The "Missed Connection" Contest

Story Title: Where to Begin

Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Mrs. Meyer, and not me.

Prompt: Vagabond Beauty, where are you? We met outside of Memphis, deep in Shelby Forest. Sitting on the hood of your rusty red Beetle you caught my eye; I don't know whether it was your bright smile or the flowers in your hair, but I stopped. You told me your car just died on you and you needed a ride, looking at your beautiful face I couldn't find it in me to refuse. From Memphis to New Orleans we drove together, you convinced me to subject you to my horrible singing voice, we ate meals together, danced and slept under the stars—those hours have been playing in my mind since. When we got to New Orleans, you gave me your number and asked me to meet you. I didn't but I intended to meet you. Let me explain.

I'm in New Orleans for another three days. I'll be at Renee's bar every day and night…please meet me. I felt something, and I think you did, too. Ace


xXXx

Summer of 2011

"Like clockwork," Emmett shouted as I stepped over the threshold, recognizing me immediately.

"Same as always Ace?"

"Yeah, same." Quietly I looked over the bulletin board littered with posters advertising rooms for rent, missing dogs and Showcase Friday sign-ups. In the center, torn and wrinkled, faded by time, was blue flyer with black writing tied to a memory of the best kind. Sitting myself down I thanked Emmett and took a swing of my beer looking around at the brick walls and rustic tables and stools; the place hadn't change much since my last visit. Good ol' Renee's, I could always count on it being here.

"So," Emmett stated, casually tossing the mop rag over one shoulder and crossing his massive arms over his chest. "Where yat?"

"I'm good, can't complain…too much," I chuckled into my beer. "How've you been?"

"Real good, Rosie moved down here bout a month ago and my baby sister is coming home from school…It's got Daddy all worked up."

"So I finally get to meet this June Bug everyone keeps talking about, should be nice. Now I understand the welcome home banner." He grinned and said the streamers weren't up yet but soon they'd cover the bulletin board.

"So all those dogs will just have to wait on account of your sister…. I see you guys haven't taken down the flyer…can't believe it's still up there—it's been three years."

"Shit, three years? Have I really been lookin' at that where'd my pretty girl go for three summers? Nah, it can't be." Emmett joked, clapping me on the back. "We like yah and we'll keep it up there forever, never know when she'll walk in the bar lookin' for yah…besides, it's makes a damn good story, a real good ice breaker for some young buck fixin' to strike up a conversation—the ladies just eat that shit up. It's so damn tragic it almost fuckin' Shakespearean."

"Back off ladies, he's all mine." The sarcastic voice of none other than Rosalie echoed through the nearly empty bar, along with the clunk of heels and the rustle of fabric. Coming to sit on the stool beside me Rose slapped a stack of flimsy folders on the bar and ordered a drink, something called an ice pick.

"Damn straight and what a lucky bastard I am." Emmett set down a drink in front of his girl, leaning over the bar to plant a kiss on her.

"Lucky bastard is right Emm." She smiled warmly, turning in her seat to hug me hello. "It's so nice to see you sugar…California sure has been good to you."

"I suppose you can say that, Rose, but trading Texas for Louisiana has done you a world of good."

"Charmer," she accused, sipping her drink with a satisfied smirk.

"Anyhow, if you two are done flirting…Ace and I was just talking about that there flyer, you know the one Rosie baby. Three years…damn."

"I was here when he came into the bar moping about some girl and her guitar and flowers. You tell every Tom, Dick, and Harry that walks in this place the story of the blue flyer."

"I guess I'm just a good ol' romantic, I'm a sucker for this shit. Ah hell, I'll be right back; them guys can't do a damn thing without help." Emmett rolled his eyes and made his way to the stage, where the house band was setting up their equipment, yelling about the mics and tuning their slide guitars.

"Should be some night, what with June Bug coming back, never seen Charlie is such a state. How long do we have you for this summer?"

"I'm here for about a week, maybe longer, depending…" My words trailed off and Rose nodded, a mixture of sympathy and kindness in her blue eyes, and turned her attention to work.

We both knew what was on my mind; distance and sunshine had yet to erase her from my memory.

