I'm posting this a little early because I was ALWAYS late to update. lol! This is my thank you for all your patience and support.
I love you, Frannie!
Welcome to What-A-Burger
"Our story has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. And although this is the way all stories unfold, I still can't believe that ours didn't go on forever."
Two days later …
"Open up," I said, placing another bite of butter-drenched lobster into Boots' mouth.
"Oh my God … I never want to leave this place, Yank. This is unbelievable."
"The lobster?" I asked with a smirk. He'd been raving over the beauty of Aunt Margaret's Maine home ever since we pulled into the driveway a few hours ago. The house is lovely; its weathered gray shingles with white trim and blue door overlook the cliff and the great expanse of the Atlantic. Seagulls caw over-head, and the scent of petunias – a flower that does so well in the cooler climate – permeates the air.
"Everything … this place, the food, you, with your hair blowing all-around your shoulders … I never want to leave," he says, happily.
"Yeah … you wouldn't be saying that if this was December, Boots. I don't think your southern boy constitution could stand the frigid temperature."
He puts his lobster claw down and swoops me in his arms.
"I'll have you to keep me warm, Yank. Now, let me show you how it's done," he laughs, carrying me to the house.
Whew … it's hot in Maine!
Two weeks later
"Okay, boss, where do you want this box?"
"Just set it in the living room, for now, Jake, thanks," Boots says, with a yawn.
We've just returned from our magical two-week honeymoon in New England. Boots and I are exhausted. We flew to Portland right after the wedding and rented a car. Together we explored Maine and all its bounty, as well as each other. I don't think either of us has ever eaten so much or laughed as hard as we did that week. Boots fell in love with lobster, chowder, steamers, and the blueberry pie.
'Bip will love it here,' he proclaimed.
'We'll take her and the baby next summer,' I promised, as we battened down the hatches to prepare the home for the long winter ahead. Boots nailed the final wooden panel on the window and grinned.
'She's gonna go crazy, Yank.'
'I know she will.'
He climbed down the ladder and wrapped his arms around my shoulders and pulled me to his chest.
'Maybe we can split our time between Masenville and here.'
I looked at him in shock.
'Seriously? What about your garage?'
'Well, I've been pondering … maybe I'll bring in Jake as a partner. I know he's itching to have his own garage.'
'That would be wonderful!' I cried.
'Well, I been think'in that maybe, I might start teach'in some vocational stuff over at the home. Course, I'd probably have to go back to school and get some kind of degree, I reckon.'
"You gonna help me study?"
'Well, I am a teacher,' I laughed, hugging him tightly.
'I'm a terrible student,' he warned.
'You might have to be punished from time to time,' I agreed, swatting him on the behind.
'Lord, sign me up now, please.' He laughed.
Later that day, we drove up to the Berkshires, where Boots once again marveled at the beauty of the majestic mountains. Even in August, the leaves of the profuse maples were already beginning to turn, and there was a decided nip in the air. I chuckled when I saw Boots button his jacket.
'Damn … it feels like November up here. Shit.'
I laughed and nodded.
'Well, at least I know how to keep you warm,' I said, as we pulled the U-Haul into the driveway of my tiny cottage.
It felt strange going back to Haworth-Adams. I no longer felt anything other than relief that my time here had come to an end. We made a quick trip to campus – I needed to see Dean Berty and explain everything that happened.
'Thank you, Doctor Swan, er, Cullen, but Jessica kept us informed once the news reached her, that is. I trust everything is all right. Damn shame about Witherdale, or whatever his name was. Damn shame. I assume your resignation still stands?"
I got the impression that Berty was afraid I planned to sue Old Howie. I suppose I could if I cared to give James another thought. But I don't.
We left shortly after and headed back to my cottage.
Together, Boots and I packed up all my belongings. I started up to the attic, but Boots put his hand on my shoulder to stop me.
'Uh-uh … I'll do that, Bella. I want you to go lay down for a little while and rest.' Concern was written all over his handsome features.
'You've been doing too much, Yank. Remember, you've got my son in there,' he said with a wink. 'He needs his beauty rest.'
