A/N: I just wanted to point out that this is not the normal way I write. Because this is set in Texas, I am shooting for a balance between slang and proper. It was actually quite painful for me to allow some of this onto the page, simply because I've spent a lot of time coming to terms with the fact that I speak atrociously, and have worked diligently to correct it.
She spent the last seven years as perfect Bella. The façade was masterfully crafted, and she wore it seamlessly outside the Whitlock ranch. The things that haunted the Swan name were not pretty, but everyone has their problems. So she bottled it up, tied a ribbon around it all, and slapped a big smile on her face. Bella doesn't need your pity. She's got it all figured out.
Edited by Project Team Beta and Bamababe, author of Long, Tall Texan. (which I love)
Chapter 1: Somewhere Down in Texas
The explosions of brilliant color overhead continued to lull me into a familiar peace. Digging into my tender skin, the black fabric of the trampoline was presently leaving painful indentations on my back. My body shifted slightly to ease the hurt, but instead brushed against the once boy, now turned man, who lay beside me. His mouth changed into an upturned smirk, mumbling something along the lines of 'only having to ask if I wanted to feel him up.' Cocky ass. Rolling my eyes, I ignored him, and directed my attentions back to the show above.
I can count vividly the number of July 4th's we spent sprawled out here watching the fireworks go off over the tank out in the pasture. We used to participate in launching, but that had all stopped five years ago when I burned my best friend. His shoulder still bore the scar that resulted when the Roman Candle misfired causing his shirt to burst into flames. Alright, when I say misfired, I really mean, when I held the dang thing backwards, and the outcome was it shooting behind me right into Jay. His big brother had a heyday with that one, after the fire was put out of course. The pink wrinkled skin that resulted from the third degree burn mistake still haunted me every time he took his shirt off. Needless to say, that was the last time I touched one of those evil explosives. That was the summer before eighth grade, and every year after we took our shunned place atop the trampoline, while Jay's brother and father put on a beautiful display for us down at the tank. It was one of my favorite nights of the year.
The air was warm, but not sweltering like it had been that afternoon. Texas weather was sometimes unbearable during the daylight, but at night it calmed to a comfortable level. My body was glistening with the tiny bit of sweat that escaped through my pores, but the breeze would quickly blow across us and cool me off once again. I sighed in absolute contentment and turned my head to look at the man beside me.
"Jay, does it bother you that this could be the last 4th we spend here?" His head turned in my direction. He took the time to think about my statement before he let out a sigh of his own and returned his head up toward the explosions.
"I'm not going anywhere, Bluebell. I'll be here waiting for you to come back home to us." He crossed his feet and placed his hands behind his head, ending the thought trail.
This was a topic that had hurt him for years. I couldn't blame him for the way he felt about it all. His whole life was in this town, and he couldn't picture a world without the family business. The future he craved revolved around small town life, a woman who lived simply, children who worked hard for everything they had, and respect from the townsfolk. Leaving here wasn't in the cards for Jay, and it broke his heart to know that I couldn't wait to do just that.
It wasn't that I was leaving the state; thinking like that only sent me into a panic attack. Instead, I just wanted to put hours' worth of distance between me and what was here. Where that was exactly, I haven't decided. Lubbock was the furthest away, but I would settle for Austin or maybe College Station. Out was all I needed. Just out.
It's not that I wasn't thankful or fully aware of the good people who cared about me here. Jay and Emmett's family loved me like I was their own child. Hell, I had my own room in the ranch house that currently stood behind us up on the hill. They loved me unconditionally. Of course, they never hid the fact that if they had it their way, I would marry one of their sons, but I just blushed and ignored them when they brought that hoopla up. Don't think I'm going to sit here and go into a 'woe is me' story about how my life is so hard and I can't wait to escape. I'm not the type of girl to sit around crying and whining about the cards the Good Lord dealt her. You won't find me wallowing in self pity, being a victim of my circumstances. Down here we work hard for the things we want and we're thankful for the things we have. And I am thankful for what I have.
Being proud of who I've become wasn't always easy, but Jay belief in me was surprisingly contagious. The girl I am today is strong willed, independent, caring, motivated, and loyal. I hold myself up to the same standards that the Whitlock's hold Jay and Emmett to. We excel together in everything we attempt, and I would require nothing less from myself. After all the years of academic and extracurricular success, it should be expected of me from everyone else as well. But it's not expected. Instead, it's still considered this great surprise and achievement that Bella Swan turned out so well. The adults hug my neck and pat my cheek, always giving me a look of pity as they tell me how proud they are of me. That was the crap that pissed me off. That was the crap I refuse d to tolerate a second more after I graduate. Being around people who have zero expectations for you can be disheartening. Negativity rubs off like charcoal on white paper, and I won't lower myself to that level.
