Welcome to What-A-Burger @janewithay
Chapter 21: Of Testosterone and Kismet

Of Testosterone and Kismet

"There was so much testosterone in the air, I felt like I needed a gas mask."

Richelle Mead - Vampire Academies

"Sometimes, Kismet happens"

Stephenie Meyers

***WTWAB***

"Get your hands off her before I snap your fucking neck and use it for firewood."

I come to with a start. My eyes open to see Boots lift Jasper in the air with one hand. He whirls him around like a top, and my mouth flies open in protest when I see him draw his fist back.

"Boots … No!"

Too late. I hear the sickening thud of fist meeting face.

Followed by

"Fuck!"

And then

"Stop!"

And …

"Aw, hell … you've gone and done it now, Boots."

Fist balled and prepped for a second round; he stops mid-strike.

He looks perplexed.

"Bella – are you all right?"

Sitting up, I manage to stand, albeit on shaky legs.

Jasper lays where Boots put him – flat on his back. He doesn't say anything.

I rush to his side.

"Are you okay?"

"Pft … he's fine; I barely touched him," Boots mutters.

I give him a glare.

"It's Jasper!"

To his credit, he apologizes immediately and tries to lift Jasper to his feet. Jasper, however, holds out his hand to stop him.

I rush to his side.

"Oh my God … can you stand up?"

"Well, that depends – am I dead?"

"What?"

"Am I dead?"

"No."

"Am I in a coma?"

"No, not that I know of."

"Huh."

"Put this bag of frozen peas on your face, sugar."

"Who are you?"

Alice smiles.

"Your future."

The back door opens.

"What in the hell … Dude … you okay?"

"Emmett?"

"Hey … it's good to see you, man!" The big guy gives Boots a huge hug, the kind that lifts him off his feet.

Jasper jumps up and throws his arms in the air.

"Jesus Jumped Up Christ … will somebody please tell me what in the actual-fuck-all is going on?"

Emmett looks confused

Boots looks perplexed

Alice looks like one of those memes with heart eyes

Rosalie is nowhere to be found

"Umm … Welcome to What A Burger," I say stupidly. I must have hit my head harder than I thought.

"Bella?"

He drops the bag of frozen peas. The contents spill all over the floor.

"Jasper," I whisper.

I'm in his arms faster than a New York minute.

"What –"

How-"

Our words blend into one long question.

"Wait a minute … you mean, this is HER?" The big guy-Emmett- looks gobsmacked. I giggle despite my own puzzlement.

Soon, everyone begins talking all at once.

My truck broke down, and these girls rescued me

Why didn't you call me?

My purse was stolen

I've been losing my mind trying to find you

You look so skinny

You look like a country-western singer

How do you know Emmett

What … you mean you're together? Like together, together?

Uh … not like that

Don't be dumb

Well shee-it

Remember I mentioned I was gonna call my buddy in Boston?

You mean Emmett is …

My friend, the detective

***WTWAB***

Two hours later, we are finally settled at Miss Vicks'. The plans for a cookout and fireworks at Boots' house have been put on hold. We have enough fireworks here to keep our adrenaline flowing. Boots, however, is determined to have some snakes and sparklers because, after all, "Bip's looking forward to them."

Of course, she is … what child wouldn't be upset if they couldn't wave a sparkler under the night sky? He's gone back to his house with Bip in tow, to fetch them.

It's been quite an afternoon all told. To his credit, Boots apologized to Jasper a dozen times; he was sure he was James. Jasper shrugged it off as "understandable," but I can tell that the two men are still leery of each other. I hope that changes once they get to know each other. There was a sadness in Boots' eyes when he and Bip left a short while ago. I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box when it comes to men, but I can tell Boots is worried. I'll have to take him aside to reassure him when he gets back. Of what, though, I am not certain.

Jasper has already filled me in on a few of the details surrounding James.

"He left town before I got back to old Howie. Cleaned out his apartment and took most of the paperwork out of your house. Snatched up your checks and anything that was in your desk, too. "

"Oh, my God."

