Decline and fall
I’ve always loved to write “what ifs.” What if things had happened differently from the way that they had in the series. This is one such story.
Colleen and Dorothy were sitting side by side on the edge of the wooden “sidewalk” with their feet on the dusty dirt street. They were commiserating about their need for funds: Dorothy to buy a bigger printing press for the Gazette, and Colleen to purchase family gifts for an upcoming occasion. Neither knew how she was going to come by the needed cash. And neither knew that the two of them had an eavesdropper.
“Ladies! In need of money? You’ve come to the right place!” came an audibly smirking voice from behind them.
Both started and rose abruptly to face the interloper.
Dorothy said, “Hank! I don’t even want to hear a suggestion from you!”
He leered at her and chuckled at her obvious grasp of the idea behind his comment. But he still said, “Not just a suggestion, an offer! Come with me and we can strike a deal to solve all of your money problems right now.”
“You’d be the last person I’d turn to for financial help! Come along, Colleen.”
To this point, Colleen had been staring aghast at Hank, shocked beyond words. Now, she dutifully followed Dorothy away, glancing back repeatedly in abject horror at the smug, predatory expression on the saloonkeeper’s face.
It was two days later that Hank managed to corner Colleen alone.
“Now that we have judgmental Dorothy out of the way, we can discuss my offer. It was extended to you, too, you know.”
“Hank, no, please! I can guess what you’re after: what you always want women-employees for; and I couldn’t let you sell me to strange men; I just couldn’t!”
“No,” Hank said placidly. “Not strangers. Me.”
“What??” she whispered in terror. “Why??? You could have any of the…the…!”
“Whores,” he supplied amiably. “Yes, I can. But I like a variety of pretty girls, and you’re a very pretty little lady! I also like virgins. And they’re not easy to come by in the saloon. At least, not for long.” He smirked.
Colleen’s eyes narrowed shrewdly. “And also you’d like to get back at Ma and Sully for a lot of things, so you want to use me because they’d hate it.”
Hank smiled. He didn’t bother to deny it. Colleen turned to walk away, and Hank grabbed her arm. The girl’s disgust turned to alarm; was he going to force her?!
But he just said mildly, “Wait, we haven’t discussed money.”
“I don’t care what you offer!”
“How much do you need?”
She blinked at the question; was he implying that he would give whatever amount she said?? “Ten dollars!” she informed him triumphantly, sure that he would never provide so exorbitant a fee.
“Twenty,” he said with nary a blink.
She gaped at him. “What??” It was more money than she could ever imagine.
“Enough to solve your current problem, and the one after that.”
Colleen stared at him, dumbfounded. But when he tried to lead her away, she pulled free and ran.
Three days later, though, she was no closer to solving her dilemma. And she was running out of time. She was starting to ask herself, “How bad could it be?” Besides, she was curious about men, wasn’t she? And Hank would certainly know what he was doing; it was not as if she’d have to fear inept, hurtful handling, which had always frankly frightened her. If only he weren’t so smug, so arrogantly sure of himself. She shuddered.
She was crying when she went to see him. With one look at her wet, stricken face, he guessed her decision. He smiled the broadest smile that she’d ever seen him display. She followed meekly, almost in a numb trance, as he led her inside the saloon, and into one of the back rooms.
Colleen sobbed desolately as Hank locked the door and lit a lamp.
He took two ten-dollar bills out of his pocket and laid them on the table. “You can take it as you leave, provided that you don’t run away from me.”
Colleen gestured mutely at the locked door.
“That’s to keep others out, not you in; I’m not a rapist.” Then he took her in his arms.
Colleen was trembling so badly that Hank felt it along his entire length. It turned him on, but he forced himself to go slowly, because he didn’t want to send her screaming away from him. He massaged her long and gently from the outside of her clothes, and only occasionally poked a teasing finger into a sleeve or neckline. At length, he drew off her clothes only very carefully and gradually, taking care not to alarm her unduly at any one step. He continued to caress her shivering, nude body, being sure to keep his own clothes on until he was certain that she was at least partially aroused as well. At last, Hank took her ever so gently, but still she squealed in pain. He slowed down even more, but she writhed and cried beneath him.
Many hours later, Colleen cried in her own bed. The bleeding had finally stopped, but she felt soiled, used, hollow inside, and devastated. Something had been taken from her that could never be restored.
Michaela heard her crying in the night, and went to her. Unable to devise a lie to explain such heartbreaking sobbing, and needing to talk it out anyway, Colleen confessed.
Crying quietly, herself, the next day, Michaela went in search of Sully. She was horrified; she herself was still a virgin, and to imagine that worldly brute Hank defiling her adopted daughter was too much to bear alone.
The instant that she saw Sully, Michaela burst into sobs before she could even say what was the matter. He held her and listened in growing rage as she haltingly told her sad tale.
Sully stormed into town, and beat Hank soundly, his fury making him an easy victor. But Hank grinned smugly up at him from the ground, and declared, “It was worth it.”
The following Sunday, the family sat in church, with Brian to Sully’s left, and Colleen to Michaela’s right. They didn’t even hear Hank slip quietly into the pew until he was on the other side of Colleen.