Years had passed fruitlessly, summers gone in sultry humidity and heat, eating Praw leens, sitting at this bar stool but still I hoped she'd walk through the door, walk back into my life as easily as she had walked out of it, with a smile on her face and flowers in her long brown hair.

xXXx

Summer of 2008

The road lay ahead of me, unclaimed and endless, miles of smoldering black asphalt, all whispering to me, pulling me forward, beckoning to me something unknown and promising a new beginning.

Listening I followed, Lord knew I needed to start over.

Three days ago, I drove over the New York Stateline, leaving my job, my dead end relationship, and New York in the rearview mirror without a backward glance. I didn't pack much, after years of living complacent with a woman I felt no passion for I wanted to get out. She gave me the perfect exit when I found her in bed with our neighbor. I wasn't even mad, if anything I was thankful to her for being the villain in this story and clearing my conscious. I took my music, my clothes, a family photo book, and my set of knives, loaded it in the back of my 145s Volvo wagon and set out on the road.

They say everyone should take a road trip at least once in their life. Find yourself among the amber waves of grain and purple majestic Mountains, just you, the open road and music. It was what every Ray Ban wearing hipster did fresh after reading Jack Kerouac's novel, in search of a meaning and discovery, so why not me? I needed meaning, yearned for discovery. Nothing was holding me back, I had time; the entire summer was free. In spirit of freedom, I decided to take the scenic route.

I mapped my trip, a jagged zigzagged path in red marker, down through New York and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, thorough the forests of Tennessee, into deep Louisiana bayous, across the harsh deserts of Texas and Arizona right on to the Golden state.

On and on the miles pulled me forward, leaving towns and hours in my dust. Turning the music up high to drown out the doubts, with windows rolled down so sweet serene air danced through the car I drove, where to I didn't know, but I'd know when I arrived.

Pennsylvania and Ohio held very little interest so I drove right straight through, stopping only when necessary: for gas, cigarettes, coffee, and relieving myself. Kentucky proved to be something else, something glorious in its air, warm with charm and innate kindness one rarely found in the East Coast. I got turned around but eventually, and thankfully, to the Bill, I found myself in Louisville, or LOO-ih-vuhl as drug store Bill corrected kindly. Having been in the car for some thirteen odd hours I decided to stretch my legs, I indulged in Shakespeare in the park, thoroughly enjoying A Tale of two Cities and had the best fried chicken dinner at the local diner. How they got the skin so crispy was a Kentucky mystery, and to the grave they took it.

After some sleep and a much needed shower, I went on to Tennessee, the birth of all that was right with music, Nashville to be exact. I toured RCA Studio B along with a couple bent on photographing everything, even me. I soaked up musical history, and saw Elvis' favorite piano. On such a nice summer day I could not resist strolling around the Famer's Market I saw advertised—fresh peaches, ripe juicy tomatoes, and produce as far as the eye could see, naturally I stocked up on some things for the drive. Later that night sitting at a grimy bar in Downtown Nashville, the air thick with scent of smoke, alcohol, and too many sweaty bodies, I listened to a man they called Friday Frank talk about jazz and blues and rock, with a cigarette in one hand and my beer in the other. As I drove out of town, it hit me just how much history was stored up in this place. Legends both big and small, had walked these streets, played in these bars, would continue to do so far into the future and I now owned a tiny piece of it.

It was blistering and sticky when I reached Shelby Forest; the wind barely blew through the trees but the sun; the low sun filtered through the trees casted patches of hot shade in the road. Outside of those patches, waves of heat came off the asphalt, leaving a faint scent of burning tar in the air—I imagined it was hot enough to fry an egg. Not one car could be seen coming or going, and my music echoed off the wilderness. In the anonymity of my surroundings, I sang along with John Lee Hooker, playing my imaginary guitar on the iron steering wheel, the shameful quality of my voice offset by the coolness of my new drugstore aviator shades. So preoccupied was I with belting out "One bourbon, One scotch, One beer" that the faded red car around the bend appeared unexpectedly, startling me.

"Fuck," I hissed.

Whether the little beetle was stalled out or just cooling down I couldn't tell, but I told myself that I'd stop, offer help, and be on my way. What if the person was stranded; out here, in the middle of nowhere, anything could happen to them. Behind the Good Samaritan gesture was a strong sensation that if I didn't stop I'd be sorry, possibly forever.

As I got closer, I saw a young woman reclined on the rusty hood, chocolate tinted tresses pooled around her head in a dark halo of waves and wildflowers. Immediately I thought, weird little flower child.

