but it wasn’t Forrest’s fault she let herself fall in love with him. How could she not have fallen though?

Florence got up from her chair and was about to run as she said softly, “I just thought you should know.”

As she made it passed Forrest and almost to the door, he grabbed her arm stopping her from going any further.

“We can’t, you know that right?” He asked almost desperately. Hoping for her to understand why he couldn’t put her in danger by being with him. Regardless of his own feelings and how badly he wanted to hold her right now, he couldn’t be selfish not when he had enemies who were out to get him in any way possible.

“It ain’t because I don’t want you, Flo.”

Somehow that hurt worse than if he would’ve rejected any sort of feelings for her at all. How could they feel the same, yet nothing could happen between them? Something that was right within their grasp, teasing them. It was cruel.

Sniffing tears back that wanted to pour down her face, she replied softly, “Yeah, Forrest, I get it. It’s okay.”

Florence walked away and as soon as Forrest’s hand fell from her arm the tears fell. She hurried through the empty room downstairs to the stairs so she could get to her room and let herself fall apart. Shutting her door as quietly as she could, Florence fell on her knees and sobbed into her hands.

Not too long after, Forrest made his way to his own room feeling much the same as Florence. As a young boy, he knew from the moment they wrestled in the lake by her home together she would be it for him. He always thought he was gonna marry her. But now, he couldn’t risk it. For her sake he couldn’t. As much as his heart ached because he wouldn’t allow himself to be with her how he wanted, he knew having her alive was better than nothing because he couldn’t imagine living in a world where Florence Bell no longer existed. Forrest wanted to kick himself for ever getting into the business he and his brothers were in. But he knew worrying about something that was out of their control now wouldn’t do any good. And as he paused by her bedroom door hearing her sobs because of him, he hated himself even more and wished he could go in there and comfort her.

Maybe one day he could make this right.

That was almost three years ago. Since then, so much had happened in their small world. The boys had become even more successful with their illegal business. But where they were making more money, they made even more enemies along the way. One notably, and the worst of all in Florence’s opinion, was a US Marshall by the name of Charley Rakes, who was nothing but a fucking creep. And that was putting it mildly. He made her skin crawl and she just couldn’t even bear looking at him. He stirred up a whole slew of problems for the boys, but they fought back even harder not letting him get the advantage or win over them.

In the middle of all the chaos, a new refreshing face was introduced to the restaurant.  Maggie, a beautiful woman who had moved to town from Chicago, was hired by the brothers to help alongside Florence at Blackwater Station. Having been around mostly men her whole life, this was a breath of fresh air for Florence. Her and Maggie got along like they had known each other their whole life. Florence loved hearing Maggie’s stories about city life and of fashion. She was there for Florence in a way the boys never could be. She loved her boys more than life itself, but it was comforting having another woman around to lean on. They were about as thick as thieves except for one very important fact. Maggie wasn’t aware of the extent of Florence’s feelings for Forrest or that there were any feelings there at all. Something Florence would almost grow to regret.

Florence started noticing the little glances and smiles Maggie sent Forrest’s way and how Forrest’s eyes lingered on Maggie when she wasn’t looking before clearing his throat and moving on with whatever business needed tending to. It happened shortly after Forrest’s throat was slit ear to ear. Florence hated thinking about that night. She always wondered what would have happened had she not been close by.

She had been in the shed by the station putting some supplies away before she’d call it a night and finally climb into bed. It had been another long day for the station and Florence couldn’t wait to kick her feet up. As she was locking the door, Florence heard a commotion nearby. Hurriedly, she finished locking the door and took off towards the direction where she heard the sounds that had since died down just as fast as she heard them.

Nearing the truck, Florence looked around not seeing anyone or anything that could’ve made such a racket. The night air was almost deathly quiet. Stepping further towards the road she peeked passed the station and still saw no movement or anything out of place. Shrugging to herself, she was about to turn and head into the station when she heard what sounded like wheezing and something moving about in the dirt. Moving towards the sound and around to the other side of the truck, she almost fainted at the sight of Forrest in a pool of blood clutching his throat and slowly trying to move as he struggled to breath.

Ignoring the chill in the air, Florence tore her cardigan off with lightning speed and was on her knees before Forrest trying to replace his hands with it to try and help with the bleeding. Her entire body was shaking as she tried to think of what to do. Forrest looked like he was seconds close to passing out or worse and she didn’t know if she could lift him by herself. But there was no one else around to help. Digging through Forrest’s pockets she found the keys to the truck and put them in the pocket of her cotton dress as she tried to pick him up.

