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Unimaginable, Devotional, String-Tugging, Soul-Crushing, Bittersweet, Teenage Fast-Loving Angst.

And as always, cupcakes.

Summary: I won't supposed to fall in love, especially with a boy like him. But when it happened, I took the whole damn town down with me. I soon figured out, falling was the easy part. (ExB, Rated M)

~~~~Cotton Belt~~~

Chapter One: Prologue

I prayed for him.

I remember; it was a few years back when I was just a youngin' and didn't know any better. This was before Alice Jo Summer knocked her teeth out playing rock launcher, and one of 'em ricocheted back and hit her square in her mouth. Or when Jessie realized baby Jesus wasn't an infant anymore and that He actually died, and she started hollering all over church, telling everybody we killed her sweet baby Jesus.

It was still a time when Papa would settle out on the grass and tell us all about how we lived in the center of the Cotton Belt—the deepest part of the South where cotton was the most prevalent crop. I just called Forks County, Mississippi home.

"God gave us a lot of things," he'd tell us. "Like green cypress swamps, sycamore trees, flowing creeks, coon hunting, and lots of cotton."

Even my little sister, Jessica Beth Gracie Swan.

"But no shooting stars."

I reckon that was the heavens' way of telling us we had more than enough.

No, I remember this was way back when Ma used to dance in the kitchen, and she'd drag Papa in there and he'd be all covered in gator blood and stinkin' up our pretty house. They'd dance all over the place—a tap-tap here and a swing-swing there. If it were a special night, Papa would dip Ma real low and swoop in for a kiss. Sure, she'd act all dramatic, pretending she didn't like it and saying they shouldn't be carryin' on in front of us girls, but you could tell that she loved that man.

So yeah, I prayed for him. I didn't know it was him I was praying for exactly, 'cause at that time I was more concerned about getting some new boots, but now I know.

I was 15, AJ was 13, and Jessie was seven. We went upstairs like we always did to get ready for bed. Our house was huge, an old plantation Pa purchased after he struck it rich with his gator hunting business. But for some reason, AJ, Jessie, and I couldn't ever be apart. So, we shared a room and crammed all our clothes and toys in the others.

It was my night to pray. We always took turns, and not to brag or anything but I was the best prayer. I think God waited every night just to hear me call out to him. So the three of us got down on our knees while I told the heavens everything that was on my mind.




"…Thank you, Lord, for a supper of delicious stew, and for Ma not putting too many carrots in it. You know how much I hate carrots. And thank you for th-"

"Make sure you pray for our family," Alice Jo says, interrupting me. She's bossy, like she always is. She's too snarky for being so short. I peek open one eye and glare. "I know, AJ."

"Watch out for our kinfolk," I add. "And I pray that Ma gets me that new pair of boots I want. You know, the yellow ones with the white polka dots and the bow at the top? I want those, but I'll take the green ones, Jesus, if that's all you want me to have."

Jessie taps me on the shoulder with her chubby finger. "Pray for the worms, too. I stepped on a worm today and I'm real sorry. Tell baby Jesus I ain't mean nothing by it."

I sigh at my youngest sister, who doesn't have a clue how life cycles work. "Fine."

"…And please, God, don't be mad at Jessie. She killed one of your beloved creatures. She said to tell you she's sorry, but I figure her sin ought to cost her a week's allowance."

Jessie nudges me hard with her elbow, but I keep praying. "And please allow us to have a good summer. I don't want to run into Miss Kate and have her and Ma chattin' about how I failed English 'cause I don't know the difference between an adjective and an adverb."

AJ clears her throat real loudly, like I'm forgetting something.

"What now?" I ask, keeping my head bowed.

"Thank God for the dirt, too, Cotton."

This time I open both eyes real wide. "What? AJ, I ain't praying for no dirt. What sense does that make? It's bad enough Jessie has me praying for worms. But I ain't telling nobody nothing about dirt."

"You has to," she argues. "You has to pray for whatever Jesus lays on my heart. And He said to tell you to thank God for the dirt. So do it."

"Yeah," Jessie cuts in. "Pray to baby Jesus before He starts crying."

I groan loudly and close my eyes again. "I don't know why I'm thanking you for this, but since you already know my sisters are out of their minds, I'm sure you'll take this with a grain of salt. So, I pray for their healing … and thank you for dirt."

"For dirt," my sisters say at the same time.





Somebody upstairs was listening, 'cause the next day dirt came tumbling into my life with a smart mouth and moss colored eyes.

He said his name was Rowdy.

That's fittin', I suppose.

Once the wild ones take your heart, they never intend on giving it back.