This situation in no way applies to my adopted family. Jay, Emmett and I are seen as a cohesive unit. If one of us fails, we all fail. Their parents hold us accountable for each other's choices and mistakes, and we are all expected to make the family name proud. But I can't live forever in a Whitlock ranch bubble. So after graduation I planned on getting as far as possible away from this town and all the reasons that I was still looked upon with that God forsaken pity.
"So I told you about my Aunt Esme remarrying right?" Jay asked out of nowhere, sort of startling me out of my mental monologue.
"Aunt Esme…" I pondered. "Is that your Momma's best friend that lives up in Washington…the one with a son our age?"
"Yep, that's her. Well apparently she married this great surgeon who has a daughter of his own. I think she is around our age too. As a wedding present, he asked her what was the one thing she wanted most in this world, money be damned. Anyways, she told him she just wanted to go home. The bastard must be extremely whipped, because he immediately made plans to relocate the family here to Texas. His little princess is pouting with her grandparents for the rest of the summer, but the other three moved into the old colonial house last week."
"Wait, if the son is already here, how in the world did your Momma let you get away with not inviting him tonight?" That wasn't like Mrs. Whitlock at all. She was very hospitable, and not to mention nosey. I was under the impression that she had not seen Esme since college. They still had a very good relationship over phone and email, but as far as I knew, there had been no in-person meetings for years. Mrs. Whitlock was very proud of her boys, and I was certain she would want to compare her sons to Esme's as quickly as possible.
He let out a boisterous laugh following my inference. "You're dead on, B. She invited him of course, but he said something about not wanting to intrude on a holiday. Which is just pure nonsense, if you ask me? I promised Momma we would go over there tomorrow and drag him out of the house."
"Well that ought to make a good impression." I murmured.
We returned to customary comfortable silence. The fireworks started to die down, leaving the crickets to serenade us while we stared up at the stars. The tension between us became thick and prevalent. My heart rate started to increase, knowing what was coming. The fireworks finally stopped and we knew we only had minutes before we would be joined by those who were down at the tank. Sitting up on his elbows, the movement caused me to bounce a little with the tension of the trampoline fabric. Our eyes locked, me conveying that I understood and that he should continue. Jay leaned over and pushed the hair back from my face, letting his hand linger on my cheek. Slowly inching down toward my face, he paused when our noses were touching at the tip. My eyes begged him to go through with it, before I let them close gently. His kiss caressed my lips with painful chasteness. I tried to pour all the pent up frustration and longing into it, but he still held me at a controlled distance. Rubbing my cheek and giving me one last kiss, he released my face and took his place back down beside me. Every 4th we spent on the trampoline ended this way. He would kiss me, searching for something, and I would hope with everything that was in me that he would find it. Every year, he let me down.
His sigh before he spoke, signaled this occurrence was no different. "I wish it was you, Bella." A tear trailed down my face. That was the only time he would ever call me by my name.
The hum of the crickets' song almost lulled me to sleep. I was partially out when I heard the talking beside me. The voices jolted me out of my peace, sending my eyes open and to the figure standing alongside the trampoline.
"Hey IC, you're staying here tonight in your room, right?" Emmett inquired. His massive frame leaned over the springs to ask me his question at face level. Jay was my best friend in every sense of the word, but Emmett was my brother. He protected and held me all these years when my self-esteem slipped periodically. No one could be brave all the time. Emmett understood and knew when I just needed to cry. We kept these sessions quiet, and didn't let Jay know. I tried hard to be the strong women he saw me as, but sometimes even cowgirls cry.
"I'll get her Emmett. Go up to the house." Jay sounded annoyed with his interference. By this time I had scooted off the tramp and he was doing the same.
"I think you've probably done enough for the night." Emmett retorted before picking me up and throwing me over his shoulder. I was grateful.
The trek up the hill was fairly short, and before long we were in my bedroom up at the ranch house. Emmett pulled back my covers and laid me down on the queen sized bed that adorned my room. My bed at home was a twin, and I hated it with a passion. Mrs. Whitlock had said every teenage girl needs a big bed to sprawl out on. I told her it was too extravagant and asked for something smaller, but she laughed at me and had said absolutely not. It was by far the nicest bed I have ever seen and I cherished it. I gave Renee every excuse in the book for her to allow me to stay over at the Whitlock's and in my bed of pure heaven. Now that I am older, it's easier to understand that this was the whole reason for the bed in the first place. The Whitlock's were master strategists.
Emmett pulled the covers up to my chest and tucked me in on the sides. Sweeping the hair off my face, he noticed the pain that flickered in my eyes at his actions.
"IC, don't you let him get to you. He's an idiot, and it's better this way. You know you don't want this life." He leaned down to kiss my forehead before taking a seat next to me on the bed.