"Miss?" I called pulling up alongside her car, noticing that her fair skin was flushed a beautiful shade of pink. The only indication that she heard me was break in the swinging of her fringe boots and the pause of her hummed song. "Miss?"

"So… was that one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer?" She asked, swinging her legs over the side of the vehicle, crossing them while flashing me a heart-stopping smile, those chocolate waves spilling around her shoulders.

My God, she was an angel.

"You heard me?" She nodded, still smiling brilliantly and leaning back on her thin arms. Behind the safety of my dark shades, I tried to get a better look at the tiny thing that somehow compelled me to stop despite the many precautionary tales of women using their wilds on men in order to rob them.

But this girl wasn't bent on robbing me.

Flower child or not, she was gorgeous. Her nose was freckled, as were her shoulders; cheeks flushed from the heat, and I could just make out a tiny bead of sweat dripping down her neck in no hurry. The mystery woman cleared her throat, fully aware of what I had just been doing, but oddly enough, I saw not reproached in her bright brown eyes.

"You have good taste, I'll give you that. Not but an hour ago an old blue Chevy came barreling down the road playing something awful." She chuckled to herself at the memory and hopped off the car, flashing lean thighs her little dress failed to cover.

Careful, do not ogle. I asked if she was stranded or in need of gas.

"She just died on me for no reason, nothing's wrong from what I can tell. Three hours I've been sitting out here, waiting, enjoying the Tennessee summer…beautiful isn't it."

"Would you like a lift or..."

"You in the habit of offering rides to strange women you barely know Ace?" The corner of her mouth twitched with amusement as she moved out of the shade and into the sunshine.

"No, but what kind of gentlemen would leave a young woman such as yourself stranded on the side of the road? Besides you don't seem like a strange woman to me."

"No? Funny…no one has ever said that to me. But a gentleman, hmm, a gentleman…I thought they were urban myths. Your mama must have raised you right. Where are you heading exactly?"

"Well," I stalled, torn between confessing that where she went I'd follow in a heartbeat and the truth.

I summed up my route for her deciding that the truth was better, if only because it sounded less disturbing. When I was finished, she rewarded me with another smile. "Where are you heading?"

"I'm on my way to New Orleans. Now that's a long way to take a stranger. You don't have to trouble yourself, I'm sure she'll start up once it cools off a bit."

"I can take you; I'm headed in that direction anyway and I could use the company."

"The road can be pretty unforgiving if you're alone." She debated a second before reaching through the open window to shake my hand, "If you don't have a problem then neither do I, just let me get my things."

Slinging a huge patchwork bag over her shoulder she gathered things from the inside of her car, retrieving a large guitar case that had seen better days from the back seat. With a slow unhurried gait she came back to the car, calling me an urban myth once again when I opened her door. Guitar case safely stored in the back seat and sunglasses on I started my baby, loving the way she purred.

"Shall we?"

"By all means Ace, chase the sun."

For miles, we let the music do our talking, the twang of the slide guitar and Grant Greens voice filtering through the cab. Every so often, I'd sneak a peek at her, each time finding something new to like. Reclined in the seat, she looked out the window at the blurring scenery, one hand hanging out the window, catching the wind only to let it slip through her fingers. There was a level of comfort about her that amazed me; she just was. She felt no need to offer information or small talk but managed to escape secrecy and isolation. With her Minnetonka boots, colorful corded bracelets covering her wrists, hair twisted by the wind and adorned by nature she seemed to be the very embodiment of freedom, the picture of a free spirit. I imagined there wasn't much she did without a great desire to do so.

She didn't speak until we reached Greenwood Mississippi, the cotton capital of the world as the sun bleached sign proclaimed with its last breath.

"Why aren't you singing Ace? I hope it's not on my account..."

"I didn't think you appreciate the noise," I blushed. "You heard me, I'm an awful singer."

"I thought it was sweet, I thought to myself, now there is person unafraid to sound foolish. Too many people are afraid of doing things because they think they're awful at it, or because they're scared of failing or looking silly."

"And you aren't afraid of failing…or looking silly?"

"No," she protested, shifting in her seat so she could face me. In the blue orange haze of the sunset, her beauty took on an ethereal quality that made me wonder what this lovely creature went by—she had yet to give me a name. "Life is imperfect; no one lives in perfection, and who's to say what failure is anyway. One man's success is another's failed attempted at living and so on and so forth. No two dreams are alike and I think that if you're living yours… you'll be happy, regardless of looking silly. In my book, that is happiness. What? What has you making that sour lemon face?"

