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Chapter 11: Boiling Mad

Chapter Eleven

Boiling Mad

"Come Lord, and lift the fallen bird
Abandoned on the ground;
The soul bereft and longing so
To have the lost be found."

***WTWAB***

Have you ever had the experience of knowing that something is real, but it feels like a dream? That even though you're conscious and aware, you allow it to unfold as it's happening - because surely something this surreal, this utterly bizarre, this absolutely astounding, could not possibly be real? And because it couldn't possibly be real, and you have no control or say so in any part of it, then like a dream, you must accept it even if you don't precisely understand it?

No?

Well, then … allow me to offer you this simple and heartfelt plea …

Don't judge me.

I could no more have stopped what happened between Boots and me than I could stop a wave from crashing with my hands or a runaway train with my foot.

Nor would I have wanted to.

***WTWAB***

Chirp, peep, chirp, peep, peep, chirp, peep …

I open my eyes slowly to the sounds of birds singing, but the languid pull of sleep still beckons. I close them tight in an effort to ward off the morning.

Just a few more minutes …

I've never felt so heavy, warm, safe, and snug; I'm wrapped in a cocoon of indolent indulgence.

More please

Just a wee bit more

"ZZZ-Zzzz-ZZzzz-hngGGggh-Ppbhww- zZZzzzZZ . . ."

My eyes fly open.

No

Oh-no

Oh-Hell-No.

It is the snores from the Oh-Hell-No that wakes me completely

He is lying, curled really,actually, curled, into my side; head snuggled firmly into my shoulder, stomach pressed into my back, and his other parts, the manly ones, appear to be wedged into my backside. Not inside it, to be clear, but they've certainly made their nest in the region between my buttocks and thighs. His one arm is tucked under me, while the other is clutching onto my breast, much like a child cuddles with a beloved toy while sleeping.

Perhaps if I close my eyes and blink, I can make him go away.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZsnufflegurglesnufflezzzzzzzzzzzzzzsnuckguggugZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Nope.

Oh, Bella,

Bella,

Bella …

What have you done?

You know what you did

Don't act coy

You went and got yourself good and properly laid.

You don't talk like that, I chastise myself

Well, you don't get laid, either, Professor Swan

But you did …

You really did.

And oh boy - was it ever, fucking, good.

So good …

I close my eyes again, remembering.

His hands, rough and ready

His arms, the muscles rippling as he carried me out of the spring and back to the blanket.

His face; at once both fierce and beautiful, as he laid me down and took me

In every way a woman could be taken

Hands, fingers, mouth, teeth …

Sweeping, caressing, licking and lavishing

He left no part of me untouched

He made my body sing and soar until I was wet and weeping

More, more, more

And he gave me more

Again and again

And I, a shy violet no more

Blossomed like a wild flower

And gave him more as well

I bit, pulled, nibbled, sucked and swirled

We teased and taunted

A perfect tango we danced

Under a darkening sky

On a checkered tablecloth, we feasted

And when we were both ready for more – when our bodies could no longer cease to be apart, he looked into my face and said, "Now."

Now, now, now

The feeling of him between my thighs, then so deep inside me that my eyes rolled back, as he took me – yes, took me … ravished me … hips snapping, backs arching … I held on to his shoulders, his neck, his arms his hair … I couldn't get enough … I didn't want enough

More, more, more …

I was quaking and keening by then

My sounds mixing with his moans and babble

If words were spoken, they must have been in tongue, for I understood nothing in that perfect moment; only feelings.

The perfect start ... a tremble, a shudder, a tremor and finally – a crescendo…

I seized so violently that I literally felt as if I was turned inside out. My orgasm exploded –forcefully and unapologetically; reaching, grasping, unrelenting and unrepentant. It wrapped around him, sucking him into the abyss with me until he was shouting out his own release.

But my body, if not my very soul, refused to be quelled; I couldn't seem to stop the spasms that shook me from my deepest core nor was I able to release him. Over and over, I shook and quaked until he was begging me for mercy. It was as if my body was holding onto him, even as my mind was already letting him go.

