A/N: It's here. Judgement day.
Oh no, wait. That's not until Saturday. Whew. We're all safe. Full a/n at the bottom. Enjoy what's below! :-)
"You got the cooler?" Bella called while leaning over the roof of the car from the passenger side. I gave her a nod and a wave as I ran back inside to grab the damn thing—I'd forgotten it.
Bella made a space on the back seat for the cooler as I hauled it in through the driver's side door. I think our excitement had gotten the better of us since we'd packed it way beyond capacity. Bella smiled at me before sitting down with a plop and a sigh. She sounded so content, eager, it boosted my own anticipation for the trip.
Buckling up, I watched Bella out of the corner of my eye tucking her knees against her chest. Her face glowed in the early morning light coming off the ocean, and I couldn't help it—I leaned in to kiss her skin, tasting her.
My hands rested idly on the wheel as I cherished her in that moment. Her hair had brightened to deep red in the sun and her eyelashes turned gold in the light, making her brown eyes pop with reflected color. I'd never seen the girl wear make up, and I knew why: she didn't need it. She was natural and perfect, with a tiny braid nestled in her silken hair—the only adornment I could spot.
She worked at a tangle, pulling it apart and twisting it into another braid in an absentminded way—no doubt waiting for me to start the car.
I revved the engine of Peter's old Impala and turned to look at the bungalow one last time. The porch swing seemed lonely without us, but we'd be back to keep it company again one day—just not anytime soon.
"I'm ready." Bella bounced in her seat and then scooted down into a slouch, getting comfortable for the long drive we had ahead of us. Her bare feet dangled out the window as we rolled out of the dusty driveway. Sand and pebbles kicked up behind us, filling the rear view mirror with nothing but swirls of dust as if the land itself were offering us its farewell.
As we turned onto the street I caught Bella staring out the back window toward Rose's house. Emmett was leaning over in a worn flannel robe, grabbing the paper off the lawn. He waved as we drove past, nodding and attempting to smile, but it turned into a yawn as he stretched his arms high above his head. The domestic image was so drastic a change from the constant horror show Rose had put on the previous summer, I just shook my head and gave the man a friendly nod.
"He's taking good care of her," Bella said.
"Someone needed to."
The irony of their particular situation did not escape Bella and me. The man who'd unintentionally caused Rose's injuries had turned into the man who'd brought her back from the brink of whatever kind of hellish precipice she'd been balancing on. In the past year, the girl had stopped drinking, smoking, and every other damn vice one could think of, with Emmett there to encourage her every step of the way. He had my sympathies and respect in more ways than could be counted.
Bella snuggled down in her seat after waving goodbye to Emmett and pulled out the already-crinkled directions from underneath her thigh.
"I don't know why you insist on using maps. The phone Charlie gave me has GPS."
"Yes, it does, but you've no idea how to use it, do you?"
Bella blushed and shoved my shoulder with a weak hand. I laughed. The girl barely knew how to check her voicemails; I doubted the GPS application would be familiar to her, considering she'd only been using the damn thing for two months.
"It still seems silly," she mumbled.
"Maps are classic. Iconic. You can't deny the image of a tinker with a map in his hands."
Her forehead creased in an adorable way as she looked up at me. I had to remind myself to keep an eye on the road.
"Tinker?" she asked.
"It's what my gram calls travelers,"
Bella's face softened. "I can't wait to meet her."
"You'll love her."
"I know I will. She helped raise you."
Before I could even turn to smile at the girl, she'd rested her head on my shoulder and pressed her warm body into mine. I silently thanked Peter for the couch seat in his old tin can and kicked it into third gear.
It wasn't long before we were officially on the road with nothing but a blank expanse of highway in front of us and the pressure and stress of the past year melting into the background behind us. I had my girl at my side, strong, hot tea in my hand, and about a dozen states to cross ahead of me. Things felt right. I had actual hope in my heart that everything would go well down in Savannah with my grandparents and that maybe a trip to Texas would be in our future.
