Forrest Bondurant watches her, but that’s all right, because Maggie watches him too. She’s used to being watched by men, from when she was just about old enough to when she was in Chicago and they paid for it. Maggie knows that most of the men round here look at her too, yet there’s something in their eyes that says that they’ll have their look, but she doesn’t belong. Until Forrest looked at her and decided that she did.
It’s different. It ought to be overwhelming, but she finds a safety in it.
It’s a joke, but not a funny one, that she finds safety working for the most dangerous family in the county. She didn’t fully realize what she was taking on with the job, but she has eyes of her own, instincts, and a brain. She always has used them, ever since she needed to grow eyes at the back of her head to go along with the other changes her body went through. No, she couldn’t claim that she walked into this blind, but she didn’t know how she’d grow to feel.
When she heard the Bondurant boys needed someone to help out in their station, she headed there because she needed a job. She was afraid, but not entirely desperate, and she could have walked out.
She could have walked right out of the station and driven away, leaving Franklyn County behind her, until Forrest Bondurant walked in and they shook on it.
Besides, she watches him too. Watches him move – Maggie’s not surprised by Forrest’s speed the first time she sees him spring. She’d guessed at the power of his muscles. That she judged right is reassuring.
Maggie watches him gauge a situation. Mostly, he takes threats about as seriously as he needs to. She doesn’t understand all the history and all the alliances – maybe she belongs, but she doesn’t have roots to draw on – but she comprehends how easily blood can be spilled. Forrest has a dumb belief in his immortality that she’s too much of a realist to share.
She sees the contradictions of Forrest’s face. She sees his lips, framed by his jaw, by the taut muscles of his neck.
She all but watches him die three times.
The first time, finding him is what keeps her together, even though she doesn’t believe he’ll survive – so much of his damn blood has flowed out of him to the ground. She staunches the flow as much as she can, before lifting and dragging his heavy weight into her car. Driving through the snow takes all her concentration, and when she stops outside the hospital, there’s the question of getting him out. She hauls him out somehow, raps at the door. And then she leaves him.
It all pushes what happened to her at the station to the recesses of her mind.
Maggie doesn’t start shaking until she’s back in her room.
Several cigarettes and hours later, she packs her bags and comes to the hospital, having braced herself to have to lift a sheet to say goodbye to Forrest. She won’t apologize to his brothers; she did her best for him. But she finds out at the front desk that he’s still alive. From his bed, Forrest rasps out an offer. He offers her a place of safety.
She thinks about the proverb about falls and riding horses when she makes herself go back into the station. She doesn’t linger downstairs, but goes up to the spare room that Forrest told her she could have.
The night comes when she is tired of his watching, tired of waiting for him to act. Maybe knowing how close he came to death makes her impatient.
Forrest never says anything about her making the first move, but Maggie knows now what it is to feel his hand on her bare back, his lips following the trail his gaze had made.
The second time he dies in her imagination. He goes to the blockade at the bridge, even after what she said, because it’s Jack, and, like his brother, Forrest is driven by what happened to Cricket too. It’s too much for these men to take, and she doesn’t understand it – her instinct was flight from Chicago because she couldn’t fight what went on there. She doesn’t think the Bondurants can win this one.
Despite herself, she follows them in her mind. She can’t actually hear the gunfire, but she imagines the bullets ripping through his body, spilling more of his blood until there’s no more and he becomes a dead body lying on a road, full of police slugs.
Until she’d told him the whole of it, he’d believed he somehow walked from the station to the hospital and the snow covered his bloodied trail.
This time, the men of the county carry him there.
When she hears how many times Forrest was shot, Maggie is sure he’ll never walk again. But he does. Two weeks after being brought into the hospital, he walks out unaided. It’s a miracle.
The preacher who marries them is not Bertha’s father, and he’s even clean-shaven, but he knows the words of the ceremony. ‘Til death do us part’ comes out of Maggie’s mouth on a hysterical giggle as she remembers how many gunshot wounds Forrest carries under his clothes, but what matters is that she says it and that Forrest says it. They’re married.
Forrest watches her put her ring on a chain that she clasps shut around her neck. She leaves it to him to tell his brothers that she’s a Bondurant too. Doesn’t make much difference to Maggie, she knows Forrest has regarded her as one of his for a while now.
As it turns out, it takes him years, and he looks put out that he let it slip that they beat the other two couples to respectability.
The third time she watches him die is the worst, because she watches him die. There’s no blade, no quick-fire exchange. There’s no miracle. There is a moment where he stops being alive.
It was pneumonia, something he should have shaken off with his great strength. His brothers didn’t believe it would get him. The children wavered, scared that Uncle Forrest had got sick. The women watched. Maggie’s not a dreamer; she saw when the sickness took hold of him. His eyes lost their fight and intensity, and she made every member of the family say goodbye to him. He grunted when she told him she loved him as she held his hands. She washed his face at one point during that last night, her thumb tracing his lips, hating the blue tinge she saw there. But she stood firm for him, even after his last breath, until they stripped his deathbed. Then she shook and cried and raged.
The other Bondurant women don’t let her do much, although her hands ache for work. They ache for Forrest too, but work is all she can have.
They can’t stop her from brewing a coffee. Maggie’s the one in the household with the knack for it.
She’s wearing one of his cardigans, wrapped in the scent of him and the rich, familiar aroma of coffee mixed with cigar smoke makes her close her eyes as if she’ll hear his step any second – but she won’t, she won’t.
Still, Maggie pours herself a cup and takes a seat next to the window, where she indulges herself in memories until her drink gets cold. Forrest watching her dance, the warmth of what she saw in his gaze even then. The first night he came back from hospital after being shot and she had to order all three brothers to go upstairs. Sitting by his side, hip to hip, both of them watching the nephew on Forrest’s lap trace the scar on his neck with a podgy finger.
Maggie opens her eyes. Cheeks dry, face calm, she rises.