Here Comes The Bride

"Mommy's home!" Vernita called out as she closed the front door.

She dropped off her luggage on the couch in the living room and made her way to the dining room where she found Lawrence and Nikkia placing down plates and eating utensils. Nikkia dropped what she was doing and ran to her mother.

"Hey baby, how's it going?" She asked as Nikkia hugged her, her arms thrown around her mother's legs.

"I missed you!"

"I missed you too, sweetie."

Lawrence Bell, the spitting image of the actor Morris Chestnut, came over and kissed his wife briefly, but with enough passion to make Vernita fall in love with him all over again.

"How was the trip, Jeannie?"

"I had a nice time, but I'm very happy to be back!" Vernita forced herself to smile. "I see you and Nikki are already preparing for dinner?"

"We ordered Chinese take-out. They should be here any minute." At that very second, the doorbell rang. "That must be them now, let me get it. Nikkia, show Mommy what you made."

"It's in the living room."

"Go get it," Lawrence called over his shoulder and went to the front door while Vernita took a seat at the dinner table.

Nikkia went to the living room and came back with her drawing. "Close your eyes, Mommy."

Vernita closed her eyes and waited. A paper was placed in her hands.

"Open your eyes, Mommy!"

Vernita opened her eyes and found she was staring at booklet made from construction paper. The cover was made from red construction paper and decorated with flashing sequins and fuzzy feathers. Written in block letters, the title of the book read: MY FAMILY. Vernita opened the book and saw that each page was made from construction paper of different colors. The first page was blue and had a drawing of Vernita carrying what looked like a pot. Over the pot were lines to indicate steam from a hot meal. An arrow pointed at the pot and the word lasagna spelled "lazonya". Written in black letters underneath the drawing were the words: I love Mommy. The next page was green with a drawing of Lawrence dressed as a doctor with a loopy stethoscope hanging off his neck. I love Daddy. There was a purple page with a drawing that appeared to be a rectangle with legs and two tiny triangles for ears. It took up the entire space of the paper. I love Barney. The next page was orange and Nikkia had taken the liberty of creating her first self-portrait. I love me! Vernita smiled and came to the last page. Mommy, Daddy, and Nikkia holding hands with Barney next to them was recreated on yellow construction paper. In black crayon, Nikkia had written: I love my family!

Vernita wasn't sure how to respond at first. She was overjoyed, yet heartbroken all at once. The book was adorable and she knew Nikka had made it for her mother with her every ounce of her heart. The drawings were the best her four-year-old could give her and the meaning behind the booklet almost made her cry. She looked up and saw Nikkia in front of her, waiting to hear if Mommy liked what she made for her.

"This is beautiful, baby!" She hugged Nikkia. "My little girl's gonna grow up to be an artist! I'm so proud of you…I love this! Mommy's gonna put it up on the fridge."

Nikkia beamed. "I drew Barney. Did you see?"

"I sure did!"

Upon hearing his name and smelling the Chinese food that Lawrence set on the table, Barney, the Bells' two year old golden retriever, came into the dining room, wagging his tail excitedly and barking.

"Get out of here, Barney," Vernita ordered in a stern tone.

The golden retriever was Lawrence's gift for Nikkia's third birthday and although the dog was adorable, Vernita never really warmed up to him. She wasn't the world's most passionate dog-lover, but she tolerated Barney since Nikkia loved him.

"Ready to eat?" Lawrence asked as he removed steaming containers of pork-fried rice and chicken and broccoli from the paper bag. "There's more in here, Jeannie, so dig in. I know you're starved."

oOo

Vernita had tried to enjoy her dinner, but for some reason she felt like she was having her last supper with her family. She realized that she didn't know exactly when she would actually have her last supper or final moment with them and the thought of it frightened her. She had been able to pretend everything was okay, and she spoke with Nikkia about the beautiful book she made. Vernita felt the same way too: she adored her family. How wonderful that her daughter was able illustrate this love in a heartfelt gift for her mother. They were a close-knit family and Vernita wanted to keep it that way.

After dinner was over, it was family time, which they had every Sunday evening after dinner. Tonight wouldn't be any different. Vernita had wanted to sleep off the jet lag, but Lawrence and Nikkia kept insisting, until she finally gave in. Now they sat together in the living room playing charades. Nikkia sat next to her mother, while Lawrence pretended to climb an imaginary ladder. Then he banged an imaginary nail into invisible wood.

"What am I?" he said, turning to them.

Vernita stared blankly at her husband.

"A firefighter!" Nikkia piped up. "A carpenter!"

Lawrence nodded in approval. "Very good, Nikki." He came back to the couch where Vernita sat as Nikkia got up. "You're very quiet tonight...is anything wrong?"

Vernita shook her head and turned to him. "I'm good, just a bit tired."

"Wanna go next?" Lawrence smiled as he took her hand and held it in his. "It'll wake you up."

"I'll pass for now. Nikkia, why don't you go?" Vernita ruffled her daughter's hair. "Thanks honey, I'll be just fine." She took her hand out of his and folded her arms across her chest in an effort to concentrate on what was going on at the present moment.

Nikkia went to the carpet and lay down, prone on her back. "Guess what I am!"

Barney bounded into the living room and licked Nikkia's face. She laughed and pushed his head away.