'Your son? You think it'll be a boy?'
'Nope,' he laughed. 'I know it's my destiny to be bossed and pestered by a gaggle of girls. Ya'll know it, too. Poor ole Boots … just slap me in a pink coffin and seal my fate. Lord.' He chuckled as he climbed up the attic stairs.
I giggled all the way over to the sofa. Boots and I already decided we wanted to wait until the delivery to find out the baby's sex.
'It's our baby, Yank … I could care less if it's pink or blue.'
I fell in love with him even more.
'Hey, these are cool!'
'What?' I asked, raising my head. I looked up to see him carrying two of my gravestone rubbings.
'Oh.' I remembered how much James had hated them, which forced me to put them in the attic.
'I can't wait till you teach me how to do these,' he mused. 'They're really wonderful, Bella.'
'A lot of cemeteries forbid rubbings, now. It erodes the engravings if folks aren't careful.'
'Good thing we have our own boneyard, then.'
That was last week. Today, we're back safe and snug in our own little home.
I smile as I hang the rubbings over the side table. There – they look great.
Ten minutes later, and we're relaxing outside … all of us; Esme, Carlisle, Ant Vick, Shelly, the girls, Jasper, and Emmett.
Boots and Jake lit the firepit, and we're all enjoying a cocktail before we sit down at the large picnic table where we'll have our feast. Well, they're enjoying a cocktail. I'm having a mocktail … fresh orange juice and a splash of Sundrop.
Shelly's made her famous fried chicken and biscuits. Esme her potato salad, slaw, and icicle pickles. Carlisle brought over tubs of BBQ from What-A-Burger. Miss Vick made a huge banana pudding. Ali and Rose made a huge vat of homemade ice cream with Bip earlier. It's in the freezer, just waiting to be scooped and served. I smack my lips in anticipation.
We're all together … happily chatting about the honeymoon, Ali and Rose's recent engagements, and the fact that Ant Vick and Shelly made a trip to the statehouse to formally add Victoria Masen and Robert Isaiah's name to her birth certificate.
"Good thing I've kept up my law degree. We might have had a scene."
"Lord, Mama … you know it went as smooth as a knife through key lime pie."
I love that Shelly's already taken to calling Miss Vick, Mama. Well, she did tell me that Ant Vick was the only real mama she's ever known. She had no idea at the time how true those words were.
In the past two weeks, the girls and their fellows have been busy making plans. Jasper and Mary Alice have decided to return to Massachusetts, where Jasper will continue teaching, and Ali will manage the farm and apple orchards. She talks about the possibility of opening her own new age store, complete with psychic readings and spiritual guidance.
Rose and Emmett have decided to stay in North Carolina. Em wants to go to Law school, and Rose has decided to get a degree in counseling.
"I want to work with women who've been abused. I think I'd be good at that."
"You will be," I say, hugging her tight. "The best."
"Yeah, I though being a private eye would be more glamorous than it is," Em jokes. "Turns out, it's all travel and bad coffee. I want a steady job that doesn't take me away from my family 24/7. Besides, look what happened to you - I'll never forgive myself for that, Bella. I never should have let my guard down."
"Emmett, it's not your fault ... we all let our guard down," I say, reassuringly.
"Yeah, well ... I still think I'd make a better attorney than a private dick."
"As long as your dick stays private, I'll support you no matter what, sugar," teases Rose, who turns to Jasper and says," Hey, Cuz ... how 'bout another bourbon and ginger?" Jasper hops to his feet, with a "Sure thing, darlin."
"Wow. This place is like the Bermuda Triangle," Jake jokes. "It's freaky how you all intersect with each other. It truly was fate, I reckon," says Jake, shaking his head.
"Truly," I say, setting down my glass.
"So, everybody here, was here for a reason. And we all circle back to you, Bella. Well, everyone, except for me," he says,' a little sadly.
"Aw, we'll make new ties and memories together, Jake," I tell him, standing to my feet. I reach over and give him a hug. "Is everything all set, Boots?'
