Welcome to What-A- Burger # Unknown
Disclaimer: Now you know I don't own it. But I DO own a two liter bottle of Cherry Sundrop. Don't know what that is? Well, you're gonna have to wait a few more chapters before you find out. ;)
This might be a good time to warn you that this story is going to be an emotional ride. Hang on tight!
When I was twelve years old, I was bitten by a dog, named Happy.
But, three times.
The first time he bit me, I was sitting on Cordelia Atkins front porch reading her dog-eared copy of Little Women and sipping iced tea.
No pun intended.
Cordelia was a friend of my Aunt Margaret, and she was minding me for the afternoon while my aunt readied her classroom for the start of the new school year.
'Be mindful of Happy, Isabella. He doesn't cotton to strangers and he might snap,' She said, lightly, handing me a glass of blackberry iced tea and a few of her famous lemon snaps.
I looked at the adorable pug with the Bugsy Malone eyes and smiled. I'd never been allowed a pet of my own and craved to run my fingers through his short bristles and rub the backs of his ears.
As warned, the first time I attempted to pet him, he snapped at my hand, not enough to draw blood, but enough to leave a small, impression on my palm.
I said nothing about it to Cordelia, as I was afraid she would take him away from me, and despite the slight bite, he appeared to love the attention I was showing his small, compact body. Non-pulsed, I continued to stroke him for a few more minutes, when he suddenly bit me, this time on the tip of my finger. I pulled back, startled and dismayed.
The bite, though minor, smarted, though not nearly as much as his rebuff did to my heart. I went inside to Cordelia's tiny powder room and quickly washed my hands to rid myself of the blood and disappointment, and then searched vainly for a Band-Aid under her sink.
Freshly bandaged and undaunted, I returned to the front porch with a treat in hand; a biscuit I procured from the Premium Saltine tin that rested on Cordelia's gleaming enamel counter.
'Bella, is Happy behaving himself?' She called out from her sewing room in the back of her house.
'Um, yes, Miss Atkins, he is behaving himself. I'm just going to give him a Milkbone,' I lied, determined to win the affections of Happy, whom I feared, wasn't very happy.
But I would make him happy. I knew I could do it; I'd always loved dogs and I had a treat.
I settled down on the large porch swing and began to rock gently. I decided the best strategy was to make him come to me, so I dangled the bone nonchalantly and continued to read my book in the late afternoon sun. He sat there for a few minutes looking at the bone, longingly, wagging his tail in anticipation. I stopped the swing, patted my lap, and purposely held the treat in front of his big brown eyes.
He hopped up on my lap and ate the bone greedily. Excited that my plan to win his affections had worked, I began to pet him gently. He practically purred in canine ecstasy.
He allowed me to scratch, stroke, and love on him for a full thirty minutes, before he let out a big growl,snapped his body around and latched onto my wrist with a searing bite.
I let out a scream that brought both Cordelia, and Mr. Smith, a kindly neighbor who'd been cutting his front lawn, running to my aid.
By the time Mr. Smith was able to remove Happy's teeth from my arm, I was already in the process of bleeding out on Cordelia's blue and white stripped swing. His bite nearly severed my radial artery.
Cordelia rushed to call the ambulance, as well as my Aunt, who arrived the same time as the massive red and white emergency vehicle.
'Isabella, what were you thinking? I told you to give Happy a wide berth … He doesn't like strangers and he was feeling particularly peckish today,' Cordelia chastised, as the EMT lifted me off the porch and rushed me to the waiting car.
I remember my aunt having rather strong words with Cordelia, who continued to blame me for allowing her dog to bite me after I had been more than duly warned.
The lifelong friendship between these two women ended that day, a fact that I mourned and held myself responsible for many years.
As the emergency room doctor stitched my wrist and pumped much-needed blood back into my body, Aunt Margaret smoothed the hair off my face and cried, pitifully.
It was the first time I'd ever seen this formidable woman shed a tear. The sight of her careworn face crumbling over my ignorance on how to make friends with a thirty-pound dog, frankly, confounded me.
'Aunt Margaret?' I asked, drowsily, and just seconds before the sedative the nurse had administered to effect.
