Silent Sweetheart - A doctoral candidate in child psychology in the midst of a quarter life crisis, a single father with a thick accent and some handyman tendencies, a two year old in pink boots and pigtails that refuses to talk, and a new relationship that's turning heads. Small town gossip in the South is already out of control, but at this point, it's downright an epidemic.
CHAPTER 1 -
It was another hot, humid day in Baton Rouge, and I briefly cursed myself for not picking somewhere with more moderate weather to get my doctorate degree from. I could've gone anywhere in the country, but yet, here I was, sweating and smothering to death as I trekked across campus at LSU to my car after my long day of classes. Though, if I had gone anywhere else, I wouldn't have had free room and board with a guaranteed part time gig for extra cash. It was that security that had me packing for the swamp even before I was fully graduated from my undergrad in Seattle nearly three and a half years ago.
When I got to my car, I quickly got in, cringing a little at the hot leather seats against my thighs. I called my brother, Emmett, to let him know I was on my way to his store to pick up a shift.
"Did you get an oil change yet?" He asked as soon as I told him I'd be there in about forty minutes. I probably had been needing an oil change for the past three weeks, and I had been putting it off much to my brother's (and car's) dismay.
"No." I dragged out.
"Go get your fucking oil changed. You drive a classic, and you're going to run the poor girl into the ground if you keep neglecting her. You aren't even on the schedule to work today."
"Emmett." I groaned. "That's gonna be like an eighty dollar visit to the shop. I need my tires rotated, too."
I had the money, but that didn't mean I wanted to spend it on car maintenance. I briefly thought back to when I was fifteen and how back then, I'd thought that by now, I'd have my life figured out with a cute little house and a handsome husband to come home to. And yet, here I was at twenty-five, throwing a tantrum about an oil change and living with my big brother.
Life sure has a way of keeping a girl humble.
"Who the hell are you bringing it to?" Emmett asked. "There's a shop down the road from the store. It's cheaper than that, the guys are cool, and I've never had any issues."
"Alright." I sighed. "I'll stop there and then come to the store for a shift."
"Are you procrastinating picking a dissertation topic? You're awfully eager to come to work today." He commented. I remained silent. He knew me too well. "Bella, you're too far in to give up now."
"I know, I know. I'm just a little burnt out with classes, I guess. I know it'll get better with the internship next year. I like the practicals… class just sucks." I complained.
"Just stick with it, kid. You worked too hard." He said. "And go get your oil changed."
"Okay." I mumbled and hung up once we said our goodbyes, and I continued my way out of Baton Rouge.
Living and working half an hour from campus was a blessing and a curse. On the days when I wanted to forget school even existed, it was nice to go to Emmett's cozy little two-story Acadian nestled on a little dead end street between the woods and cane fields. On the other hand, as someone who grew up in a city where everything I ever needed was just a couple blocks away, it was a bit annoying to be so far from campus or to have to drive fifteen minutes just to get to the nearest grocery store. I couldn't lie, though. Small town life was starting to grow on me. It only took nearly four years, but I was finally starting to know faces and names in town. Slowly, it was almost beginning to feel like home.
At some point, I had assimilated so well that slowly my style and mannerisms had slowly started changing as well. I never thought I'd move down here and turn into the girl that dressed like a wannabe baseball mom, yet here I was wearing a Southern Marsh baseball hat with a t-shirt dress. I had even broken down and started getting highlights in my hair. Dare I say that I was beginning to look like a local in this little middle of nowhere Southern town.
Eventually, I found the mechanic Emmett told me to go to and pulled into the parking lot. I shut my car off and walked into the front office.
A girl that seemed to be in her late teens to very early twenties was at the front desk and smiled brightly at me when I walked in. "Hey, can I help you?"
"Yes, I need an oil change and a tire rotation."
"Okay, they're movin' pretty quick today and there's only one person ahead of you, so it should only be about half an hour if ya want to wait on it."
"Perfect. I'll just need your keys, name, and the year, make, and model on your car."
I handed her my keys. "Bella Swan. '73 Chevy Camaro."
She wrote the information down on a paper tag and looped it through my key ring. "Alright, we'll let ya know when you're finished up."
