A/N: Mrs Meyer owns all the Twilight stuff.
Thanks as always to lambcullen and snshyne for beta and pre-reading. They keep me from scrapping the lot and crying in the corner.
And thanks to you, gentle reader.
This story was inspired the song All the Wild Horses, by Ray LaMontagne.
I never really got why they called it a small town.
Sure, the actual town part was small. But we did have a Wal-Mart. And a McDonald's. There's a honky tonk or two, a motel, a few local businesses, and the place where I work.
McCarty's Ranch Supply Store, proudly serving the community since Old Man McCarty set himself up in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere, USA.
His son ran the store now, Mister McCarty, or Emmett, as he insisted on being called, adding, Mister McCarty is my dad. He's a great boss.
We sold everything from tools and basic hardware, until a couple years back the store was expanded to a small repair garage for farming equipment. We also sell feed and seed.
I worked behind the parts counter mostly, and knew all the ranchers in the county, as I'd seen them in the store from time to time. When I had started, they'd seemed surprised to see a girl behind the counter, as if plaid and cowboy boots were exclusive to the Boy's Club that is the ranching world. I won them over, usually, to the point where my nametag didn't matter anymore, as Bella had transitioned to sweetheart, honey, and sugar.
The door tinkled, it was our first customer since we'd reopened after New Year's. I'd taken down the Christmas tinsel, and the store seemed oddly bare now without all of the cheerful decorations.
I straightened behind the counter, and squiggled the mouse over the pad to make sure the computer was alive and awake.
I pursed my lips as I saw who it was that'd walked through the door.
It was Edward Cullen, who owned a horse ranch out by Route 101. He was quiet, and didn't engage in chit chat. His wife had died a few years ago, in a horrible accident. In the back office, there are pictures of him, from before the accident. They were group photos taken at the annual Rancher's Ball; and I remember him standing beside his pretty wife, smiling.
I watched him amble towards me, glancing at the shelves on either side of him. It was like looking at a different man.
Gone were the fancy duds and polished shiny belt buckle. They were replaced with old jeans and a padded plaid jacket. His expensive boots that shined, even in the photo, were replaced with worn looking work boots. The once clean shaven jaw was hidden under a growth of beard, and his hair was shaggy, hanging over his ears from where it peeked out of his old Stetson.
Most of all, were his eyes. That had to be the biggest contrast. They seemed incredibly haunted, but somehow empty. They were piercing when he settled them on anyone, as if it was painful for him to look them in the eye.
He made his way back to the parts counter, where I was currently set up. I attempted a smile, but knew that it wouldn't be returned. It wasn't out of nastiness, and I wondered if he was just lonely.
"What can I do for you, Mr Cullen?"
He looked up, and there were those spring green eyes looking into mine, and I tried not to react. My entire body jolted, and I concentrated on breathing. Eyes that pretty shouldn't be on a man.
"I ordered a crankshaft a week ago. Has it come in?"
His voice was quiet, but the deep timbre sank into me.
I struggled to recover, "Um, I'll just check for you. Do you have your order number handy?"
He handed me a small slip of paper, his tan work roughened hand catching my eye, his long fingers nearly brushing mine.
Oh my God, work, girl!
I jotted the number down before punching it into the computer. The order came up with a green box next to it, which meant it was somewhere in the back.
"We sure do, gimme a sec, while I jump back and get it."
I got up, and my boots made an ominous clicking sound in the quiet store. I stepped into the back area where we kept the smaller deliveries. The ceiling was high, and lit by motion detected sensors. I stood a moment while the fluorescent lights buzzed on. It was a forest of freestanding rows of metal shelves, painted in an aqua blue. The shelves were labeled and organized by number, and they held odds and ends.
I found the shelf I was looking for, and reached for the part. Making sure it matched the order number, I walked out of the room quickly. It always gave me the creeps when I was in the store by myself.
He stood waiting, his eyes caught on the board where we let locals place their flyers and adds. His eyes had gone that glazed way, I could see he was totally lost in thought. I startled him slightly with my return, and watched him visibly regroup.
Sitting back down in front of the computer, I printed off a receipt for him.
"It says here you've already paid. Do you want this in a bag?"
He shook his head absently, avoiding my gaze. I handed the part to him, so he was forced to look at me. His face was still handsome, even hidden underneath all that fuzz, and I briefly wondered what he would look like up close, clean shaven.
This time, our fingers brushed against each other as I handed him his purchase, my soft skin against his rough palm. His green eyes pierced into mine, I saw something flicker, before he tucked it back down again.