"Yep. And you should see the mess he made of my place – ransacked the house, tore up my barn. Hell – even the doors were busted clean away."

"Um, I probably did that when I plowed through with the truck."

"Speaking of which, where is the truck?"

"Boots has it down the shop."

"What shop?"

"His. Boots is a mechanic. A good one. He's already got the parts he needed to get it back on the road."

"Hmm." He says, noncommittally.

"So, now what do we do? Do you have any idea where he is?"

"Well, after I got Emmett involved, he reached out to the FBI."

"The FBI!"

"Yes, Ma'am. And we'll probably have to get Interpol involved too; he's committed murder in the UK, Bella."

"So ... were the FBI looking for me or him or …"

"Both, actually. Of course, it would have been easier if you had simply contacted the police yourself."

"I know … I wanted to – it's just ..."

"You were afraid."

"Yes."

"Well, I knew you went to see your mama because I called her office and spoke to her assistant. She told me Renee was out of the country and that you'd stopped in to see her back in May. That's when I called Emmett. He got all the information from me and started a search on James."

"Did you put the article in Old Howie about James and I getting married?"

"Naw … that was him. But Mick and I figured it was best not to correct him at this point – we didn't know if he'd act on his promise to blow up the campus. Besides, we both figured it might be a good way to locate you – I figured you'd be looking online for information."

"Actually, that was Boots' idea … to check the college website."

"Huh. Well, it was a good one."

"I was going to send you a private message on FB, but I was concerned that James might be able to track my IP."

"Eh … doubtful. This is a guy who still used a damn Rolodex, remember? Which, by the way, I found in the floor of his closet."

"You're kidding – he left that behind?"

"He did. My only guess is that he either wanted us to find it or he got careless."

I shake my head in amazement.

"Has he given any indication that he's in the area, Bella? Anything at all?"

"No. The last time he made any contact with me was when I was at the gas station, and my purse was stolen."

"You think he took it?"

"I'm sure of it. He left a calling card."

"What was that?"

"My Aunt Margaret's diamond and sapphire comb. I left it in his apartment, but when I was searching for my purse, I found it on the floor of the truck."

"Maybe it was in your purse the whole time. I mean … he could have put it in your bag at some point."

"I suppose so."

"Or, he might have planted it, and he's been tracking you all this time."

We both let out a frustrated sigh.

"So, now what?"

He drags his hand through his hair and gives me a hard look.

"Now we set bait and wait."

***Burger***

We're sitting on the back veranda, sipping tea, and having a few appetizers. Shelly huffed and puffed, but I could tell she was secretly happy that we decided to "congregate" at Miss Vicks' instead Of Boots' house.

"That boy lives too far out of town to suit the likes of me. I'm a city girl at heart."

I smother a laugh – Masenville is hardly a city.

"Good thing Boots bought us a grill when they were on sale at Roses. Lord … all I've got to do now is patty the burgers and peel the corn. The salads are all made, and I've got two cobblers in the oven."

My stomach rumbles loudly. Everyone chuckles.

"So, young Jasper … here at last, and not a minute too soon if you ask me. I was afraid Crowsie was going to fly the coop with Foghorn, and we'd never reach the climax of her never-ending drama."

Jasper simply chuckles and says, "This is the best shrimp melt I've ever had, Ma'am."

She looks at him adoringly. "This recipe has been in my family for ages," she simpers. "Have a ham biscuit?"

"Don't mind if I do."

I struggle not to roll my eyes; Jasper certainly has her smitten.

"I saw that Crow … mind you keep your eyes from rolling, lest they stick in the back of your head and stay that way."

Oops. I guess I did give her a bit of a roll after all.

"So … you still have Foghorn?"

"Oh yes … I'm minding him myself. As I explained to Crow – I've always been partial to cocks. More tea?"

Jasper chokes on his biscuit.

He accepts the proffered tea, gratefully, and mumbles a thank-you-kindly.

"Why does she keep calling you Crow?" he whispers.