"Thanks." I replied with a smile and went over to sit in one of the waiting room chairs. The chairs were surprisingly comfy, so I sunk in and pulled out my phone to scroll through since it'd be a while.
About ten minutes later, I heard the engine of my car, and I looked up through the big window on the back wall that looked into the garage. Someone was pulling my car in, and I had a decent view since it was in the stall closest to the window. The mechanic driving it got out, and my breath caught a little.
Maybe oil changes aren't' such a nuisance.
The mechanic was tall with a slimmer build, but he wasn't lanky by any means. His faded bootcuts were frayed at the hemline and hugged his thighs, and he had broad shoulders and biceps that I just wanted to get smothered by. He had a tattoo sleeve going down his left arm, and I could see the bottom of a tattoo poking out from his right shirt sleeve. I couldn't see much of his face under his baseball cap, but I could make out a sharp jawline under the scruff on his face. Even in his dirty ball cap, a button down shop shirt, and worn out work boots, he still looked like he should be in a magazine.
I was so busy with my shameless ogling for the first ten minutes of him working on my car that I didn't even notice the little girl that had come to sit in the chair two down from mine. There was no one with her, but she looked almost like she was at home. Her legs were pulled up, and she was leaned all the way back in the chair, turning the pages of a picture book. She was probably about two or three years old with long, wavy strawberry blonde hair that was pulled into two pigtails. She was wearing a little ruffled jumpsuit over a white t-shirt with pink ankle cowboy boots. It was the cutest thing I'd seen all day.
My eyes drifted to the little girl every few minutes, wondering where her parents were. It also looked like the girl at the front desk was keeping an eye on her, and I wondered if maybe she was the child of someone who worked there.
I was looking down at my phone when I felt a little finger tap my arm. I looked up and saw the little girl standing in front of me. I smiled softly at her. "Do you need something, honey?"
She shook her head. "You're really pretty." She said, so quietly that I had to strain to hear her.
I couldn't help how much my smile grew. "You're prettier." I promised her.
She smiled brightly and took off giggling towards the employees only door. The girl at the front desk didn't say anything when she went in there, so I figured she must have definitely been the child of someone that worked there.
I looked up and saw the mechanic that had been working on my car staring at the door the little girl had run through with a look that seemed to be a mix of amazement and confusion as he pulled a rag from his back pocket and wiped his hands. Our eyes met for a split second when his eyes went from the door to me, but I blushed and quickly looked down at my phone, hiding my face with the bill of my hat.
Fifteen minutes later, the same mechanic walked through the glass door behind the desk that led into the garage. Getting a closer look at him, I could see reddish hair curling over the bottom edges of his cap in the back.
"Bella?" The girl at the front desk called me. "You're ready."
I stood up and walked over to the desk.
The mechanic handed me my keys and a printed diagnostic form. "Changed your oil, rotated the tires, and we did a overall check on her. Everything looks good." His voice was deep, low, and smooth, but his Cajun accent was thick.
"Thanks." I replied softly and took everything from him.
"No problem. Heidi'll take care of you from here."
I nodded, but as he turned to walk away and Heidi started getting my ticket ready, I felt the same little hand from earlier tap mine. I looked down and saw the little girl looking up at me and holding out a paper. I squatted down and took it from her. It was a hand drawn flower. "Is this for me?"
She nodded eagerly, her big amber eyes sparkling.
"What's your name, honey?"
"Laney." She responded, just as quietly as before.
"Well, thank you very much, Laney. I love it."
She smiled shyly and walked back over to the seat she had been sitting in earlier. She picked her book back up and started flipping through the pages again.
I stood up to finish paying, and Heidi and the mechanic were both looking at me wide eyed. The mechanic shook his head slightly before going back into the garage.
"Did I do something wrong?" I asked Heidi softly.
"No, not at all… Laney's just really shy. She doesn't talk to… well, anyone."
I looked over at Laney for a moment before turning back to Heidi. "No one? Her family?"
Heidi shook her head. "Very rarely."
I hummed to myself and thought for a minute before Heidi broke my trance by telling me my total. I paid, thanked her, and left, making sure to pick up the diagnostic sheet and the picture from Laney.
