A/N: This is the last chapter, folks! I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoyed reading it just as much!
"If you were the wood, I'd be the fire.
If you were the love, I'd be the desire."
A sense of dread hung over Zoe's head when she woke up the next morning. It sharpened and intensified as she sat up, and brought with it a hell of a headache. She groaned and got out of bed, blindly stumbling her way to the kitchen. Wade was already there.
"Here," he said. He handed her a glass of water and two Tylenol. She took them gratefully. Then she drank the entire glass of water, and her dry, scratchy throat thanked her.
"Look," she said, figuring she should get it right out in the open. "I know things got a little… weird last night. So I just want to make sure there are no hard feelings or anything."
He stopped moving and looked at her, an incredulous kind of stare that made her feel like some gross virus under a microscope.
"Get packed," he said finally. "We're leaving in an hour."
"Wait—what?" she asked, but he was already walking away from her. She hurried along after him, talking to his back. "I thought we'd stay a few more days."
"You thought wrong," he answered, not even turning around to look at her. "The Rammer Jammer called and asked me to come back early. See, guys like me have to work for a living, Zoe."
She was about to retort when she realized the way his words echoed hers from the night before. The memories were hazy, but she had a pretty good recollection of what they'd said and done after their drunken chess game. She didn't really think he could be upset about that—he was the 'town heartbreaker' and she was the girl who'd never had a one-night stand. Of course they wouldn't end up together.
"Look, I didn't mean to—"
"Don't worry about it," he interrupted. "I just want to get back into town, okay? So go on and pack."
She did as he asked, and an hour later the car was loaded, the lake house was locked, and they were en route back to Bluebell. They didn't talk, and after a few failed attempts at striking up a conversation, Zoe gave up and turned toward the window.
Clearly, Wade was still sore about the whole thing. She supposed it didn't help that she kept hooking up with him only to stop halfway through; that was probably enough to drive any man crazy. She'd give him a few days to cool off, and then she'd make sure they never came close to sleeping together again. It was the only way to keep their friendship intact.
He could probably shrug off sex, but she knew she wasn't the type. There was no way things wouldn't be awkward afterwards, and Zoe really couldn't afford to lose any friends.
He dropped her off at her house with the air of one shedding a massive burden. She sighed and lugged her bag up the front steps, dropping it at her feet in the hall. Wade parked the car and disappeared into his house, and she didn't hear or see him again that night.
Zoe walked into Lavon's kitchen the next morning, relieved to be back in familiar settings. Lavon was at the stove, cooking what looked to be a heart attack wrapped in egg whites. Her other neighbor wasn't present, but she hadn't really expected him to be. Zoe poured herself a cup of coffee and waited for Lavon to drop the 500 cheese omelet in front of her.
It took him longer than usual, and she finally looked up to see him standing cross-armed in front of her, his elbows resting on the countertop. He was holding the omelet hostage and his look was accusing, and she had a brief understanding of how terrified his opponents must have felt on the field.
"What?" she asked, sitting up straighter in case he tried to tackle her or something.
"What did you do?"
"I didn't—what did I do?" she sputtered, but she could feel her face heating. "Nothing. I did nothing."
"Liar," he said, and kept staring at her with his scary, intimidating face. It was enough to make grown men quake, and it certainly worked on Zoe. "I figured when you two went off together that you'd come back different. Thing is, I expected a lot more canoodling and a lot less pouting. He barely put two words together when he was in here earlier, and he slumped out like a kicked hound dog. So what did you do?"
"Look, he's just annoyed that I won't sleep with him. I'm sure he'll get over it—you know, eventually."
"Okay, for a doctor, you're one of the dumbest people I've ever met," Lavon said, and Zoe's jaw dropped in disbelief. Luckily she wasn't eating, because anything she'd been chewing would have fallen straight out of her mouth.
"Woman, what did you say to him?"
"To Wade?" she asked, though she knew perfectly well that was what he meant. "Nothing. Well, okay, I may have said something about, y'know, a girl like me not ending up with a guy like him, but it's not like he wants me to be his girlfriend or anything. He's just looking for tail, or whatever you people call it in the South."
Lavon walked around the counter and smacked her lightly over the head. It didn't hurt, but it was enough to surprise the hell out of her. "Hey! What was that for?"