“Forrest, please. I need to get you in the truck.” She sobbed as tears flooded down her face.

He was hardly coherent as she was just able to lift him. She didn’t know if it was adrenaline that was helping her in that moment or what, but she thanked God. Florence struggled climbing into the passenger seat so she could pull Forrest in with her. She knew she would be bruised tomorrow from hitting everything in her way, but she didn’t care. All she cared about was making sure Forrest didn’t die on her. He couldn’t.

She finally got him in the seat and leaned over shutting the door. The shaking continued as she started the engine. Praying they’d even make it to the hospital because she never drove a day in her life but none of that mattered right now. She had to try.

As she sped away from the station, Forrest slumped to the side and onto her lap as he still somehow held her cardigan in place at his throat. She cried even more as she ran one of her hands through his hair as the other steered their way to the hospital.

“Please don’t leave me, Forrest.”

Somehow, by the grace of God, she got Forrest there in time. The doctors stitched his throat up and said Forrest was lucky and it was a miracle he survived such an injury.

Florence never left his side as he laid in the hospital bed recovering well enough so he could go home. Their relationship hadn’t changed after she let Forrest know how she really felt for him. She thought had it been any other man, he’d never talk to her again. Or in Forrest’s case, even acknowledge her after she poured her heart out to him. If anything, Forrest was always one step behind Florence, never too far from her. He was so close he didn’t miss the sadness that seemed to linger in her eyes ever since that night. Sadness he knew he caused her, but he knew it was best this way. She deserved someone who could give her a comfortable and happy life. She deserved so much more than someone like him.

Howard, Jack and Maggie all came by to see how Forrest was. As soon as Howard laid eyes on his brother, he was filled with so much guilt over what happened to Forrest. He knew his brother was depending on him being at the station that night but instead he was off drinking the night away with Danny to the point he couldn’t remember anything. Forrest always did so much for everyone else making sure they were taken care of and Howard couldn’t even keep his promise to Forrest that he’d be at the station when he needed to be. He almost wished Forrest would lay into him because that’s what he deserved. He deserved to be told how it was all his fault Forrest was laying in a hospital bed with his throat stitched back together. It was his fault Florence hadn’t stopped shaking the moment she found Forrest. 

A few days later, Forrest was sent home with orders to rest and not overdo it with trying to talk too much, which wouldn’t be too hard for a man like Forrest. Not too long after his return home did things change between Forrest and Maggie.  And it ate away at Florence’s heart. She thought maybe she should have talked to Maggie about her feelings for Forrest before this happened. But who was she to get in the way if those two were meant to be together? No matter how much it hurt.

From there Florence’s heart only sunk more when Forrest asked Maggie to stay at the station with them because it would be safer for her there than the hotel she had been staying at. But Florence put on her biggest smile to not let anyone think she felt differently about Maggie being there. Part of her loved the idea because she truly loved Maggie. She had become a close friend in such a short period of time. And Florence couldn’t imagine her not being in their lives now but part of her felt like she was dying. Dying because Maggie was getting what she always wanted.

The walls of the upstairs portion of the station were pretty thin so you could hear everything. Florence could hear everything that had her heart completely crumble. She couldn’t take the noises she wished to be making with him. Leaving her room that night, Florence went downstairs to sit on one of the stools and cried uncontrollably into her hands. So lost in her thoughts, Florence didn’t hear someone approach her until she felt a hand squeeze her shoulder. Looking up with tears in her eyes, she saw Howard and he gave her a look that told her he knew. He knew everything that was hurting her without her saying a single word.

“Flo-“ he was interrupted before he could finish what he was about to say to her as she wrapped her arms around him and sobbed into his chest.

Howard had never seen Florence fall apart. It shocked him because she was always the strong one and basically helped Forrest run their household ever since she moved in with them all those years ago. But here she was falling to pieces in his arms because of his brother. He never understood why there wasn’t more to their relationship. Everyone around them could see how they danced around each other with their feelings. He never dared asking Forrest about it. Not after a throwaway comment was made several years to Forrest about why he hadn’t married that girl yet. The look on Forrest’s face is one Howard wished to never see again.