I shook my head disbelievingly, she had summed up what I had been fighting my whole life. I took the first job that accepted me right out of culinary school, never bothered to look elsewhere even when it became dull. I stayed where I was comfortable, and safe, too afraid to try something different, and I did the same with my relationship. Yet here was this young girl, not a day older than twenty, with the secrets to life spilling from her ruby tinted lips.

How was it that they evaded me so long?

It was truly quite simple…

"I'm just in awe," I told her, smiling to make sure she knew I wasn't upset by her philosophy. "You're so young…I just never expected you to sum it all up…so neatly."

"Neatly? No," she shook her head and the cab filled with a floral scent, "life is messy but there's no use in living if you aren't happy, as my mama always used to say."

"You're mama's a smart woman…I wish I would have known that sooner."

"She was and all that's important is that you know now—road trips are meant for leaning. Whatever you left back in there, I reckon it wasn't making you very happy."

"No, it wasn't."

"So, are you starting over?" I nodded, gripping the steering wheel tighter. "That's always best, you know, if something isn't working or doesn't feel right to you…toss it and start over, no shame in that."

"I suppose not."

"You know what else, there's no shame in singing the blues. It's just the road and us. I'm not going to say anything and the road sure as hell won't either." I looked over to find her grinning from ear to ear; it was impossible not to smile with her. "Go on, turn up and let it go, you know you want to."

"Fine," I smile reaching for the volume knob, "but only if you sing with me."

"Like I would let you sing all by your lonesome Ace."

As night fell, we sang our way through Mississippi, laughing at lyrics and guitar riffs played out on thighs and dashboards. On the outskirts of Jackson, we stopped for dinner at a tiny diner, with little booths, and great service. Over hamburgers, chili cheese fries, and tall glasses of coke a cola I told her about my trip thus far, how I dreamed of owning a restaurant, and the food I would cook. Her eyes danced as I spoke, absorbing every word and later, while sharing a piece of blueberry pie she told me that she had never seen such passion pent up in one person before.

"Let it out Ace, do it."

I took a drag of my cigarette, slowly exhaling, "What about your passion young lady? We've been talking about my life all day. What about you?"

She licked the whipped cream off the spoon before setting it down. "I do lots of things, I travel in my little beetle, learn, read, waitress during these trips across the country and play in little holes in the wall at night."

"Ahh, I thought I saw a little gypsy soul in your eyes…So the guitar case isn't just for show."

"No, it's not just for show." She laughed softy. "It doesn't sound like much, but I love my life, and I always return home."

"Home?"

"Yes, where your heart lies…home."

Her face was open, like a book waiting to read and discovered, and like a book, she didn't yell out her mysteries, she waited while you found them yourself. I had the feeling she was more than she appeared and I only hopped I'd have the time to find out.

"Is that what's in New Orleans?"

"Yes."

Once back on the road we drove with the crickets and sweet silence as our soundtrack. We didn't talk much, but every so often, she'd look over at me as if she'd known me for years and would smile. Quickly I was become accustom to the sensation her smiles gave me. It was smooth, fast sailing from Jackson to Alexandria, until of course the car began to over sputter, coughing. Like an idiot, I had forgotten to gas up.

My little companion was in fits of laughter as she steered my car while I pushed us to the nearest gas station. Unfortunately, the windows were smudged and blacked, the place had closed hours ago. Somewhere in the distance, someone was throwing a party. I could hear the music clearly, but I was too irritated to care.

"Fuck," I hissed in anger. What kind of imbecile forgets gas?

"It's alright; I'm betting you need to rest anyway. We'll get gas in morning."

Her carefree spirit was not welcomed this time.

"And where do you suppose we'll sleep till then? I don't see a motel around here…do you?"

"No, but we have the car."

"You're suggesting we sleep in the car? Great, that's great." I kicked the dirt, scrubbing my face with on hand; sleeping in the car was not what I had in mind at all.

I needed a cigarette.

"No, it's hotter than the hinges of hell in that car—"

"The AC conked out somewhere around Columbus." I murmured my tone apologetic.

"We can sleep on the hood of the car, under the stars but now…hmmm, do you hear that?" She asked swaying to the distant melody, lifting her arms above her head. The action raised her dress, showing me her beautiful white thighs.