"I'm going to miss you so much. What will I do without you, Em?"
"Now don't go getting all teary on me. I'm not going far. Austin's only three hours from here. You can come up whenever you want, and you know they won't let me stay gone for too long before Mom will order me home for a visit." I let out a laugh knowing how right he was.
"It's always been the three of us. Even though I hate the idea that you're leaving, I'm so proud of you. You deserve to get away from here." Taking my bottom lip into my teeth, I focused on holding it together.
"Damn it, Bella, I am not leaving you! This is different, and you know it. I will be back. I will always be back for you!" Nodding my head, he stood up and squeezed my hand. "Get some sleep, kid. I'm not leaving for another week. We can talk about this later."
My door clicked closed behind him and I listened as the footsteps reached his room. Another set of feet paused outside my door but he knew better than to come in tonight. Mine and Jay's relationship was strictly platonic throughout the year. He was my family, but I would be lying if I said I had not always hoped it would be more. But a girl can only set herself up for failure so many times without losing a piece of what makes her strong. One night of the year, that's how many times I allowed the nonsense of him kissing me without it meaning anything to him. I allowed it to occur for the same reasons he attempted it. A lot of things can change in a year's time. The problem was, every year I felt the same thing, the irrational pull that told me my heart needed him to reciprocate. And every year he too felt the same way he always did. It was whatever made him sigh and lay back down like nothing had ever happened. But as I said before, Bella Swan does not wallow in self pity. So for one night a year, I let down the walls that fortified me and gave him the power to break my heart. He always accepted the challenge. If there is one thing I knew about my friend, it's that Jasper Whitlock always succeeds.
The purr of the shower coming to life woke me the next morning. Glowing red numbers on my alarm clock indicated it was 10:00. My body was still exhausted from the emotional foray I'd managed to venture into once again. In the daylight the whole thing just seemed silly. Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result…That's the simple definition for insanity right? Pushing both palms into my eyes, I let out a frustrated moan, and shook my head from side to side. This unrequited love mess was both infuriating and embarrassing. It left me feeling weak and dependent on someone else. That dependency was due to waiting for the other party to figure out if they wanted me. Too many people in my life had decided I wasn't worth it, and I just couldn't bear that Jay was one of them.
Hoping out of bed, I undressed quickly, feeling stifled in yesterday's clothing that I had slept in. I wrapped my towel around my chest and tucked the end in to hold it in place. Glaring at myself in the mirror with annoyance only made me feel minutely better, so I grabbed my shower caddy and headed out down the hall to the bathroom I shared with the guys. Hot water poured over my body in a gentle soothing manner, allowing me to relax and chase away the demons from last night. Wash the sick away, Baby. Renee thought everything was cured with a bath or shower. Her mouth ran a mile a minute spouting off random pieces of advice that half the time only made you scratch your head and go 'what the fuck'? You can imagine my irritation when out of the blue one of these comments would pop in my mind, and be surprisingly pertinent and very useful given the situation I was in. Crazy wasn't supposed to make sense. Words of wisdom should come from reliable sources; educated people who could wrap their minds around what exactly they were spewing. Crazy was just…well… crazy.
I threw on an old blue jean skirt and debated whether to wear boots or flip flops. We were going to meet the new guy in town, so surely Jay wouldn't drag me out to do anything that would require heartier footwear than flops. The first t-shirt I pulled from the dresser drawer made me smile instantly. Faded red with white lettering etched across the front that read 'Cowgirls Don't Cry', it had seen better days. The shirt was literally seven years old. Jay had bought it for me back in the fifth grade when my world came crashing down. Two sizes two big, I slept in it every night until I finally believed what it said. I needed that reminder again today. This funk had to go. Smiling at the thought that crossed my mind, I giggled a little before starting to sing my favorite pick me up song, courtesy of my Daddy.
Peanut sat on a railroad track.
His heart was all a flutter.
Along came a Choo Choo train.
Uh Oh peanut butter. SPLAT
My face was no doubt plastered with a shit-eatin-grin as I sang through the song a second time, all the while blow drying my hair. I quickly painted on some mascara and lip gloss before reaching for my belt. This happened to be a going away gift from Emmett, and I planned to wear it as often as possible until he left for the University of Texas. It was a simple brown belt, but what made it special was the buckle. Silver and adorned with turquoise, the center read 'BBIC'. It was not ostentatious, in fact it was considered small for a women's buckle. The style and size fit my taste perfectly, but most importantly it represented to a tee the two men in my life.
"B, can we talk about..." Jasper had appeared at my door, but I cut him off before he could fully speak that nonsense.
