Author’s Note: This is Part II in Book I of my series Tales of the West. You may read Part I: “Milly” here.
Genres: Fiction – Western/Action/Romance
Please be aware this story has elements of violence, gun violence, murder and death.
Ethan played by Boyd Holbrook
Milly had crept up the side of the cliff that was facing east, so Ethan couldn’t catch her scent. The shadows from the hillside made her skin cold, and she thought about how good that bath would feel right about now.
Milly slowly crawled on her belly all the way so she was a few feet away from the bathtub. Milly spotted Ethan’s gun belt on the ground. She edged slowly forward, reached for his weapons and pulled them back away from the tub.
She thought Ethan must’ve had his eyes closed because there was no noise at all from the tub. He was just layin’ in it.
Milly slowly and quietly got to her feet, took out her pistol and aimed it at Ethan.
“Ethan Jackson… yer clumsier than I remember,” Milly said
Ethan fell right into the water he jumped so high outta his skin
The water splashed all around and even out of the tub and all over his face
Panicking, he reached for his weapons while frantically wiping the water out of his eyes at the same time
“Now, now Ethan–wouldn’t be much of a student if’n I didn’t learn that trick from that asshole James,”… Milly said, holding up his weapons
When he finally opened his eyes, they were stinging somethin’ awful.
Wiping his eyes again, Ethan realised he was in an entire world of trouble right now. And even though it was the voice of the woman he had dreamed about seein’ again, his survival instincts started taking over.
But he had to focus… it was her, after all this time… she finally returned.
Ethan was almost too afraid to say her name out loud.
“Milly?“ he said
Ethan looked around as far as he could see, but there was nobody in earshot of the tub which is the reason Ethan took it out as far as he did.
Ethan didn’t think that was such a good idea…
He blinked a few more times, waiting for the excess water to clear from them.
He’d had visions of Milly before, visions that he swore were real but weren’t. As far as he could tell, this was just another one playin’ out in his head like they always did.
“Now we got ourselves a little problem…” Milly said
Ethan was certain she was there… so he acted like she was
She didn’t even greet him or nuthin’. Ethan figured that was kinda strange for not seein’ Milly all this time. But he played along.
“See, I really need a bath–more than I need you dead right now. So I’m gonna take that bath and yer not gonna move a muscle cept for yer eyes. We clear?”
“More than I need you dead,”…
Ethan thought on those words for a moment. This had to be a dream… Milly would never say that to him. She would never say that to him and mean it.
It couldn’t be her, and it wasn’t real
Except it was.
Ethan stared at Milly. He didn’t quite know what to do or say. He felt like he was frozen like a statue and everythin’ that was goin’ on at that moment was happenin’ around him, not to him.
“Milly?” he said again
“Who else do ya think it is?” Milly said, lookin’ at Ethan with a strange expression on her face
“I ain’t been gone all that long, Ethan,”…
“What d’ya mean… need me dead?” Ethan said.
Milly’s expression changed entirely. She looked amused, even though Ethan ain’t said nuthin’ funny.
“Did ya think on me as dead?” Milly said with her hands hovering just above her revolvers.
Ethan looked down at her gun belt, and her guns fitted tightly around her hips. And then her hands itching to draw those mighty fine-looking revolvers she had.
Ethan looked back into Milly’s eyes.
They weren’t the eyes he remembered neither. These eyes were cold and lifeless.
“Why d’you say that? No… I weren’t thinkin’ that!” Ethan said, sounding shocked Milly could say such a thing.
“Where have you been? Do you know how long it’s been?”
“It ain’t been that long. I seen ya Ethan, weren’t all that long back neither” Milly said, strolling around the tub.
Ethan took a deep breath as Milly threw his weapons down on the ground, well out of his reach
“Okay, close yer eyes and don’t open em,” Milly said
When Ethan realised what was happening, he felt suddenly very uncomfortable.
Was Milly gettin’ into this bath while he was still in it?!
Ethan closed his eyes and part of him wished he were anywhere but here. He weren’t ready, despite everythin’ he said to himself. He weren’t ready to face Milly like this…
But part of him that missed her, the part that he tried so hard to bury as deep as it would go had resurfaced–the part that ached for her…
He could feel the water moving in the tub as Milly slowly climbed in. The tub was definitely big enough for her and Ethan, and she did the best she could not to touch him.
Not that it worked very well. Ethan could feel her legs up against his. And in any other situation, that would have been something good.
But this was anything but a pleasant situation and Milly was more real than he expected she’d be on seein’ her again
“Don’t be gettin’ a single idea that we ain’t enemies Ethan Jackson” Milly said, splashing water everywhere
Enemies… why she sayin’ we’re enemies?
Ethan couldn’t think straight
“This is like a … what’s it called when enemies are still enemies but ain’t killin’ each other?”
Ethan, still with his eyes shut tightly, cleared his throat
“A… truce” Ethan said
“That’s it… a truce,”
“Ya’ll can open yer eyes now, Ethan,”
“Ain’t sure I want to…” Ethan said
“That mean to hurt me?”
“Nope… ain’t meant like that,” Ethan said
Milly stared across at Ethan with his eyes shut. Still handsome, even after all this time… maybe even more so. But that was the past long gone. All Milly cared about now was finally gettin’ even.
And she was closer than she’d ever been to that now. And there’d be time enough for killin’.