"You just do anything you like, don't you?"

"Yes, why not do what you like—life is a short ride, you know and this…is my favorite song…Let your soul and spirit fly…what, are you too shy to dance with me Ace?"

"No."

"Come on," she pleaded, coming closer, close enough for me to feel her breath on my face. "Dance with me Ace, into the Mystic."

Taking my hands in hers, she swung her arms in time with the song, draining my annoyance with her smile and easy acceptance of the obstacles life threw at you. Only our hands touched, and with her eyes closed she couldn't see the way I was looking at her, but her hips mesmerized me, the way the swiveled and glided during our little moondance. Never had I danced under stars and I had never felt so…at peace.

At first, I was skeptical about her suggestion; I wasn't too happy with sleeping on a car like a hippie but once we covered the hard metal with blankets from her patchwork bag and climbed on, it was heavenly. When you live in the city you forget what stars look like, how bright they can be when not competing with a city that never sleeps. Against the inky sky each star burned brighter than I recalled them ever being. They looked so close I could almost reach them.

"And, constant stars, in them I read such art…"

"Shakespeare," she whispered sleepily, her soft voice warming the air. "It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves."

"You like Shakespeare?" My ex hated Shakespeare.

"Yes, even a vagabond hippie like me, loves Shakespeare."

"That's not what I meant at all…I just…I love Shakespeare."

She was quite for a while, looking up at the stars thoughtfully, before she spoke, "Common thread is always nice to find, don't you think Ace."

The next morning we woke to beautiful sunrise, and decided to watch the sky pink and orange with the coming of a new day. Sitting beside her on my car, I wondered if this was somehow better because of her.

We arrived in New Orleans mid day, having stopped for a nice breakfast along the way. As we neared the old French Quarter, she kept her eyes on me, her thoughts clearly written on that beautifully open face of hers.

Oddly enough, I felt the way as she did. We didn't want to part ways…not yet.

"Are you ever going to tell me your name beautiful?" Desperation had won out; she was on the sidewalk with her huge bag slung over her shoulder and her guitar case gripped in one hand. She was leaving and I still didn't know her name.

Upon hearing me call her beautiful, she dropped the case and wrapped her arms around me, her fingers splayed between my shoulders blades. "Isn't it more fun this way?"

"No," I whispered into her flower-threaded hair, my hands coming to rest on her sweet body for the first time. "Please, a name, a place where we can meet…I don't want this to be over yet."

Pulling away, she rummaged through her bag before unearthing a bright green pen. Gently she took one hand between her tiny ones and began to write as she spoke, "Get settled, sleep, and shower. Here's my number and the place I'll be singing at tonight. Meet me at there, and I'll tell you my name."

"Why not now… I bet it's a lovely name."

"Tonight." She whispered, pecking me on the cheek before picking up her guitar. "Don't be late."

I did as she said, got myself a hotel, washed off the grime of the road and fell into bed naked, and damp from the shower. It was hot as hell, but the fan overhead made a lovely breeze in the small room and before I knew it, I drifted off to sleep. My dreams were colored with her laugh, the scent of her hair and the deep pools of her brown eyes, anticipation of the evening to come painting a thousand different pictures in my head.

It was only after I woke that I remember that she had written her number and our meeting place on my hand. It washed away in the shower, down the drain. In a panic, I dressed and went into that sultry New Orleans night to find her, my little gypsy girl. I went back to where we parted, intent on going from bar to bar, searching the crowds for her face, the entire French Quarter if I had to.

I had no name and there just too many people. I searched every bar, asking everyone if they had seen a girl with flowers in her hair; they all looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe I was. Out of options, and exhausted I walked into the last place thankful that it was mostly empty, made my way to the bar, and sat.

"What'll it be?" A gruff voice asked, the bar tender I assumed.

"Anything is fine."

"You sound like you could use a bourbon. Woman troubles?" He asked, sounding genuinely interested as he placed my drink in front of me. I nodded, appreciating the muddy water blues coming from the stage. "Women…they do a number on us don't they."

"This one did and now…I can't find her. Figures I'd met a beautiful girl inside and out and lose her within the day. I don't even know her name." I looked up at the man, and found him frowning, his thick mustache hanging over his lip. "You wouldn't happen to know how I can go about finding her, would you."

