"How do any of us know where the strands of our lives are interwoven?"
― Claire Duende
I wake to the smell of coffee and bacon.
He's lying next to me in the same white comforted bed that I slept in on my first night at Miss Vicks.
Miss Vick …
Memories of us drinking on her porch last evening rise to the fore, and unfortunately, so does the bile in my throat. I sit up and am about to put one foot on the floor when I spot a bottle of water with a tiny post-it on the nightstand.
And next to it is a bottle of Tylenol
And next to the Tylenol is a pair of reading glasses
I follow the instructions in the order given and pick up the pale blue note.
I'm not sure how much you're gonna remember after last night's porch party with Miss Vick. To say ya'll were snookered would be kind, and that's the truth.
Still, I imagine you'll wake up full of regrets.
I know asking you to marry me when you're two-sheets to the wind, was not the stuff dreams are made of. Hell – even a simple man like me knows a thing or two about the kind of stuff you girls dream about, and this proposal ain't likely to be high on the list. That said, I wouldn't change a thing.
You were so damn cute last night … I swan, I couldn't resist! The second I pulled up and saw the two of ya'll sprawled on the front porch was all the incentive I needed. I grabbed the first thing I saw that would work as a ring. (That's why you woke up to a damn lug nut on your finger instead of a diamond.) Anyway, I'll be rectifying that soon, too.
… If you'll let me.
For now, let the pills do their job.
Also … I love you.
Despite my head's ache and my stomach's mild revolt, my heart is full to the brim.
And while my addled brain remembers snatches of conversation with Miss Vick, it is also flooded with memories of Boots.
The tender way he carried me upstairs
The way he held my hair back as I retched, repeatedly, into the commode
The warmth I felt as he wiped my face with a cool towel
The small wink he gave me as he helped me brush my teeth
The loving way he placed me on the bed and told me he wouldn't leave me
The kiss he placed on my forehead before he curled up next to me
I glance at my finger, and sure enough, a too-big lug nut stares back at me – the cool of the metal catching a ray of sunshine as it filters through the lacy curtains. I touch it lightly and smile. No way will I ever give this ring up – even if he does replace it with a diamond, I'll always wear it close to my heart.
A light rap at the door, followed by a hissed, "It's just me, Ro … can I come in or are ya'll doin the nasty?"
I chuckle and whisper, "Come in."
"Oh lord … Boots is still sleeping. I declare, he never sleeps in – you must have given him quite a workout last night, hun."
"Go away," Boots groans into his pillow."
"I've got coffee …." She sings.
She laughs and sets two mugs on the nightstand. She glances at the note Boots wrote and smiles.
"Aw … he wrote you a lil love note? Lemme see."
"You read that note, and I'll tell Miss Vick about the time I caught you and Em rolling around in her feather bed while she was downstairs watching Guiding Light. I swear, I will."
"Psh … like that'd stop me. Anyhow, I only came up to let ya'll know that Ali carried Elizabeth over to Penelope Hogg's house about an hour ago. They've got a play date, but ya'll have to pick her up by four; she don't want to miss Shelly's cake.
"I wouldn't read your love note anyway, Boots. That's private, just like my relationship with him was." She opens the door and closes it gently.
"I shouldn't have brought Em up to her like that," he says, sitting up. His hair is rumpled and sticking up like a rooster's comb. I lean in and smooth it a little.
He leans in for a kiss, and I allow him to give me a little peck. I'm certain I have morning breath, and after last night's vomiting, I don't want to kill the poor man.
I reach over to retrieve the coffee and hand him his mug. It's red and has a picture of the Jonas Brothers on the front.
He laughs … "This mug has some age on it; I think this was Ali's back when we were in high school," he chortles.
"I liked them back then, too. I wanted to see them in concert, but I didn't have anyone to go with back then."
"Well, I saw them back in the day. Twice. Damn, girls. Carlisle made me escort them." He sighs, taking a sip.
I laugh, taking a sip of my own coffee. My mug is blue with yellow daisies. The coffee is strong, but not bitter. It's sweetened with cream and sugar, and even though I do prefer tea, nothing tastes as good as the first sip does this morning.
"How's your head?"
"It's getting there," I smile into my mug.
"And your heart?"
I don't answer him. Instead, I set the mug back down on the nightstand and place my hands on his face.