He leered. “Mind if I join you?”
Colleen tried to scoot away, but there was no room. Michaela and Sully glared venomously at the intruder, but they couldn’t say much since they didn’t want anyone to find out, and they didn’t want to interrupt the sermon. All faced forward as Michaela and Sully did a slow seethe. Colleen was clearly terrified. Hank smiled and took her hand as if he and Colleen, and Sully and Michaela, represented two couples together on an outing. Colleen tried to pull her hand away, but she couldn’t; he wouldn’t let her. And she didn’t want to struggle too much, and thereby disrupt the service.
During the singing of a loud hymn, Hank whispered curiously to her, “Why did you tell?”
“Ma heard me crying,” she whispered back resentfully.
“Why??? It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“I’m so ashamed! Please don’t tell anyone!”
“I won’t. You did.”
Later, a determined Michaela had a talk with Hank.
“Can’t you just let her try to forget it? She made a mistake. She’s brokenhearted about it. Must you torment her with reminders??”
“Michaela, whether you want to admit it or not, she enjoyed it, at least partially. All right, she didn’t like the intercourse part; it hurt. But before that, I had her aroused, from caressing her.”
“I don’t want to hear this! This is vile!” She bit off the words furiously.
“Aren’t you the one who says we should always face the truth, whether we like where it leads or not?”
“Oh, I’m fully aware of the truth of how you took advantage of my daughter, but that doesn’t mean that I need to hear every foul detail!”
Hank took a step closer, and his eyes penetrated hers. “Aren’t you maybe just a little bit jealous that your daughter got there ahead of you? Feeling left out, Michaela??” He leered, and posed his hands on her shoulders.
Horrified, the distraught adoptive mother pulled free and fled.
A month later, Michaela had even more reason to be furious with Hank. Colleen was pregnant. Mike charged to the saloon, hauled a smirking Hank into a back room, and stormed and raged at him. She was now the fully-engaged barracuda, the righteous mother and doctor, not one bit the frightened, vulnerable virgin that he had seen a month earlier.
“I’d like to take you apart with my bare hands! You violated my daughter, abused her, and now her precious young life is ruined because of it! Do you hear me?? Ruined!!”
Hank was careful to maintain a somber expression once he knew what was wrong; he didn’t want to set her off any worse than she already was. So he simply, quietly said, “How would you like me for a son-in-law?”
Struggling for at least some measure of calm, Michaela later discussed the subject with Sully.
“Are you actually telling me that that scoundrel offered to do right by her? Make an honest woman of her, and give the baby a name and a father?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
Sully shook his head in disbelief. “But we know that he makes use of his women in the saloon, himself. Is he going to stop that?”
“I confronted him about that. No, he’ll keep on having them when he likes, but Colleen will be legal. I know that it’s hardly ideal, Sully, but she is in trouble, and this seems to be the only solution. And at least Hank was honest with me; if he’d claimed that he would give up the other women, I would’ve known that he was lying to me; this way, I think that he’s on the level. Besides, this may sound strange, but it occurs to me that if he has those others, it might take some of the pressure off of Colleen.”
Sully appeared wounded. “I hope that you’re not going to think of lovemaking that way, after we’re married.”
She looked slightly away, and wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Nonsense. It’s just that Hank is such an oversexed monster; Colleen may need some respite.”
“An ‘oversexed monster?’ And that’s the kind of man that you want to marry your daughter?”
“What choice do we have?? You know how the world will look at her now: as damaged merchandise.”
“And is that right?”
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s right. It’s how they’ll treat her.”
“Do you see her as damaged goods??”
She faced him. “I was raised to believe that way, yes. I’m not saying so to her. I’m giving her all of the love and support that I can. But inside….” She trailed off helplessly.
“Did you tell Colleen that you think that she should marry Hank?” he challenged her squarely.
She faced him just as directly. “Yes, I did.”
One month later, as a comfort to Colleen, and as a way to make it a more festive occasion, they had a double wedding: Michaela and Sully, Colleen and Hank. It ironically echoed what they’d appeared to be two months earlier in church: two couples together.
It was hard to tell which bride was more nervous: Michaela was terrified because she was a virgin, and Colleen was just as afraid as if she still were one. She had feared Hank and been intimidated by him all of her life, and she had heard other girls saying that sex didn’t stop hurting after the first time, that it only gradually improved, and that it only eventually stopped being painful. And this time, she knew exactly what the pain was like, and could dread it very specifically, whereas Michaela endured a more nebulous fear-of-the-unknown. The two ladies even managed to discuss the subject before the ceremony, and couldn’t decide which of them was more miserable.
Sully and Hank had just as peculiar a time before the wedding. Sully had to deal with and conceal his rage at Hank for having gotten Colleen into this in the first place; he had to cope with his embarrassment at having recently beaten up his future son-in-law; he had to accept that that future son-in-law was not very different from him in age; and he had to grudgingly show gratitude to Hank for trying to do the right thing by Colleen now. Hank, for his part, had to learn to think of a near-contemporary as a father-in-law; he had to face marrying into a “respectable” family; and he had to try not to smirk at his bride at the altar.
Many, many years later, all four wondered how they’d ever gotten through such awkward times.
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