'Yes, Isabella?' she sniffled discreetly into her embroidered handkerchief, the one with the blue cornflowers. She wasn't the most demonstrative woman, but I felt her love for me as she stroked my hair.
It's funny the things one remembers. For me, that day will always be cloaked in soft white linen, blue flowers, and doused with the tears of a stoic woman.
'Why, what, Dear?'
'Why did Happy bite me? I thought he liked me. He let me pet him. I gave him treats. He … I … I thought he loved me …' I said as I began to drift towards sleep.
'Sometimes things aren't what they seem, Isabella. Sometimes animals and people turn on a person for no good reason. That's why you have to get to know them well first before you allow them the privilege of your love. Never let anyone, man or beast, work their way into your heart until they've proven themselves to be worth the effort and have earned your trust.'
James asked me out on a Wednesday afternoon, one week after we'd met in the faculty lounge.
I was returning to the little cottage I rented on the outskirt of campus, when I heard the beep of a car horn. I jumped, startled, and dropped my teaching bag on the ground. I watched in dismay as the tests from my Intro to British Literature's class began to litter the expansive lawns, and the orange that I'd never gotten around to eating, rolled swiftly into the street. I was just about to run after it, (why, I couldn't say) when it was immediately squashed by a white Subaru heading south. I heard a car door slam and watched as James narrowly avoided a Volkswagen Beetle that breezed past him as he darted across the street to assist me.
'I'm so sorry I frightened you, Isabella!' he exclaimed, as he scooped up the papers and handed them over to me. The wind was blowing my hair around my face, which was warm and flushed from the encounter. I grabbed my bag and looked, in vain, for the barrette that I wore to keep my long hair in place. I saw James bend over and pick something up which he carefully wiped off with a small, white hanky that he retrieved from his pocket.
'Allow me?' He murmured even as he began to sweep the hair off my face with his gentle hand. He secured the tresses firmly with the ebony and blue crystal barrette, a keepsake from my Aunt Margaret that I would have loathed having lost.
'You're lovely,' he breathed as he ran his finger down my cheek. I blushed, much to my annoyance.
'Have dinner with me,' he asked.
Of course, I agreed to his invitation at once, and arrangements were made for us to have dinner at The Inn, a quaint little restaurant that has graced the Housatonic for well over a century.
I wore a deep, rose-colored dress that I'd bought for a college friend's wedding last year. The color was flattering with my hair and complexion; at least that is what the shopkeeper had declared when I dithered over the cost. But, Aunt Margaret had left me a large sum of money when she passed, which I hadn't touched since her will was read. Besides, I made a decent salary at Haworth-Adams, so I decided to treat myself, accordingly.
'Don't waste your years saving money like I did, Isabella. Money in the bank provides security, but little else. Enjoy the spoils of your labor while you're still young enough to do so … and you might as well enjoy mine as well; I'm not going to live forever, you know.'
I remember deliberating over the appropriateness of the dress as I pressed it for my date with James; it was early February and still rather cold outdoors. But I paired it with a soft, cream angora shrug, a new pair of tights, and my gray suede boots. James told me that I looked good enough to eat. I laughed at his remark which was emphasized by a waggle of his brows and broad wink.
We sat for hours that night, talking, laughing, and flirting.
Well, he flirted while I blushed. I wasn't exactly well schooled in the verses of feminine wiles.
Not that I didn't date; I did, occasionally. But the truth of the matter was no one had ever captured my attention and held it for long.
Until James blew into my life and charmed me with his wit and pulse-racing accent, I think, sardonically, recalling our first date.
It was completely and utterly romantic; our table was next to the large stone hearth where a fire burned and crackled, warming and delighting us both.
We both had the baked haddock that was stuffed with Maine lobster and laced with sherry. Conversation and wine flowed smoothly and effortlessly throughout the evening.
I learned that like me, James was an only child. Unlike me, he'd grown up privileged, in a wealthy family, on the Isle of Wight. His father was a Viscount, a fact that he dismissed with a flourish of his hand, stating," Lords, Viscounts, and the like, are commonplace in England, Isabella. Many families have connections to the crown, but that doesn't make them royalty."
He asked me about myself, naturally, and I told him the basics, not wanting to run him off, poor fellow.
My childhood was haphazard and unconventional, to say the very least.