I love his face; he's so very handsome.
I love his eyes; they're so green and so very hopeful.
"It's saying that I love you."
He turns his face slightly and kisses my hands.
Leaning over me, he sets his mug next to mine.
"Do you remember last night?" he asks, taking my left hand in his. He touches the lug nut and shyly smiles.
"So, do I," he laughs softly.
I bite my lip and start to reach for the mug, but he stills my arm.
He chuckles at my use of his formal name.
"Did you mean it?"
"You know what," he says, stroking my ring finger.
"We're crazy; you know that, right?"
I nod my head.
"As my assistant would say, "Bat-shit."
"We say that around here a lot, too."
"I imagine so."
He laughs again and tickles my side.
We wrap around each other and snuggle like two spoons in a drawer.
"Bella … do you think we're rushing into things?"
I turn and look at him.
"I know I should say, yes – considering all I've been through and how little time we've known each other. But, no. This … this feels right. Why – do you? I mean … if you're having second thoughts, I can …" I say, removing the ring.
"I have been waiting a decade and a half to marry you, Dr. Swan," he says, sliding the lug-nut back on my finger and kissing it.
"What do you mean – decade?" I laugh.
"Didn't you hear me the night I told you about the vision I had as a kid?"
I look at him, confused. "You mean about the couple making love in the lake? I thought I dreamed that."
He presses a kiss on my temple and rolls me over to face him.
"It wasn't a dream, sugar." He leans in to kiss me, but I shrink back.
"We need to brush our teeth first!"
"Lord, what's a little morning breath between fiancés'?" he grumbles, good-naturedly.
Fiancé … I love that word.
We flop back on the bed and smile.
My stomach rumbles loudly.
"How's your tummy; still feeling queasy?"
"Nope. I feel a lot better this morning than I did last night. I'm actually getting a bit hungry."
"Well, if my nose is correct, I believe someone's frying bacon. You wanna go raid the kitchen with me?"
I look at him all rumpled bed-head and bare chest, and I grin.
"You betch'em, Red Rider."
"Red Rider, huh?"
"More like, Rhode Island Red."
"Great, now I look like Foghorn."
"You do resemble a rooster with that hair, Boots."
"Well, you look like a red rooster done run amuck in that hair."
We sit grinning at each other like a couple of fools in love.
"Last one down is a rotten egg," he says, darting for the door.
I dash after him like the loon that I am, but he catches me before I open the door.
He leans in for a kiss and then whispers in my ear, "I love you."
He shuts the door and turns the lock.
We don't make it down in time for bacon, after all.
Miss Vick is standing over the massive stove, flipping pancakes when we arrive, freshly showered, and (As Jess would say) freshly fucked, thirty minutes later.
"I'm going to let Bertie out to do his business, and then I'll check on Foghorn," he says, with a kiss on my cheek.
"Well, look who all decided to finally show up – guess Crow needed her beauty rest, bless her heart."
Boots chuckles as he reaches for the leash. Bertie squirms happily in his arms; he is so adorable.
She turns to look at me.
"On second thought, I think a few more hours would have done the trick, laws. What on earth has gotten into your hair, woman?"
Boots, I think to myself. He got into my hair, and well, other things. I guess I should have looked for a blow dryer.
I feel my face heat up.
"Pink is your color, Crow."
"According to Boots, pink is your preferred choice as well; at least as far as your unders go," I quip, not wanting her to get the best of me.
"It is not – I like purple best," she says without batting an eye. "Now sit down in the breakfast room, and I'll bring these in directly."
"Where's Miss Shelly?"
"It's her birthday today, so I gave her the day off. But she'll be by this evening with her children. We saved the angel cake from last night, and if I have the strength, I might fix up a Cheerwine punch and maybe, some homemade lemon ice cream."
"I didn't know you cooked."
"Oh, there's still a great deal you don't know about me, Isabella."
She spins around, hands on her hips.
"For heaven's sake, Crow – if you were my English Professor, I'd have reported you years ago. Umm is not a word; it's a grunt."
"Sorry – I just … I wanted to thank you for sharing your story with me last night."
"The one about you and Bobby -"
She turns around surprisingly fast for a woman who admitted she's nearly ninety-years old.
"Isabella – you know the reason I told you that story, don't you?"