"Because she is a bald-faced liar, which has come in handy a time or two given her circumstances."

"Care to explain?" he asks me, confused.

"Uh …"

Miss Vick turns to Jasper and gives him a pointed look.

"And the biggest lie is her being a professor of Literature, I swanny."

Jasper laughs … "Why do you say that?"

"Because whenever she is asked a direct question of any kind, her response is always a grunt."

"Huh."

"Lord … I declare those schools of higher learning up north certainly have lower expectations for their teachers. All that, Uh and Huh and Ugh," she shakes her head ruefully.

Properly chastised, Jasper just replies with a "Yes, Ma'am, I 'spect you're right, they do."

She pats his hand. "You're excused for now … it is your first day here, after all. Besides, you're from Texas – I can already see you've had some home training."

"Why, thank you, Ma'am."

"Well, while we're waiting for everyone else to arrive, why don't you explain just how you know Emmett and how you came to be with him on this trip."

We stop chatting at once. Even though it's just Ali, Miss Vick, and me… the silence is deafening. Emmett and Rose have been on the swing since we arrived. We can hear the creak, creak, of it going back and forth between hushed words.

"I met Mick when I was in grad school in Boston. He was looking for a roommate in the classifieds, and I responded. We met for a beer and decided we got along just fine. I moved into his place a week later, and we've been buddies ever since."

"Wait – Mick, your old roommate, is Emmett?" I exclaim. I heard a billion stories of him over the past two years.

"The one and only," says Jasper with a small wink.

"Why do you call him Mick?"

"Eh, a nickname for McCarty, I guess. When I met him all the guys he introduced me to called him Mick. It's a Boston thing."

"So, let me see if I get this right; you and Emmett were actually looking for Bella all along?" Alice asks.

"Sure were - in fact, we were just returning from interviewing that kid in South Carolina– the one who sold me back my great-great-great-granddaddy's musket, when Mick got the call from Miss Vick asking him to come home. Of course, we didn't have any idea you'd been here all along; she only asked him to come home. Some sort of an emergency, she said. He didn't know what to think, but since none of the leads were panning out, we decided to make a quick pit-stop to Masenville."

All eyes turn to Miss Vick.

"What? Did ya'll honestly think I was going to wait for things to progress naturally? Lord … I am almost ninety years-old … I barely have a pulse. There's just no way I could wait for ya'll to get your proverbial shit together. I found Emmett's number in Edward's phone, and I called him when they were upstairs doing the nasty," she says, reaching for a ham biscuit.

"Wait … who was doing the nasty?" Jasper asks, reaching for his tea.

"Why Boots and Crow – after all, they are an engaged couple."

Jasper spews his sweet tea across the room.

"Shelly – please get Jasper a fresh T-shirt from the laundry. Wait – better get several just to be on the safe side."

"You're engaged to him?" he cries.

"Yes."

Jasper stands and starts pacing around the room. Occasionally, he'll throw his arms up in the air as if he's having an internal conversation, and he's punctuating a point.

Finally, he stands in front of me, hands on his hips, and glares.

"Bella, have you done lost your ever-loving mind?"

"I'm not sure she had one, to begin with," mumbles Miss Vick.

"Can I talk to you privately for a moment?" I ask, standing.

He nods his head and joins me on the other side of the house.

I look at him calmly.

"No, Jasper, I haven't lost my mind. I've found it. Here. In Masenville. I love him."

"You barely know him!" He whispers loudly.

"I do … I know him better than I've ever known anyone – even you."

"You have nothing in common with this guy!"

"I do … we … we both love music and gravestone rubbings and …"

"Oh, great … gravestone rubbings. Yeah, you can really build a marriage on that, Bella."

I roll my eyes.

"I mean … he's a mechanic, for God's sake, and you're a college professor!"

"Yes, he is a mechanic, Jasper; a great one. You should see the work he's done on your truck; it's amazing. And yes, I am a college professor. So what? You and I both know that has nothing to do with intelligence – if it did, I wouldn't be in the mess I am with James.

