Beatrix was walking down the streets of Millen taking in the many businesses, buildings, and stores that the town had to offer for the second time that day. Her experience taught her that, generally speaking, there are two kinds of small towns. One was the picturesque, paragon of wholesomeness that most people conjure up when the phrase "small town," is said; romanticized and colorful. The second was the crime-ridden, barely functional, and beige town that had no out of town visitors, as they would just keep right on driving. Millen seemed to be somewhere in the middle.
There were a number of buildings that were empty thanks to the stores housed in them going out of business. Because of this, there were sections of the town that had fallen into disrepair, almost as if the other part of town had simply neglected them. However, the other part of town, the ones with functional businesses, actually came relatively close to that pictorial small town feel, albeit still not quite as vibrant as one would expect.
Still, Beatrix loved every second taking the town in. No matter which part of town she was strolling through, there was still something so inviting about Millen. Perhaps it was the quiet. Perhaps it was the, admittedly incorrect, perception that everyone in town knew everyone else. But whatever it was, there was something that was drawing her to the town, as if there was a reason that she needed to be there.
And even still, an excellent breakfast at a great diner? A great walk at the park? And a fun time playing poker for the first time? She'd had an excellent morning. One of the best mornings she'd ever had, as a matter of fact. And she was convinced that there was nothing that could dampen he good mood.
But now the question was raised as to what she was going to do now. She supposed that sometime soon she was going to have to find a place to sleep, but she still had plenty of time to do that. It wasn't even noon yet, and there were still lots of places to go in that town; like the antique store where she could peruse at the beautiful items (even though she would have no place to put them) or perhaps she could make her way over to the stable so she could see some horses.
As Beatrix was lost in her thoughts, she was suddenly grabbed by her shoulder and thrown against the wall of a nearby shop. She never saw it coming.
She was forced to look directly into the eyes of her assailant, who was still holding her by the shoulder, an effort to prevent her from escaping.
It was Jesse Hickok, the poker player that she'd played against. His face was not even attempting to conceal his rage.
She didn't need to be told why he was upset. She knew.
"Okay," she said, maintaining her cool head. "I know you're upset-"
"Who are you?" he demanded. His voice was soft, but there was an undeniable anger that seethed through every syllable. "What were you trying to prove?"
"What? Did you feel sorry for me?"
"I don't need your pity, and I don't need your charity!"
"That wasn't my intention."
With his free hand, Jesse reached into his pocket and pulled out the $408.
"Then explain this. Explain to me why you were perfectly willing to toss four hundred dollars my way, like I was some pathetic street urchin begging for money. Was there something about me that screamed, 'this poor person needs my help,' to you? Were you thinking to yourself, 'he's weak, and helpless, and can't take care of himself, and I need to step in?' I don't need you to feel sorry for me, and I don't need you to treat me like I'm some kind of poor helpless creature who needs to resort to begging to stay afloat."
There was a long, almost painful pause that followed.
Beatrix was the one who broke the silence. "Look," she said, with a calm articulation intended to mollify, "I'm sorry that I've offended you. I'm sorry that I hurt you. And I'm sorry that I didn't take your feelings into account when I threw the game." Those words could've sounded incredibly insincere with the wrong inflection, but her tone made it very clear that she meant every word she was saying.
Jesse's face had softened exponentially at her words. It was clear that he hadn't expected her to apologize to him, especially in the manner in which she had. He released his grip on her shoulder, slowly but surely. After managing to calm down, he seemed ashamed of himself that he'd lost control of his temper like he had.
Beatrix flashed a mild smile his way. It instantly made him feel worse at his outburst and his lack of judgement. It reminded him of what kind of person Beatrix had been during their game, polite and curious, and it wounded him knowing that he'd put his hands on someone as kind as her.
"If you want," she said. "We could sit down and discuss this. It's almost lunchtime, and I know just the place."