I think about it for a second, but I can't guess her motivation for sharing with me unless …
"I remind you of yourself."
"A plus, Doctor Swan."
"Because I was once very much like you, that's why. All academics and passion for my career, but little else. And just like you, when the going got tough, I ran."
"Yes, but you ran home to your father – to a place where you felt love. I didn't do that – I escaped."
"Oh, pish … you were running to your mama, and when she wasn't there for you, you ran back to Massachusetts or would have done had your truck not broke down in Masenville. Am I right?"
I thought about it for a moment and nodded my head in agreement.
"You have to make a choice, Crowsie. The buck can stop here - or you can head back home to New England, file a report, and then wait it out. Sooner or later, the police will find his sorry-ass, or he'll find you. Either way, you have some decisions to make."
"Yes, I do. But I don't want to leave here just yet."
"But I have obligations; James - he told the college that we were married and that I resigned. By now, Jasper must be frantic."
"Well, your face isn't on a milk jug, Crow. David Muir doesn't seem the least concerned - Nancy Grace hasn't taken up your cause - and Oprah hasn't come out of retirement. A young college professor's gone missing, and no one seems to be worried? You don't think that's might peculiar?"
"What are you two goin on about?" Asks Boots, as he comes back in the yellow kitchen with Bertie in tow.
"We're just speculating as to why no one seems to have reported Isabella's disappearance."
"Huh. Well, I guess that does seem a bit off," admits Boots.
"Here, you carry these in the breakfast room. It's just us – Rosalie and Mary-Alice are working the morning shift today. Carlisle is closing early so we can get things ready for the party tonight."
We go inside the sunny breakfast room (the old Butler's Pantry, according to Mizz Vick.)
After we've said the blessing and passed the pancakes, sausages, and fried apples, we eat in silence, aside from a "this is so good," and, "I know I shouldn't, but …"
"I got a text from Emmett," Boots says, breaking our quiet.
"Laws … what on earth has that chap been up to?" asks Miss Vick.
"Well, he's still I Boston, but he's been working on a case with the FBI. Says he's coming south in the next few weeks, and he'll stop by to see us if he's in the area."
"My – the FBI. I always knew that boy had a head for sleuthing. He and I used to watch Law and Order together, remember?" She says, gathering up the now empty pancake platter and whisking it off to the kitchen. She's certainly nimble for a woman of such advanced age, and I wonder why, when I met her, she seemed so fragile. And what happened to her cane?
"Bella?" I look at Boots' face and know he's holding something from me.
"Tell me – Did Emmett mention anything about going to the police, or …?"
"He suggested I check with the local police and have your name run through the system, but I don't know …" He says uncomfortably.
"Is it because you spent time in the system?"
His ears go pink, and he looks embarrassed. He rubs the back of his neck and then pinches his nose. I may not know everything about Edward Cullen, but I do know some of his tells. He'd be a terrible poker player.
"Maybe I can look some things up online or go down to the station myself."
Just as he is about to answer, he receives a text. It's from Ali.
Wide-eyed, he hands it to me.
I know you don't trust my visions, yet, Bella, and Boots – well he's always dismissed me as bat-shit. But I had a clear vision just now of you going to the cops. Don't go. Not yet. Everything is unfolding just as it's meant to. Will explain more later. Luv ya'll. Xo Mary Alice
"How does she …"
"It's Mary Alice," he shrugs, like that explains it all.
"Wow – that was …"
"Creepy? Yeah, it was. But again, that's …"
"I'm not going to the police just yet," I decide on the spot.
"No. But I need to look at something. Does Miss Vick have the internet?"
He laughs, relieved. "It's in the library. We'll look some stuff up after we help Ant V clean up.
"And Bella?" His face looks earnest.
"I'm not proud of my time in prison, but that would never stop me from going to the police. I'll do anything to keep you safe."
I give him a kiss in the middle of his forehead and tuck an unruly lock behind his ear.
"I know. I know you would, Boots." I lean in and whisper in his ear. "You need a haircut."
"Yes, Ma'am, I do."
Thirty minutes later, and a promise from Miss Vick that she'll take a nap, "Once I've finished making the punch," we're in the massive library in search of her computer.