But first, we'd enjoy the journey. We'd stop at all the dinky tourist traps and take photos next to one of the mile markers for the Appalachain trail, make faces up at the second biggest yarn ball in the world, and eat barbeque at every rundown, roadside shack we could find because that's how one did things on a road trip. Folded maps and getting lost on the way were a given. The experience was the variable, and I planned on making this as memorable as I could for Bella. She'd spent too long cooped up in one little house in a teeny tiny town. It was time she saw a few things.
And for some reason, she'd picked me to be the one to show her—I felt honored by the privilege.
. . .
Water sloshed around us as I made little mountains out of the bubbles floating atop Bella's knees. She shimmed down further into the tub, effectively destroying my twin peaks bubble sculpture, not to mention hiding my view of her own pair.
"Are you uncomfortable?"
She shook her head, her damp, messy bun rubbing against my cheek. I wrapped my arms around her and nuzzled her neck, kissing all the sensitive spots I could find. As I worked my way up to her jaw, I saw a small smile lurking at the corner of her lips.
"What are you thinking about?"
She snuggled against me, curling onto her side and tucking her head under my chin. I held her close, enjoying the peace of the night while remembering the first time we'd shared a bath and how drastically different the circumstances had been. Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself that I'd chosen this life with my eyes open and Bella's love and trust were worth every drop of needless sin I'd given up.
She'd once wanted me to believe she wasn't important enough to love or be counted as anything more than the odd neighbor who kept to herself, but she was wrong. She was worth it. All of it. Every damn fever, every damn shiver, every damn struggle I'd be butting up against for years to come was worth what I'd found with her: this little corner of solitude, surrounded by bubbles and the humidity of a Georgian summer night.
I often wondered when Bella would get sick of my affections, my touches, my endless want to hold her close because I knew it must be overwhelming to a person who'd kept to themselves for so long. But the pure reality of her weight against my body or the press of her palm in my hand was something I'd never tire of because those things had been lost to me when I'd been too busy drowning in the bottom of a bottle. When I was numb to the world, things like the gentle pressure of a woman's body or the feel of calloused fingers never registered to my alcohol-addled brain. Now, I craved and savored those sensations more than I'd ever craved the bottle.
Lifting Bella's hand out of the water, I pressed the softened pads of her fingers to my lips, smiling wide. Tomorrow we'd drive the last leg down to Gram's estate in the heart of Savannah, and Bella would get to taste real sweet tea for the first time. Hopefully, my grandparents would be accepting of my apologies and the new course my life had taken, and the long overdue reconciliation I'd owed them all would begin.
None of it would be easy or comfortable—like the Savannah heat, I knew sometimes it'd be too much to bear—but I had my anchor in my arms. She'd keep me from losing my way with her sweet smiles and her even sweeter tea. And right then, in that small motel room outside the city limits, holding my girl close in a sea of bubbles and foam, I smiled, knowing that was all that mattered.
A/N: That wasn't too cheesy, was it? I hope not because that, my beloved readers, was the last chapter of Bourbon and Tea. I do want to write an epilogue, as is custom for all twi FF—I don't know where this trend started but I'm following it—so more Bourbon and Tea will be posted one day. I'd love to create Jasper's grandparents and to write Savannah as a setting. I'll probably work on the epi this summer when I have some more free time on my hands, but for now, this is the final curtain. Thank you for reading along and giving me love and support and beautiful reviews throughout the story. I appreciate them all, even if I have yet to respond.
Mac beta'd this chapter and I have to thank her over many, many times for keeping my passive voice to a minimum and killing all my comma splices. (She did not beta this a/n, however, so any mistakes are mine. lol) Chicklette and BeautifulFigment (aka RiRi) were my other main betas for this story. They deserve extreme foozles for being so awesome and supportive of my silly, silly writing. Thanks guys!
For one final time, thank you so much for reading. Hugs to all!