No words were spoken between the two as Howard rocked Florence in his arms as she let out her heartbreak. She eventually exhausted herself and fell asleep against his shoulder. Howard gently picked her up and carried her back to her bed. Turning to leave her room, Howard gave one last look toward her sleeping form.

“He’s a stupid man that brother of mine.” He whispered and he softly shut the door.

Florence tried her best to act as normally as possible after that night. Things with Maggie were as normal as usual. She couldn’t blame Maggie for any of this. Not when Maggie had no idea she was hopelessly in love with Forrest. But Forrest, she knew she was giving him the cold shoulder whether she meant to or not. He would ask her a question and her replies were short if not only one-word answers. If he wanted her as much as he said he had all those years ago, how could he hurt her like this? It would’ve been easier had she not opened her mouth about her feelings because then how would he know being with Maggie would hurt her? But he does know, and he just keeps hurting her.

The look in her eyes whenever she looked at him now, killed him. It was like she was staring into nothing and it’s what he deserved. The part of him that longed for her almost begged for her attention. When he’d leave his study for another cup of coffee, he made a point to go to Florence to fill his coffee mug up but she would hand the mug off to Maggie instead without a single word to him other than a simple “mhm.” There were no more nights in the rocking chairs on the porch together. There was no more laughter with her. Nothing, at least when he was in the room. He knew he was hurting her. That’s all he was good for. He hurt people and she deserved better than him. Better than all of this.

But then it was like none of that matter because things started falling apart around them. Cricket’s murder floored everyone. That sweet boy who wouldn’t hurt a soul was killed. Florence thought about those days years ago when she would read to him and Jack. Days that were filled with sun and happiness. There was no comforting Jack who loved his best friend like he was another brother to him. He blamed himself for it and because of that he ran off to seek revenge on that weasel of a man, Rakes.

Florence sat back and listened as the brothers prepared to go after Jack and silently prayed that they’d be alright this time. She heard Maggie begging Forrest to stay because eventually luck wouldn’t be on his side. Forrest was too stubborn to be convinced of doing otherwise, Florence knew this. So, she wasn’t surprised when she saw Forrest coming down the stairs without Maggie behind him. He paused at the door and looked back to Florence.

“Be safe.” She spoke softly with a small smile on her face.

He nodded to her before walking out the door.

Sighing to herself, Florence started cleaning up the station just to keep her busy and not think about what was happening to her boys. As she started drying off some of the plates and mugs, Florence heard Maggie coming down the steps. She looked up to see Maggie dressed with her bags in her hands.

“Where are you going?” Florence asked confused.

She realized Maggie was crying as she made her way around the counter and closer to where Maggie stood.

“Flo, I can’t do this anymore. There’s too much loss already and I can’t bear what today will bring.” Maggie sniffed.

“But what about Fo-” Florence was cut off by Maggie chuckling sadly.

She grabbed Florence’s hand softly as she replied, “I love him, but I don’t think it’s me he wants, Flo. And I just can’t sit by and watch him kill himself. I’m gonna miss you most. You’re the best friend a girl could ask for in a world where she felt like she wouldn’t belong.”

Florence pulled her into a hug, and they both cried together before Maggie pulled away giving her a sad smile. “Maybe we’ll see each other again someday, huh?”

“I’ll miss you, Mags.” Florence said as she watched Maggie get in her car and drive off.

It felt like Groundhog Day to Florence being back at the hospital. She was filled with memories of the day Forrest’s throat was slit ear to ear and she thought she was going to lose him forever. Now here she was again sitting next to a hospital bed that Forrest laid in struggling to survive after being shot up like swiss cheese. Florence sat in the chair with her head laid on the side of the bed as she tried to rest. Not the most comfortable position but she wouldn’t leave his side.

Her eyes shot open when she felt fingers running through her wavy hair. She laid there staring at nothing as Forrest continued playing with her hair gently. It was quiet for a bit while the two just took slight comfort in the other. Florence felt tears fill her eyes thinking how she almost lost Forrest again. She could understand why Maggie left. Every time he landed himself in the hospital, Florence thought would be the end for Forrest. It was hard for her to go through, but she couldn’t imagine ever leaving his side.  No matter the pain he caused her. They’d been through too much together.

“Flo?” Forrest whispered hoarsely.

Closing her eyes, Florence took a deep breath before she replied. “Hm?”