But he calmed me. He knew how. Somehow, he knew how. He simply burrowed his face into my neck and mumbled, "You're safe now. I'm here. I've got you." And with that, everything in me quieted and stilled.

We slept.

Gone was the wise-cracking, cherry spitting and heckling, Boots. In his stead was Edward, a composer who orchestrated magnificent symphonies with his body; a masterful artist, who awakened my desires to the beauty of possibilities with a stroke of his hand; a poet, whose unwritten words spoke volumes about want, needs and passion.

Am I romanticizing what transpired between him and me earlier this afternoon?

Perhaps

But in those few precious hours, two strangers shared something more than just a mutual itch to scratch or even a visceral response to adrenaline and fear.

It was as if our two souls …

STOP

Let's face facts, Bella …

At least be honest with yourself -

You fucked a stranger.

A perfect tango we danced, beneath a darkening sky, on a checkered tablecloth we feasted.

What do the kids say?

LMFAO!

And you have the audacity to question whether you've romanticized the situation? Girl, please. Stop turning it into some ridiculous Two Bodies, One Soul: A Lifetime Original Movie, Starring Bella Swan, and Boots, Hell-if-I can-recall-his-last-name.

Yes, it was hot.

Yes, it was satisfying.

Okay, it was spectacular.

But it was a random moment … one that you will take to your grave … which, if you don't get your act together, is probably going to be sooner than later.

I needed an escape; a brief respite from the madness and strain of the past few weeks; an afternoon of idle conversation with a handsome, albeit, rough around the edges, mechanic.

What I don't need is another problem.

I glance at his face; he definitely appears to be sleeping soundly.

My hand claws nervously at the tablecloth; I don't know what to do. How does one go about doing the walk of shame when one is outside, au naturale?

Where are my clothes, anyway?

Girl, you don't know shit.

Perfect; as if it isn't bad enough that my inner thoughts are at odds with each other, one-half has now adopted the native dialect of the local inhabitants.

I sigh

I fidget

I bite my lip

I wring my hands

I shake my feet

I bounce my legs

I'm completely and utterly distraught; I don't know what to say or how to act around him when he awakes. What I do know is - things are going to be awkward. I need a moment to get myself together … to calm my nerves … to empty my mind.

And my bladder.

I begin to unwind him, piece by piece, from where he is attached to my body. As gently as I can, I extricate his hand from my breast. I watch as his hand twitches a few times as if it senses the loss of my flesh. I try not to think of my own sense of loneliness at the loss of his touch. Next, I move my bottom away from his, er, front and try rolling on my side. I move very slowly, holding my breath, fearing that he'll awaken and … do something.

Luck, however, appears to be on my side for once, and as I roll away from him, he rolls the other way, snoring peacefully. I crawl towards the tablecloth-come-blanket's edge when his hand shoots out and grabs my ankle.

I scream.

He chuckles.

"Gotcha!"

He's got me all right; in more ways than one.

I flop down on my rear end and cover my breasts with my hands, allowing my hair to fall over my face. From the shadow of my locks I can see him … all of him. He's lying flat on his back wearing nothing but a huge grin as he stares up at the clouds. I command my eyes to stay on his face and not lower their gaze even as they begin to drift downwards.

"Mm-hmm. It figures."

'What?" My eyes fly back up, guiltily, to meet his amused stare.

"You."

'Me, what?"

"Pft … you know what."

"I … no. No, I don't."

His eyes narrow momentarily, and then close. He throws one hand over them and lets out an exaggerated sigh.

"I knew if I let you have your way with me that you were gonna turn tail and run. Damn … I feel so used."

I sit with my mouth fully agape. It opens and closes, involuntarily, like a fish that's just been reeled in and hasn't quite realized it yet.

"Cat got your tongue, Yank?"

I shake my head a few times to see if that sets my mouth back in working order.