"Get outta here!" Vernita shooed him away. "You're acting a damn fool!"

Barney left and Nikkia remained on the carpet with her eyes closed. She threw her arms up and they plopped down on the carpet. Then she lay very still.

"A statue?" Lawrence guessed.

Nikkia smiled and shook her head, her eyes still shut. Dimples pricked her cheeks.

"Sack of potatoes?"

"No Daddy!"

"Sleeping?" Vernita asked, trying to get into the game.

Suddenly Nikkia bolted up, a wide grin on her face. "I was playing dead!"

Vernita's eyes glazed over as she stared at Nikkia. Her expression was unreadable and she felt her chest tighten. She struggled to speak, but the words wouldn't come to her. Finally she forced them out.

"Nikkia. Come here."

Nikkia heard the sharp tone in her mother's voice. Her smile faded as she knew that tone all too well. It was the no-nonsense one Mommy had whenever she was angry and not in the mood to repeat herself. Usually Nikkia heard that tone when her mother asked her to put away her toys that were strewn across the living room floor. If she failed to not listen the first time, then that new edgy tone would take over and Nikkia knew better than to test her mother and have her repeat herself a third time.

"Get over here." Vernita snapped her fingers and pointed at the spot in front of her. "Now."

Nikkia crept towards her, her footsteps slow as she padded across the living room to her mother. Vernita stared at her daughter for several seconds before raising her hand and giving her a sharp slap across the face.

Nikkia remained frozen. At first it appeared that the slap didn't faze her or at least, that she was trying to swallow it down. Then her lips started trembling and her eyes squinted in disbelief that her mother would strike her in such anger when all she was playing was a simple game of charades. She wasn't really dead, so why was Mommy so mad? Nikkia couldn't understand what was wrong. Mommy had never hit her. That did it. Hot tears stung her eyes and streamed down her round cheeks. Nikkia bawled; her entire body shook as if she were a human earthquake.

"I was only playing, Mommy!" she wailed between sniffles and sobs.

Meanwhile, Lawrence stared at his wife of four years as if he'd just witnessed her stabbing someone with a butcher knife. This couldn't be the same Jeannie he knew and loved so well. He'd never known her to lift a hand against their baby girl and furthermore, they had both agreed that corporal punishment was a no-no in their household when it came to raising their child. There were other things Jeannie could've done: like explain to Nikkia why death is a serious thing, not something to be laughed at or mocked, or that it bothered Mommy for her to play like that. But slap her? Lawrence was definitely shaken, but also angry from what she had done and the effect it had on Nikkia.

"What's gotten into you, Jeannie?"

Terror.

The six letter word flashed like a searchlight in Vernita's mind. More words flashed in her mind, as if blinding her ability to think and see clearly. Fear, horror, fright, panic, alarm…the list ran on and on. That's what gotten into me, she thought. She wanted to scream, but bit down on her tongue. Terror consumed her soul like acid burning a human body.

Elle's words rang in her mind like a gong: what would you do if Beatrix killed your baby girl? Hearing Elle's gleeful voice in her mind choked her up and tears burned her eyes. Vernita pulled Nikkia close to her, wrapping her arms around the sobbing girl. With a choked voice that sounded as if a golf ball was lodged in her throat, Vernita spoke as clearly as possible.

"I'm so sorry baby…you just don't know how much it would hurt Mommy if she lost you, her little girl—her only little girl…that's why Mommy slapped you honey. Not because she's mad, but because you doing that scared Mommy bad."

Vernita wiped the tears from her face and held Nikkia's shoulders in a firm, but tender grip. She felt her words made no sense. How was slapping her four-year-old showing her that she was afraid? If anything, it showed how angry she was at Beatrix Kiddo for having the nerve to wake up from her damn coma. Not that Vernita could express that in front of her daughter and husband. No, it was a torture she had to endure by herself. I just want to make sure they don't get hurt, Vernita thought. God…what would I do… She realized Nikkia was staring at her with wide eyes. Her head bobbed up and down as she struggled to understand what her mother was telling her.

"Mommy loves you, don't ever forget that. Mommy doesn't know what she would do if she lost her baby girl."

oOo

Vernita pulled the blanket close to Nikkia's chin, while her daughter watched her with inquiring brown eyes. Barney slept at the head of her bed as if guarding her from intruders and nightmares. Or former assassins seeking to settle a score.

"Do you want me to read to you before you go to sleep?"

"Yes, please." Nikkia pointed to her bureau.

"Sleeping Beauty?" Vernita asked.

Nikkia nodded. Sleeping Beauty was her favorite fairy tale. At the moment, it was Vernita's least favorite story due to the connotations it had with Beatrix Kiddo. The blood-splattered bride, a blonde angel laying in a coma, a deep sleep, only to awaken—

"Mommy, sit down with me!" Nikkia patted the bed, smiling.

Vernita sat on the bedside and opened the book. "Once upon a time there was a Queen who had a beautiful baby daughter…"

Nikkia listened, enthralled by the tale of a beautiful princess who had been cursed by an evil fairy. Yet, a good fairy had changed the curse so that instead of dying when pricked by a spindle at the youthful age of sixteen; the princess would fall into a deep sleep along with the entire kingdom.