"She doesn't get on this thing as much as she used to," says Boots, running the mouse over a Disney-themed mouse pad. I expected it to be a huge monstrosity – maybe even an HP from the late 90s, but it's quite, state of the art, and sleek.
"Carlisle and Esme bought her this for Christmas after her old HP bit the dust."
I chuckle to myself and take a seat next to Boots.
"What do you want to look up?"
I type in Facebook and start to login.
Puzzled, I stop my hand from clicking.
"Nothing. It's just … do you think James can track your location if you log in?"
I close my eyes and think about it.
"Maybe. I mean … I can log on and change my password, but he's really clever; he might be able to hack the IP address."
God – I never even thought about that! I had considered logging on to my Howie email, but James being James, he's probably monitoring that. Even if the school did accept our resignation, our emails are good for life.
"How about I log into my account and just put Jasper's name in the general search engine – maybe he'll have a post or something that'll turn up."
Boots does as he suggests, and soon, Jasper's round, chubby, face pops up. I feel my eyes well – I miss him so much!
"Hey – you okay?" I nod my head.
"I'm not going to click on his profile … I'll just see if he's posted anything at all that might pop up in the newsfeed."
I don't see anything recent and certainly no clues. I'm about to give up when I see that he posted something on FB market a few days ago.
It's a bunch of Civil War memorabilia – the kind of stuff he's always buying, selling, or trading, but I look at it more closely.
It's the stuff I sold to the kid in Georgia when I needed money for gas – the things that were in the back of the pickup!
"What is it?"
I explain to Boots about the exchange with the gas attendant.
"So, Jasper must have found it – but how?"
"I don't know … but he belongs to all kinds of history groups, so my guess is the guy I sold this to must have posted it on a site that Jazz frequents."
"And he's putting it back up for sale to let you know that he knows … something?"
"I think so, yes."
"He's right smart."
"Yes, he is. So, now what?"
"Well, I could make a bid on that musket; it's sweet." Boots jokes.
"But what if James bought it from the kid, and this whole thing is a ploy to lure me out?"
"What if he did? So, what - I'm not afraid of his sorry-ass."
I chuckle at his words and exit out of FB and fiddle with a few things.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm changing Miss Vick's IP address just to be on the safe side."
"How do you know … "
He sees my arched brow and grins.
"Right - college professor, silly ole, stupid me."
I laugh. "Nah … I work with a bunch of guys; they're devious. Sometimes, students end up being the teacher, Boots," I say absently, clearing the history, and shutting down the computer.
"Remind me to never get on your bad side."
I laugh – "If you only knew how antiquated my laptop and cell are, you wouldn't say that. Jasper makes fun of me all the time."
"Well, you certainly seemed pretty tech-savvy just now."
"I have to keep up with technology because of my job, but I don't embrace it. How about you … you surprised me with a FB profile. Do you have other accounts, too?"
"Ahh …" His face reddens.
"Oh, my goodness … you DO! What – Instagram?"
"Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest."
"Hey – I'm a single dad – I have to cook and sew – and do not get me fired up about those damn projects Bip brings home; I swan, I put in a lot more hours than she does on those fool things, and that's the truth."
"So, no dating sites?"
"Pft … I told you – until I met you, I'd sworn off women."
"You liked that Northern Aggression."
"You bet your sweet Yankee-ass; I do." He leans in and gives me a kiss.
That kiss leads to another and then another and then …
"If you two ruin my carpet or leave any kind of stain on my divan, there's gonna be hell to pay, I swanny. Now, if you're done in there - and you'd best be done in there - I suggest ya'll high-tail it. Esme is on the way to help me get things ready, so no need to have you two love-birds underfoot."
We break apart, laughing.
"So, what do you wanna do before we have to fetch Elizabeth from her play-date?"
One little smile is all it takes.
"Get in the car."
Turning the Volvo on to a dirt road, Boots gives me a sly grin.
"Wait – this isn't your house?" I say, confused.
He shakes his head and chuckles.
"Is that where you thought I was taking you?"
"Well, I mean … either that or maybe the lake – somewhere private."
I slap his chest lightly.
"Oh, shut-up … you know you gave me the look back at Miss Vicks."
"Hmm … the look, huh?" he says, waggling his brows as he pulls in front of what appears to be a cabin, or maybe, a bungalow.
"What is this place?"