"No we most certainly cannot talk about it! This is July 5th Jay, not July 4th." My hands were perched on my hips as I stared back into his blue eyes. Waving my hand out in front of me to swipe away the tension, I resumed my primping in the mirror. I figured he would leave and wait for me downstairs, but he only came walking up behind me.
"But you're wearing that shirt?" His hand came up to touch my arm, but I saw it approaching in the mirror. Whipping around to look him in the face, I put both hands on his chest and shoved him back some.
Clenching my jaw tight, but still managing to lie through my teeth, I spoke with conviction. "It's only a shirt. I'm not a little girl anymore, and I don't need you to remind me to be strong."
His smirk and the flicker in his eyes told me he was on to my fib. But he chuckled and put his hands on his hips, mocking my stance from earlier. "How 'bout you and I go bag us a rich boy and show him what he's missing?
Our little town was beautifully majestic- the epitome of a small town life painting. Tiny enough to not even possess nor have the need for a stop light, it remained tucked away on an obscure road that lead to nowhere of consequence. Downtown held a small diner, beauty parlor, and pizza shop. A parade still made its way through the narrow streets on July 4th and Homecoming weekend. From all directions you could see silos painted in a vibrant purple, paying homage to our school colors. Signs along the highway, as well as in the local businesses, proclaimed things like "Welcome to Godley," "You're in Wildcat Country" and "Proud Supporter of the FFA". There are things about Texas that will hold me in it for life. This town had them all. Springtime produced wildflowers that were worthy of a portrait. The Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes quilted the highway with color. More importantly, they brought families together for annual pictures among their blooms. Jay, Emmett and I had a Bluebonnet picture for every year we had known each other. The summertime brought forth the abundance of Crape Myrtles that lined the streets and decorated various yards. Shades of purple, pink, white and red rained down on the grass as their blossoms shed in the wind. Without pollution or the interference of city lights, the night sky holds thousands of twinkling stars that stretch completely across the black fabric of darkness. And finally, my favorite thing, the lightening bugs. They fluttered along during the summertime, reminding me of a simpler life in which lidded mason jars could hold my attention for hours.
We soon turned onto the driveway that led to the now Cullen household. The drive was lined on both sides by alternating breeds of Oak trees. It was a mile down before we passed over the cattle guard and up to the front of the house. It was as beautiful as I remember it being, though it seemed smaller than my memories portrayed. Everything seems smaller as you get older, I guess.
"You gonna be okay, Bluebell? You can wait in the truck."
"It's just a house, Jay. Boards and bricks, but nothing else." I hopped out of his red pickup holding my chin up high. His arms brought me momentarily into a hug, releasing me at the door. Beautiful sounds of piano music filtered under the door as we waited for someone to answer our knock.
"Edward honey, can you answer the door please?" a beautiful voice called out.
"God damn it! I am never going to have time to finish the piece!" the male voice answered back before we heard a abrupt and loud noise, as if someone had slammed their hands down on the keys of the piano.
I gasped at the crudeness of his words. "Is this guy serious?" I asked Jay. He clicked his tongue and shrugged his shoulders slightly.
The door swung open to reveal the source of the words that made me cringe. I almost snickered at the boy standing there. His khaki slacks were pressed and creased. He wore a bright yellow polo shirt embellished with the horse and everything. On his wrist was a thick leather cuff that displayed some sort of silver crest, while his shoes looked like the ones you saw in fashion magazines, shiny and perfect. For someone so put together, and obviously concerned about his appearance, the mess of hair on top of his head was a huge contradiction to everything he was trying to put off. Light brown with natural streaks of bronze spread throughout, it stood up in all directions in absolute chaos. Now I give credit where credit is due, so I'm not ashamed to admit that the guy was hot. Really hot. However, ugly words like that could make Adonis look like a dog.
"Hey, you guys must be Jasper and Bella. Mom figured you two might make an appearance today. Come in." He opened the door wide and stepped away for us to enter. The walls were no longer yellow. The floor had been replaced with a shiny marble and all the old wood trimming was now painted white. The differences calmed me and I exhaled, earning a nod of approval from Jay.
A woman, who could only be Esme, gracefully made her way into the room, and lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of Jasper.
"Goodness Jasper, your pictures did not do you justice. What a fine young man you have turned out to be. Your parents must be so proud of you." She patted his cheek in a loving gesture before turning her head in my direction. She released him to take a step toward me and I held out my hand in the obligatory manner.
"Bella Swan, ma'am" I said.
"Swan as in Charlie and Renee Swan?" She asked the question with a tiny bit of hesitation, but I could already see the pity forming in her eyes.
I let out a sigh and directed my eyes down toward my feet. "Yes ma'am."
Jasper noticed my mood change immediately and came to my rescue. "Bluebell is part of the family, Esme. If we could find a way to justify changing her name to Whitlock, we would. I suppose she could always marry Granddaddy…"
"JAY!" I screamed.