"Thanks," he mumbled, and then turned to walk away. I couldn't tear my eyes from his retreating back, and wondered vaguely if he knew just how sexy his walk was. It was lazy and loose, and the swing of his backside in those jeans made me want to hook my thumbs through his belt loops.
I sighed, and went back to the stock order I should be entering. Mentally muttering to myself that I didn't need anymore projects in my life.
An hour later, I looked up again as the front door tinkled. I smiled, recognizing the footsteps of sneakered feet.
A face peeked around the corner, and she waved at me, tying her shop apron on.
Leah was my best friend, and partner in crime. I got up from my perch behind the parts counter, it was quiet enough in the shop that I could give her a hand. The door always tinkled when customers came in anyways.
I walked over to where she was bringing out a stock delivery in a wire cage, and had stopped in front of the shelves. Pulling out her box knife, she opened the boxes for motor oil.
Leah was the daughter Harry Clearwater, and her father's handsome Native American features transferred prettily into her petite face. Her eyes were dark and almond shaped, her straight nose gave her face a proud look, and her full lips were glossy this morning.
I picked up a box and went to the other end of the shelf.
She smiled at me, "How was your New Year's?"
"It was pretty good. Daddy had to work, so it was just Momma and me. We baked cookies, watched the ball drop in Times Square, and drank a bottle of pink sparkling wine. What about you?"
"Sam had his brothers over and they ended up wrestling all over the house. I could have killed them, but they ended up killing each other."
Leah's fiancé, Sam, taught at the local High School, and coached the football team. He led us all the way to State Champs this season, and was pretty much the local hero at the moment. They had a pack of boys, and along with Leah and Sam's large extended family made for a warm atmosphere whenever I had ever been over to Leah's. Which was frequently, to watch their brood to give Leah and Sam the night off.
The boys called me Aunt Bella, and hung all over me until I eventually collapsed on the couch.
"How is your dad feeling?" I asked, worried about Harry's heart scare at Thanksgiving.
Leah's face grimaced, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink low fat."
I reached for a bottle of oil from my box, "Have they changed his medication at all?"
She nodded as she placed the plastic bottles of oil on the shelf in front of her, "Yeah, but he has to put in the effort as well, know what I mean?"
I sighed, "Yeah. I keep yelling at Daddy about his health, but he just grumbles back at me."
Leah rolled her eyes, "Men."
The door jingled as it was pushed open, and an icy blast of January air whistled in behind whoever had entered the store.
"Hello? Bells? Leah?"
We looked at each other as Emmett's large frame came around the corner and found us in the aisle, "Guess what? Rose had twins!"
His handsome face was nearly split in two by his wide boyish grin, and his dark hair curled around his face. His eyes sparkled a cobalt blue as he held up pictures. A red faced little boy in a blue cap, and a matching girl in a pink cap. The boy was named Emmett (the fourth) and the little girl Mary Jo.
They were perfect, and Emmett couldn't be any prouder.
He shoved cigars at us, not even caring that we would probably never smoke them, and I turned mine in my hands, to see that the babies names were printed on the cellophane.
Emmett didn't stay long, he wanted to get back to the hospital, but he wanted to check on us to make sure we were OK.
The rest of the day went without interruption, I finished inputting the last of the orders, and Leah and I chatted on and on while we stocked what was there. I locked up, set the alarm, and jingled the keys as I walked out to my car. The parking lot was deserted, and the flat landscape seemed to glow in the moonless night, the white blanket of snow everywhere making the air thin and the landscape bleak and lifeless.
I noticed my truck had chains on the tires, that had to be Daddy's doing while I was in the shop. They were going to help getting in tonight, the roads looked really bad.
Snow began to fall again as I got into the car and warmed the engine of my pickup. Daddy and Momma had saved for it to give to me as a graduation present. It was an old Ford Ranger, 1996, and a deep purple color that sparkled when the truck was clean and polished.
The drive home was slow, as the roads which had been salted were still really icy, and I struggled to see through the snow. Luckily living in this town, I could drive home blindfolded, which is what it seemed like tonight. The eerie silence got to me, and I turned on the radio, and caught the middle of Suds In the Bucket.
The song finished, and the woman DJ came on, her smoky voice soothing.
Them Suds In the Bucket are gonna be frozen tonight. It is well below freezing, and if you're out on the roads, you be careful, cuz that snow is refreezing as real nasty ice. County officials state they've salted the main roads, but we all know those back roads are a son of a gun in this weather. Quick break, and then I'll be playing more of your country favorites…
The radio droned on with commercials, and I turned it down to concentrate on the roads.