He doesn't answer but points to a faded sign that I somehow missed seeing. I squint my eyes, trying to read the peeling letters. Boots shakes his head, reaches in the glove compartment, and hands me a pair of very ugly readers. I put them on, and he says, "Cute." I give him an exaggerated eye roll and look at the sign once more -
Boiling Springs Children's Home
"Is this …?"
"Where I grew up. Well, until Carlisle and Esme adopted me, anyway. And even then, I was a day student here on and off for years."
"Wow. Is it closed? I thought Carlisle said he still had a few boys that needed remedial English classes this summer."
"Yes and no – this is the old part of the campus; I took you in the back entrance. The new buildings are up that way," he says, pointing to the right. I can barely make out the slope of a roof-line.
I look around and see several more structures. They're not exactly like a summer cabin – these have solid looking foundations and wrap-around porches. They're in various states of disrepair.
"We called these Bungies, back in the day."
I walk around the woodsy lawn and pick up a loose shingle.
"Yeah ... I know … they all need some work. We've talked about getting them repaired and maybe offering them to folks who want a weekend getaway, but none of us have the time to do it right now," he says, walking up the steps with me in tow.
He removes a key from his pocket and roots around until he finds the right one. He has so many keys – it seems to me that men always do for some reason. I remember Charlie had a ring with keys from every car he ever owned. I once asked him why, and he just chuckled. 'I guess no man ever wants to get rid of his cars, Bella. This way here, we get to keep a little piece of them.'
Boots opens the door, and we walk inside.
It's dark – but when he opens the blinds, I can see more clearly.
"Is there electricity?"
"Yeah, I have a lamp somewhere," he says, locating it and flicking on the switch.
"We were gonna cut the power off to save some cash, but we don't want a mold problem. There's an air conditioner in the bedroom," he says, walking into another room.
I look around at what appears to be a common living space. There's an old plaid couch, two recliners, and a small coffee table, covered with old magazines and a few dusty books.
I pick one up and look at it: Watership Down. I open the cover and in neat letters I read: Property of Edward Anthony (Masen) Cullen. My eyes water a little seeing his former name crossed out and replaced with Cullen. He has so much history I still don't know about, but I want to know him – all of him. I run my fingers down the spine and think of the nights he must have spent here, just waiting for his life to begin.
I set it down and walk to the small room where Boots is fiddling with the AC. He gives up and turns the overhead fan on instead.
He looks up and smiles shyly, toeing his boot.
"So, yeah. This was my room."
The walls are knotty pine, but they're covered with fading pictures and curling posters.
"Sarah Michelle Geller?"
"What? She was hot in 1997."
"Bare Naked Ladies?"
"Hey … they were rad back in the day," he quips using air-quotes.
I shake my head at his silliness and look a little closer at the pictures of lifted trucks, a Hummer, and of all things – a '53 Ford pick-up
"What is this? Oh, my God … and there you were, hating on Jasper's beast!"
"I know," he grins. "I loved that damn thing the second I saw it."
"Are you kidding me right now… you called it a POS, and me a Masshole!"
"Well, you called me a redneck and a dirty mechanic."
We both let out exaggerated sighs. Of course, he gilds the lily and tosses me a wink for good measure.
I roll my eyes and glance around the spartan room. There's a desk under the window and a chair in one corner. A door leads to, what I assume, is a bathroom. On the desk are dozens of black and white composition books. I pick one up and see it's some sort of journal. I adjust the readers and open the flap.
"Mmm … maybe don't read those, right now. Unless you plan on taking a long nap, that is."
"Are they diaries?"
He laughs. "If you wanna call them that, mostly just musings and poems. A few songs I wrote. Stupid stuff, ya know?" He shrugs, all pink-tipped ears and self-deprecating smiles. I want to jump on him right now.
"Naw, I don't sleep."
"Pft – you snored so loud last night you shook the rafters, Boots."
"Aw, hell … that weren't snoring that shook those rafters, baby-girl."
"Wait – you mean we …?"
He smiles and walks over to the blank wall and hits a button. A Murphy bed pops out and slides down into position.
"I ain't one to make love to a woman when she's two sheets to the wind, Bella. Your virtue was safe with me last night," he says with a smirk.
"How about now?" I say, running my hands over the plaid sheets, and tossing my hair, seductively, (I hope) over my shoulder. His eyes darken. Uh-oh – I know that look.
