A FAIR TO REMEMBER

An original fanfic
by Gidget 

 

TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista Television/Walt Disney Co.  The other characters are created by me, and may not be used without permission.  My deepest gratitude to Allison, Bearcat, Staci “Cody” Faulkenberry, Beth “Starflash” Boemert, and Will for their fabulous AND honest feedback and support.
 (Rated PG for mild coarse language, suggestiveness, and occasional violence.)
 

 

Epilogue

 

Saturday morning, Bus Depot
7:00 am

While Rebecca was busy getting her daughter packed for leaving the hospital, Baloo accompanied Joanna in the taxi to the bus station.  The bus was scheduled to arrive in about five minutes, so he asked the cabbie to wait.  He couldn’t help but be glad that she was leaving, but, all the same, he was still concerned that she was homeless and destitute.  

“You don’t hafta go, y’know.  I’m sure Louie would give ya a job playin’ piano or somethin’…” As soon as he said the words, he regretted them.  He really didn’t want to see her working at Louie’s.  It was his sanctuary, away from work and Becky.  If Joanna was there, he’d have nowhere else to go.  Louie’s was his.  

She recognized it as the half-hearted offer it was. “No. Not Louie’s.  I’m not playing the piano anymore.  I need a change.”  

“Oh.”  

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” She smiled sadly at him. “But we had fun, didn’t we, Iron Paws?  At Louie’s, I mean.”  

“Yeah.”  

Baloo saw a Silverhound approaching the depot. “Here’s your bus, Joey.”  

“Right.” She stood up on her tiptoes and gave him a dry, sisterly peck on the cheek.  “Take care of yourself… Baloo.”  

“Bye, Joey.”  

Baloo stayed long enough to watch her board the bus, then slowly trudged back to the waiting cab.  

There goes trouble, he thought.   

 

* * *  

 

Exhausted and depressed, Joanna boarded the crowded bus, showed the driver her ticket, and trudged down the aisle. Everything she owned was now kept in a faded pink overnight bag with a broken clasp, which Rebecca had given her.  Also at Rebecca’s insistence, she had reluctantly accepted a “loan” to buy a few cheap toiletries from the drug store, and a bus ticket out of Cape Suzette, only to allay suspicion; it was smarter to accept help as though she needed it.  It wouldn’t do to let anyone know about the small fortune pinned to her underwear.  

She thought of Rebecca, who had been pretty decent to her these last few days, considering; she thanked her in the only way she could then. 

I was only borrowing him.  You can have him now.  

Joanna passed a young mother rabbit slumped across two seats with two whining twin bunnies in her lap, accidentally bumping the woman’s large purse off the seat with her own bag.  Murmuring an automatic apology, Joanna picked it up for her.  The mother snatched it back, glaring.  She had a black eye.  

Joanna recoiled, hurried toward the back, and saw that the only available seat was across the aisle from some guy sleeping underneath a newspaper.  The paper rose and fell with his snores.  His duffel bag was on the seat next to him.  

Miserably, Joanna sat and placed her hideous bag on the seat next to her, preventing anyone else from sitting there, barricading herself.  

She wished she had something to read, anything to distract her from the dismal surroundings, the whining kids, snatches of conversations, the wheezing, whistling sounds of the sleeping passenger that seemed to go directly in her ear. She gave the snoring newspaper a withering glance, wishing it was socially acceptable to set it on fire.

The man stirred and groaned loudly, as if sensing the pain that Joanna wished to inflict on him.  The bus doors closed with a hiss and a clatter, and the vehicle lurched lazily forward.  

She stared morosely out the window, thinking about the past week.  She had lost everything she cared about, and, for the second time, she felt rejected by her mother.  She would never forget Helen’s last words to her.  The woman’s voice, with its strong Oztralian accent, was no longer homey or comforting, but sharp and every bit as cutting, even as a memory.  

I don’t ever want te see you again.  

Joanna thought listlessly, I’ll have to start over.  Dye my hair.  Change my name.  Maybe fake my death… again. Make her sorry…  

 

Penny held her wrists, while some other girl sat on her legs, effectively pinning her to the floor.  Marie’s eyes widened, watching in morbid fascination as Teacher briskly stirred and stoked the burning coals with the branding iron. The dark-haired tigress looked at her sadly.  

“It’ll only hurt more if you fight. You know that.”   

“No!  Don’t!”  Hot tears sprang to her eyes as she met the Leader’s implacable gaze.  

His handsome, leonine features did not change expression.   

“Gordon, please---!”  

He frowned at her for using his name in front of the others.  “Don’t be a child. You’re ascending to a higher plane of existence. This is a wonderful day for you.”  

Penny giggled.  “You’re such a baby.  It wasn’t that bad.”  She wore a white cotton dress cut to deliberately bare her midriff.  A perfect, sharply etched M glared whitely on her right hip. Even Teacher had complimented her on her stoic acceptance of the Ritual.  They were fifteen now… it was time.  She had grunted with pain, but did not scream, like most of them did.  In her eagerness to graduate, she did not struggle.  The M was perfect.  She was proud of it.   