"I kid, I kid." He held his hands up in front of him in surrender while Esme and Edward snickered at my expense. I admit it was a little funny, but only a little bit. My face turned its ever present shade of crimson, but the comment served its intended purpose, and the tension in the room had disappeared.
"Well son, we came to drag you out of the house. Show you what it's like to live around here. Though you might want to change, you'd probably get your clothes dirty in my truck." I found it funny that Jay was being so tactful about the fact that Edward would stick out like a sore thumb in his current attire.
"Fuck dude, don't worry about me. These pants are old anyway." Edward spoke the word so nonchalantly and Esme never even flinched. I crossed my arms over my chest and sent Jay a disgusted look. Esme noticed and looked upon me with confusion and concern.
"Is this normal?" I asked her raising my eyebrows.
"Umm…" She was pretty uncertain as to what I was referring too. The silence that came from beside me was what pissed me off.
"Jasper Whitlock, you say something or I'm not going anywhere with either of you!"
"B, come on-"
"Don't think I won't tell your Momma you let him get away with that!"
Jay sighed and gave in. "Edward, you should apologize to Aunt Esme for using that language."
"Oh honey, really, it's okay. Edward is almost a grown man. It's okay for him to swear." Esme directed her words to me even though Jasper had just spoken.
"I know he's a grown man Esme, and it's because of that he should have the good sense not to say such ugly and disrespectful words in the presence of his Momma. You deserve more respect than that!" Honestly, I was a little perturbed that she didn't already know this. She was raised here, after all.
"Okay. Okay Bells, calm down." Since Bells is a nickname, the voice should have been Jay's, but instead it was Edward's. Edward who I've known for all of five minutes and somehow figured this gave him the right to abbreviate my name.
"Bella! My name is Bella!" Counting to ten and taking a deep breath, I continued. "Look I don't mean to go off on you, but I only let good friends and family call me nicknames. And I assure you no one in either category would dare to do what you just did, let alone say GD in polite conversation like it was nothing. So at least for the time being, I would appreciate if you would respect me enough to use the name my parents gave me."
"Bella dear, you are feisty. I have a feeling you two are going to be a great influence on my children. Well, Edward, is there something you would like to say to me?" His eyes widened with realization of what she was asking. Clueing me in on where Edward inherited his cocky smirk, she stared him down, arms crossed and determined.
"Um…Mom…yeah…um…I'm sorry." He exhaled loudly; relieved he was finished with his task. Esme however, raised her right eyebrow and implored his continuation with the ever famous 'look'. Running a hand through his hair, I noticed the exact instant Edward resigned to own up to his actions, and understanding settled upon his chiseled face. "I really am sorry, Mom. Forgive me. I honestly never considered it as disrespectful. But if it offends you, or Bella, than I promise to refrain from using such profane language in your presence."
Esme beamed at his words and pulled him into a tight embrace, and refused to let go for a moment. Edward finally pulled her back a little and said, "Why didn't you tell me? You should have said something. I just didn't know." She only continued to smile up thankfully at her son.
Eventually releasing him, she gave him a tiny shove in Jasper's direction. "Now go have fun. If you see Charlotte, tell her I will be over later today. I would say stay out of trouble, but I imagine you are in good hands."
Jay and Edward turned to walk out the door, leaving me to follow behind. Esme stopped me by the wrist and pulled me to her. Her arms held me loosely as she whispered in my ear. "Bella, I found some things up in the attic you might want."
My body went board straight as if I had been debilitated with a stun gun. Fighting to regain composure, I stuttered a few times before I was able to respond. "I doubt it."
With that I pulled away from her and hurried out the door after the guys. Edward stood holding the passenger door open to Jay's red truck. Giving me a concerned look, he let me climb in before he did as well. Sliding over to the middle, and straddling the stick shift, I let my head fall back on the back of the bench seat. Jay turned the key, and the old Ford fired up with a loud rumble. I shot up, reached across him and flipped the visor down to reveal his CD holder. The one I wanted was right on top and I made quick work of popping it in and turning it right to the song of choice. Ragweed blared from the speakers and I let out the breath I was holding.
Bang my head against the wall. Bang it until it bleeds.
Though it makes no difference at all, I'm gonna bang it till I can't see
"Bluebell, that's hardcore Ragweed you're playing. Got something on your mind you care to share with the class?" My head had returned to the back of the bench seat, and I was almost tempted to ignore his little remark all together. Instead, I kept my eyes closed, and attempted to respond with minimum about of bite. It wasn't easy.
"No, JASPER…I don't have anything to share. Considering that I'm already wearing this damn shirt and I busted out the peanut song this morning, I think I'm entitled to listen to whatever makes me not flip my shit. Is that okay with you?" I opened my eyes and smiled sweetly. Turning my head to one guy and then the other, I questioned if they got my drift. There was guilt and concern marring Jay's face, but Edward just look at me with a condescending grin.