"Overcome by emotion, he went close, lifted the girl's little white hand and gently kissed it. At that kiss; the princess quickly opened her eyes, and wakening from her long long sleep, seeing the Prince beside her, murmured: Overcome by emotion, he went close, lifted the girl's little—"

"Mommy, you read that part already."

Vernita looked at the page; the words blurred in front of her. She looked at Nikkia and put the book aside. "You know, Mommy's tired from the jet lag and traveling. That's probably why I kept repeating it. Tomorrow night, we'll finish reading it, okay baby?"

"Did you like your trip, Mommy?"

"Yes, I enjoyed it sweetie."

"Who did you see?" Nikkia sat up in bed, wide awake and curious.

"An old friend, that Mommy hasn't seen in a long while." Vernita tilted her head thoughtfully. "His name is Bill."

"Does Mr. Bill have a little girl for me to play with?"

"Yes— "

"How come he can't come over with her so we can play?"

Vernita sighed. She and B.B. thought on the same wavelength. She gently patted down Nikkia's hair. "Because they're too far from us."

"But you went over to see them."

"You're right, Mommy did."

"So then…maybe one day they can come see us." She yawned. "They would love Barney."

"His little girl would."

"What's her name?"

"B.B."

"What does that stand for?"

Vernita realized she didn't know, and she was too tired to make up what the initials stood for. She had a feeling B.B. was named for both her parents, but that was not something that could be easily explained to Nikkia…well, maybe she could in a simple way. After all, she didn't have to go into their history or what Bill did to Beatrix. She just wanted to know what the initials stood for; it wasn't a big deal.

"You know how Daddy is named after his grandfather, baby?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, B.B. is named after her parents' first names. Bill and Beatrix."

"I like that," Nikkia said thoughtfully. "Who am I named for?"

"Well…no one in particular. When I first held you in my arms, after you were born, I thought you were so pretty. You were the most gorgeous baby in the hospital and the whole world. 'Nikkia' would fit you beautifully. It's a pretty name for a pretty girl." Vernita smiled and leaned over, kissing Nikkia on her cheek and tucked her in again.

"Do you think I'm pretty?"

"Of course Mommy thinks you're pretty. She doesn't just think so either." Vernita started towards the bedroom door.

"She doesn't?" Nikkia asked, as if bewildered.

"She knows so."

Nikkia sighed as if relieved. "You're pretty too, Mommy."

"Thank you, baby." Vernita turned around and flicked on the tiny nightlight and turned off the bedroom light. "Time to go to sleep. You have to get up early tomorrow for school."

"I love you, Mommy."

"I love you too, baby. Good night."

Vernita stayed in Nikkia's room, watching her daughter fall asleep. She could've stayed there all night watching her little girl sleep. She had it in her mind that each night would be her last time with her and that she must spend as much time with her as possible.

Then she shook her head and headed to her bedroom. Vernita knew she couldn't live encased in an invisible cage of fear. It was ridiculous and she would never give Beatrix the satisfaction of having frightened her to this extent. Vernita went to Nikkia again, kissed her on the forehead and then closed the bedroom door.

"Dream with the angels," she whispered, before going downstairs to see her husband.

oOo

Lawrence was waiting for her in their bedroom by the time she came in. He sat on one side of the bed and patted the space next to him. Vernita went over to him and sat down.

"How was your trip, Jeannie?"

"I visited some old friends. They're doing okay."

"Did you enjoy yourself?"

"I did. We had drinks. Caught up with each other on what's going on with our lives now, and reminisced about the past. You know; the usual."

Vernita patted the pillow and lay on her side, not looking at him.

"Are you sure?" Lawrence gently touched her shoulder, and turned her towards him so that his dark concerned eyes met hers. "You didn't seem like yourself tonight."

"I know…I'm just tired."

"Are you sure that's all?"

"Yes…I'm sorry about Nikkia."

"That's something I wanted to ask you about. Where did that come from?"

There was an odd note in Lawrence's voice and Vernita knew she had to tread carefully. For a moment, he didn't sound like her husband, but more like a police officer who wanted the truth and nothing else. He never sounded like that before, but then again, Vernita reflected, I never slapped Nikkia either.

"It was a gut response," she whispered. "When I was younger, we weren't allowed to speak about death in my house. My father, if you remember, he died when I was her age…and when I used to ask my mother about it, she'd slap me. I guess that was her way of dealing with the pain."

She looked at Lawrence, searching his eyes to see if he believed her. There was a solid iciness in Lawrence's eyes that melted upon hearing her explanation. Vernita's heart had been pounding across her chest as she spoke her lie and now it gentled down to an even rhythm. It became easier over the years to make up lies off the top of her head. She'd done it when she worked for Bill whenever she was being tracked down by the law, but this time, she was doing it for a good reason; she convinced herself. She was doing it to protect her family.

"Alright, Jeannie…it's just I don't want that for our little girl. I realize what she did was disturbing and I plan on speaking to her about it tomorrow. But slapping her…what would that teach her? If anything, death is part of life. I deal with it everyday at work. We have to teach her about death, how people cope with it, and that one day, we're all gonna die. It's a part of the circle of life, we die so that others may live; we don't last forever…"

Lawrence droned on and at a certain point, Vernita blocked him out. She didn't want to, but he was pressing and twisting her nerves, even though he was completely unaware of it. She wanted to scream at him to shut up and tell him that at any given day, she'd be dead. She'd only be a memory to him and her daughter if she wasn't able to kill Beatrix. She'd be a quiet memory: past photographs to admire at and images in the mind's eye.