'Yep, everything's on the table except for the napkins. Jake, can you fetch them in the dining room?"
"Sure, thing, Boss."
We rise and head over to the table, where platters of food and pitchers of tea and lemonade await. We look up to see Jake walk up to us, with a puzzled face and a framed picture in his hands.
"Uh, Bella … why do you have a picture of my great Uncle sitting on a table in the family room?"
He hands me the portrait of a handsome dark-haired man, dressed in full Naval uniform.
"Oh, that's not your uncle, Jake. That was my Aunt Margaret's fiancé. He was killed in Korea. She kept that on her dresser," I say, remembering how she touched it every night, then would press her fingers to her lips and smile, longingly.
"Uh, no … that IS my uncle's portrait; my mee-maw has the exact one hanging in her hallway. He was killed in Korea … I'm named after him."
"Jacob," I say, bewildered. "His name was Jacob."
"Yeah, Jake is generally a nickname for Jacob, Bells," he says with a laugh.
"But Aunt Margaret lived in Massachusetts."
"He was in the Navy … I think he was based in Maine."
Our mouths both fly open.
"Well, now you know the reason why you're here, Jacob. Now … close your mouth and fetch those napkins; I'm starving," declares Ant Vick, with a twinkle in her sharp eyes.
Six months later
The first of March
"Come on, Yank … where's that northern aggression? Push!"
"I'm going to show you some northern aggression," I grunt, pushing down as hard as I can muster.
"I don't want to do this anymore, Boots."
I've been in labor since dawn broke. The sun is setting, and it's almost twilight.
"Hey - look at me - you've got this, Bella." His words are strong, but his face tells a different story. He looks worried and exhausted. Somehow, his vulnerability gives me the strength I need, so I grit my teeth and deliver an exceptionally hard push.
"That's it!" Says Doctor Black. "Good job, Bella!"
I look up to see Boots' face as he watches his child make its way into our world. Tears are streaming down his cheeks, and we both start crying when we hear our child's first cries.
"What is it?" I ask, not really caring. Doc Black places the baby on my chest.
"Do you want to cut the cord, Boots?"
His hand reaches for the scissors. "My hands are shaking so hard, I hope I don't hurt her," he says, laughing.
Doc Black throws his head back and laughs.
"Son, if that's a girl, I'm going to have to turn my medical license back to the state; that ain't no girl, Boots -it's a boy!" he laughs, heartily.
Boots shakes his head in wonder.
"A boy?" He looks down at our son and laughs.
"It IS a boy! Bella … it's a boy!"
"Our boy," I say, smiling.
Boots may not have cared if the baby was a boy, and frankly, neither did I, but he was clear on one thing – he didn't want another Edward Cullen. I argued that no one ever used his real name anyway, and that I'd love having a son named after his daddy. In the end, though we both agreed if the baby were a girl, we'd name her Victoria, after the woman who saved me in every way a woman can be saved. Since Boots was so positive the baby would be a girl, we never decided on a boy's name.
"What are we going to call him, Bella?" He asks, laying the freshly cleaned and blanketed bundle of blue on my chest.
I want to call him Victor. Victor Masen, after Ant Vick."
"She'll love that," he agrees, kissing the baby on top of his head.
Victor Masen Cullen
March 1, 2016.
8 lbs. 13 oz
"Welcome to the world, baby boy," says Doc Black. "I'll go tell the others if that's okay with ya'll … they're about to jump out of their skin with worry," he chuckles.
We hear the excited shouts from the lobby and grin.
I wanted a baby brother!
I better go call Renee
Pay up, Jasper
I hope he looks like Bella, bless his heart
"You happy?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
"Hell yes, I'm happy. But Lord… what in the world do I know about boys? I hope I remember," he jokes.
"Don't worry; I'll help …. I have a lot of experience with boys," I tease.
"Lord, woman … your son don't need to hear that about his mama," Boots jokes back.
"Son," we say at the same time.
We have a son.
Two years later
"The study guide for the final is on Blackboard. If anyone has any questions, I'll be working at Burger this weekend. Feel free to stop by." I call out, locking up room 205.
