For Fran: Thank you for editing and the support!
And to my faithful readers: Thank you for never giving up on me. xo Jayne
"All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust."
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
"Is she dead?"
"Nah … she's just sleeping, Bip."
"You sure, Daddy? She looks awful dead to me."
"Well, I can't be sure, honey; I'm not a doctor like Paw-Paw, but I see her chest going up and down every so often, so yeah … I think it's safe to say she's gonna live to see another day."
"She's real pretty; isn't she Daddy?"
"Yeah, she is."
"Is she prettier than my mama?"
"Well now, Bip … your mama was mighty pretty; who do you think you got your looks from?"
"You, Daddy - everyone says I look just like you."
"That's right. But you got some of your mama in you too, and all your pretty features come from her; you'd look real funny if you had my bushy eyebrows and four-o clock shadow, wouldn't you?
Giggles. I hear lots of giggles and one deep chuckle.
"So is she?"
"Is she what?"
"Prettier than my mama?"
"Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Elizabeth. Some might say she is, and some might say she's not, but I think they're both pretty in their own way."
"Bip, you're gonna be late for school – we don't have time for listing attributes."
"I'm not, listing, Daddy. I just got one more question and then I'll hush my mouth and give your poor ears a rest, okay?
"Uh-huh ... seems I've heard that a time a two and never once did it not wind up with my ears getting a workout."
"Fine, but just one more."
"Are you gonna marry Mizz Bella?"
"You said I could ask …"
"Well, are you? Because if you do, it would be just fine with me, Daddy. She's real nice, real pretty, and she smells like … like … Mee-Maw's kitchen after she's put up her strawberry jam."
I hear another deep chuckle, followed by a huge sigh.
"How about if I took her to see a movie first, would that work for now?"
"No, not really, Daddy."
"Not even if I buy her popcorn and a drink?"
"Well, maybe if it was the big popcorn and the big drink … and there'd have to be candy too. She likes Junior Mints best."
"You mean YOU like Junior Mints best."
"I do, Daddy, I really do. They taste just like my mouth tastes after I eat chocolate and you make me brush my teeth; like chocolate mint teeth, but better.
"You ain't right, you know that girl?"
"I know Daddy, but you love me anyway."
That's right. Now how bout you give your daddy a kiss and get your things together, because today is your last day of school and I know you don't want to miss that, Sugar."
"Okay, if you're sure she ain't dead …"
"Isn't," I murmur. My face is planted sideways into the softest pillow I've ever known. In fact, the entire bed feels like I'm sleeping on a cloud of billowing, white down; it's so soft and enveloping that I never want to leave the confines of its heavenly embrace.
I sit up, bewildered. It takes me a full second before everything clicks into place. I'm here in Boots' house, in Boots' bed. Images of last night flood through my brain and into my cheeks, as I remember his fiery words, hot mouth, and strong hands. They touched me everywhere. I turn my reddened face into the pillow.
"Now go on and give Mizz B a hug and get on downstairs. I hear Pee-Paw's truck coming down the drive."
I feel the weight of her exuberant, boisterous, and all little-girl-giggles as she jumps on the bed.
"Bye, Mizz Bee," she says, all breathy and high pitched. "I'll see you this afternoon, okay?" she says, planting a huge kiss on my cheek. My hand lifts of its own accord and I tug a coppery curl away from her forehead and tuck it behind her ear. My eyes catch Boots and I see his grin fade and his eyes avert. I wonder if I overstepped.
"I'm just gonna take Bip down to meet Paw-paw at the door. "
Sitting up, I nod, unsure if I should join him or just stay put.
"Don't move – I'll be right back with coffee – uh unless you'd rather have a Coke or a glass of tea?"
His uncertainty about my early morning beverage choice, make me smile; there's still so much we don't know about each other.
I don't much care for coffee, although I often make a pot out of habit; Aunt Margaret couldn't bear the thought of beginning her day without her morning constitution. Plus, it does smell so very good. Still, I've always been a hot tea, two sugars, and a dash of milk girl, but he didn't offer that, so coffee it is.
