summary: Dan and Bess's ride back to Plumfield following her confrontation with Grayson Whittaker.
disclaimer: I own none of the characters presented, nor Little Men, although the plot itself is of my own 'creativity.' And in the case that you should decide to sue for some reason, I'm certain you'd probably be paying far more for the process itself than what you would receive in return as I don't have much to offer. :) But the Spanish books are always up for grabs...
author's comments: please R/R! :)
Bess watched silently as Grayson walked away, no implication of remorse evident on the features she had, not so long ago, found so very handsome. She had been wrong in her defining of his true character, and she was ashamed for having been focused on things so petty. Grayson's sophisticated rhetoric, full of flattery, and his seemingly gentleman-like manners had first intrigued her, and she, with the curious, romantic notions of a thirteen-year-old heart, had been helplessly fooled by the intricate façade that he had put on.
Dan did not possess those sweet words, nor was he as polished in his etiquette and manners; thus he did not create the outward appearance of a true gentleman. But, despite his occasional impulsive actions and somewhat rugged appearance, he held a respect and genuine regard for others; treated them as a person—something that Grayson Whittaker had yet to learn.
"I'm proud of you, sweetheart," Laurie said sincerely, placing a gentle hand of encouragement on her shoulder. She offered him a small smile; however, Dan approached then, tipping his Stetson, which left her no chance to respond.
"Everythin' alright?" he asked in that slow, relaxed manner of his, eyes wandering to Bess, who stood beside her father.
She noticed his questioning look and nodded slightly, "Yes."
Dan grinned, one of his half-grins, though, as peculiar as it was, she found that if offered a sort of little boy appearance to his features, as if he held some secret delight over something. "Ya want a ride home?"
Bess glanced to Laurie, who bowed his head in assent, placing no objections against the offer. "All right," she agreed, in a tone that partially betrayed her excited pleasure, as she mounted the wooden sidewalk to fall in step with Dan's long strides. When she prepared to climb up in the wagon, Dan touched her arm by way of restraint. He offered his hand, and she, smiling softly, accepted the polite gesture, grasping her skirts before taking a seat.
Gathering the long leather reins in his hands, Dan settled in easily beside her, clucking to Marty as he slapped the gelding's dark hind quarters. The wheels turned with an insignificant jolt, and they started down the road.
Bess placed her hands in her lap, assuming the ladylike position of perfect posture. "Dan?" she queried reposefully after a prolonged moment of silence, "I- t-thank you."
Dan pulled his gaze from the brown dirt ribbon stretching before them, meeting her blue eyes. He furrowed his brows slightly in befuddlement at her unexpected appreciation, letting out a nervous laugh. "Thank me?" he questioned lightly, the left corner of his mouth quirking into the hint of a smile, "For what?"
She did not look at him, but raised her shoulders in a small shrug, as if to indicate that she hadn't the slightest idea of how to communicate what she was trying to say. "Just for… for…" Her sentence faded as the words—the ones she had so carefully put together in her mind—seemed to slip from her grasp like water through her fingers.
Sensing her struggle, Dan hesitated; his curiosity, however, got the better of him, and he implored yet again, "For?"
Bess ducked her head, feeling her cheeks tinge faintly with pink. The cool, collected air of confidence that seemed to become her so easily had vanished, leaving a more vulnerable, more innocent side—one Dan had never seen before.
"Just…for being you," she said finally, her eyes widening—half with embarrassment at how childish and silly it must have sounded to him—as soon as the words slipped out. The response sounded dreadful to her own ears, but, reflecting back, she hadn't known how else to say it.
Astonishment flickered across his face. He and Bess were constantly bickering—and, on certain occasions, were probably capable of driving each other in a permanent state of madness. He'd come to rather enjoy their little sparring matches, but he could never figure whether she did or not.
"It ain't too hard, I guess," he started, leaning forward slightly in the typical driver position. "Just figure that if people don't— can't like me for who I am, there's no reason ta make myself somethin' I ain't, 'cause there's no point in bein' friends with'em."
Can't like me for who I am. Bess caught her lip, her middle twisting with silent shame and humiliation. If Dan knew what a terrible person she was, of the awful things she had said about him to Nan, would he feel that she was not worth being friends with?
She raised her head, breaking from her rather melancholy deliberations. "Yes?"
"I— I got a confession ta make."
It was her turn to look startled, "Confession?
"I, uh… I heard yer conversation with Nan— the one ya had while you were gettin' ready ta go an' meet with that Grayson fellow," he admitted, fervently hoping the brim of his hat shaded the red geranium color that darkened his face and neck.
Bess went white, causing a severe contrast between her now pale skin and her blue eyes that appeared darker than normal. Her gloved hand tightened around the reticule hanging from her wrist, and she watched the road with blank intensity.
He knew. Dan had known all along—every single word. He knew of the thoughtless things she had said about him, about how foolish she had been. He knew it all!
"How could you do that!?" she demanded, on the verge of tears. "How could you sit there and let me say what I did, make a complete fool of myself?" Bess jumped up, giving him a pained though accusing glare. "Please stop," she cried hotly, preparing to climb, rather clumsily, from the wagon. She had no desire to ride home with him—the sneak!
"Bess, wait!" he entreated. Jerking Marty to a halt, Dan dropped the reins and lunged forward to grasp her arm before she could fall off the side and break a leg. "It ain't like that, Bess. Honest! I didn't tell yer parents. I was mad, an' Mrs. Jo asked me what was picked up on it. She tol' your parents—I didn't that ya weren't supposed to see'im."