I spent the five minute drive to Emmett's store thinking about Laney and wondering what it was about me that made her want to open up when Heidi made it seem like she rarely opened up to anyone at all. She was obviously a really sweet kid, and I thought about what her parents must have been going through, worrying about if her not talking was part of a bigger issue besides her just being a little shy. Was that mechanic working on my car her father? It would make sense. A man that was that good looking could easily make a toddler that adorable, but I did feel just a slight pang of jealousy at his faceless wife if that was the case.
Why are the handsome ones always taken? I thought bitterly.
When I got to Emmett's store, Swan and Cypress Jewelers, I went into the bathroom to brush my hair and change from my sweaty campus clothes and into a simple black dress, a loose and long plaid blazer, and my collection of my favorite pieces from Emmett and the store: some simple gold rings, a pair of gold hoops and diamond studs for my ear piercings, a thick gold bangle, and a stack of stone bead bracelets. I definitely reaped the rewards of having a brother that owned a jewelry store. I looked in the mirror and cringed a little at the circles under my tired brown eyes. I sighed and washed my face and put on some light makeup, pulled my hair back, and then went back up to the front.
My brother was rearranging some pieces in one of the cases when I walked out.
Emmett really didn't seem like the type of guy that would own a jewelry store. He was tall and big and burly with his curly brown hair cut short. He seemed more like the type that would be a bouncer at a club, but jewelry designing was something he sort of just fell into and fell in love with.
"Stop messing with my displays!" I fussed.
Emmett looked up at me smiling, his dimples showing. "I made a new ring. Need it front and center."
"Let me see." I said and walked over.
He handed me the ring. It was a marquis shaped white diamond set in yellow gold. It had a double halo that looked to be art deco inspired.
"This is gorgeous, Em."
"Look at the band."
I turned the band and saw that the band was open with filigree designs going all around. "How much does this cost?" I looked at him with wide eyes.
"Cost or retail?"
"Emmett, this is going to be in your case for the next seven years." I laughed. "No one around here is going to pay that."
He shrugged. "Maybe I'll save it for my lucky lady."
"Oh?" I giggled.
He smirked at me and put the ring back in the case.
There was a steady flow of customers during the afternoon, and I even made an engagement ring sale by the time five thirty rolled around. It wasn't Emmett's new design, though I did show that one off quite proudly. It was one of his best. We closed at six, and I was steadily watching the clock towards the end of the evening. I didn't want to leave and work on my dissertation but I also was getting a little tired of being here.
At five forty five, the doorbell chimed while I was trying on Emmett's new ring. I fought the urge to whine like a toddler. The store was empty, and that was usually my dress up time. However, I immediately changed my tune when the mechanic that worked on my car walked in. Laney was on his hip.
Well, dang. She is his. He must be in a relationship with someone…
"Well, if it ain't the man in black himself?" Emmett called. The mechanic smirked as he walked towards the counter. "Cutting it close today, huh, Cash?"
"I had to give someone a taste of his own medicine." The mechanic responded, still smirking.
"Buying baby girl some diamonds finally?" Emmett asked.
"Nah, I need a new watch battery, and I have a chain to get repaired." He said and put Laney down next to him to take off his watch and pull a chain from his shirt pocket.
Emmett took both from him and went over to the watch bench to change the battery. "Hey, Bells, why don't you show him the kids stuff? Just in case."
Cash looked over at me then, not realizing that I was standing off to the side. I saw the recognition flash in his eyes, and his smirk slowly turned into a full lopsided grin.
Oh God. I smiled shyly back.
"I guess Christmas is coming up soon." He conceded as he looked at me. His dark, forest green eyes sparkled the same way his daughter's did.
"That's the spirit." Emmett chuckled.
"It's this way." I nodded to the left and walked through the maze of cases to get to the one with our children's jewelry. "Anything in mind in particular?"
He shook his head, looking down into the case with Laney on his hip again. "What's popular?" He asked, and I took a second to look at his name embroidered on the patch of his dark gray shirt. Cash had to be a nickname. All the guys around here had nicknames, and I had a hard time believing that Cash was his actual name.
"Our birthstones. When's her birthday?" I asked, unlocking the case.
I pulled out the tiny pair of synthetic emerald earrings set in silver and handed them to him.