But Milly was gonna have fun while she could, too.
“Did you even miss me all this time? I bet ya didn’t even think on it one bit… not with yer brother Holden dyin’ n’ all”…
Ethan was thinkin’ on every word she said.
How did she know about Holden?
Ethan felt that churning in the bottom of his gut; the dark hole he sometimes wanted to fall into was opening up once more.
Milly kept washin’ herself, makin’ sure she got all those nasty places where dirt would just sit for a really long time.
Ethan finally opened his eyes
This was nuthin’ like Ethan had imagined, where Milly would appear and then disappear just as quickly. Ethan felt like he was huntin’ down a ghost, not a person.
Yet here she was, in his bath of all places–somethin’ even he couldn’t have imagined, even in the dreams that didn’t turn into nightmares.
They stared at each other for a moment.
Ethan cleared his throat again.
“Ain’t ya gonna answer?” he said
Milly just stared across at him for a moment longer.
“I been wherever I needed to be,”… she said
“What d’ya mean ya seen me not long back?”
“In Durham… I seen ya the day Holden died” she said, slowly washing behind her ears
Ethan squinted at Milly the way he always did when somethin’ didn’t feel right
“Why didn’t you call out fer me then?”
“Ethan …who barely says a thing …now the one askin’ all the questions!” she teased
“Why didn’t you come see me, Milly?” Ethan said again
Milly threw her hands down into the water, splashing it everywhere
“That would’a been a little hard caus’ I were with the Sheriff” she said
“What? Ya ain’t makin’ no sense”
“Yes I am Ethan, you ain’t takin’ the words the right way”
“Stop talkin’ in riddles and just tell me straight” Ethan said, shakin his head
Ethan sat there tryin’ to figure out what she was sayin’. He strained his brain goin’ back to that day in Durham and to when Holden was shot. He could easily have missed somethin’. Everythin’ was movin’ so fast, it was all a blur. As hard as Ethan tried, he couldn’t remember beyond Floyd pullin’ on him to leave after he tripped and fell.
“Cat got’cha tongue now?” Milly said.
Those words… almost the same words he heard that day in the tunnel. But that couldn’t be… this was real, and Milly was here.
And that… that was something Ethan still couldn’t explain, not even to himself.
“Remember that time you told me to take a bath? I really didn’t want to take a bath that day, but I figured you’d throw me in if I didn’t. Do you remember that, Ethan?”
Ethan couldn’t move, he couldn’t do anythin’ but sit there and listen to whatever Milly had to say.
“I did everythin’ you asked me to do–I was like a lil’ scavenger holdin’ on fer scraps!” Milly said
Ethan shook his head.
“No…. no you weren’t,” Ethan said
“No, I weren’t?”
Ethan looked downward, shaking his head
“What d’ya want Milly?” he said, sounding weary
Milly didn’t reply straightaway.
She sat there for a moment
“What I want? That don’t sound like you, Ethan. Askin’ me what I want”…
“How can I say it… well, what I WANT is fer your brothers–the people who put my Ma and Pa in the ground… to join ‘em,’
“You know I can’t give that to ya, Milly” Ethan said, finally lookin’ up
“I ain’t askin’ fer permission” she said, washing under her legs
“And don’t get in my way or…”
“Or… what?” Ethan said, barely masking the annoyance in his voice.
“There he be! The Ethan I remember,”… she teased.
Ethan bit on his lip anxiously
“Close yer eyes,” she said
“I’m gettin’ out… close yer eyes”
Ethan closed his eyes as Milly got out of the bath but he slowly moved his hand around to where he had hidden his knife
He listened carefully. He could hear Milly putting on her clothes and her gun belt.
Part of him waited for Milly to end it… part of him wanted Milly to end it. The way she was now, that wasn’t Milly.
Had Ethan and his brothers done this to her? The thought went around and around in his head as he sat there with his eyes closed.
“And Ethan… don’t get in the way of me doin’ what I’m need to do or you’ll end up just like yer brother Holden!”
Ethan finally opened his eyes.
He was shivering all over in the now lukewarm bath water.
When he looked around, Milly had gone.
Ethan sat there as the tears rolled down his face and into the murky bath water.
What would he do now that he knew Milly was most likely responsible for killing Holden and was hellbent on killin’ the rest of his brothers? There was no way he was gonna let Milly do that without a fight. And part of him knew that Milly knew that.
But why didn’t she kill him then? It would have been an easy kill; he was vulnerable and didn’t even have his weapons. It would have been so easy for her.
And then Ethan thought on the words she said to him
“or you’ll end up just like your brother Holden,”
And it all clicked into place. Ethan finally understood why Milly didn’t kill him. It wouldn’t be a challenge to kill him like that. Milly wanted to have to face Ethan–she wanted to draw him into the fight.
If that’s what Milly wanted, that is exactly what Ethan was gonna give her.
Ethan didn’t know how he was going to tell his brothers and Lincoln about this. Ethan felt like he was breaking in two. He didn’t know what to do other than cry. That was all he had left.
Ethan slowly got out of the bath, reached down for his clothes and got dressed. And that night, all Ethan could dream about was Milly standing at the end of a gloomy tunnel, with both her pistols pointing right at him.
-END OF PART XXXIII-
You can read Part XXXIV of Ethan’s story right here.