“I’m sorry.”

Florence turned and looked up at Forrest confused. He stopped moving his hand through her hair and rested it against the side of her head as she kept it laid on the bed looking up at him not quite understanding what he was sorry for. Moving his thumb along her cheek as she looked at him, he couldn’t understand how she was still here. After how he treated her knowing how she felt about him and how things were between them over the last month or so, he thought for sure she would have been the one to leave. Yet here she was, by his side refusing to budge. Crying over him again.

“I hurt you.” He rasped.

Sitting up and letting his hand fall back onto the bed, Florence shook her head.

“Forrest, it’s okay. The doctor said you’re gonna be fine and we’ll be back home in a few days.” She tried to steer away from where she thought he was going.  After that night she told him her feelings, she told herself she’d never bring it up again. She couldn’t bear anymore rejection.

He winced as he moved too fast trying to reach for her hand.

“Flo, you know that’s not what I’m talking about. I know what happened between Maggie and me hurt you more than you deserved. I’m sorry.”

Pulling her hand from his, Florence was filled with sadness and so much anger. Anger she kept bottled up because she didn’t want the confrontation but suddenly, she didn’t care.

The tears fell as she started, “Then why did you do it? I mean how could you do that to me, Forrest? And out of anyone you could have wanted why did it have to be her? She was my best friend. I had to see you everyday giving her the glances I wished you would give me. Give her everything I wanted.”

Her bottom lip trembled as she remembered that night she wished she could erase. Forget the sounds that broke her heart.

“You told me it wasn’t because you didn’t want me. You lied.”

Hearing those words leave her mouth felt like Forrest was shot all over again. This time right in his heart. How could she think he didn’t want her? But how could she not think that after what he did?

“I never lied to you, Flo.”

“Then why did you do it? Answer me that, Forrest.” She asked angrily.

Forrest sighed as he thought about it. He really didn’t know why. Sure, he liked Maggie, but she wasn’t Flo and that much was clear to him well before anything even happened between them. There was no one quite like Florence Bell, at least not to him, and he was stupid to think he could even try to replace her. He was even more stupid for thinking that needing to keep Flo safe by not pursuing a relationship with her was reason enough to not even try when he was so ready to try with someone else just to avoid his feelings for her. He realized the real reason was he was scared. He came up with excuses for why they couldn’t because he was so scared of messing things up with Flo that he lost her completely. But he did that anyway.

“I was afraid, Flo.” He spoke so softly she hardly heard him.

Forrest Bondurant was afraid. Those are words Florence never thought she’d hear in her life. He wasn’t afraid of anything.

“Afraid of what?” She asked.

“I was afraid of messing things up between us so bad that I lost you completely, Flo.” He tried.

“So, you thought sleeping with Maggie would help? That’s stupid, Forrest!” Florence said exasperatedly.

“I never said I was a smart man, Flo.”  

Florence glared at him. Part of her believed he deserved to lose her completely for everything. But the other part of her, the part that never let her stop thinking of him, wouldn’t let her let go. Not after everything they’d been through when they were just children up until today. She thought about all the memories they had together, the good and the bad. They always had each other to lean on.

Then Florence thought about what Maggie said to her just before she left for good.

“I don’t think it’s me he wants, Flo.”

She closed her eyes as more tears wanted to fall. She was afraid to let herself believe what Maggie may have been hinting at. What she knew Maggie meant by that.

“It’s always been you, Florence Bell. It’s always going to be you.” Forrest said as he grabbed her hand once more squeezing it gently.

Squeezing his hand back, she looked at him pleadingly, “Please don’t tell me we can’t try now, Forrest. I don’t think I could stay at the station if it means sitting back and watching you with someone else again.”

“Come here.” He said while trying his best to sit up without ripping any stitches.

She moved closer as Forrest pulled her into him by the hand and pressed a kiss to her lips. Florence’s eyes widened a bit before she closed them and melted into him. Finally. She was right where she wanted to be. Where she was always meant to be, in the arms of Forrest Bondurant.

Pulling apart, the two grinned at one another. They suddenly felt better than they had in months if not years, despite Forrest sitting in a hospital bed stitched back together again.

“I’m gonna need to start sewing you a new cardigan since you got the last one, I made you, shot to pieces.” Florence giggled as she eyed what was left of the fabric next on the bedside table.

Forrest rolled his eyes playfully at her.