Marie watched the poker’s glowing tip as Teacher carefully raised it from the heart of the stove.  The white-hot M hissed, making her heart stop for an instant.  

“No! No!” she shrieked.  

She felt cool air rush at her for a moment as someone pulled her blouse out from her belted pants and bared her hip.  Teacher pressed the branding iron into her flesh, burning through layers of delicate skin tissue like paper.  Screaming like an insane creature, Marie bucked, knocking the iron off target, spoiling the perfect M.  She wailed as she smelled herself cook.  Then, mercifully, she fainted.  

When it was over, they carried her to the infirmary.  

“You’re such a baby,” Penny said a week later, when she stopped by on the pretext of visiting her. The other girl gave a disparaging glance at the raw, jagged scar on Marie’s hip, then smugly patted her own. “Mine’s better,” she said.  

Gordon visited her once.  

“It hurts…” she moaned.  

“That’ll pass, sweetheart.  Remember what M stands for…who you really are…” He lightly traced the heavy bandages.  

A week later, they dressed her in the same white dress that Penny wore.  At the graduation ceremony, as they stood under the bright lights and listened as the Leader congratulated them.  

Marie would always remember what M stood for.  Gordon’s soft, gentle voice had lulled her to sleep, telling her never to forget who she was.  

Mine.

 

A sob caught in her throat and she shuddered loudly, trying to suppress it.  

Not anymore! I’m rid of you.  I hope you rot!  

From across the aisle, a deep voice rumbled sleepily, “Hey, keep it down, will ya? Some people are trying to catch some shut-eye.”  

Furious, she swiped at her eyes, reached across and yanked the newspaper off his head, hissing, “Hey, I can put your face on the front page…!”  Her mouth fell open.  

It was Big Al. A bandage was wrapped around his head.  They stared at each other.  

Weakly, she sank back. “Oh no. You.”  

He was obviously as surprised as she was, but recovered first. “You look as bad as I feel.”  He reached in his shirt pocket, pulled out the black ribbon and tossed it to her. “Here, Jenny.  Fix your hair.”  

Her mouth fell open and her cheeks burned scarlet. “It’s Joanna!” she snapped, momentarily forgetting that she was going to change her name anyway.  Flustered, she added, “I mean…”  

“Never mind.  I don’t care.  My head hurts too much.” He shook out his newspaper and prepared to go back to sleep. He yawned loudly. “I’m going to hibernate.”

A few moments passed in silence as they ignored one another.  

Big Al heard another sniff and discreetly glanced at her from the corner of his eye.  He could see her reflection in the window.  

He sighed heavily, reached into his bag, and fished out a clean, though not spotlessly white, handkerchief. Balling it up, he tossed it unceremoniously in her lap.

Joanna was surprised, but since her nose was starting to run, decided to use it instead of indignantly tossing the handkerchief back at him.  She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “You want this back?”  

“Keep it.  I can always use my sleeve.”  

That got a startled laugh.  

He snorted. “Didn’t know you could do that.”  

She dabbed at her eyes again. “Do what?”  

“Laugh.”  

“Haven’t you heard? I’m a sucker for snot jokes.”  

“How ‘bout this?”  He made a fist, put it under his shirt and squirted out an armpit fart.  

“Cut that out!” She giggled. “You’re on a public bus, you moron!”  

“I can play ‘Jingle Bells’, y’know.” He pumped his armpit on his fist, playing the first few bars, and making her laugh harder. Several people craned their necks to stare at them.  

The bus driver called, “Knock it off, you two, or I’ll leave you on the road.”  

“Sorry,” they said simultaneously and smiled at each other.  

“A musical genius is never appreciated in his own time,” he said, wincing. “Ow.”  

“Your head, right?”  

“Yeah.  Guess I shouldn’t be giving concerts right now.” He started to pull his hat over his eyes, then, almost awkwardly, he glanced at the empty seat beside him. It was apparent that he just wanted to sleep, but was wondering if she expected him to keep her company.  

“Go to sleep, then.”  

“You don’t mind?”  

“No.  I’ll wake you when we get there.”  

Curiously, he asked, "Where ya headed, Jenny?"

She shrugged and shot his question back at him. "Where are you going?"

He shrugged.  "End of the line, I guess."

Joanna --- now Jenny --- looked out the window and murmured, "End of the line."

The bus continued to move, off into the sunrise.  

 

* * *


Rebecca's Hospital Room

Later that day


Rebecca packed her suitcase.  The thick bandage swathing her palm made it difficult, to say the least. She was also wearing, somewhat to her embarrassment, the “extra clothes” that Wildcat had picked up from her apartment, namely the frilly blue gown she’d once worn when the late Covington had taken her dancing
.  

When she’d asked him why he’d picked this particular dress, he’d replied, “Well, you’re leaving the hospital, aren’t you?  You need a hospital gown.”  