" Um, what? No … I was just … er … going to the bathroom."

"The bathroom?"

"Uh - yes?"

"Hmm. Well, good luck finding one of those around here, honey. But if you do, make sure to mention my name, so you get a good seat," he quips, sarcastically.

Of all the possible scenarios I had imagined about our first conversation following our … tryst, this was hardly in my repertoire of awkward moments. I find myself at a loss for words. I'm also in a predicament; as badly as I need to relieve myself, there is no way I can do so modestly.

"I guess I'll just have to go in the spring?"

"Uh, unless you want to take a wiz in the woods … yeah."

I nod my head. He quirks his brow. I raise mine in return.

"Well, what are you waiting for; an engraved invitation?"

I look around trying to find something to cover myself, but short of the tablecloth, which we're sitting on, there's nothing.

"Turn over," I say, finally.

He sits up at my command and laughs.

"Seriously?"

"Quite."

"Even after we've –"He waves his long, hand between us and gives me a rather lascivious wink.

Cue the blush.

"Yes."

He shakes his head, grinning like a fool, but does as I ask, and flops over on his stomach. I pause for a fraction of a second to admire his physique; his back is so long and muscular. His shoulders are broad and slightly freckled. His buttocks … well, they are reminiscent of statues I've viewed while abroad; alabaster-white and well- defined. I find myself growing hot all over.

"Quit staring at my gorgeous ass – and go do your business before I roll back over and make you my business. Again."

I jump up and run towards the spring as fast as my size seven feet will allow.

When I reach the spot where we'd been, I see my dress, crumpled, at the edge; a flag of brilliant red. No wonder he came charging.

Before I scoop it up, I decide to step into the water just long enough to relieve my aching bladder (he must have hit something, I think to myself. I've never felt like this with any of my previous lovers.)

Is that what he is; my lover?

No, sugar … he was your one-time find-em-fuck-em-and-forget-em. Now get your butt in the water and take a leak before he gets up and makes good on his threat; unless … you want him to make you his business again?

I step into the spring and wash myself in the water. It bubbles all around me, and even though I only want to take a private moment, I can't help myself. I lie on my back, close my eyes, and relish the spray as it showers above and around me.

"It feels nice, doesn't it?"

I let out a groan; couldn't he let me have five minutes of peace?

"Shh … don't say anything. Just lie here and be still for a few minutes. I thought I heard some kids coming up the path; that's why I decided to join you … what with me being naked as the day is long and all," he chuckles, quietly.

I flip around, and he puts his fingers to his mouth while lowering himself into the spring.

He takes me by the hand, and we wade into a deeper part of the spring and then float to a pretty spot where a few trees have formed a private bower of pink and white blossoms.

He dips his head into the water, and soon the rest of him follows. I watch as he skims across the water it, gracefully, and then surfaces in a dark cover. He crooks a finger in my direction, and I follow his path, albeit not as elegantly.

When I surface, I am greeted by a pair of eyes so green they match the very waters in which we swim. I remember when I first met him how hard and shifty they looked, yet now they are warm and friendly. He looks so young and boyish at this moment that I can't help but smile.

"Hi," he whispers.

"Hello," I whisper back, uncertain of everything that's transpired between us from his first baleful glare to his last tender touch.

Grinning, he wades closer to me. A wake of pink blossoms trail behind him; they cling like confetti to his hair and shoulders, as if he were the happy recipient of a celebration.

"Can I ask you something?"

I freeze.

Here we go …

"Do you know where I left my unders?"

"Unders?"

"Yeah … my unders … you know … boxers, briefs, skivvies, drawers, men's unmentionables'? I can't find them anywhere."

I am so taken back by the unexpectedness of his question that I burst into giggles.

"Sh-shh …" he says, laughing back at me, swimming all the closer. "I'm serious – I don't know where the hell they landed."

By now, I am dissolving into giggles. I duck my face in the water to drown out the sound, and when I surface; his mouth is on mine before I have a chance to gasp for air.