That was the only way to remember O-Ren now. If Beatrix killed her….what would become of Nikkia? Lawrence? If Beatrix killed her….

She couldn't finish the sentence this time and she wished more than ever that she could tell him the honest truth about her past, the callous woman she used to be, the wild life she used to live, why she reacted the way she had when Nikkia "played dead"...and who she had really went to see this past weekend. But Lawrence could never know…neither could Nikkia. Vernita had worked damned hard to have a normal life and she didn't want it disrupted. Not by Beatrix or herself. If she killed Beatrix, then that fear would be alleviated and she could go on pretending that she had always been a normal person in life with complexities and issues just as any other person in the world.

"Sarah called earlier, she wanted to discuss Little League season. She's looking forward to hearing from you…make sure you call her tomorrow first thing."

That got her attention. He hadn't even noticed that she had tuned him out. Then again, Lawrence, as wonderful a man as he was…he didn't notice a lot of things. Maybe it was due to his workload as a doctor in the county hospital. He had enough on his hands considering the career he had.

"When did she call?" Vernita asked, as she lay on her side, resting her face on her hands.

"An hour before you arrived. I wanted us to spend time together tonight. You know, we've both been so busy with everything, me at the hospital, and you with Little League, Nikki starting preschool…sometimes we forget we're a family. I think Nikkia senses it too, which is why she made you that booklet."

Vernita blinked, feeling a tad guilty. Maybe she was wrong in her assessment of him: maybe Lawrence noticed a lot more than he let on. He praised their daughter for her inner instincts of what was going on around her.

"How's work for you this week?" she asked, as he lay down beside her. She turned to him and ran her fingers down his chest. Maybe if they could make love for tonight, it'd help to ease the numbing fear that was heightening as the minutes ticked by. She wanted to talk about Nikkia with him, but she also wanted to have him just for tonight. She didn't want to worry about Beatrix coming to kill her, about Nikkia feeling sad from what happened earlier…

"Not too bad. I should be able to pull a double shift in the middle of the week so that I have Friday off. That way I can have a fun three day weekend with the two special women in my life. My queen Jeannie and my princess Nikkia."

Vernita licked her lips suggestively. "How about an enjoyable night…right now?"

Lawrence sat up in the bed, eyebrows raised, and a sly smile flashed across his face. "You wanna surprise me?"

oOo

"More milk," Nikkia said, tapping her spoon on the blue ceramic bowl.

"What do we say, Nikkia?"

"Please!"

"Good girl." Vernita leaned over, pouring milk into Nikkia's favorite cereal, Kaboom. She ruffled her daughter's thick curly hair, a perfect blend of her mother's and father's. Excited, she swung her small legs over the floor. "How're you doing over there, honey?" She asked Lawrence.

He peered at her from over a thick newspaper. "Doing fine, love. Just to let you know, I won't be in until after seven this evening. I'm expecting it to be a busy day. You know how Mondays are in the hospital."

Vernita nodded and leaned over him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "You smell good. Sure you don't want to stay at home with me?"

Lawrence glanced at Nikkia as if making sure she didn't hear anything she wasn't supposed to. Seeing she was busy devouring her cereal, Lawrence winked at his wife. "Not today." He lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper. "Surprise me, tonight…just like last night."

"Will do." Vernita said and picked up her husband's empty plate, glass, and utensils. Then she turned to Nikkia. "You gonna finish that cereal? Or is Mommy gonna have to finish it for you?"

Nikkia picked up her bowl so she could drink the rest of the milk and colorful marshmallow stars and toasted oats shaped like smiling clown faces. Barney came in, wagging his tail. He situated himself under the table hoping a morsel would fall to the ground so he could lap it up before anyone noticed.

"Nikki! How many times have I told you not to—?"

The blaring sound of the phone ringing off the hook interrupted Vernita from further lecturing her daughter. She looked at the phone to Nikkia and to Lawrence. Last time the phone rang it was Bill with the news that he had to speak with her about…she chose right then to block it out of her mind. Important business matters, let's just leave it at that. She looked around again and saw that Lawrence had already picked up the phone.

"Uh-huh…yes, Jeannie's right here." He put his hand over the speaker. "It's Sarah from Little League, wanting to speak with you about meeting up today."

Vernita let out a sigh of relief. "I'll take it," she said nodding.

"Alright, here she is…" Lawrence passed the phone to his wife and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. "I gotta run now, hon, but I'll see you tonight."

"I love you."

"I love you too." Before Vernita could say more, Lawrence rushed out the dining room and toward the entrance where his coat and briefcase waited for him. He carried a ton of paperwork in the briefcase and it made him look more like a lawyer than a doctor, Vernita thought as she watched the front door close behind him.

On the phone, she heard a soft voice: "Jeannie? Are you still there? Hello?"

Vernita snapped out of her trance. "Hey Sarah, how's it going…yeah I arrived back last night." She paused as Sarah asked her if today was a good day to drop by and discuss Little League and how they would go about organizing it this season.