Raising one eyebrow at me, he then smiled even bigger at my annoyance. "Well, look at you, Little Miss Hypocrite."
"Oh Hell…" I heard Jay say from behind me. He put his right arm over the back of the seat and then shifted his body so he was leaning on the driver's side door, giving him full view of Edward and me.
"YOU MOTHE-" My rant was cut off immediately by the hand that reached around and covered my mouth. His finger was seconds from getting bit off and he knew it.
"Bluebell, calm down!" His grip tightened as I attempted to scream at him. "First of all Edward, you caught my girl here on a really bad day. See her best friend, that would be me, is a damn prick; hence the shirt and the aforementioned peanut song. Now the Texas Country noise about beating your head in, well that's because we're…well here. So if I were you, I'd keep your fucking opinions to yourself. Second, a southern belle she is not, and she can speak however hell she wants. No one ever said you couldn't swear; just not in front of your Momma. That shit ain't cool. That doesn't include GD. People around here don't say the Lord's name in vain, and you'd do well to remember it."
Taking his hand off my mouth, facing forward and then reaching down to throw the truck into first, Jay pulled away from the house and headed down the long driveway. Everyone was silent as we pulled onto hwy 171. The CD had changed to a love song, leaving the heavy beats and angry cords behind, while producing a more tranquil environment for me to regain my composure.
"You're not a prick." I almost whispered.
"That shirt tells me different, Baby girl." He slammed the truck into fourth and put his arm back around behind me. I looked up at his face, but he refused to turn in my direction. Biting my bottom lip, I rotated to look at Edward. He looked very apologetic and ashamed of himself. That sadness reflected an innocent boy who had lost his way.
"I'm really not a bitch…it has sort of been a long day. I'm usually so positive and cheery." My hands covered my face and I groaned. "Can we please start over?"
His smile spoke volumes. "Sure, Bella. Though, I'm inclined to plead for a learning curve. You don't realize how different everything is here."
Jay and I laughed obnoxiously at him. The boy looked a little pathetic begging for us to give him a chance. He was right however. Living his entire life in Washington did zero to prepare him for his Momma's home state, and it was wrong of me to assume he should know the culture here right away. He needed time to adjust, and good friends to lead him in the right direction. I was way too harsh on him, and acted like a real ass.
Putting my hand on his knee, I gave it a little squeeze as I smiled and said, "Of course. Don't mind me. I'm nobody to act self righteous, believe me. My Momma keeps telling me I'm far from perfect. I'm always tryin' to prove her wrong, but apparently I'm losing the battle."
His head hung down a little as he focused on my hand still sitting on his knee. Cutting his eyes to the side, he stared at me sheepishly, almost in a questioning manner. I cocked my head and furrowed my eyebrows in my attempt to rationalize his expression, but removed my hand and set it beside me on the seat. Swallowing hard, the Adam's apple in his throat bobbed up and down, drawing my gaze to it instantly. My decision to look away was fixing to be executed when I felt his fingers spider walk across mine until he was able to turn my hand over and lace our fingers together.
"From where I'm sitting, you're pretty perfect." His words came out without a single ounce of hesitation. The 'o' shape my mouth formed was completely involuntary as I lowered my eyes to his lips. Just lean forward, Bella. He wants you to kiss him. What do you have to lose? Kiss him, Bella!
Jay chose that moment to drop his hand from the back of the seat down onto my shoulder and then jerk me closer to him. My knee almost knocked the truck out of gear with his sudden movement. What the hell is his problem?
"What the Fuck, Jay?" I mumbled. He simply smirked a cocky ass smile and shrugged his shoulders a tad.
We drove Edward around showing him where everything was, and filling in him on the history of the town. Eating a late lunch, we introduced him to the wonders of JJ's Barbecue. His attempt to hide the fact that it was delicious was cute. When Jay prodded him for confirmation of its greatness, Edward simply told him it was 'alright'. We both knew he was full of shit.
The joint was filled with plenty of people eyeing me up and down. Their stares would have made a weak person cringe, but I wasn't weak, and I've had years of practice at playing this little game to perfection. I stood up from my seat, smoothed my hair and straighten my clothes, taking extra time to pull my skirt down a little. Letting my face contort into the facade I deemed 'Southern Bella'; I approached the first table of people.
"Good afternoon ,Superintendent Thomas. And Mrs. Thomas, you look more beautiful every day. I hope you are enjoying your lunch. I know I sure loved my brisket sandwich." They seemed taken off guard by my appearance at their table, but quickly recovered and dove into the proper pleasantries.