'So, your mother abandoned you to the care of your aunt after your father died'? I imagined him saying, as he sipped his wine with a frown.
Because this is precisely the sort of thing most men would have said when they discovered that my mother decided to pursue a budding relationship rather than continue providing stability and care for me in Arizona. What they never would know was that for all her faults, Renee loved me enough to stop flitting through my childhood like a shadow, and so, she gave me to someone who was solid and true.
But instead of making me feel defensive about my harebrained mother, James hadn't said anything negative about her. Not even after I told him that she met Phillipa in Florida while she was there having an affair with Phillipa's twin brother, Philip, and decided that she was, in fact, a lesbian.
'I'm sorry Bella, I guess I won't be coming back to get you at the end of summer as I thought. You understand though, right? Besides, Aunt Margaret and you have so much in common; two peas in a pod!
I didn't mean for this to happen, honey, but I love Phillipa … I never felt this way with any man before … Your Auntie Margaret will explain it to you when you're old enough to understand …'
But I couldn't wait for Aunt Margaret to explain what a lesbian was, besides, what was 'old enough?' Always the academic, I went straight to the resource room of the North Branch Library in Concord. Between the leather-bound volume of the slang dictionary and the internet, well, needless to say, I received quite an education that day.
'Just think … If your mother hadn't left you in your Aunt Margaret's care, then you would never have come to live in Massachusetts, nor would you have been exposed to higher education. Those events set you on your own career path, eventually leading you to Old Howie, and ultimately, to me.
So, a toast … to Renee!'
We touched our glasses together, lightly, and I flushed with pleasure; he made me feel so at ease!
After our meal was over, James ordered a bottle of Moscato d'Asti and a berry tart with cream fraîche for dessert.
'To complement your dress, and your complexion,' he explained. I laughed at the seriousness of his ridiculous remark but found he appeared to be quite serious. No matter, I was lulled into a romantic stupor by his honeyed words and the effects of the vine.
He walked me to my car and kissed me lightly on both cheeks.
'Spend tomorrow afternoon with me,' he said. 'Let me steal you away for a bit … There's a place I know you will adore … I'll pick you up at one in front of Thomas Hall. Wear slacks and a pink sweater if you have one; I fancy you in pink.'
I ran to the local ski shop at noon the following day and by one stood waiting for him dressed in a pair of gray woolen slacks and a strawberry colored Shetland adorned with snowflakes.
We took a drive to Stockbridge and explored the quaint town that Rockwell had made famous with his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. We had lunch at The Red Lion, this time, salmon, grilled to perfection and amply basted with cognac and herbs. Later, we drove to The Norman Rockwell Museum, where I was at once enchanted and amazed by the simplicity of his artistry.
'When I think of New England, I always think of Rockwell,' he said, wistfully.
This comment led to the discussion about James' desire to leave England and come to Massachusetts.
'I always pictured myself living here in New England ever since I was a child, actually. One of my ancestors was on the Mayflower; I found that tidbit in our family archives to be fascinating. I've always fancied myself as somewhat of an explorer; perhaps that's why I took a position where I have to constantly travel.'
I reminded him that he was soon to replace Dean Bertie and his travel days would be coming to an end.
'Will you miss being on the road?' I asked.
'I might have had not something new and exciting occurred to keep me tethered to Old Howie.'
'And what's that?' I asked shyly.
He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me into his embrace.
'You,' he murmured against my lips.
That date was the first of many, and over the course of six weeks we'd gotten to know each other better. Being a recruiter, James had to fly out occasionally to train his replacement, but most days he met me after my last class ended and we'd go for walks or an outing.
'Let's go exploring today!' He'd say, with a beaming grin on his face. 'Wear something yellow; I don't want to lose you in our expedition!'
'Pride and Prejudice is on the telly this afternoon; in Spanish! Want to drop by for tacos, Sangria, and Senor Darcy? Wear something red with a bit of black lace, if you have it!'
'Charles Dutoit is conducting a symphony for the Pops this weekend; fancy a trip to Bean Town? Do wear that charcoal skirt with the white lace blouse; it'll match the winter sky.'
James saw everything in color, and at first, I found that to be a most unusual and endearing trait.