He grins and heads out the door. I listen to his pitter-pat as he pads down the hall. I consider snuggling back into the pillows but decide to take advantage of the moment to use the bathroom and brush my teeth just in case he might want to give me a kiss.
I hope he wants to give me a kiss.
As soon as I finish rinsing my mouth, I hear him downstairs, wishing Bip a happy day and telling her to be smart. I run back to the bed and climb in – he did tell me not to move. I laugh at my foolishness.
A moment later, he's at the door with two steaming mugs in his hands.
"Uh, I know you said coffee's fine, but I remember you drinking tea at Miss Vicks, so I made you a cup. I hope that's okay …" he says, toeing his feet and looking a little shy.
And that's when it happens
I fall head over heels in love with Edward Cullen.
It doesn't matter that his version of hot tea is so sweet that my teeth hurt or that it's black, and I prefer mine with a dash of milk, or even that it's so hot my tongue throbs upon my first sip.
It's the crooked smile and the way he sets the tray on the edge of the bureau.
It's the delicate teacup – white with yellow daisies – that he places in my outstretched hands.
It's the way he tucks my hair behind my ear and kisses the tip of my nose.
It's the way he crouches by the side of the bed and looks at me as I take my first scalding sip.
I blow at the cup, and he laughs.
"I nuked it."
"I can tell."
"Want me to get you some ice?"
"No ... it'll be fine in a minute." I set it on the nightstand. When I turn my face back to his, I smile.
He leans in for a kiss. My lips hurt from the hot tea, and they're sore from the workout they got last night, but none of that matters; I'm kissing Edward Cullen and I think, no – I know- I love him.
He tastes like coffee and mint and all the good things.
I love him.
The kiss is soft and sweet, and my heart pitters and patters and skips around my chest like it doesn't know where it's going. I don't care … I know if I'm with him that I'm not lost anymore.
His eyes are shut, and I watch them open, all soft and green. My hand drifts to his hair, and I run my fingers through the shiny strands as they catch the first rays of the early morning light. He leans into deepens the kiss and my head hits the back of the headboard.
We laugh, the moment broken.
I bite my bottom lip and grin back at him.
"So, fine," he whispers in my ear. I roll my eyes at the ridiculousness of his words, feel my heart flutter at the sweetness of them, and curl my toes at the sensuous way they vibrate against the shell of my ear. I watch his mouth begin to position itself into its classic smirk – a look I despised on him when we first met but have now grown to adore. I lean in and press my lips gently on them. His eyes widen a bit as I move in for another kiss and then another and then another. I kiss his face like a train going around the track; first stop, mouth. Next stop, nose. Last stop, forehead. When I reach his temple, he grabs my hand and gently kisses my wrist.
And that's the moment I know … I know he loves me too.
I remove my hand from his and run it through his hair. I love his hair; it looks like autumn in northern New England, all russet leaves, pumpkins, cider, and gingerbread. I laugh at my analogy; he may be one hundred percent southern, but his hair is New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.
"What?" He whispers against my lips. "What?" he repeats as he lays me back against the pillows. I sigh deeply when I feel the weight of him, the weight of the man that I love, as he lays on top of me. I press my hand into the small of his back, and I feel the flex of his muscles as he buries a hand underneath my bottom, holding me closer as he deepens the kiss.
"Well, ain't this sweet …"
We both sit up with a jolt, the moment broken. Rose is standing in the doorway with a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes.
"What-in-the-ever-lovin …? Don't you believe in knocking?"
She rolls those twinkling blues at Boots and gives me a wink.
"I ran into Daddy coming down the drive. Bip told me ya'll were up here havin coffee; how the hell was I sposed to know that ya'll were goin to be makin bacon to go along with it? Because Lord … I ain't no Alice, just sayin."
Boot's lets out a huff that sounds like a cross between a sigh and a growl, and Rose chuckles.