When he grabbed her arm, she tensed and started to pull away, instinctively raising a hand to slap his face. But, she stopped mid-swing upon seeing the pleadingly honest look in his brown eyes–the ones that always reminded her of melting chocolate.
"You were angry?" Her own anger dissipated, and she regarded him inquisitively. "Why?"
Dan's color heightened once again, and he quickly let her go. "I was just walkin' down the hall, mindin' my own business… I-I was gonna ask ya to the dance, an' when I heard ya say that you were goin' with that Grayson, an' 'bout me just plain Dan, I got mad…an'… an' I- I was jealous."
"Jealous?" Bess repeated softly in quiet incredulousness. He was jealous— had been jealous?
"Silly, ain't it?" He laughed hesitantly and rubbed a nervous palm against the back of his neck, flashing her an embarrassed and impish grin.
She was stunned, to say the least. Confused, bewildered, thrilled, disappointed… Bess wasn't sure how she felt. Too many different things were chasing through her mind—she didn't try and decipher anything. Those words, his words—never in her life would she have expected to hear say that...to her.
The stricken expression and her silence were making him uncomfortable, and Dan tried to swallow the tight knot that formed in his throat. He shouldn't have told her; he should have just let things be. Attempting to ease the tension of the moment, he asked, "So, d'ya…want a ride home…instead of walkin'?"
Bess dropped to her seat, watching, though not seeing, a cluster of trees nearby. "Yes, I- I suppose so," she answered slowly, his question barely pulling her from her abstractions.
It wasn't much, but at least she was talking to him. Dan settled back and urged Marty on his way. He slid his gaze sideways, glancing at her. Had he scared her? Startled her? Stunned her speechless? No, he doubted that was the case. He was just Dan—why would she get excited over him being jealous?
Startling him, she turned, bumping the side of his leg with her skirt and petticoat clad knees. She did not know why it surprised her so much—both Nan and her Aunt had suggested the same thing. "You were going to a-ask…me to the dance?"
"Yeah… yeah, I was," he answered deliberately, while silently wondering if she considered that a good thing or a bad thing. Was he merely playing tricks on his mind, or had he detected a hint of regret in her voice?
"Oh," she said softly. Bess then, as if just realizing her sudden movement, hastened to right herself in the correct position, blushing.
The conversation thus far had turned out most disconcerting; and Bess, as well as Dan, could not help in their wishing that it had never started. It seemed that, as soon as they straightened something out, another thing came up and made things more difficult.
With the uncomfortable silence that had settled between them during the last never-ending moments of the ride, the sight of Plumfield, seen at long last, was quite welcome. Dan pulled the wagon to a halt in front of the big yellow house and promptly jumped off to help Bess down. She avoided his gaze, tugging anxiously at her bottom lip, and put her hands on his shoulders—though, she quickly dropped them as soon as her feet touched the ground.
"Thank you," she murmured, almost inaudibly, disguising her flustered feelings to no avail. She didn't like this—the stilted awkwardness that hung so heavily in the air. Dan's taunts about her fear of bugs or singing would have been as welcomed as a glass of lemonade on a sweltering August afternoon.
Dan relinquished his slight grasp on her small waist just as quickly and, before long, had busied himself with returning Marty to the barn. "Welcome."
Bess stood there for a moment, wanting to leave yet reluctant to do so; and that bewildered her all the more. Nonetheless, she quickened her pace and started for the house, lifting her shoulders ever so slightly. If she entered looking as disheveled on the outside as she felt on the inside, Nan would bury her with dozens questions. Questions that, at the present, she would not feel like answering.
While she moved up the walk towards the front door, Dan stopped and glanced back to watch her, a thoughtful expression in his eyes. He'd admitted to being jealous, embarrassingly enough. Would she despise him now? Never talk to him again? Should he take a chance, summon up his courage and ask her to the dance?
"Bess?" he called, even before realizing it.
Perplexed, she hesitated and turned partly back to look at him. "Yes, Dan?"
"Would ya… would ya go to the dance with me?"
Her eyes widened again, the blue depths holding an unreadable expression. "Yes," she said softly after a long, tantalizing moment had passed, "Yes, I'd like to."
Dan grinned with relief. "You will?"
Bess tipped her head, a smile flitting across her lips. "Yes, silly," she teased, grinning softly, "I will." And then, acting on an impulsive whim, she dared to approach him. "Thank you, Dan," she whispered, reaching to place a light kiss on his cheek.
"T-thank you?" He swallowed, startled; he could still feel where her lips had brushed his skin. However, it didn't take him long to recover from his shock—and he grinned another slow, easy grin. "That's the third time you've thanked me for somethin', Bess."
She straightened suddenly, blushing again. What had she just done? Her eyes widened. She was turning into a regular Charlotte Gerson! With a small gasp, Bess turned and hurried up the porch steps, soon disappearing inside the front door.
Before Dan could say a word, beckon to her, Marty gave a fiery toss of his head and stomped a hoof, missing the toe of Dan's boot by just a few inches. "Alright, alright," he muttered, giving into the gelding's demands. But, he strode back to the barn with a bit more confidence returning to his gate.
Bess did not hate him, and she had agreed to go the dance with him; even kissed him! Yes, things were looking quite nice for him. Much better than they had been just a few minutes before. He couldn't help but whistle while he worked. Maybe this dance— er, ball would not be so bad after all.
But like all pleasant things, this one soon came to an end.
widened with panic and his newly blossomed self-confidence wilted. This
perfect event was not so perfect anymore. He hadn't the faintest idea how