I've been a college professor in the English Department at Masenville Community College for the past year, and I love it. It's so close to Burger and home that I can walk, well, waddle, to the diner for lunch.
Yep, I'm pregnant again. Six months, to be exact. No, we don't know the baby's sex, and we don't want to … we've come to love surprises.
It's a glorious day here in Masenville. It's spring; my favorite season in the south. I can already see the flowering Bradford Pears and the white petals of the Dogwood – our state flower. The birds are chirping, and there's an air of happiness … spring will do that to a person, I reckon.
A lot has happened in the past two years. Rose and Emmett have moved into Boots' house. We needed a bigger home for our growing family, and we realized it would be better for us all to live closer to town. Miss Vick has given us her large Victorian Lady.
"I discussed it all with Shelly. She doesn't want it – she loves her home. Besides, I know she'll always be welcomed here, even after I'm long gone, and my epithet is hanging over your mantle." She chortles, knowing our hobby for gravestone rubbings,
We moved in with her last month – Boots, Bip, and our Vic … a redheaded terror, with his daddy's green eyes and love for mischief. Just last week, he'd grabbed the butter from its dish and ate the entire stick before we even knew it was missing. I thought for sure he'd wind up sick or dead from that much grease, but he just burped and fell into a four-hour nap.
"That's the southern in him, Yank … fat and grease are in our DNA. I hope we have another stick, though. Mama made biscuits."
And four hours later …
"Daddy, Vic's up from his nap, and he's climbing the railing again."
Bip is like a little mother; hands on her hips, she lets out an exaggerated sigh.
"What are we going to do with that boy?," she asks, like a forty year old woman who had a late in life child.
"Lord … that chap is gonna be the death of me, I swanny. I hope our next ones are all girls; this boy is about to step on my last nerve."
Boots leans over and kisses me. "You want better birth control; you'd better stay away from the springs, girl."
Ah … the springs. I asked Esme once, over a bottle of chardonnay, why they hadn't worked for her – she and Carlisle tried and tried for a baby, and it never did happen for them.
Esme looked over at the crowd of adults, kids, and babies … all the people we call family and smiled.
"Oh, but Bella, it did. Look around you … It did work for me, exactly as God planned."
Miss Vick is almost ninety-two years old. She's still spry … she went on a cross country trip with Shelly and her family just last summer.
"I waited fifty years to see something of this world, and I'm not going to waste another minute. I told Shelly and the kids; if I croak, just pack me on ice, and keep on going. At least I'll die happy."
Luckily, no ice to pack her in was needed.
Alice and Jasper are here for the summer. Jess and Alice have become best friends, and she's agreed to look after her shop, "Practical Magic." Jasper tells me folks are driving up all the way from Boston to get one of Ali's crystals and a reading. He couldn't be prouder.
They're heading to the spring tomorrow. Ali suffered a miscarriage last fall. Even though it was early, and she hadn't shared the news with us until it was over, we know they both mourned the loss. I stroke my belly – just the thought of losing him or her makes me want to cry.
"Don't worry, Bella … I'll have my rainbow baby next year; our kids will be great friends, you'll see."
Rose and Em volunteer at Boiling Springs Children's Home. Em teaches music therapy, and Rose assists in the counseling department. Em is finishing his law degree at Chapel Hill, and Rose is halfway through her bachelor's in counseling. They are eager to start a family next year. Emmet's adoptive mother, Siobhan McCarthy, is already making plans to move to Masenville. A widow, she fell in love with the lake and the people.
We still occasionally fill-in at Burger, although Carlisle is training two of his former students to take over the management of it in the future. He and Esme want to retire and spend more time with their grandkids. He's already hired a new director for the Boiling Springs Children's Home.
Boots sold Jake half his business last year. We don't need the money, and although he was funny about it in the beginning, he now sees the value in the freedom and security it provides. Together, we've established an endowment for the Boiling Springs Children's Home; one that allowed for expansion and a brand-new counseling center. He volunteers at the home when he can and is busy taking classes himself at Masenville Community College.