"I brought some uniforms for Bella to try on. I figured you'd have left by now – don't you have to open the garage this morning?"
"Naw, Jake said he'd open the shop this morning. I figured I would drive Bella over to Burger and give her the lay of the lands, so to speak before I got started with my day."
"Huh. Well, I'm here now so you can just go on in; I'm sure she'll be just fine. Besides, I know the 'Lay of the Land' as well as you do – probably better; just ask my poor feet."
I watch as Boots' eyes narrow, and Rose's bright grin falters, just a teeny bit.
"Here, honey … you go put on this while I get my kit from the car."
Warily, I look at the Pepto Bismol pink uniform that Rose is handing me.
"Whoa … first of all, hell no - that uniform ain't gonna fit Bella. Look at it – it's way too short for her!"
"Oh, Boots – shut-up; Bella's got to wear a uniform according to the Burger bylaws set by Mama and Daddy and this is the only one available. I'm sure she can manage to squeeze her tail into it; she ain't no bigger than a mite. I'll order one or two in her size this morning but they won't be ready till Friday."
"Second of all," he continues, "What kit?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You know what."
"The hell I do."
"No – she ain't gonna go around town looking all tarted up like some kind of a hootchie mama getting the rednecks, and the local yahoos all in a tizzy and twirl. I got enough on my plate without having to clean half the clocks in this town, and she's already been through the damn ringer, and that's the truth."
"She's gonna have to make some tips, Boots."
"Bella don't need all that shit on her face; she's pretty enough without the benefit of Miss Mary Kay, and that's a fact."
"Oh, and I suppose I do … is that what you're implying?"
"Not everything is about you, Rose."
I watch in fascination as the two of them jockey insults back and forth like a tennis match. I feel the anxiety growing in the pit of my stomach.
Rose's pretty face falls, and I hope the match is over. I watch her shrug, and then square her shoulders.
"No, everything isn't about me, Boots, and that's a fact. But it would be awfully nice if it could be about me every once in a while."
Slowly, I see the annoyance leave Boots' face. He lets out a small sigh and mutters, "Fine."
I take the too-tiny uniform from her outstretched arms and nudge past them. Just as I turn the corner, I see Boots wrap an arm around Rose and watch him hug her tightly. I hear his quiet words murmuring, "You're still the prettiest girl in six counties, Rose."
My heart warms at his sweet reassurance to Rose, and I feel tears spring to my eyes.
He's a good man, I think to myself. A very good, sweet, and kind man, even if he is a little too controlling, and rough around the edges.
To prove my point, I hear him clear his throat, followed by an all too familiar sound.
"Ew, Boots; that's gross. Use a tissue; the trash can is not a Booger Vault. Lord."
I'm sipping my now, cold, tea when he returns.
"Hi," I say, smiling into my cup.
"So … yeah. I've decided it's probably best for me to shut my mouth," he says, biting his bottom lip.
I laugh outright.
"I mean … I just don't want you to think I'm this possessive asshole, who controls your every move. '
"I don't … I mean … I'd tell you if you were crossing a line."
"It's just … I've seen your bruises, Bella. I've felt your fear."
'Listen," I stand and go to him and toy with his color. His ears go a bit pink. I think he likes it. "I know you're not James, okay?"
"No, I'm not. But we really don't know each other all that well yet, and I don't want to presume …"
I tug his collar a little, and his face bows down. I kiss his lips – lips that know me far better than his brain does, I suppose, but, hey – it's a start.
"I trust you, Boots."
At that, he sort of melts into me, and I feel the back of my knees touch the mattress. But we don't lie down, and we don't start kissing each other, madly. Instead, we just sit there, on the edge of the bed, holding each other. It's quiet and intimate and just, lovely. Yes, it's lovely.
"I'm going to work now, okay?"
We laugh. Neither of us seems to want to move.
"We need to figure this out."
"You, mean, us?"