"I never expected you of all people to be an elitist snob," I say, disgusted.

"I'm not … truly, I'm not. But Jesus … can't you see the differences between the two of you?"

"I can, I do. And that's why I love him so much, Jasper. He may not have higher education, but he's every bit as intelligent as you are … he's so well-read. He plays the guitar and the piano – he's good enough to be playing concerts at Tanglewood! Plus, he's a father, and he's doing such an amazing job raising that little girl, a girl whom I've grown to love. And the way he takes care of everyone … he's amazing. He cares for his sisters, Miss Vick, his co-workers … he volunteers at the foster school where he was brought to as little boy … he's just …"

"Amazing. Yeah, I get it," he sighs.

"Let me ask you something – I remember when I started dating James – everyone, including me, loved him, apart from you. You tried to warn me, but I wouldn't listen. Remember?"

He nods his head.

"You told me then you had a … what did you call it? A hinky feeling. Said it was a way of knowing.

"Do you have that same feeling about Boots?"

I hold my breath, praying he doesn't say yes. But even if he does, it won't change my mind about my feelings for Boots.

Still …

Slowly, he shakes his head.

"No, I guess I don't. He seems like a decent man … a good 'ole boy, maybe, but a stand-up sort of guy."

"He is, Jasper. Truly."

"And you love him?"

"I do. He's the best man I know. I mean ... he drives me crazy sometimes. And he has some habits that could use a bit of tweaking, but …"

"You love him."

"Yes. And aside from everything I've told you, let me ask you this: has Emmett said anything negative about Boots?"

"No, to be honest, all he's ever said about him is he regarded Boots as his brother. Said, I reminded him of Boots."
"You do, Jasper. Well, you're not as sexy as he is, but …." I laugh nervously.

"There are some women who'd disagree with you," he laughs.

After a few long, drawn out moments, he smiles and shrugs.

"Okay," he says, with a grin.

I squeal like a school girl and hug him tight.

He hugs me back, then puts his hands on my face, and kisses my forehead.

"I've missed you so much, Bella."

My throat tightens.

"I've missed you too, Jasper. So much."

He gives me another big hug, and I squeeze him back tightly.

"Okay – I'll give him a chance, Bella. I must admit, you look better than I've seen you look in a long time; beehive and red lipstick notwithstanding."

We both laugh.

"It's just for tips."

"Tips, huh? Well, I've got a tip for you – mile-high hair is not the best look for you, girl. Maybe try a French twist."

This makes me laugh even harder.

We hug once more and head back to the veranda where Ali and Miss Vick are pretending to have a conversation. I know they heard our entire conversation.

"Mr. Whitlock … would you like to see your cock? I swan … I never venture past the veranda, but I believe I'd fancy taking a turn; that is, if you'll take my arm and assist me?"

"I'll take him," Ali interrupts. She offers him her hand. He stares at it for a moment and then looks at her face as if he's looking at it for the very first time.

Love at first sight.

We read about it in books, poems, and sonnets. We see it in movies. But to witness it, firsthand? I imagine that's a rare occurrence. And it's just so lovely.

"Finally," Ali whispers.

"It's you," he says, scratching the back of his neck.

"It's me."

Jasper takes her hand as if in a trance, and the two of them walk into the garden without so much as a backward glance at Miss Vick and me.

"Don't mind us – I'll just wait here for James to come kill me."

He waves me off and doesn't miss a step.

I can't help but giggle.

"Lord … it took him long enough," says Miss Vick.

"Where's that boy goin; I've got a clean shirt for him," says Shelly, holding one of Boots' shirts in her hands.

"I believe you best add a pair of drawers and britches to the pile."

"Do what?"

"If those clothes he has on survive the tryst she's got planned, I'll butter my butt and call it a biscuit."

"Lord … this place is turnin' into a regular brothel –full of nuthin' but hootchie mamas and polecats," Shelly says, shaking her head.

"Who's a hootchie mama?" asks Esme, placing a bowl of cut hydrangeas on the table. I look up surprised; I didn't hear their car pull in the drive.