"I planned to drop in between four and five in the late afternoon if that was okay by you," Sarah said on the other line.

As most mothers learned to do, Vernita multi-tasked. She continued her conversation with Sarah and at the same time snapped her fingers at Nikkia. Get your coat and backpack, we're leaving soon, she mouthed to her daughter. Nikkia nodded and slid off her chair. She turned back around when she saw her mother shaking her head in disapproval. Nikkia picked up her bowl, spoon, and empty glass and rinsed them by using the stepstool to give her extra height to reach the sink. Afterwards, she loaded them in the dishwasher. Then she turned back to her mother. Vernita smiled and nodded approvingly. She stepped aside giving room for Nikkia to leave the dining room. Vernita heard the thudding of Nikkia racing upstairs to get her coat and backpack for school and then turned her full focus on Sarah, who'd been her assistant coach in the town's Little League team for the past two years.

"Yes, Sarah…that would be perfect. I can even make us a little dinner or a light snack. Something nice…I didn't cook when I came back from my trip…yeah, we had Chinese take-out. Lawrence ordered it before I arrived. You're more than welcome to have dinner with us tonight, Lawrence would enjoy the company and Nikkia misses you I'm sure. I'll cook that lasagna you love. Alright? Four-thirty it is…see you then."

Vernita hung up and Nikkia entered the dining room at the same moment with her backpack.

"Ready to go, baby?"

oOo

Vernita pulled up in front of Allendale Elementary School. Nikkia undid her seatbelt, ready to rush out the car and eager to meet with her friends.

"Don't forget to take the bus today, okay?"

Vernita always reminded Nikkia that she took the bus in the afternoons, although she was dropped off in the morning. She wanted to make sure was safe at all times and even though it was November and Nikkia was probably used to the routine by now, it didn't hurt to remind her.

Nikkia nodded and answered her mother with another question. "Are you making lasagna today?"

Vernita smiled at Nikkia, caressing her cheek. "Were you eavesdropping in Mommy's conversation? You know that's not nice."

"No, I came back in and you said 'lasagna'. That's why I ask."

Vernita laughed and she knew it was genuine and joyful, not forced. She loved the beautiful innocence that children possessed. It made her wonder: when did she lose her innocence? What was her turning point? What about other people? How did they go from being sweet and innocent to learning to manipulate and connive to get their way? Not that everyone went to that negative extreme, but nearly all adults lost their childlike innocence along the way as they grew older. It was that innocence which made them trust strangers, tell the entire truth, and draw pictures of flowers and cars to give to their favorite teachers as gifts.

She supposed that's what differentiated adults from kids. Adults were cynical; some were unable to appreciate life for the simple things, and even worse, there were adults that were deliberately cruel to each other. She had been that way once, but she tried to change, Vernita thought. She was a different person now. Vernita hoped that her little Nikkia would never become adulterated and that she would always possess her pure innocence (even if it was just a strand). As she grew older, she would realize the world was not a warm, fuzzy, and friendly place. It was ugly and cruel and Vernita wanted Nikkia to remain a child for as long as possible. There was no need for her to grow up before her time.

"Okay baby, I'll make it extra special for you. Ground beef, sausage, shredded pepperoni—all the yummies that you like. How does that sound?"

"Good! Real yummy!" Nikkia leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I love you, Mommy."

Vernita's throat constricted. Tears threatened to fall from her eyes. Swallowing the baseball-lump in her throat, she leaned over and hugged Nikkia. "I love you too, baby. Don't ever forget: no matter what happens, Mommy is always with you and she loves you more than you'll ever know."

She pulled away then and saw Nikkia staring at her, puzzled and yet content knowing that her mother loved her with her entire being. "Bye, Mommy. Give Barney a kiss for me."

"I will, baby."

A moment later, Nikkia exited from her mother's Honda Accord and made her way towards the school. Vernita watched from inside the car as Nikkia turned back once and waved at her.

She couldn't contain her emotions any longer. Two fat tears made their way down Vernita's cheek as she waved back to her daughter. Then Nikkia continued onward and entered the school, the door closed behind her. Vernita waited until she couldn't see her anymore. Wiping both tears from her cheek, she put the car in drive and took off down the road.

She had important business matters to take care of.

oOo

Vernita drove down a long road that had no curves. It made her want to fall asleep so to stay awake, she turned on the radio, fiddling with the dial, going through several stations before stopping on one. Guitar chords played and the male singer started singing. It had that 80s ring to it and then she recognized the singer. It was Don Johnson. The first lyrics belted out and for some reason they reminded her of Beatrix. Bea was a lone heart, even if she did love Bill as she claimed; she was on her own that day in the chapel. And she was on her own again. The beginning lyrics painted a theme of loneliness.

"I've been out on my own. Going to go it alone now. Cause that's the way it's got to be."

Vernita shook her head. It was something more, a love ballad or something like that, she thought. Don Johnson kept moaning about looking for a love, a love like his, and that he was told it was hard to find. She immediately thought of Bill and how he moped and sulked for three months when he thought Beatrix was dead. He swore up and down that he loved her like no other woman he ever loved before (although Vernita had a hard time believing Bill felt that strongly about any woman, period). The song continued and she realized how much she hated music from the 1980s. Thankfully, it was coming to a close. She could tell because of the chorus that kept repeating.