It doesn't matter. Nothing ever does when it comes to this man especially when he's kissing me. My head empties itself of every bad or worrisome thought.

James? Poof.

Jasper? See Ya.

Old Howie? It was nice knowing you.

His lips are so soft. Have I ever been kissed by anyone with lips this soft? And his taste … he tastes like cherries and the promise of something darker, and infinitely, more sinful.

He draws me closer to him ... closer ... so close that we're sharing breaths and tangling limbs. We're hot and breathless; the surge of bubbles mimics the growing frenzy just below the surface. My leg automatically winds around his hip, and I feel him, probing, ready, and wanting.

I shiver in the warm spring.

I'm hot, so very hot … yet the heat I'm feeling has nothing to do with the afternoon sun or the shoots of water from the springs.

It's him.

It's all him.

I feel my eyes cross when he begins to enter me, and I let out a sound; primal, earthy, and unexpected. It comes from deep within, and thunders out of me, echoing in the valley, bouncing off the side of the mountain and resonating in the waters of the spring.

I'm embarrassed, yes, but too aroused to allow it to override the passion. And when I see his face, dark and dangerous, I know it doesn't amuse or disgust, rather, it incites and excites him. He grabs my behind firmly with his large, calloused hands, and rams into me with such force that my head rolls back and my chest surges forth. He takes full advantage and buries his face in the cleavage between my breasts, turning his face left and right over and over and over again. Nipping, licking and sucking on my nipples, while his hips, swivel and continue to pound until I'm crying out and seeing stars in the bright blue canvas above.

I open my eyes just in time to see him fall apart; his mouth agape, his eyes closed, his face a perfect contrast between pleasure and pain. And inside, I feel him swelling, straining, surging, as he reaches his completion with a hard groan against the side of my neck, and finally, a soft sigh in my ear.

I relax into his arms, but his muscles suddenly cord with tension. My stomach clenches in return.

"Oh Jesus," he says. "Jesus."

One quick look at his face tells me everything I need to know; he's mortified by what we've done.

I feel the shame roll off him, and it wraps itself around me in blanket of guilt

"Christ, Yank. I – I'm sorry. Shit. I didn't mean for that to happen; I swear I didn't take you out here for this. Damn it to hell … what in the fuck all was I thinking, bringing you to the spring, anyway? Lord. I should have known something like this was gonna happen. It always does when people come to the spring. Shit. Are you even on the pill? We didn't use anything … Oh, Jesus – I'm sorry."

He's stuttering and flushed, and even though he's still holding me I know, he's already letting me go.

I make it easier for him and shove myself away from his hold. He stumbles back a bit, and I take the opportunity to swim as far away as I can … the direction doesn't matter, I just need to put some distance between us.

"Hey," he calls. "Hey! Don't swim away … I didn't mean – well, shit."

My head bobs up, and I'm torn; on the one hand, I want to swim as far away from him as I possibly can. But on the other, I want to finally tell a man who's treated me poorly, exactly how I feel.

Before I try to kill him, that is.

I stop swimming and take a stand, literally and figuratively.

He wades over to me and is at once apologetic and defensive; not a fortuitous combination at the best of times and certainly not at the worst.

"I'm sorry you took what I said the wrong way, Yank."

I roll my eyes at his passive-aggressive apology and watch his eyes narrow.

"What?"

"You're sorry I took what you said the wrong way?"

"Yes, ma'am, I am."

"And what, pray tell, are you sorry for exactly; might it be possible for you to have a coherent stream of logic, or is that an impossible concept for someone born south of the Mason-Dixon Line?" I ask, haughtily.

"I beg your pardon?"

"No, I don't think I shall."

"Don't think you shall, what?"

"Beg. Your. Pardon," I say, slowly, enunciating each word and vowel as if speaking to a five-year-old child.

Befuddled, he stares at me and shakes his head. He frowns.