"A better question is who isn't? Laws … we haven't had this much drama since Shelly found your bra and panties at the foot of Carlisle's bed when she was changing the sheets."

Esme chuckles; "I'd forgotten all about that."

"Yes, well, we haven't. Lord … Shelly was afraid Carlisle was cross-dressing; we didn't even know he had a girlfriend. Course he was always on the sneaky side."

"I was not being sneaky; I was discreet," says Carlisle, laughing, as he joins us on the veranda.

"Discreet my Ant Fanny … if you was so discreet, why'd you leave her unmentionables between the mattress and the foot-board," Shelly huffs.

"Guess that was my way of letting ya'll know I wasn't gay," he shrugs with a smile. "I know that's what ya'll thought."

"Well, I wouldn't have cared one way or another if you were gay. Truth be told, I was simply happy to know you had

interest in something besides your patients and the school. Why you never dated a soul in high school; didn't even have a date for prom, and that's the truth."

"How did you and Esme meet?" I ask, reaching for a shrimp melt.

Carlisle glances at Esme, and she smiles affectionately.

"My first boyfriend turned out to be a bit of a jerk. I was visiting a cousin who lived in Troutville, and he showed up, all jealous, thinking I was running around on him. Charlotte and I were at a dance hall – line dancing – and Felix came storming in, grabbed me by my shoulder, and hauled me out in the parking lot. Carlisle was passing by, and he saw him slam me against the truck. He pulled in, got out of his sedan, grabbed Felix by the cuff, and tore the tar right out of him. I fell in love with Carlisle somewhere between the first punch and the last kick."

"And we've been inseparable ever since," Carlisle says, kissing the back of her neck.

"Who's been inseparable?" I look up to see Boots come in through the back door. He walks over to me and kisses me on my cheek. I notice the worry still in his face, and decide I need to know what's put it there.

"Boots … are you okay? You seem a little agitated."

"Oh, psh … he's fine – just scared that Jasper is gonna spirit you away now that he's found you," Miss Vick says, matter-of-factly. "Where's Elizabeth?"

My mouth drops open; why didn't I think of that? Of course, he'd jump to that conclusion!

Boots shrugs his shoulders. "I dropped her off at Cousin Pete's house for a bit; she wanted to show him Bertie, and I figured we could use a little alone time to process everything. Pete will drop her off in a couple of hours.

So … where's your friend?" he asks, helping himself to a ham biscuit.

I groan internally; Jasper has been reduced to 'your friend.'

"Oh, he's done run off with Mary Alice," Miss Vick explains.

"Well, that didn't take long."

"Longer than you and Crow, I'll wager."

Boots pinches his nose, and I can see the tattletale vein pop out on his forehead.

"Take a walk with me?" Boots asks, with a raised brow.

The nose, the vein, and the raised brow … the full buffet … and I can already tell it's about to get interesting.

"Mm-hmm ... and that took even less time, I swan. Shelly, help me up and bring me back inside. I believe I've had my fill of love in the afternoon. I'd rather patty a hundred burgers than be subjected to this mess."

"Mmph … I believe I'll call the exterminator; there's so much testosterone in the air, we'll all be needing a shave before supper, I swanny."

"I think I'll join ya'll," says Esme, jumping out of her seat.

Carlisle looks around, puzzled.

"Uh … guess I'll go sit on the swing for a spell."

A muffled sob from the direction of the swing stops him in his tracks.

"Never mind – I'll be in the garage if anyone needs me. Think I'll tinker with Boots' old hot rod. Maybe Bip will want it when she gets a little more size to her."

"Don't even think about it, Daddy."

" I always did know how to get a rise out of you, son. No worries: I'll just replace a carburetor or drop an engine in something. No biggie." He laughs all the way to the garage.

"Let's go." Boots says. His face looks hard and stormy.

I decided right then and there that I'll be the calm one in this scenario.

"I don't feel like walking – it's too hot. Besides, everyone's left, and we're all alone."

"Oh, come on, Yank," he says, grabbing my hand. "I'm too restless to sit here."