"Hello, Bella. I see you and Jasper have met Dr. Cullen's son. I trust you are making him feel welcome and showing him the town."
"Yes sir, we are. And I'm looking forward to the watermelon social in a couple of weeks. We've put a lot of work into it this year, and I hope you will be impressed. I know how important this night is to the school board." This was my subtle attempt to remind him and the surrounding tables how involved I was in school, and how much work I put forth to be known for something other than the reason they are currently staring at me. He was of course oblivious to my ulterior motives.
"I look forward to it, Bella. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and give my regards to the Whitlock's for me."
"Of course." Giving one last smile, I turned and confidently strutted back to my friends. Jay looked very annoyed and threw his napkin onto the table. Signaling for the check, he pulled his wallet out and handed the frizzy-haired waitress his credit card. Edward only looked confused, but stood to leave as soon as Jay did. I attempted to walk over to Edward, simply to escape from Jay's imminent scolding. An arm grabbed me by the waist as Jay pulled me outside to his pickup.
"You don't have to do that shit, B." I took my seat in the middle of the truck and waiting for them to both climb in.
"What, you would rather I sit there and take it?"
"No, I would rather you tell them all to go fuck off!" Jay spat out.
"Look, I know ya'll consider me a Whitlock, but I'm not Jay. They don't see me as one of you. I'm still just a product of Renee and Charlie Swan! Excuse me, for wanting to be known as more than that. I've worked my ass off for the tiny bit of respect they allot me, and I'll be damned if you're going to make me feel bad about it. Okay?" I waited for him to acknowledge me. "Now where are we going?"
"Simple, I'm taking you back to the ranch."
"What? Why? We're supposed to show Edward around before his parents show up tonight." What was with him today? He never acted like this on July 5th. This wasn't the first time I had shown a less than stellar attitude, and yet instead of ignoring me like he always did, he was acting all guilty.
"I'm taking you to Emmett. Clearly I'm doing a shittastic job of changing the direction your day is headin', and I know he'll make you feel better. Plus, I think me and Edward need a chance to get to know each other better."
"Oooookaaaay" I drawled out. He was being so weird.
"So are you always this quiet, Edward? You've only talked like four times. It's sort of making me nervous." I said wondering if he would speak now that he was spoken too.
"Just observing, Bella. Give me a little time, and I'll have plenty to say to you." Those green eyes could have melted me with the intensity that penetrated into my soul. He slowly put a finger on my arm and let it fall over my skin. The contact sent a shudder through me and he gave me a crooked grin. I wanted to kiss him passionately right there in that moment, but instead found myself once again forcefully pulled closer to the driver. What the fuck?
Conceding to the fact that my day was really just shot to hell from the get go, I crossed my arms over my chest and ignored them both. Jay's cell phone beeped in his pocket signaling a text. After flipping it over to look at the screen, he let out a little laugh.
"Where's your cell phone Bluebell?"
"Umm, it's at the Ranch." I hated carrying that thing around with me. The world had gone to shit with the invention of them. Jay had his practically embedded to his hand at any given moment, and most of our classmates were no different. It probably didn't help that the iPhone I had was complicated. I just wasn't technology savvy, in fact, I repelled technology.
"Guess who that message was from?" I stared at him for a moment and then it came to me. He laughed and nodded his head at my scared expression. "Oh yeah baby girl, you're in trouble. He's at the house waiting on you."
"Shit!" I exclaimed. Starting to get nervous, I brought my hand to my mouth to bite my fingernails.
"Boyfriend?" Edward asked, furrowing his eyebrows slightly, but appearing to be really interested in and impatient for my answer.
"UGH, no Edward, I don't have a boyfriend. What I do have is Jay's very protective Granddaddy." I wasn't finished, but Jay interrupted me anyway.
"You better not let him hear you say that B. It would break his heart and you know it."
Reaching up to take a lose curl in my hand, I twisted it around my finger and took a deep breath. "You're right…I have a very protective Granddaddy. He claims it isn't safe for a young lady in this day and age to be without means to get a hold of someone. It's silly really. I can't think of a single time in the last month I have been anywhere without either Jay or Emmett."
Edward was shaking his head and giving me a stern look. "They are right Bella. In a perfect scenario, you would always be with one of us. But you can't rely on that. You need to be able to call someone for help if need be. It sounds to me like your Granddaddy is a smart guy, and you should probably do as your told."
My jaw dropped. I felt like a petulant child he just scolded and slapped on the wrist. And don't think I didn't notice he included himself in the group deemed fit to watch over me. I wanted to reach up and slap his beautiful face and tell him to mind his own damn business, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead I shot him an angry glare, to which he laughed. The asshole laughed at me! Soon they were both snickering at the pissed off expression on my face, and I was stunned. Haven't we already established that Bella was having a bad day and moments away from flipping her shit?