"Short of putting out an ad in the paper…no."

I knew he was joking but his words sparked an idea in me. I asked for paper and pen, he handed me a blue flyer and a marker, telling me that I could use the backside, it was blank and it was all he had. So there, on the bar, half drunk with disappointment and a tiny flicker of hope, I wrote out my ad and tacked it on the bulletin board where everyone could read it, where I hope she'd find it.

Where was she?

When I came back to my seat, the man was looking at me strangely. He was a tall man, but not much taller than me, and though he gave the impression of a hard man his eyes said different. He looked like he had seen more than his forty years worth, heartache and pain, loss and loneliness and those things had probably given him the compassion in his dark eyes. I noticed two other people hovering, a huge hulking young man a few years younger than me and pretty tall blonde women.

"She must be something, for you to go through the trouble. I'm Charlie and this here is my bar, this is my son Emmett and his lady, Rosalie." He gestured to the two of them and they waved and offered friendly smiles. "If you're going to haul up here for the next couple of days I reckon you better give me a name."

I shook his hand and gave him the name she gave me.

"Well, by the end of this I'm betting we'll be like family. You like the blues, Ace?"

xXXx

Summer of 2011

The bar filled up quick with its Friday crowd, men and woman of all kinds, and true to Emmett's word Renee's was draped in yellow streamers, ready for the welcome party. Looking back at the tattered blue flyer, I was reminded of that summer. Of the days and nights I spent waiting for her, drinking beer after beer, telling my story to Charlie, each night my desperation sinking lower. When those three days were gone and I hadn't heard from her, I left Louisiana and continued with my road trip, but it wasn't the same—the road no longer beckoned me forward; it was deathly silent.

There was however a tugging in my heart as I crossed over into the next state that I hadn't felt before.

I went on to California, reconnected with my friend Eleazar and together we took a risk, bought a tiny restaurant near the ocean. The first year was a struggle, but even with the lack of money and stress, I felt more alive than I had in years. I let out the pent out passion, just like she told me to. The second year was better, word of mouth spread good things about our little place. We weren't rolling in the money, but we did just fine, the bills were paid, fresh food was always on the menu and we turned a nice profit. This year however we became a staple, the go to restaurant when you wanted great food and a relaxed ambiance.

Despite all of that, I still felt like I was searching for something, something elusive, and something that only felt right when she was sitting in my front seat. I couldn't help but think of her, smiling in her tiny dress and boots, talking about freedom and living life to suit your own idea of happiness. It was because of her that New Orleans called to me, because of her that I stopped being so damn complacent all the time.

"Well, I'll be damned!" A familiar gruff said just over my shoulder. Turning I saw Charlie, and hugged him like the old friend he had become. "You look good son."

"Thanks, you too Charlie, retirement agrees with yah."

"Yeah, I fish and watch football, it's a dream come true."

He sat and we caught up for a while, shot the breeze, talking about the restaurant, life and his daughter. June bug, he called her and for those three years I head tiny bits about her and how she took after her mother, but never once had I seen her. Truthfully, I was a bit excited about meeting another member of the Swan family; they were all such nice kind people.

Charlie was a man people around these parts looked up to. He was tough and got down to the heart of things. His wife had died in childbirth, leaving him to raise two children all alone. He didn't have much time for bullshit…but he was a loving and kind man. I saw that when he spoke about his children, namely, his daughter.

"Yup, my baby girl is coming home for a spell. It'll be nice to have her around these parts again; she just fills the room with sunshine. She'd so much like my Renee, you'll see."

"I'm sure I will Charlie."

After a few beers, he went to make the rounds, saying hello to old friends and joking around with his son. There was a small commotion near them, shouts and laughter, I assumed their June Bug had arrived and let them have their family time.

By habit, I scanned the crowd for her face, knowing that I wouldn't find what I was looking for, too stubborn to give up. More than likely, she was playing at some tiny bar far from here, not the least bit concerned with me. I hoped she thought of me from time to time, when she heard John Lee Hooker or ate blueberry pie.

While I sat there smoking and drinking, the music changed and the house band took a break. Who replaced them I couldn't tell over all the bodies but she had a hell of a voice, southern, sweet, and sexy, like Louisiana herself. The crowd seemed to love her, know her, and egg her on. I reveled in the sound emanating from her guitar only vaguely wondering who she was.