"Us, James, everything; you can't let him get away with what he's done or what he'll do again, Bella. "
"I know. I know that, Boots. But I'm scared. I don't want to be, but I am. Just my being here is putting you and your family at risk … "
"Stop that." He takes my chin in his hand and forces me to look directly at him.
"You're not alone in this anymore. Got it?"
My eyes cast down, and he gently jerks my chin upward.
"Okay. This isn't the time for us to be having this conversation. But, we've got to have it sooner rather than later, Bella. Now I don't want to get you fired up, but I am going to start making some inquiries about James fucking Witherdale."
"No! Boots – you can't just call the police or the college … you've got to be so careful. He said he'd kill my mother … for all I know, he might have done that already. Please, please …"
"Hey … what happened to, "I trust you, Boots?"
I feel my face flame. He runs a long finger across my cheek and chuckles.
"Mm-hmm … trust is a process, even a damn country hick like me, knows that. But, I want you to trust me on this one. I've got good instincts and even better contacts. I'm not gonna call the school directly, and I won't call them from here, but they need to be investigated, girl."
I open my mouth to protest, but he pinches them closed with a raised brow.
"I won't do nuthin that'll put you or your family in danger, okay?"
I nod, mutely.
"And … I'm not gonna do anything that'll put anyone here in danger, either. Okay?" He replaces his fingers with his mouth and gives me a quicker than I'd like, kiss.
"I'll see you later."
A kiss on the forehead, a murmured, "K" and and he's gone.
Fifteen minutes later, I'm sitting on the edge of the bed, getting all 'tarted' up.
"I declare, I never thought he'd leave. Now here ... let me do your hair, and then we'll see about that pretty face, okay?"
I nod my head absently, my thoughts far, far away from hair and makeup. I'm still thinking about last night and the way we made love.
Fucked, Bella – ya'll fucked. Go ahead and say it – nobody's up listening to your thoughts, but you, girl. Lord … as if there'd be room for company in this nuthouse.
I feel my cheeks flame – apparently, my inner thoughts have morphed into their own persona, and judging by her tone and attitude, she's developed a personality and accent to match the natives of Masenville.
I think I like her.
"Hmm …. I don't know what's going on behind those pretty brown eyes of yours, but they sure done got your cheeks fired up – I don't think we'll need the blusher after all," she teases, powdering my nose with a flourish.
I look up at her and smile, saying: "A girls got to have some secrets, Rose."
A slow smile spreads across her face.
"Okay, who are you, and where did you hide Bella's body?"
Chuckling, I walk over to the long mirror in back of the bedroom door. A dark-eyed girl, in a too-short uniform, stares back – her hair is teased and pulled back with the silliest looking kerchief imaginable. Her lips and cheeks rival the pink of her curve-hugging uniform. The whole effect should be completely absurd - and in truth, it is - yet somehow she looks both innocent and sexy.
I take one last look at the girl in the bubblegum uniform, and she gives me a cheeky wink.
"Yep." I grab my pocketbook and start out the door.
"Oh, and Bella?"
"Hmm?" I pause.
"You do know how to roller-skate, right?"
B/N: This Here is Boots. Now, I know it's been a long-ass time since Miss Jayne done wrote Jack-shit. Poor ole thing has had a lot on her plate, and that's the truth. Still, it ain't been easy to wait for her to get her ass back in gear. I mean ... she left me in bed with Bella for goin on three years. Now, I ain't complaining bout that ... Lord, knows. But, it's like we've been frozen ... never movin forward, or something. And then when she finally brought us back to life, we woke up to find the whole damn world has done lost it's ever lovin mind.
Now, I ain't gonna offer ya'll any explanation for that ... in my time, it's still 2015. But ... I can offer ya'll the rest of our story, because like Mizz Jayne says -
It deserves to be told.
Also ... I figure ya'll could use a lil perk right about now, and that's the truth. I might not be all that and a bag of pork rinds, but I do know how to make a girl perk.
Now, I gotta go shave. Three year's ain't exactly scruff, js.
Ya'll stay smart, now.