"Heartbeat, I'm looking for a heartbeat…heartbeat, I'm looking for a heartbeat… heartbeat, I'm looking for a heartbeat…beating like mine."

Vernita frowned. What did those lyrics make her think of? Something Bill had said when she visited him. It's like I told Elle before, her heart just kept on beating after I busted a cap in her crown. She had associated the song's repetitive use of the word "heartbeat" with Bill's statement about Beatrix surviving despite everything she'd been through at her wedding rehearsal in Two Pines. That heart's going to stop beating for good when she gets in my face again, Vernita thought as she slowed down and parked the car in front of a small corner store.

Located in a remote area that she had discovered on her drive back from the airport was a gun shop. She had stopped in briefly to check out the variety of guns they sold and it turned out they had exactly what she was looking for. She had been to many gun shops in the past and she always made it a point to go to different ones. The owner would only see her once and that's how she liked to keep it. Once was more than enough. However, she decided to take a chance this time, one she usually didn't take. Check out the guns they had and then return the next day to buy it. And after her rendezvous with Bill, she knew it was time to restock her firearms.

She didn't know, or maybe the truth was that she pretended not to know the real reason she was purchasing a gun. Whatever people liked to call it—inner voice or gut instincts—something told her to go out and buy a gun. A gun tiny enough to stash away in a place no one would think to look. A gun that would kill its intended target. Vernita entered the shop, the bells above the door sounded as if greeting her.

She walked further into the shop and was surprised to find glass cases of guns lined up on the walls, ranging from rifles, pistols, and shotguns. The owner of the store obviously had no reservations about the products he sold to the public.

"Hello Miss," a deep voice mumbled from behind.

Vernita turned around as a built man in his mid-thirties with his black hair pulled into a ponytail came out from the back. She gestured to the firearms on the walls encased in glass.

"I was just looking."

"You can look and admire all you like. Just to let you know, these ones aren't for sale. They're part of my collection." He flashed a salacious grin in her direction. "I keep them on display for sentimental value." He pointed at the third glass case. "This one is an elephant rifle…the type that poachers use when hunting wild animals in Africa. Matter of fact, the rifle supposedly belonged to a famous man by the last name of Tembo."

Vernita nodded. She was well read on various knives and other edged weapons, but not firearms. O-Ren had been extremely skilled in using both edged weapons and guns.

He pointed at another firearm, a sleek and deadly black shotgun. "This here is my favorite: the Franchi SPAS 12, an Italian semi-automatic twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun," he said proudly. "Its capacity is amazing; it can hold up to eight rounds. There's a selector switch, which allows you to use the gun in semi-automatic mode, where you're using two hundred fifty rounds per minute."

"That's quite a collection," Vernita said. She had to admit the Franchi SPAS shotgun had an elegant and regal appearance to it as if experienced game wardens used them in zoos and in the jungles.

The man nodded. He was pleased that his customer admired his gun collection. "So, how may I help you today?"

"I'd like to purchase the smallest handgun you carry."

He squinted at her. "Haven't I seen you before?"

"Have you?"

He looked at her a moment longer and then shook his head. "Don't think so, you just got one of them pretty faces that I figured I'd remember if I saw it."

Vernita shook her head and kept a poker face.

"How are you paying?"

"Cash."

The man nodded. "I need to see some ID, miss, before I can show you anything."

Vernita fished in her purse and gave him what he asked for. The picture, of course, was hers, when she was much younger. It was a photo ID used back during her Copperhead days. She had kept it in case she'd have to use it in the future. The name read: Vivica Fox. Fake name and fake address. Fake life. Fake, fake, everything fucking fake, Vernita thought. The man peered at it as if fascinated by the lovely woman in the picture.

"You sure this is you?"

"In my younger days."

"Damn, I would've—" Then he shook his head. "Alright, I know what I'll get you. Hold tight."

Vernita nodded as the man disappeared into the backroom. She paced inside the small waiting area. Guns weren't her thing since knives came more natural to her. They were such a pain in the ass. You had to load them which took way too much time. Then you had to aim well, pull the trigger, and make sure your bullet hit the target. Knives were far easier to use—throw 'em, use them to slice and dice your enemy. You could use a kitchen knife to stab someone to death and then sanitize, bleach, and clean it in time for dinner. A knife was more practical, but for now she'd have to do with the gun.

Vernita sighed. She'd have to adapt and use whatever means she could to protect her family and herself from Beatrix. That's what it was really about. Self-preservation. The man came back carrying a sleek tiny black handgun. He handed it to her. Vernita was surprised at its lightness.

"It's not loaded. Check it out and see if it's what you want. If not—"

"It's perfect. How much does it weigh?"

"About sixteen ounces and has a six-round magazine. She's known as the PM9. The best damn pocket auto ever built—if you wanna know my opinion on the matter."

Vernita nodded in agreement. It was perfect for what she wanted and needed it for. She gave it back to him and searched in her purse for the cash she had taken out of the bank before arriving at the gun shop. Before she had placed the money down in his hands, he already was putting it in a case to give to her.