"Look, I don't know what the hell to say to you right now, is all I'm trying to say."

"Then perhaps it would be best for you to simply close your mouth and say nothing."

"Why are you acting all snooty? I just – I mean … hell, one minute we're fighting, and the next minute we're fucking."

I stare at him stunned; no one has ever spoken to me like that before.

Fucking.

His crude word causes my face to redden and my shackle to rise. I guess that's all it was, and my need to romanticize what we enjoyed previously was from the mixed-up files of the hapless, hopeless romantic, Professor Swan, PhD

Realization of his crass word selection crosses his face. He parts his lips as if to apologize, but I cut him off with a wave of my experienced teacher's hand.

"Yes, well, thank you for explaining it to me so succinctly, Edward. Fucking it is then. Or rather, was. Yes, best not to gloss over the reality of the situation … after all, a fuck is but a fuck, right?"

His mouth opens and closes like a fish.

"Oh, and just to be perfectly and incandescently, clear - I'm not on the pill."

I watch his face contort in horror, and I almost laugh.

"I take the shot."

The spread of relief over his features is so comical that if I weren't so furious with him, I would be rolling on the floor in fits of giggles. But I am mad, pissed even. And hurt too.

I start to wade away, but his hand on my shoulder stops me. He swings himself around to face me, and as he does, he tucks a small piece of hair behind my ear. Angrily, I wrench it free.

"Ah, hell … nothing I'm saying is coming out right, is it?"

I shake my head no.

He nods his head, curtly. "Okay. Okay."

"Okay?"

He lets out a huge sigh out of the corner of his mouth and then levels his eyes at mine. They're so green that I could get lost in the depths, but I won't allow that to happen ever again, so instead, I focus on his brows; two dark arches that are drawn together like a railroad bridge.

"Listen, we barely know each other, but it feels like we do. You make me feel … I don't even know. And I'm all torn up about it, okay?

"Jesus.

"I've got responsibilities, including a little girl that I think the sun and moon rises and sets upon and then, wham, there's you making me go all crazy in the span of one afternoon.

"Hell, I don't even know what time it is, and I live by the damn clock, minute by minute. Time is money, and when you've been dirt poor as a kid, like me, and now you got a kid, also like me, well, that's everything.

"I'm not the kind of guy who goes around looking for women; never have been. I'm not a saint, mind you, but let's just say it's been a long time since I took up with anyone in the biblical sense.

"I just don't see how this is going to work; you're running away from something, and I'm clinging to something. I know you don't know about me, but I'm someone who used to run too; I know what it's like to dodge and duck. But me? I stopped running a long time ago. I can't run anymore. I don't plan on ever running again. I – oh, hell … this ain't coming out right either."

He takes a long pause but before I am allowed to interrupt, he holds his hand out to stop me.

"Look, I'm a simple man … I don't operate this way, is all I'm getting at. Hell – you've got me all in a twist." He runs his hands through his hair nervously, and I watch his Adam's apple bob a few times, as I digest his words.

He's tortured by what's happened between us, that much is evident. He might call it a fuck, and maybe that's all it was, but I believe it was more, and I believe he knows it was more too; otherwise, he wouldn't be so anguished. He's full of guilt and regret, but more, he's conflicted. I can see it in his face; he wants me to either absolve or reassure him, and I can't do either.

But I can let him go.

My heart clenches at the thought, and I don't know why it feels like it's breaking into a million pieces in the middle of a magical spring, in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina, with a man I barely know. A man I don't even think I want to know, but it is, all the same. And before the traitorous tears start their tattletale trail down the slope of my face, I'd better act quickly.

"Well, allow me to un-twist you, Edward.

"You say you're a simple man? Well, I'm a complicated woman. You don't need that sort of obstacle in your life, and believe me, I don't need some simple-minded yokel, with calloused hands, and dirty fingernails - that's probably given me some sort of mechanic's disease - to make my extraordinarily, complicated circumstances, infinitely, impossibly, and catastrophically, more complicated!"