"No," I say, shaking off his hand. There's a storm brewing behind those green eyes, and I want to take shelter before it begins.

"I think I'll have another shrimp melt. Have you had one? They're so good." I hand him one on a dainty pink napkin.

"No, I don't want a goddamn shrimp melt."

"Language," I say in my best teacher's voice. I reach for a glass of tea wishing it were Miss Vick's bourbon. I'm trying my level best to remain calm.

"Are you correcting me?"

"Yes, I am."

"Well, don't – I'm not a child," he says, narrowing his eyes.

"Then stop acting like one." I reach for the pack of Pall Malls that Rose left on the side table. I pull out a cigarette and light it.

Boots grabs it out of my hand before I take the first drag. He drops it on the tile floor of the veranda and grinds it out with his foot.

And that's when it happens.

I explode

"What the hell is your problem?"

"Language."

"Oh, Boots … knock it off! I don't know why you're acting so prickly, but I don't appreciate it one bit. We've been looking for Jasper for weeks now – you've been the biggest supporter - trying to help me locate him - and now that he's here, you're acting like … like …"

"Like what?" he asks, his face turning to stone.

"Like a jealous bastard."

He scoops me out of the chair and flings me over his shoulder so fast that I barely have time to register what's happening. I look up to see three sets of eyes staring at us through the kitchen window. I hear Rose's soft voice: where in the hell are they going?

I kick Boots' ass repeatedly with my feet, but he keeps on walking with those long legs of his. He doesn't stop until we're in a little cove of boxwoods and roses.

"Put me down this minute!"

I drop to ground with a soft thud. At least he didn't drop me on a gravel road like last time.

"Ow! What the hell … that hurt."

"Language."

I feel my chin start to dimple – a classic sign that means tears will soon follow.

He looks down at me, and I avert my gaze.

"Fuck."

"Language," I mumble, trying to control my tears. Too late, I can already feel them welling. A large drop plops on my knee. I brush it off, but another soon follows.

Boots crouches in front of me, his face already torn with regret.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart." He pulls out a blue hanky from his back pocket and gently wipes my face.

"Did I hurt you?"

"Yes."

He helps me up, concerned.

"Where?"

"Here," I say pointing to my heart.

"Bella – I'm …"

"Stop."

He looks at me warily.

"I don't know what got you so het up, but if you think I'm going to run back to Massachusetts simply because Jasper, my best friend in the world – the one who is here to help me … the man who sweated off fifty pounds in two-months because he has been so worried about me … "

"I know. Shh … I'm a dumbass." He says, wrapping his arms around me.

"Yes, you are," I say, in a watery voice.

"I'm not jealous – at least I don't think I am. It's just that I don't want to lose you," he whispers in my ear. "I can't lose you … you – you're everything to me, Bella. Everything."

"You won't, Boots, you won't. I'm not leaving you; I promise. But you have to trust me."

"I do trust you. It's him I don't trust. He's going to try and talk you into going back with him to Massachusetts - away from me and Bip."

"He's not, Boots ... he …"

"Look, I'm not saying he's a bad guy - hell, he's a lot better than me, and that's the truth. But he knows I'm not good enough for you. I can see it in his eyes."

"No … he doesn't know you, Boots. But he will. He's a good man. He was just worried about me, that's all."

"Bella, I'm not an insecure man, you know that, right?" I nod my head.

"I know you love me."

"I do."

"But you had a life before you came here - a life I don't really know anything about. I just don't want this … what we have here … to end. But I don't want you to feel forced into staying either. I know I'm not an educated man. I'm a simple man with a simple life, and I have simple …"

"Boots – there is nothing simple about you, nothing at all. Peaceful, maybe. Content, definitely. But you are not simple; you're not exactly complicated, but you are complex. Just when I think I've got you figured out, you turn around and surprise me with another talent you have or …" He cuts me off with a kiss. A kiss so deep and full of love and longing that I feel it in my soul.

He rests his forehead against mine.

"I'm sorry I dropped you on the ground."