But not too fast. I want to be caught. Still, I know Boots enjoys a challenge, so I pretend to stumble at the doorway.
"Gotcha!" he whispers in my ear.
He scoops me up and tosses me on the bed, but I miss and land on the floor with a thud.
"You okay?" he asks, kneeling in front of me – all furrowed brows and concern.
I don't answer – I'm too busy unbuckling his button-fly jeans.
I look up at the bed, but Boot's mouth works its way down my neck, spreading a trail of kisses that feel like wildfire. When his lips find my breasts, and my hand wraps around his hard, smooth, length - I realize …
We aren't going to make it that far.
And we don't.
It's all panting and kissing and clothes flying. I am the aggressor – a real first for me.
"Those jeans have to go," I demand.
"Yes, Ma'am, they do," he laughs, surprised by my forwardness. He lifts his hips, and I pull them, and his boxers down in one fell swoop. I toss them on the bed and notice the plaids of his boxers match the plaid sheets on the bed. That makes me laugh. Maybe he's got a kink for Stewart Tartan?
"I'll tell you later," I say, kissing down his long, lean, torso.
"Where you headin with that mouth?" he asks, with a short, albeit hopeful, laugh.
"The South Pole," I whisper, closing my mouth over his … you-know-what.
Okay, I may not be a prude, but I can't say cock. Not even in my head.
"Yeah baby, kiss my cock – get it all wet and ready for your -"
Oops, I guess I can say cock. More importantly, Boots seems to really like it. He smells wonderful; all woodsy, spicey, and man.
I'm not a pro at this activity – far from it – I've only ever done this once before, and it did not go well. I remember Angus complaining that my heart wasn't in it. He was right; my heart wasn't in it with him. But Boots? Yeah … I am totally into it, and I guess it shows, because one long lick and a few, hard sucks is all it takes to have me flat on my back with Boots face between my legs.
"I love these panties," he says, flipping them to the side and burying his face in my center.
My hands grab his hair, and I practically leap off the floor with one lick of his tongue.
"Oh my God …"
"Naw, it's just Boots," he laughs – the vibrations sending ripples of need and want all over my body.
"But I can see how you might make that mistake," he says, crawling up and giving me a kiss. My laugh is cut short when he lifts my leg and wraps it over his hip. Not bothering to remove my panties, he thrusts, deep inside of me.
We both moan…
I expect it to be all frantic fucking, but he surprises me when he suddenly stops thrusting and takes my face in his hands.
"Hey … open your eyes."
I do and see the tenderness in his eyes. They're so sincere and so very green.
"I love you, Bella," he breathes, burying his face in my neck.
"I love you, too," I say, stroking his hair. My throat is tight with emotion … he loves me. I know he's said it several times today, but this – this is different. It's almost like he's making a vow.
"Bella …" He smooths the hair from my face and places tender kisses on my forehead. We move together slowly, rocking into each other – just feeling the love, that is so much stronger at this moment than the lust that preceded it.
We're lost in each other …
There is no beginning and no end …
With the sun filtering in through the blinds
The soft breeze and hum of the fan
And the face of Sarah Michelle Geller smiling down on us.
B/N: This here is Boots.
Whew ... Mizz J sure did end this one on a private note. Lord - if you think my ears were pink a few times in this here chappie, well, ya'll ought to see them now, and that's the truth. Still, I knew what I was signin up for when I agreed to this here story, so ... enough said. But, damn!
Well, I best be off. I got some thinkin to do bout that sorry piece of crap, James. Lord ... he sure is one crafty SOB. Bella thinks he's gonna outsmart us, but she don't know ole Boots - I got a few tricks up my own sleeve, and that's a fact.
Ya'll stay smart now.
A/N: Special thanks to Fran for the edit. Love ya, Sis!
Also ... just a reminder that this story takes place in 2015 and not 2020. There will be no mention of current politics, or the plague. There will be talk about the confederacy and old Dixie because this is a part of their story, and back in 2015, many of the things that are relevant today, were still on the horizon back then. So for now, transport yourself back to 2015. (Hey ... I just made ya'll five years younger! You're welcome.)
Just a few chapters left, I think. Plus an epi that I personally love, and hope ya'll will, too.
Thanks for reading and for the reviews! xo Jayne