We still hadn't taken our relationship to the next level of intimacy, but judging from his amorous overtures and suggestive murmurings, it was only a matter of time.
I was certain I was falling in love with him.
He was gracious, kind, witty, and intelligent; all the qualities I admired in a man.
And, of course, he had that accent.
I know that was superficial of me, but, I am not ashamed to admit that I always adored a handsome man with a sexy accent, even if it does make me somewhat shallow.
Everything was wonderful those first six weeks. Even the bleak winter months had become warmer with James by my side; he made everything lighter and brighter.
The one snag in my blanket of happiness was Jasper.
Jasper Whitlock was a colleague and my best friend. Tall, blonde, and cherubic, Jasper taught U.S. History. His students adored him. He had a flare for the dramatic and it bled into every facet of his lesson plans. Students who took his classes often remarked that his teaching style was reminiscent of Robin Williams in the Dead Poets Society; he had that same fire for making history come to life.
One of Jasper's undergraduate degrees (he had several) was in Criminology. Haworth-Adams didn't offer a degree in Criminology, but his symposiums on British serial killers versus American serial killers, were popular on various college campuses throughout the New England region.
His other passion was Civil War reenactments, a hobby I found puzzling.
'Why are you living here in Massachusetts if your interest is in the Civil War? I would think there would be far more of those activities south of the Mason-Dixon Line.'
'To get inside the Yankee mind,' he grinned, taking a bite out of his meatball grinder. A blob of sauce spilled onto his sweater; he was, alas, somewhat of a slob. 'Besides, I'm too fat to wear the uniforms. You've got to be skinny as a rail to get your ass in those costumes. Anyway, I am terrified of horses and I hate the heat and humidity. Are you gonna eat those fries?'
Originally from Texas, Jasper was single, fun, and quirky. We met my first semester at Haworth-Adams and became friendly straight away. In fact, when I decided to take a sabbatical to England, Jasper decided to take one as well; he'd always been fascinated by England's famous criminals and wanted to explore their lives to the fullest.
Although Jasper was known to be somewhat of a drama queen because of his flamboyant personality, he was assuredly, not gay, as I assumed upon meeting him. (A late night of too much drinking at the local pub had brought on a rather heated kiss in the parking lot.) Although it was a fantastic kiss, as far as kisses go,we both agreed that it left us feeling the need to scrub our mouths with the back of our hands. Definitely not the sensation either of us were hoping for, admittedly. We laughed about it the next day and decided that we would remain friends.
One afternoon, when James was out of town, Jasper took me to lunch at The Commons. We shared a plate of Fish-n-Chips with a side of inquisition.
'How involved are you with James Witherdale?' He asked, stuffing a piece of beer battered cod into his mouth and washing it down with a pint of Samuel Adams.
I remember looking down at my hands and toying with the bracelet James had given to me the night before he left.
It was a charm bracelet of my favorite Jane Austen Novels; Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park.
I loved it and told him so, as I fingered each little silver charm.
'This one's my favorite,' he breathed, as leaned into me and kissed me on the back of my ear.
I remember feeling rather swoony as he plucked at the P&P trinket.
'This is what you were reading the first time I set eyes on you. It's a classic, just like you.'
Jasper repeated his question and had glared at me over his lager.
'Oh, for fuck's sake, please tell me you haven't gone and fallen in love with Happy Gilmore, Bella.'
Did I mention that in addition to the theatrical, Jasper also had a penchant for colorful language and an abundant appreciation for slang?
I looked at him aghast; surely he must be teasing?
'Jasper, you can't be serious; this is James we're talking about … Everyone who knows him loves him!'
'Pft … Who is 'everybody?' A bunch of pimple faced twits with too much of daddy's money and too little of his intelligence to get them into an Ivy League school? Or a few old windbags, like Bertie, who pride themselves on securing a college recruiter with a handsome face, a good wardrobe, and a British accent to give the school an air of superiority?
I'm telling you, Bella, something is off with him; nobody is that 'happy' all the time. I think he's got a whole other side that none of us has seen.
I don't trust him.'
'But .. But, why?' I sputtered. 'He's got a wonderful disposition and a flawless reputation!'
He gave me a long look, took a swig of his beer, and let out a sigh.