"What do you think, Lane Darlin'?" He asked her softly.
She removed her face from the crook of his neck and looked at the earrings. She scrunched her nose cutely and pursed her lips.
"Guess that's not it." He chuckled and handed them back to me. I noticed he wasn't wearing a ring, but that could've been just because of the line of work he was in.
I put them back in the case and pulled out a simple silver necklace with a tiny crystal heart pendant. "This is probably our second top seller."
Before I could even hand the necklace to her dad, Laney shook her head. I smiled a little as he raised an eyebrow at her.
"Then you pick something out, ma'am." He told her.
Laney looked at me for a moment before leaning down and studying what was in the case for a few moments before putting her finger over a pair of earrings.
I giggled and put the pendant back. "She has good taste. It's genuine diamonds set in fourteen carat gold. Everything else in our child's case is synthetic in sterling." I pulled out the earrings and handed them to him. "Fourth of a carat total weight."
He took them from me and studied them before turning them over to look at the price. "Ya sure you don't see anything else?" He turned to look at her. She gave him a crinkled nose smile, and he mimicked her expression exactly.
Now that was the cutest thing I'd seen all day.
"I guess I'll take them." He chuckled and turned back to me.
"Did you want them gift wrapped?"
"Nah, it's fine. How easy are they to come out?"
"Oh, they're screw backs. She shouldn't lose them." I assured him as I locked the case and started to walk to the register.
He nodded and walked around the cases to the register as well.
"Find something?" Emmett asked from the doorway to the back office.
"Diamond earrings." I responded softly with a little smile.
Emmett smirked. "Perfect. Ya know you have to upgrade her every year, right?" He asked as he picked up the watch sitting near the register and handed it to Cash.
I giggled and peeked over the computer screen.
Cash's eyes widened and then he smirked. "Is that what you do?" He asked, nodding towards me.
I laughed. "You know, Em, I think I am due for an upgrade." I looked over my shoulder at my brother.
Emmett snorted. "Well, sis, maybe I could if your wish list would stop growing."
I shrugged, smiling, and opened up a new sale on the computer.
"He has an account under Cash Cullen." Emmett said from behind me. "I'll go box the earrings for you. Don't worry about ringing up the battery."
I nodded, handed Emmett the earrings, and found the name in the customer base. I rang up the sale and told him his total as Emmett gave him his bag, talked to him about his chain repair, and took his card. I absentmindedly played with an eye loupe, flipping it open and closed as Emmett completed the sale.
"You can take that one off your wish list." Emmett laughed as he waited for the receipt to print.
"Playing dress up again?" He nodded towards the diamond ring on my left hand.
"Oops." I blushed and slipped it off to return to the case.
Emmett shook his head at me with a smile as he gave Cash a receipt to sign. I put the ring back as Emmett walked to the front door with him to lock the door behind him.
"Thanks for your help. Have a good night." Cash called to me as he walked past me.
"You, too." I replied softly.
Laney waved over his shoulder, and I waved back with a smile before returning to the register. The merchant copy of his receipt was still on the counter, and I picked it up to put with the others. My eyes traveled down to his signature above the printed cardholder name.
Edward A. Cullen
Cash was a nickname. He looked like an Edward. That fit him. There was some type of old world, southern charm about him.
I heard him laugh loudly at something at the front of the store, and the sound made me smile a little.
I think I liked Edward better.
A/N So, my original goal was to have the story completely written before I post it, but I'm at the halfway point of writing it and am really just too anxious not to go ahead and post the first chapter. I also promised y'all something by May 1st, and we are very close to that point.
And just for the record, I had no idea where this story was going when I first started rewriting it, but holy hell, it took me on a roller coaster. I've added new components, tried to keep some pieces of the original that you may recognize, tried to make my south LA characters a little more true to how locals are, and I tried to stay true to the overall themes of the story. I'll be honest. I'm nervous as heck to post this knowing that some of you loved the original version so much (which truly warmed my heart to learn), and I hope you will come to fall in love with this one just as much. I'll be trying to post a chapter a week to give myself time to edit and finish writing this story, and once it's completed, postings will probably be up to 2-3 times a week.
So until the next one, bebs.