"Mechanic's disease?" He smirks, but I can see the hurt behind it as he holds his hands up to inspect them. I notice the water has somehow managed to leave them spotless – not a trace of grease or nary a smudge mars his beautiful hands. They're as they were meant to be; long, elegant, white and perfect.

He reaches out to cup my cheek, but I brush his hand off. I back away and dive, head first into the spring.

"Yank … Bella – wait!"

His words follow me, and I repeatedly dive into the water to drown them out. When I surface, I am surprised to find myself exactly where I'm supposed to be; my too-big-Rosalie-dress is directly in front of me as I wade out of the spring, greeting me like an old friend who winks broadly but doesn't judge. I scoop it up gratefully, and pull it on over my head, not bothering to look or even care where my damn unmentionables might be hiding. I glance over at the spring, fully expecting him to surface right behind me, but he's not there. I don't give myself the luxury of time to think about that.

I run over to the leftovers of our picnic and glance around. The tablecloth is there, but nothing else. The basket, my shoes, and all of Boots' clothing, has completely vanished.

My heart plummets

Fear, icy cold, and all-too-familiar, curses through my veins

Oh, God

Oh, no

Oh, please God, no …

James.

The instinct to run sweeps through me, and before I can stop myself, before I can let reason and logic do their job, my feet take off at lightning speed.

I don't think - I bolt.

I run and run … down the hillside, down the gravel path, past the Volvo, sprinting past trees, mountainside, fields, and meadows.

"Bella!"

No … no, … he's found me … I can't stop … I've got to keep running.

"Bella!"

I get off the path and run through the wooded area … my feet are sore and bleeding from running on the gravel, but I don't stop, I can't stop … I have to keep running.

"Bell aaaaaaah"

The sound of my name being called on the repeat is no more than a whisper in the air; he must be far from me by now. But I can't afford to take the chance, so I surge forward and continue to run.

I see the highway up ahead, and there are cars driving past. Maybe if I can run down the side of the mountain undetected, I can flag one down. And maybe they'll take me?

I stop, panting, perplexed, and utterly spent.

Where? Take me where?

And to whom?

The enormity of my situation finally dawns on me; there is no, where and there is no whom.

I'm alone again, and I realize that even if it was just a brief respite from my life, I'm going to miss these people who took me in without question. I barely had time to get to know them…

'We barely know each other, but I feel like we do."

"I knew you were coming, I've always known, Alice told me so years ago …"

I sit down, hard, and hug my knees, allowing the tears to fall freely. They were good people, all of them – even Boots.

Especially, Boots.

His face, flustered, red, and sincere flashes before me and I close my eyes to ward it off, half in regret and half in sadness, knowing that I said some terrible things to him – things that I hadn't meant, not really. He was just as shaken by the whole experience as I was – maybe even more so, he does have responsibilities including that precious little girl with the red hair and the penchant for grown-up bras and silly dogs with too short legs and too long beards.

I cry harder. A tear for every injustice no matter how big or small …. My heart breaks for the life I had and for the life I might have known.

A life right here, under the blue skies of Carolina, in a small southern town, made up of colorful people … a cast of characters I could never, in a million years, have imagined actually existed.

I'm exhausted beyond words so I lie back in the green grass, close my eyes, and allow myself a brief moment to indulge in a fantasy of what might have been. It's a little game I've played since childhood; a game of let's pretend. It's something I do to calm myself as an adult; visualization, the psychologists call it, I believe. The problem is, the only thing I can visualize is Boots.

In between my tears, a picture of a life that will never be, begins to form in my mind's eye. I try, in vain, to stop it from taking root, but it's impossible to stop it now. I watch it unfold, frame by frame, like a movie.

Like a dream.