Her set finished, the house band resumed, and I had to say I missed her singing but One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer was a classic.

With a cigarette between my fingers, I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes and revisited that moment in Shelby forest, when I came upon a young girl perched on the hood of her car.

Her fringed boots swaying.

Her alabaster skin pink and sweet.

The flowers in her hair filling the hot air with their fresh fragrance.

I could almost smell it now.

"They're playing your song Ace."

My eyes snapped open and there she stood like a vision from my dreams, smiling that pleasant smile of hers. I gaped at her, unsure if she was real or a figment of my memories. She looked the same, perhaps a bit older and covered in more freckles; her hair was the same, long chocolate waves threaded with windflowers and those same boots were on her feet. I took a swing of my beer to wet my dry throat so I could speak to her; I had so many things to say.

But when I opened my mouth, nothing came out.

"You just gonna stare at me Ace or are you going to ask me to sit with you?"

"I've waited a long time for this, please sit." As she sat, I caught sight of an intricate design on her hands that went up to her forearms. It they were tattoos I could only imagine the pain they caused.

Mehndi, she explained when she caught me looking, she had gotten it renaissance fair in Georgia.

"It took a long time for it dry but worth it," she rasped.

Suddenly I realized that she was the one singing, sweet, sexy, southern…

"That was you signing up there, wasn't it? That was beautiful." She thanked me kindly, folding her hands in front of her. "Excuse me, but I'm in shock. I've been looking for you for three years, coming down here every summer, scanning the crowds for you, coming up empty every time and now…"

"Things happen for a reason Ace."

Her smile dropped and she looked down at her ornately covered hands.

"When you didn't show that night…I thought…" In the time we spent together, I had never seen her struggle for words and now, she sat across from me obviously struggling. A tear slipped down her cheek and her lip trembled. "Ace, I never do things like that…and when you didn't show, I thought maybe…"

"I stood you up," I finished, reaching across the table to hold her hand. "I didn't, I looked for you…all night. I took a shower and it all washed away. I posted that flyer, or a version of it in every bar around here."

"I know, Ace...I saw, this one here has been up a long time. I came back too. We just kept missing each other every summer. But, I'm glad to see you Ace. I've missed you."

"I've thought about you every day since."

"Nice to know I wasn't alone. Ace, I think I need a drink, a bourbon, please. "

After getting her a drink, one bourbon, we talked like we did at the diner all those nights ago, about my life and what I had been doing these past three years. She loved that I had followed my dream and asked question after question about California, and my food. I offered to cook for her and she seemed quite eager about the prospects. In turn, she told me about her life, how she had just finished school, all the other states she had seen, places she had played. It surprised me that from September to May she was caged by school, an institution that often stifled people like her. It must have shown on my face, my shock but she wasn't offended. It made her happy, she said, she liked to learn.

Later, on the dance floor, I held her against me, felt her supple skin close to mine, enjoying the way her eyes roamed over my face.

"You look so happy Ace, no pent up passion. You look so free." Her words fell softly as she caressed my jaw. "Your eyes are so clear now, so blue."

"Why do you call me Ace?" I whispered back, circling my thumbs over the thin material draped around her hips. She actually blushed. "It can't be that bad."

"The opposite in fact. An ace is the best card you can have in poker and you…you are the best card a girl can have. I just knew you were the best of men." Gently stroking my cheek she leaned in and brushed her lips against mine, humming softly.

"You taste good Ace."

Again, she kissed me, harder, taking my lips between hers, licking my bottom lip hypnotically. My heart harmed against my ribs as I returned the passionate embrace. I had wanted this for years and now…it was so much sweeter than I had ever imagined.

She said I tasted good, but her mouth tasted like honey, and bourbon, and the mixture was intoxicating.

"Are you ever going to tell me your name beautiful," I whispered breathlessly, brushing a lock of wavy hair away her flushed face.

"Bella, my name is Bella."

"I knew it was a lovely name," I breathed, kissing her cheeks.

"June Bug? Carlisle…what are you doing?"

We both turned toward the deep gruff voice and saw Charlie standing not but two feet from us, in obvious shock and some anger. My mind spun on its axis, my Bella, my little gypsy soul was….

Of course.

The eyes were the same; deep brown and open like books, though the story was different.

All this time she was…

I turned back to Bella and smiled, "Well, hello June Bug, nice to meet you darling."