I’m burning this thing as soon as I get home, she thought. 

Baloo emerged from the bathroom with the soap samples, toothbrush, toothpaste, and other toiletries.  He tossed them in the suitcase.  "Might as well take these, too, since you're payin' for 'em."

She closed and latched the suitcase, wailing, "How am I going to pay for all of this?"

To her surprise, Baloo said, "If we hafta, me an' Kit'll take extra jobs, work overtime.  Don't worry your pretty little head about it, Becky.  We'll think of somethin'."

When she looked at him in astonishment, he said, "Hey, that's what friends are for, right?"

Rebecca hugged him, correcting, "Best friends."  She absently wondered why he was being so nice to her, then pushed it from her mind to simply enjoy the moment.

She never could be sure, but it felt like he planted a quick kiss on top of her head.

They broke apart when the nurse ushered the cubs into the room.

"Yay!  We get to go home," Molly exclaimed. She awkwardly galloped, holding a large ‘pony-on-a-stick’ between her legs, chanting, “Giddy-up! Giddy-up, Princess!”

“The same goes double for me, kid," the weary nurse murmured. Molly had literally given her a run for her money.  Aloud, she said, "Make sure you check out at the front desk before you leave, Mrs. Cunningham."

"We will. Thank you."

Baloo picked up Rebecca's suitcase and took the one that Kit carried. Then, all four headed out the door.
 

A little while later, they stepped out of the hospital into the bright sunshine.

"Man, oh, man," Baloo chuckled, "we look like a bunch of raggle-taggle mummies who've been through the spin cycle."

"Or a nightmare roller-coaster ride," Kit added.

"How come I gotta wear my cast for six weeks and Kit only has to wear his for a few days?" Molly whined. 

Rebecca gently squeezed her daughter's good hand with her own good, non-bandaged one. “Because your arm is fractured while Kit's wrist is only sprained."

"Look at the bright side, Button Nose. Now your mama'll let you have all the Frosty Pep ya want."  Baloo winked at Rebecca over Molly's head.  "I hear it makes bones heal faster." He hailed a taxi.

Molly's eyes lit up. "For really?"

Baloo held up two fingers in a bear scout salute.  "For really."

"And we can decorate your cast," Kit said.  "You'll be the envy of all the kids at school."

After packing the suitcases and the stick-pony in the trunk, they got in the taxi.

Molly, on Rebecca's lap, gingerly touched that cast that encased her aching arm from the wrist to above the elbow. "Well... maybe it'll be okay."

"Two months will fly by and before you know it, Pumpkin, you'll be as good as new."

"Twice as good as new," Wildcat added.

"Does this mean that we're not going to Louie's party this weekend?" Kit asked.

"Hold your tongue, kid!  Nuthin' could keep Ol' Baloo from one of Louie's shindigs, not even..."  His eyes strayed to his bandaged arm.

"How many times do I have to say that I'm sorry?" Rebecca said wearily.


"Hey, don't worry about it, Beckers," Baloo said softly, feeling strangely protective over her.  "We already hashed that out.  It's just a scratch."
 

A really deep and painful scratch.  That gal's got a nasty set of choppers! he thought.

"I wish I'd never found that key." Rebecca looked at the bandage that concealed the key-shaped wound seared into her palm.

"What key?" Molly asked eagerly.

"Nothing, honey."  Rebecca smiled sadly and smoothed her daughter’s hair.

Kit said, "Are you coming with us to Louie's party, Miz Cunningham?"

"Oh, I don't know..."  All she wanted to do was soak in a bubble bath for a hundred years.

"Aw, c'mon, Becky," Baloo cajoled.  "Ya need somethin' to take your mind off that night."

Rebecca looked at Kit's and Baloo's hopeful faces.  An unfamiliar tender gleam in Baloo's eyes prompted her to say, "Okay, I'll go, but only on one condition."

He looked at her apprehensively and thought, She's gonna ask me ta work on weekends and Christmas afterward...

"You tell me who Iron Paws is."

Baloo grinned, relieved.  "It’s a deal."

The taxi wound through the streets of Cape Suzette towards Higher for Hire.  Rebecca was the first to spot the red windsock at the top of the building, waving in the breeze.

“Here we are.  I’ll just pick up some work and take it home.” She added, “You guys can take a few days off while I get things straightened out.”

“I’ve got some hammers you can borrow,” Wildcat offered.

“Thanks, that’s okay.” She glanced at her pilot and navigator.  “What are you going to do?  As if I couldn’t guess.”

Haven't seen Louie for a whole week.” Baloo gave Kit a gentle nudge in the ribs. “Ya think he’ll remember us?” 

“Oh, no!” Rebecca said in mock-horror, “A whole week? How on earth did you survive?”  

"Yeah, yeah, yuk it up, Becky," the pilot growled.  

"I bet you’re planning on flying to Louie's right now."  

Baloo simply grinned at her and shrugged.  

He didn’t admit that this was where he preferred to be.  

 

The End
(really!)

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