"Just talk to me when you get upset, okay? Because as much as I love it when you sweep me in your arms, I don't like getting flung over your back in anger, okay?"

"Okay," he whispers.

"Boots, didn't Emmett ever mention Jasper to you?"

"He did … several times. He just always called him Whit. I never knew his name was Jasper."

"Whit?"

"I guess it's short for Whitlock. Said he reminded him of me," he shrugs.

I swallow a chuckle. I take his face in my hands.

"I can see that, except you're a lot sexier."

"Damn straight," he says, slanting his mouth over mine.

A snap of a twig causes us to turn around.

"Bella?" Ali and Jasper walk into view.

"Hey," I say, wiping my eyes.

"Everything okay here?" Jasper asks, looking between us.

"Everything's fine," I say.

"It looks to me like everything isn't fine; you've been crying," he says, eyes narrowing.

"No … I'm just a little overwhelmed is all."

"Jaz, I'm going to take Bella back to the house so she can wash her face. Obviously, she's had a huge shock seeing you. I know I have," she giggles shyly.

Jaz?

"All right, darlin. We'll see you back at the house."

Ali grabs my hand and pulls me away from the two men who are looking like they'd both rather be anywhere but here.

"Come on, Bella, they'll be fine. Don't worry – they're going to be best friends, I promise," she whispers in my ear.

Just as we round the cove of boxwoods, I hear their hushed words. Even though I know it's wrong to eavesdrop, I can't help but pause mid-step. Alice doesn't seem to have a problem listening, though. She puts her finger over her mouth and dips her head toward their conversation.

"Hey … listen man … I just wanted to thank you for taking care of Bella these past few months. She's my best friend, and I don't know what I would have done if that prick had gotten his hands on her."

"You're welcome."

"Ya'll fell in love."

"We did."

"You gonna marry that girl?"

"I am."

"Well … all right then."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. But I ever see you hurt her …"

"You won't."

"You give me your word?"

"I do."

"And you swear you're gonna take good care of her?"

"I swear on my life."

My eyes fill with tears.

"So … what's with your crazy Ant and your sisters? That Alice is something else, isn't she?" He laughs.

Alice smothers a giggle with her hands.

"Dude, there's not enough liquor in the world to get us through that conversation in one day – you have no idea," Boots guffaws. Alice pinches my side and rolls her eyes.

There's a little silence, and we wait it out to see if there'll be more.

There is …

"So, ah … you wanna go see your truck? Jake and I dropped a new engine in it last week."

"Hell yeah, I wanna see it. You got anything to drink besides sweet tea down there?"

"I've got a bottle of Jack with your name on it."

"Now you're talkin …"

Alice looks at me with a smile. "I told you so. Now come on … I want to hear all the details about Jasper. Oh my God … girl, that boy sure can kiss!"

As we pass by the large white swing, we see that it's now empty.

"I wonder where they went?"

"My guess is either to bed or their graves," Ali jokes.

"Why was Rose so upset to see him?" I ask curiously. "Boots told me that they had a romantic history, but Emmett moved to Boston when he was still a teenager."

"So, you think because they were young it wasn't real?"

"No, but it seems strange for her to be holding a torch after all these years."

"Well, Boots told you about what happened after Royce date-raped her and got her knocked up, right?"

"He didn't give me the details, but yes, I was able to piece what he told me and what Rose shared, to get a good idea of what happened," I admit.

Alice sighs.

"It changed her, Bella. Not completely; she's still got her beautiful face and her smart-ass attitude, but in many ways, Rose stopped growing after that happened. It's like she's frozen in time, or something. Carlisle and Esme tried to get her help, but she refused to go to counseling. After a while, we just got used to the new Rose, I guess."

"Well, I hope having Emmett here will be a good thing for her," I say.

"It will, Bella. It's all happening just the way it's meant to unfold. All the pieces of our lives are going to come together in unexpected ways. You'll see."

"What else do you see, Alice?"

She doesn't answer right away, and I start to think she isn't going to respond. But she does.