"Here ya go, Ms. Fox. She's all yours. Happy shooting."

oOo

Vernita opened the cabinet and removed the cereal box. On the way back, she thought of where she could stash her new treasure. The Kaboom cereal box would be perfect. It was easy to remember since guns go boom and it was the cereal's name. Nikkia would never know it was there since Vernita still prepared her cereal the way she loved it. Sliced bananas and strawberries just the way Nikki likes it...although for some reason, today she didn't ask for the fruit in her cereal. It was unusual, Vernita thought, but maybe she just wasn't in the mood for it. Either way, the cereal box was an ideal place to hide a gun.

This was the fourth gun she had brought and stashed away. The rest were dispersed throughout the house in different locations. One handgun was located in her lingerie drawer. Buried under a colorful plethora of thongs, evening gowns, garter belts, fishnet stockings, bra and panty sets, mesh chemises, and silk teddies, lay a handgun identical to the model she had purchased and stashed in the cereal box. Vernita was never worried about Lawrence finding it. She established with him that that was her lingerie drawer and no peeking was allowed. To Lawrence it was known as the "drawer of surprises" since he never knew what she would wear to bed, and she liked to "surprise" him. The handgun was safe there as Lawrence never touched the drawer. Plus, by the time he came back from his strenuous workday, he was so tired, that Vernita thought it highly unlikely he'd ever discover it.

There was another handgun in the laundry room and one in the living room behind a huge framed picture. Vernita had truly taken on the housewife role. She washed and cleaned the house and knew every nook and cranny in their home. She knew all the secret spots where she could hide a tiny handgun where Nikkia wouldn't be able to reach it.

She still had to hide a gun in Nikkia's room. She hadn't figured out where she'd conceal it, since she didn't want Nikkia to find it and accidentally shoot herself. Eventually it'd come to her. Vernita knew she was still an assassin at heart. Bill was right; those killer instincts didn't just fade away. She would always have them. At the time she brought the handguns, Vernita was worried about a former target's family member or friend coming after her; it wasn't uncommon in the assassin business for a failed hit or their relative to track you down. She covered her tracks pretty damn well, but she always felt it best to stay on guard. Vernita took great care to protect herself from any repercussions of her past sins that might show up at her front door when she least expected it.

But Beatrix Kiddo? That she wasn't expecting. Beatrix would come after her and try to take away everything she had worked so hard to achieve. Strike that. Beatrix wouldn't try. She would. Black Mamba was all or nothing. There was a reason she was named after that particular snake which also meant Death Incarnate.

Vernita entered her bedroom and looked at the pictures on her dresser. There were three framed photos. The first photo was a large heart-shaped one of her and Lawrence on their wedding day. The third photo had been placed in a silver frame. In it, Nikkia blew out the candles on her fourth birthday. The second photo, Vernita picked up and held close to her. From left to right and all smiles were Lawrence, Nikkia, and Jeannie (not Vernita, sometimes she still liked to differentiate between Vernita Green and Jeannie Bell). They held hands in front of the Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland, wide smiles on each of their faces. They had went there for Nikkia's fourth birthday, all three of them getting dizzy on the rides, taking hundreds of pictures, and eating until their bellies were full.

Her eye caught a musical jewelry box sitting beside her pictures. Tiara, her sister-in-law, gave it to her as a gift for her bridal shower. Vernita opened the box and tiny delicate musical notes played the famous wedding march: Here Comes the Bride. A crystal bride figurine, complete with veil, wedding gown, and flowers twirled around.

Vernita saw her life flash before her eyes. Her life after she left the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad: her first time meeting Lawrence and the electric sizzle that ran through her body when he first kissed her. Their wedding was small with turquoise blue and silver as her chosen colors. She remembered their three week honeymoon in Italy and Greece and how each day surpassed the last. Finally, their passionate love-making that led to her pregnancy where she carried Nikkia, because Lawrence was adamant about having children, and Vernita felt the same way. Nikkia's birth, her first word, her first step, her first day in school—Vernita was so proud of her. If the truth were told, Vernita was proud of her entire life that she had built from scratch. She was proud of everything that had taken place in her post-assassin life, before Bill had called her with that urgent yet calm note in his voice. Vernita abruptly set down the jewelry box and closed it. The wedding tune halted as she put it back on the dresser.

She would've sworn she heard chimes sounding from the front doorbell.

She glanced at her watch. It was only three in the afternoon and Nikkia was due back from school very soon; the bus would drop her off in front of the house. Well, she'd better answer it. It was probably Sarah. Sarah was another person in Vernita's present life that didn't know about her past life, nor would she ever find out. Vernita headed towards the door, a bounce in her step as she was eager to catch up with Sarah. Even if Sarah never knew who she was before she became Jeannie Bell, she was her friend now and that's what mattered.

Through the mullioned window in the living room, she noticed a yellow Chevy Silverado SS parked in front of her house. That was weird. She had never seen it before and it definitely wasn't there when she had returned from dropping off Nikkia and purchasing the gun. The truck was huge with red trim on the side panel. Must be the Tarantinos' new trophy. Her neighbors, the Tarantinos, were always selling old cars and quickly replacing them with new ones: bigger, better, and faster.