"We've all turned into a bunch of academic nerds, thanks to you, Yank."
I see the flashing neon pig as I round the corner.
I'm almost home.
Welcome to What-A-Burger, the sign twinkles.
Boots is also rounding the corner across the street; he's got Vic in his arms and Bip by his side. They all have what looks to be strawberry ice cream smeared on their chins. Bertie is on his leash, happily trotting between them.
"Hey, Mama!" they call. I wave back to them, smiling.
My loves. My family. My life.
I look at the sign one more time and smile. This sign has stood here for over forty years. It serves as a marker of time, and I never want to see it dim.
Welcome to What-A-Burger
That's what the sign says.
But all I see is
Boots epilogue to the epilogue.
(Because one epilogue just wasn't enough)
B/N: This here is Boots. I reckon ya'll might need a hanky or a hundred because this here really is the end of the line.
Now don't go getting ya'll's panties in a twist; it's not like I died. Naw, Mizz J threatened me a mess of times, but she never did go through with it. I reckon she knows a cash cow when she sees one. I'll still be living the good life in Masenville. It's my home, and all that I know, and love are here.
Truth is, Ole Boots is gonna miss you gals something fierce. It was because of ya'll that I came to be, after all – well ya'll and some gal named Stephenie Meyers.
Maybe I'm the one who's gonna need a hanky. Damn.
Before I go, though, I did want to fill ya'll in on a few things that's happened in Masenville since Mizz J ended this here fic.
Jake just got engaged. That's right, and ya'll ain't gonna believe this shit … it's to Jessica Stanley. He met her awhile back when she was pay'in us a visit. It took less time for them to do the nasty than it did me and Bella. Lord … and of course, being the dumbass that he is, he took her to the spring. They're expecting twins.
Rose and Em graduated and are both doin fine. Em set up a practice in Judge Masen's old office, and Rosie is working as a counselor in Charlotte. She wants to get a master's degree, but she's putting that on the back burner for now, seeing as they're expecting any day now.
Ali and Jasper are doing well, too. Their son, Brandon, was born eighteen months ago. They never did leave Massachusetts, though Jasper has cut back some on his teaching schedule, so they can come down to North Carolina for the summer.
Speaking of babies … Bella and I had another little boy. Charles Edward Cullen arrived on Halloween two years back. He weighed almost ten pounds. Poor Bella. Lord … they had to put a plunger in there to get him out. They both did fine, but Bella told me it'll be years before she goes anywhere near the spring again. Somehow, I doubt that'll happen; Bip is itch'in for a baby sister and if I know my wife, she'll cave eventually. Anyhow, ole Charlie is the spitti'n image of Bella, 'cept he's got my green eyes.
Ant Vick is getting on … she had a small set-back a few weeks ago – nuth'in serious – just a tumble. But she'll be getting a hip replacement come next month. Doc says she'll be the oldest woman he's ever operated on. Lord … that gal don't let nuth'in hold her down, and that's a fact.
As for me, well, I keep plugg'in away. I work some at the shop, teach auto mechanics at the Home, and take classes whenever I get a wild hair to learn something new. Last semester I took a cooking class. Yeah I know, but a man's got to eat, and these gals have started a weekly girl's night out, so ... it's Chef Cullen every Friday night. My chicken taco casserole was a big hit with the kids.
We try to get up to Maine a couple a times a year. I've grown to love it there … the seafood, views, and the people. Truth be told, I've learned that no matter where ya'll live, people are people. They just talk funny. I mean … can somebody buy them an R? Lord.
I guess that's it for now. I might shoot ya'll a line or two in the future. Course having three kids and a business to run, plus a very sexy wife, don't exactly allow for much free time, and that's the truth.
Well, ya'll stay smart now. I'm gonna miss "You guys." See, I'm even talkin like a Yank now.
A/N: Just wanted to say another BIG thank you to you all, and most especially, Fran. I couldn't have done it without you, Sis!
Stay tuned ... I have another fic planned soon. xo J