I see my future self in this small southern town. I'm sitting on the porch with my feet bare, kicked back in a rocker; a tall pitcher of iced tea rests on a table beside me, sweating in the broad afternoon sun. There's a book on my lap and Miss Vick beside me. Miss Shelly is in the kitchen cooking something delicious, and the smell makes my mouth water. There's a radio blasting from the front parlor where Rose is trying to teach Elizabeth how to do the Carolina Shag. Alice is coming off her shift at work, and she pulls up in front of the house and calls out "Hey!" and shakes a bag of some treat she's brought for us to share after everyone's gone off to bed, where we'll giggle like best friends and eat ourselves sick.

And finally, there's Boots. He drives a pick-up truck – silver, and he's grinning as he spies me on the porch. He pulls the truck over, and climbs out of the cab, a bouquet of limp, wildflowers in one hand and a fancy, pink package, in the other. He takes the steps two at a time, and when he reaches me, his lips are on mine before I've even had a chance to finish saying the i, in my hi.

I shake my head hard to rid it of this storybook life I've created to calm myself; there's no way this type of life could ever be mine. I would never fit in here among these people. They're technicolor and brilliant, while I'm nothing more than an old negative, or worse; like an undeveloped can of film.

But God… there has to be something more for me than a cold death in the middle of the woods at the hands of some British bastard, whose sole purpose in life is to conquer, seize and destroy.

"You might not believe in Him, but he believes in you."

Alice's words from when we first met come back to me and I sit up straight, considering.

I've never been a particularly religious person, but right now I feel an understanding to those when they say that they've given themselves and their worries up to God. I've always scoffed at those people, thought them simple-minded, foolish, even – certainly not independent, free thinkers who rely on reason and logic to aid them through life. But now – I don't know. Maybe there is something to letting Jesus take the wheel. God knows I've done a poor job trying to navigate through this life on my own thus far.

It is with that thought in mind that I finally stand and walk to the highway.

I may not be ready to give myself up to God, but I am ready to stop letting fear dominate my life. If James is in the woods, tracking me, so be it. I'm done running.

And I'm done hiding; at least for today. If he wants to find me, I'm right here, out in the open.

I walk and walk and walk as cars whiz past me, but I don't try to flag them down. Instead, I keep marching, almost peacefully, towards what, I do not know.

***WTWAB***

Toot-toot!

I stop,mid-step and am slammed out of my revelry at the same time as the car slams on its brakes. We both come to a skid.

"Going somewhere?"

I glance up to see the smiling, familiar face of Rosalie, perched behind the wheel of what appears to be some sort of red and white, two-toned, classic car from the fifties.

"Nice wheels, huh? It's a 56 Chevy Bel-Air, Just got it back from the shop today. Purty, ain't she?" She says, snapping her gum. Her long, blonde hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and it's covered with a bright, red scarf. A pair of fuzzy dice bounces merrily from the dashboard mirror, and the song playing in the background croons a ballad about teenage angst from a simpler time.

"Hi, Bell!" I look over in astonishment to see Alice, perched next to her in the passenger seat; her tiny body wasn't even a blip on my radar until she spoke. Like Rose, her head is also wearing a bright kerchief; sky blue. The long ends blow jauntily in the wind like a kite's tail

"What's the matter, hun; cat got your tongue?"

"And your shoes?" Pipes, Rose.

They both giggle.

I just stand there staring at them, frozen in place, saying nothing. Maybe the cat really does have my tongue.

"So, tell me something, sugar, if you don't mind me asking?"

Expectantly, I look at Rose, waiting for her question. She snaps, crackles and pops her gum a few times, and then lifts her cat-eyed sunglasses up marginally to give me a considering look.

"Why in the ever lovin hell is my brother running down the highway wearing nothing but a damn tablecloth?"

That snaps me out of it.

Sort of.

"I – we-huh?" I gasp.

"Mm-hmm," nods Alice. "He sure is," she says, taking out a small compact and tube of lipstick from her purse. I watch, fascinated, as she draws a perfect red smile around her mouth and then smacks her lips and the compact shut with a snap.

"Wh-huh-he," I stutter.