She stopped staring and headed for the front door. Vernita realized she had forgotten to start cooking dinner since she had been worked up about purchasing the gun. Thankfully, she remembered to brew coffee before hiding the gun. They could have coffee and donuts or whatever her guest wanted. Sarah was a patient and understanding woman, but Vernita called out anyway to let her know she would let her in.

"Coming!"

Before Beatrix Kiddo confronted her—whenever that dreaded moment finally arrived—Vernita Green would continue to keep up the façade of being a normal woman living a normal life as a normal wife and mother. It was time to invite her guest inside, she thought, turning the doorknob.

"Sarah, I cannot believe you are early."

The End


Author's Notes

The end? Yes, that's the end. It's over and I hope it was an enjoyable read for everyone, just as I had a great time writing this story. I almost didn't want to end the story at this point, especially seeing how much the story was enjoyed by readers and reviewers. However, I knew from the beginning that I wanted this story to be short and simple, but extremely sharp and clear about how even though Beatrix isn't physically in the story, you feel her essence, her rage, just as the characters do. Then I thought: I can put her in, or at least the Death List Five. I had an idea for an epilogue where I was going to put all five names of the Deadly Vipers and have O-Ren's and Vernita's names crossed out, but FanFicNet doesn't support that graphic so I ditched the idea.

Anyway, for awhile I wanted to write a fan-fiction about Vernita Green, Bill, Elle Driver, B.B., Nikkia, and Lawrence Bell. I've written about Beatrix Kiddo, O-Ren Ishii, and Budd, but I hadn't yet delved into the other characters previously mentioned. Obviously Bill had let the rest of the Vipers know that Beatrix Kiddo was awake, but how did that go? This is my version of what might have happened and I'm sure one can write an entirely different take on this same topic. Such is the beauty of fan-fiction.

As you can see, Kill Bill inspired this story, as well as other elements. Be it snippets of Jurassic Park peeking through, or fandoms mentioned like Battle Royale, Sailor Moon, or Full Metal Alchemist, they were all an inspiration on some level. Most times, they were put in to pay tribute to other writers. I also have to give credit where it's due: the song and lyrics of "Heartbeat" is sung by Don Johnson, they are not my lyrics. (I love 80s music, unlike Vernita Green.)

Where did the inspiration for Nikkia and B.B. come from? I currently work with youth in an after-school program for children in grades K-5, and as I wrote this story, their way of being able to see through adults, honesty, and innocence was a major element I wanted to show. The same could be said about teenagers, and I'm sure you can recall in your life as a child or teenager when you knew which adults truly cared about you versus those that were wearing a mask. There are cute sayings in this story, such as "I'm nervousing" (I'm nervous) or "I want to verse you in checkers" (I want to play against you, you versus me.) Those sayings come straight from their mouths and I felt it gave the story an authentic children's touch.

To move forward, there's a scene where Elle talks crassly about Nikkia being murdered right in front of Vernita. The truth is I love kids and writing that part was really awkward. While I was concerned about offending readers, I also reminded myself that those lines on the page and between the " " are coming from Elle Driver and not Sassy Lil Scorpio. I do not condone child abuse at all, as a matter of fact; working with youth makes me a mandatory reporter, meaning I'd have to report it to higher authorities. It's strange to write about something that I find so repulsive, but I have to remind myself I'm writing about the character and not myself. I wanted to include this in my author's notes, since it was something I felt strongly about.

I have thank yous…here we go. Thanks to God for the ability to write. Seriously, I don't know what I'd do without Him, or the hobby that He's blessed me with. I feel writing is something I do decently and I enjoy it very much. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino and the Kill Bill cast and crew. If not for the movies, this wouldn't have been written. If anyone's seen QT's interviews on Kill Bill, you see how much different inspiration he got to make this story...so in a way, he's doing fan-fiction, which is pretty damn cool. Thank you to Adrienne, Steve, Tiara, David, and Tanisha for being supportive of my writing. If I am forgetting anyone, I humbly apologize right now and please know that I do appreciate you and your support.

I also want to thank my readers for taking the time out of your life to read my fan-fiction. Seriously, I'm sure there are countless other things you could be doing. Thank you to all my readers. I hope that the time you spent reading this story was time well spent for you.

A special thanks to my reviewers is essential. Reviewing is an option, it's not required, and it's always nice that you take the time to leave a message about what you felt about the story. Thank you for your kind words and your encouragement. I have to say that even though this story was more than half complete upon posting it, the reviews helped me to steer in certain directions or at least, elaborate on certain points, especially if they weren't as clear as I thought they were. For example: the situation with Elle and B.B. I thought it was clear about how B.B. felt towards Elle and vice-versa. However, I expanded upon it in future chapters and in doing so, I enjoyed the writing more. Even Elle's hangover, I wouldn't have thought to put it in until a reviewer mentioned it, same goes for Vernita's reaction to O-Ren's death. Many thanks!

In any event, I didn't mean to ramble so much. If you have further questions or comments about this story and you didn't mention it in a review, please feel free to post on my forum entitled "My Fics, My Thoughts" (or my other forums if you feel inclined to.) A cheap plug, Sassy Lil Scorpio! It can be perceived as such, but really, I think it's great to interact with other readers and writers. Lastly, I hope to have more Kill Bill fanfic written and posted in the future.

Thank you again and God Bless.