'Look, I am not saying he isn't the be all and end all; what I'm saying is that something doesn't sit right with me. He-he ...'
'He gives me a hinky feeling.'
'And what pray tell is, 'hinky?'
'It's a feeling I get when I meet someone who is up to hoo-doo, voo-doo, and other forms of shady fuckery, It's a term cops and detectives use when they get a bad feeling about someone, Bella. It's sort of like … intuition with a topping of goose bumps. It's a way of knowing.'
'Hmm, so what, you're a psychic now? I'm sorry, I didn't know. What do my palms tell you,' I joked, putting them in his face.
He grabbed them both in his hands and clasped them firmly.
'Just be careful with him, Bella, Please.
'And stop saying things like, "Pray Tell." Who the hell talks like that, anyway? I swear you've gotten ten times worse since James started farting around in your life. Seriously.'
I sat even further back in my seat and frowned. I remember thinking for a moment that perhaps, after all, Jasper did have stronger feelings for me than he'd made known.
'You … You're not, jealous, are you? Is that what this is all about? Because I thought we both agreed after we kissed that one time, that we …'
'No, Bella, just … NO. I'm not jealous. I mean, of course, I love you and you're hot as all get out with those spectacles you wear down your cute little nose, but Darlin … you aren't The One.'
I laughed at his expression; The One. Jasper was quite the romantic; he once told me that he'd known ever since he was a young boy growing up wild in Texas that 'The One' was out there somewhere, in this great big world waiting for him to appear. 'I'll know her when I see her,' he always said.
I sighed, relieved. At least I didn't have that to contend with, I remember thinking.
'Just promise me you'll be careful until I get a better feel for him, okay? Now, are we gonna share the Indian pudding or can I have my own this time?'
I agreed to be careful, but Jasper's words both troubled and prickled me; I was positive he had nothing to fear regarding my involvement with James, and that he had grossly misjudged him.
Besides, after years of a solitary life where I was beginning to think love only existed in dark tomes written by hands of long ago, I was now in the midst of a great romance. Fearing that something might be wrong with the hero was not part of the plan.
After that afternoon, I started drifting away, just a bit, from Jasper. I was certain he was wrong, possibly jealous, whether he admitted it or not, and I didn't want him casting a pallor on my budding romance.
I didn't date much as a teenager, and rarely had time for that in college. And then of course there was grad school, where I was on a fast track to getting my Ph.D. A hopeless romantic, I wanted desperately to fall in love, but I simply never had the time, nor met the right one.
He was so attentive and unexpected. I never fancied myself to be the kind of girl who men write sonnets and dedicate songs to; I'm far too plain for that. My hair is brown, as are my eyes, I wear glasses, my chin is too pointy, and my stature is sadly lacking in curves. But James seemed to think otherwise; 'Your skin is like satin, Isabella. When are you going to let me explore all of it; my hands and mouth are frantic with anticipation!'
That changed the night he gave me the violets.
They were purple, green, lush, and stood proudly within the confines of a white lace nosegay. He'd asked me my favorite flower and presented them to me with a smile on his face and laughter on his lips a week later. I adored them; no one had ever given me violets before and James had those special ordered from Toulouse, France, a village in the Pyrenees Mountains that was renowned for its lavish blooms.
"James … these are simply the most exquisite flowers I have ever received; how on earth were you able to obtain them? I mean … they must have cost you a fortune … I hardly know what to say," I finished weakly; no one had ever done anything so lavish and nonsensical for me in all my years. I was stunned.
'Isabella, I have many connections abroad and was able to obtain these easily … As for the cost, well it wasn't anywhere as significant as my feelings are towards you.' He stated sweetly, kissing me on the tip of my nose.
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove:
A maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love.
A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the eye!-
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
I remember practically swooning; the man brought me rare violets and was quoting Wordsworth?
Surely he loved me.
That night, during one of the worst thunderstorms ever to cross the Housatonic River Valley, I finally allowed James to slip inside the lavender, 500 thread-count bed sheets and join me in my tiny bed. My heart was fairly flying, as he worshiped, no, ravaged my body, with his hands and mouth.