My anger diminished as we pulled through the Ranch Archways and I saw Granddaddy standing next to my beautiful filly Nikon. She stood proud, my saddle already atop her back. Her honey colored coat sparkled brilliantly in the sunlight and called me to her. I was out of the truck and running to them before a single word could be spoken. Standing at 16 hands high, she towered over my tiny frame. She neighed and nipped at my arm asking for affection. I threw my hands around her neck and whispered, "I missed you girl." Her musky scent brought up cherished memories and I smiled. A throat cleared behind me and I turned to face Granddaddy, noticing Jay and Edward had made their way over as well.
"Is she ready now? I missed her so much!"
"She's still stubborn as hell, but I figured you'd prefer them not to break her of it. Kindred spirit to her owner and all that. But she's ready to go, nonetheless. Take her out for a good ride, remind her who's boss and she'll be fine." I squealed at his words. I had waited two and a half years to be able to ride the beautiful animal, and I was thrilled. Her Momma was mistakenly let out into the pasture when she was foaling. Emmett and I rode out in the middle of the night to track her down, only to find her in the middle of giving birth. It was the first time I had ever seen the miracle of life first hand. I found out the foal was always meant to be mine days later. "I want to have a word with my favorite granddaughter before you go anywhere."
"I'm your only granddaughter." I teased.
"That you are baby girl." He chuckled. "Now, why haven't you answered your phone all day? I wanted you to go with me to pick up Nikon, but it kept going right to your voicemail. I know you'd never leave the house without it, so it must be broken right? Do we need to go buy you another one?" Damn it, he was on to me. You couldn't get anything by that old man. Fifteen years in the Marine Corp had prepared him well for stubborn grandchildren.
I dropped my head down to my feet in an expression of shame. "No Sir. I forgot it this morning. Plus it's really fancy, and I didn't want to break it."
"It's not a luxury Bella, it's a necessity. You can break ten of the damn things and I won't care, as long as you are carrying it. Now I don't want to have this conversation again. You are more responsible than this."
"Yes sir." I exhaled, thankful my lecture was over. A galloping sound approached as Emmett emerged from the stable, riding his dark brown stallion. The smile on his face was infectious. Having a heart of gold and a personality that lit up a room full of darkness, he was respected and liked by everyone who knew him. His presence gave me a high like a caffeine rush. He was my protector, my brother, and most importantly, my friend.
"IC, go get your boots on girl. You can't ride in flip flops. Me and you are going runnin!" He shouted down from his horse Whiskey. I made quick work of changing into boots and jeans. I pulled my hair until a ponytail and opted for sunglasses instead of wearing my Stetson. The four men were still right where I left them, waiting for my return. Edward was stroking Nikon while Jay appeared to be filling him in on a few horse related tidbits. He was listening intently, but I could tell he was a little overwhelmed. His face kept turning to take in the size of my filly, and I could tell he was intimidated.
Passing by him, I put my foot in the stirrup and grabbed the horn of the saddle to pull myself up onto Nikon. Jay handed me the reigns and said, "Have fun babe." I nodded and gave him a smile. Edward approached from the other side and looked up at me, blocking the sun with his hand.
"Nikon? Like the camera?" He asked.
"Yep. Isn't she picture perfect?" With that I pulled the reigns, clicked my tongue and took off after Emmett. Nothing in the world could hold a candle to the freedom I felt while riding a horse.
815 12th Street
Huntsville, TX 77342
I continue to write these letters in the hopes that you read them. I don't blame you for not writing me back, in fact, I pretty much expect it to be that way. I'm surrounded by men daily here, but I feel so alone. Emmett was always so protective of you and I pray that he still is. I can't be there for you, but I'm sure they always will be. Your birthday is coming up soon. Eighteen is a very important milestone in your life. I want to pass on some wisdom, but I'm sure you'd only snort and roll your eyes at the irony. Don't think for one second that I don't realize that I have nothing to offer you that is worth a damn. I made so many mistakes, Bella. I would take it all back in a heartbeat. God, I swear I would take it all back. You are the only thing in this life that means anything to me now. By the grace of God, I hope you are thriving and living free from the burdens of our sins. The burdens that were placed upon the Swan name and left for an innocent young girl to bear. I am so sorry Bella.
I love you, and I always will.
Inmate # 1217942
This is the only time I'm going to say this because I hate A/N, I really do. I was born, bred, and still live in Texas. I graduated from Texas A&M University. I am not perpetuating stereo-types. No way am I indicating that speaking with a Texan accent or with local jargon makes you ignorant or uneducated. Don't bother sending me messages that say people no longer talk like this in Texas, because I will laugh and think you are full of shit. We talk this way, even if we don't realize it.