"Oh, bout a mile or two back there, I reckon. Course, he always runs a whole lot faster when he's pissed off, and judging from the look on his face when we sped past, I'd say he's madder than a three-legged dog trying to bury a turd on an icy pond. Wouldn't you agree, Ali?"

"Indeed; he gives new meaning to the expression about being so mad that he's falling out of his clothes, that's for sure."

Oh, my God.

It wasn't James after me; it was Boots.

My feet are itching to take off again, but they hurt too bad to do anything but collapse. I lean against the car for support.

Rose gives Alice a knowing look and nods.

"Go ahead and get her tail in the backseat, Ali. Lord-have-mercy – she looks like she's about ready to have a conniption fit, a hissy fit, and a bitch fit all at the same time. Plus, I think she might have had a mini-stroke- she can't manage to squeeze one word out, poor thing."

Alice hops out of the door, grinning, and walks around the car. She gives me a pitiful look, tsks a few times, pries my fingers (that are somehow glued to the window) and practically shoves me inside.

"That's it, get her dress tucked in too. I gotta get us back to Miss Vicks. There's a storm coming, and I don't mean the kind from the weather channel, either."

Once I'm settled in the confines of the back seat, Rose removes her sunglasses; a rather absurd looking cat-eyed affair, (They're studded with rhinestones that would look silly on anyone else but make her look like a movie star from long ago.) Her cornflower-blue eyes widen considerably as she runs them along the length of me, missing nothing.

"Hmm."

"I told you, didn't I?"

"Yeah, I guess you did, Ali, but, still … damn."

"It's the way it's supposed to be, Rose…"

"Well, why the hell did my dress have to be involved in their escapades? It was one of my favorites."

"I don't know girl, it just does, is all. Besides, it don't fit you, anyhow."

"Oh shut your mouth. Well, all I can say is; wait until Miss Vick gets a load of this shit; if she thought Springer had a good program this morning she ain't seen nothing like the shitfest that's gonna be taken place in her own backyard tonight, and that's the truth."

I sit there in silence, listening to their exchange, saying nothing.

"Buckle up," barks Rose. Alice snaps the buckle in place and gives me a quick kiss on the cheek. "It's gonna be just fine, honey … you wait and see. All of it – just fine."

Rose no sooner pulls the car back on the highway when the enormity of everything that's transpired finally dawns on me; beginning with the first kiss this morning and ending with Boots running down the highway, wearing nothing but a tablecloth.

"WAIT!"

The cat who held my tongue releases it without warning, and the command bellows out of me so loudly that Rose slams on the brakes and the car almost skids off the side of the road.

"What in the hell was that? Lord, girl … you bout gave me a heart attack."

"If you saw your brother running up the highway in nothing but a tablecloth, then why didn't you stop to pick him up, too?" I finally cry out.

She looks at Alice, and they burst into raucous laughter.

When they finally contain themselves, Rose removes her sunglasses, wipes the tears from her eyes, and then re-adjusts them in the rear view mirror.

"You must be an only child,

"Bless your heart."

A/N: I am so very sorry for the length of time between updates. April was a rather stressful month for my family. My elderly mother suffered a heart attack (she's fine now and is recovering) while my son and his wife had their first baby (The very day I published the last chapter!) Needless to say, I've been very busy and emotional, but things are evening out now, so expect regular updates, every two weeks. (Unless something ELSE happens. Lord.)

One note: I did have to tweak the last chapter just a bit. Boot tells Bella that the water is a hot spring. It's not; it's a warm spring. If it was a hot spring they would have been scalded to death in the first plunge and the story would end there. RIP Boots and Bella. Ouch.

Thanks to everyone who reviewed. I was epic fail at responding but it was either write this chapter or respond to reviews. I'll try to do better in the future.

Finally, a BIG thank you to my beta, and fic-Sis, Frannie, for her friendship, support and willingness to resume editing this story. Her enthusiasm and promotional efforts are so very much appreciated! XO

Jayne

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