"There's going to be pain and loss in our world, Bella. I can't lie to you about that. But in the end, love will abide. I promise."

I hold on to that thought, hoping against hope that everything will turn out fine.

A sense of calm comes over me, and I feel better than I have since before I left Massachusetts all those weeks ago. I can hear the laughter from the veranda, the clink of ice as drinks are being refreshed, the blunt words of Miss Vick chastising Carlisle for forgetting the lighter fluid. The sound of family. The feeling of coming home.

Alice links her arm thru mine. We pass the bower of magnolia tulips, the weeping cherry, and the bleeding heart, blithely unaware of the Windex blue eyes hidden within the shadowy depths.

Cold and calculating, they follow each step we take; quiet and patient, they watch and wait.

***WTWAB***

B/N: Duh-Duh ...

Damn ... that sure was some kind of ending; talk about a "cliffie!" (I know how you gals just love those cliffies. I read ya'll's reviews,js.)

Yeah ... go on and say it ... cos I know ya'll are thinkin it. I was a dumbass in this here chappie. All right. There. Said it for ya'll, and I own it. I ain't got no real excuse except I was scared, and that's the truth. I know I got some makin up to do ... and I will. Never said I was perfect, lord knows, and that's a fact. I guess me and Jasper will do all right once we get to know each other a little better. He seems ... nice. Maybe he'll look better once we've had a few shots of ole Jack.

But somethin tells me there ain't gonna be much time for makin nice in the next installment. I gotta feelin ole Boots and company is gonna be busy, what with that ending and all.

Till then, ya'll stay smart.

Boots

PS: Please leave Mizz J a review. She gets into a slump if she thinks no one's readin her words, and she always takes it out on me, js. Between her and Bella I'm surprised I ain't done gave up the ghost by now.

Pray for me?

A/N: thank you all so much for reading! I'm sorry this took so long to update. Some chapters are written in an afternoon, while others, take nearly a month to come together. This was the later.

FF is not always cooperative when it comes to posting reviews. I am sorry I wasn't able to reply to you all, but please know I read and love each one!

Special thanks to my Beta Fran, for her edit and support. No writer could ask for a more encouraging friend! Love you, Sis!

Not too many chapters left now. There's going to be a few surprises and some twists along the way. Hold on to your hats, guys - you are in for a bumpy ride!

Thank you for reading!

XO Jayne

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. Chapter 1: Prologue 1583 1 0 2. Chapter 2: Shrinking Violet 4096 0 0 3. Chapter 3: Mud Season 4731 0 0 4. Chapter 4: The Lying and the Lam part 1 2932 0 0 5. Chapter 5: The Lying and the Lam part 2 3782 0 0 6. Chapter 6: Over the Rainbow 3762 0 0 7. Chapter 7: Home Training 5736 0 0 8. Chapter 8: A Rose for Miss Vick 5118 0 0 9. Chapter 9: Whiplash 5851 0 0 10. Chapter 10: Boiling Springs 5848 0 0 11. Chapter 11: Boiling Mad 6381 0 0 12. Chapter 12: Down the Drain 7220 0 0 13. When the Cat's Away, Boots will Play 4793 0 0 14. Chapter 14: Safe Haven 8215 0 0 15. Chapter 15: Order Up! 3135 0 0 16. Chapter 16: The Witch Doctor 3261 0 0 17. Chapter 17: Fly Trap 4274 0 0 18. Chapter 18: Bless Her Heart 4101 0 0 19. Chapter 19: Transitions 5236 0 0 20. Chapter 20: L'air du Temps 4169 0 0 21. Chapter 21: Of Testosterone and Kismet 5864 0 0 22. Chapter 22: Outfoxing the Fox 6570 0 0 23. Chapter 23: Pas de Trois 3979 0 0 24. Chapter 24 Pas de Trois part two 2522 0 0 25. Chapter 25: Blood Typing 4940 0 0 26. Chapter 26: Wedding Bella 3724 0 0 27. Chapter 27: Epilogue 3641 0 0