I breathed a sigh of relief, and it was visible steam in the cold air, as I pulled into my apartment complex, and parked. Grabbing my purse off the seat, I trudged up the stairs, trying to get rid of the majority of the snow from the bottom of my boots.
I arrived at my door, and jingled the keys. Pulling my glove off with my teeth, I unlocked the door and flicked on the hall light. Heat hit me, and I silently thanked Jesus and my Dad for thinking to put a timer on my heating.
A light meow echoed from the end of the hall, and my black cat Shadow sat in the middle of the floor. Her yellow eyes sparkled like coins in the light, and her tail twitched in annoyance that I was slightly late.
"Sorry your majesty, but someone has to earn the moola around here to keep you in that expensive stuff you like."
I shut the door with my boot, and reached behind me to lock it as I pulled my other glove off with my teeth. I stuffed them in my coat pocket, before shrugging out of my coat, and hung it up on the coat peg. My matching hat and scarf following it.
The phone rang as I stepped into the kitchen, and I picked it up on the third ring, "Hello?"
"Bella, did you have any trouble on the roads?"
"I was fine, Momma. Daddy put chains on my tires while I was in the shop. Tell him I said thanks."
I filled the teakettle with water, and placed it on the stove as momma chatted on in my ear for a little bit.
She started to fade so I interrupted her, "Oh! The McCarty's had twins. Did you hear?"
That launched Ma into more small town chat, and I'd heard about every illness, birth, and major birthday of all my neighbors in a five mile radius, while I pulled out a teabag from the canister and dangled the little string over the side of the mug.
The kettle started to whistle, and I pulled it off the heat.
"That sounds like your tea, Baby. I won't keep you. Love you!"
"Love you too, Momma."
I poured hot water into my mug and absently watched the teabag dive into the depths of the mug. I decided to leave it for a bit, as I preferred this brand strong.
My feet were frozen in my boots, and I went into the bedroom to pull them off. I dug in my sock drawer, looking for my comfy house socks. They were a huge thick pair of stretchy cotton, and way better than any slippers. I ended up digging at the very bottom, and as I pulled them out, something flat fluttered to the floor.
I picked it up and turned it over, and my stomach lurched at the sight. It was a picture. The kind of picture that you remember posing for, remember smiling, remember thinking this moment is going to last forever.
And it really lasts for the moment that flash pops, and you're slightly blinded for the briefest of moments. Even after, when your eyes are still recovering, your mind is full of the belief that people will always love you, and you'll always love them.
I crumbled the old photo in my hand and shoved it back under the socks, so I wouldn't have to look at the smiling faces of a couple with stars in their eyes.
I shut the drawer with my hip and opened another drawer to pull out a warm set of pj's. I undressed and pulled them on, and sat down on my bed to shove my socks on.
I moved back through my small apartment to the tiny kitchen area, and pulled out a can of food for Shadow.
"And tonight, Ma'amselle, for your dining pleasure it's Lamb avec gravy." I picked up Shadow's dish, and mixed the contents into the bowl. She meowed loudly behind me, and wove her lithe little body between my legs, her tail swooshing towards my knees.
I looked down at her, and she moved, so I could step back and place her dish on the floor.
I set it down, she sniffed at it, and turned her face away, stalking back towards the living room in a pout.
"Oh for goodness sake, Shad, we both know you're going to come back here and eat it once it's lights out."
I picked up my tea, and pulled out a cookie from the jar. Stalking towards the living room, I crumpled onto the couch that was slightly too big for this apartment. I had picked it out for my apartment when I had lived in Spokane.
I thought I had left small town life behind, even though my co-worker Ben had called me Smalls. I had worked at a small accountancy firm, and they had taken me on and trained me after I left college life with my degree. After two years, the company went belly up, and I suddenly couldn't afford my apartment, or anything else. I couldn't find anywhere else that was taking on graduates, and so I had to pack up what I could and head home.
This couch, and that lamp on the table were the only things that had come with me. And Shadow, who was adjusting to small town and my smaller apartment.
Luckily Emmett had needed a book keeper for his store, and I had the qualifications. It was nowhere near my big city salary, but it was better than living with my parents.
My mind wandered back to the crumpled picture at the bottom of my sock drawer. I tried to forget it, tried not to remember the happy youthful faces in the old prom photo.
It was Under the Sea themed, the whole prom, and it really had looked underwater, with papier-mâché kelp and the disco ball set up in the school gym, which made the walls sparkle like tiny schools of fish.
That night, when I went to bed, I dreamt that I was drowning, my dress wet and heavy, pulling me under. The sea was a weird color green. A spring green, that seemed filled with indefinable shadows.
This should update regularly on Friday. That's the plan.
Thanks for reading!