Was he a good lover? I couldn't say; I'd only had one before him, a rumpled and red-headed Scotsman named Angus, whom I'd met in grad school. He had charmed me with his rolling tongue, and well, his rolling tongue. As previously stated, I always had a thing for a man with an accent.
He'd left at the end of the semester with no talk of a long distance relationship.
'It's been lovely Lass, but we're too far apart to keep it going, besides, my mother hates Americans.'
But James was different from Angus, in the art of lovemaking, coarser, somehow, which rather surprised me; he was so gentle in all other areas of his life. He was attentive, but there was something off about the way he kissed my breasts, and, especially, my nipples.
'They're not red enough … I'll rectify the situation,' he murmured, nibbling hard, but just shy of being painful.
I thought that was an unusual thing to say.
His fingers dug into my hips when he finally entered my body, and he held himself in that position, driving and snapping his hips hard and purposefully, yet the rest of his body never actually touched my skin.
Strange? Yes, I suppose it was.
Stranger still was that he didn't kiss me during the lovemaking. Not once. Not until it was over, and then, only on my cheek.
He got up almost immediately afterward and excused himself to "go to the loo" and fetch a bottle of water. But I heard the shower running; he was in there for the better part of an hour.
I lay there listening to the water beating against the windows and the bathwater beating against the tiles. It was a soothing sound, which was good, as I felt oddly, unsettled.
The lovemaking was disappointing … He was too rough. He said odd things …
Yes, all that was true, of course, it was true. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I refused to think of those things when I should be luxuriating in the aftermath of our first time. Besides, it was our first time and surely it would get better as we discovered each other wants and needs. So instead of dwelling on the fact that he asked me to change my sheets when he got out of the shower, I decided to concentrate instead on the nosegay of violets sitting on the night stand. The purple of the petals, the green of the leaves … so shy yet so proud …
And the next morning when I awoke there was no James, only a note.
"Flying to Denver today and shall return home tomorrow evening. Wear something purple, like the violets. Speaking of which, make sure to take care of them and they should flourish for a week or perhaps even longer. I've left explicit instructions on the table. James X'
I followed the instructions to a T, but a day later they wilted, and despite my careful and loving administrations, they passed away suddenly and abruptly. Rather than toss them into the garbage I attempted to dry them so I could continue to enjoy them in a new incarnation, but alas, that too failed. They became moldy and stank, so I buried them under the banana peels and coffee grounds, praying that James wouldn't ask how they fared.
But he had.
It had started out so perfect.
But then, doesn't it always?
I shake off the memory of the dead flowers and place my hand on the cold glass in James' immaculate bathroom with a bag of frozen peas pressed against my cheekbone. I grimace at the purple and green bruise that is alarmingly close to my temple.
"Who are you?"
The face that stares back at me opens her mouth as if to explain, but I close it for her before she has the chance.
"You can't possibly be Isabella Swan, Ph.D." I say to her firmly, lifting my chin.
A lone tear, black with Lancôme's Grandiose Mascara, snakes down her cheek, and then falls with a plop, on to her lilac blouse.
I shut her eyes and sit down on the commode with my head in my hands as tears begin to stain the cold, marble floors.
I glance down at the pale scar on my wrist and I am reminded once more of that little dog who fooled me all those years ago.
I remember Aunt Margaret confessed to me later that summer that Cordelia Atkins had finally come to her senses and had put Happy to sleep.
I was stricken and couldn't understand why Cordelia would do such a thing.
'Some creatures just can't be fixed, Isabella, and no amount of love, affection, or medical science, can set them right.'
My tears spill onto his spotless, granite counter tops.
'I'll need to clean that up soon,' I think absently, as I reach for the bottle of Windex and paper towels.
I take one look at the blue liquid and promptly vomit all over myself and his pristine floor.
Another mess I'll have to clean up.
Okay, I have to apologize; this chapter is long overdue! I should be posting every two weeks from now until the story closes, if real life permits.
Thank you to my fic Sis, Sunflower Fran, for editing!
A note: This story will have some dark themes. It will get gritty at times. But this story is not angst or tragedy; it is a drama that will have happy times too. It's gonna be a bumpy ride but I promise by the end of the journey you'll be smiling.
Please review! It only takes a moment and it means so much for authors to hear readers thoughts and feelings about their work!
Thank you for reading!