"You know damn well what it's for," Lavon said, and he tapped her head again. "If you can't see he has a thing for you, you really are the dumbest person I've ever met."
"Yeah, that thing is called lust," she answered. "But it's not like he can't find other completely willing girls. And if you hit me again, I'm going to kick your ass, pro-football player or not."
"Zoe," Lavon said slowly, like she was a rowdy toddler who kept yelling and throwing her binky around. "Wade likes you."
"Lavon," Zoe said, just as slowly. "He does not."
"Then why did he make your gumbo?"
She stared at him, surprise working its way through her whole body. "He made my gumbo? But I thought you—"
"Didn't I tell you I never use my gumbo pot? He must have stayed up all night cooking that stuff. And he doesn't want to install the new fuse box I bought a month ago because he likes when you storm over to his house to complain. And he wanted to drive you to the airport on Thanksgiving so he could tell you how he feels."
"But—a new fuse box? And the—the airport?" she stammered. "But he wanted to drive me to the airport so he could see his friend the… baggage guy."
Lavon raised his eyebrows.
"There is no baggage guy, is there?" Zoe asked, and now she felt silly for believing it in the first place. Lavon's look said he thought she was too. "But he said all of this to you, Lavon? He said—all that stuff with the fuse box and the airport?"
"Look, Zoe," Lavon said, a little more kindly now, like he decided that she really was just dumb and not being intentionally cruel. "Wade's always been a little crazy, as far back as I can remember. But the guy's got a good heart, as good as anybody around here. And now you've gone and made it sound like you and your fancy shorts are too good for him."
Her lips twisted up. "Do you really think that's what it sounded like?"
"'Girls like me don't end up with guys like you'?" Lavon said, doing a breathy, high-pitched impersonation that Zoe refused to believe sounded anything like her. "Yeah, I think that's the message he got."
She shook her head, her face still scrunched up in dismay. "Why do I suck?"
He patted her shoulder and set her omelet down on a plate in front of her. "See, the good thing about being his neighbor is, you always know where to find him."
Contrary to Lavon's words, it was not easy to find Wade. He wasn't home, or at the Rammer Jammer, or at any of his usual haunts. He didn't answer his cell phone either, not that she was hugely surprised by that. At about two in the afternoon, she gave up looking and went back home.
The rest of the day, Zoe struggled to do paperwork and catch up with friends and complete a million needless chores, all the while glancing every few minutes at the house that sat empty as a skeleton.
By ten that night, Zoe decided to check back at the Rammer Jammer. She knew Wade liked to work the late shift when he could swing it, and if he wasn't there, then at least she could get herself good and drunk. But luck was finally with her, and she saw a familiar plaid shirt as she walked through the door.
He saw her immediately, but he didn't give any greeting besides a cold nod. He went on scrubbing the counter and serving the two or three customers leaning up against the bar. Finally, when she had been sitting at the bar a good twenty minutes and he couldn't ignore her anymore, Wade finally worked his way over.
"What can I get you?" he asked.
"I was actually thinking I could give you something," she said, relieved that he was talking to her even if his words were as stiff as his nod. "An apology."
He eyed her, looking like he had every intention of refusing. Then he heaved a sigh and leaned his elbows against the bar. "Let's hear it then, doc."
"When I said…what I said," she started, and his whole face closed up. "I didn't mean what I think you thought I meant."
"Can you please speak in sentences I can follow?"
"Look, I just meant, you're the resident Bluebell bachelor, and I'm the girl who's never even—who won't even take advantage of a heat wave. But I didn't mean that me or my shorts were too good for you."
"You know what I mean."
"I'm certain I don't."
She huffed a frustrated breath. "Look, I thought you just wanted in—in my shorts, and that was it. I didn't realize you actually liked me."
He sat up straight and tried to look angry, but she thought she saw a hint of panic behind his eyes. "Who said I liked you?"
"Yeah, well, Lavon should keep his big mouth shut," Wade said. He started scrubbing the bar again, pressing the rag hard into the old grain. "And he's way off base anyway, because I don't like you."
"But—but the gumbo, and the fuse box, and the airport," she argued.
"Aw, hell. Lavon told you about all that? Knew I couldn't trust that traitor." He shook his head. "Well, it doesn't matter, because I don't like you. Not even a little. In fact, I can list every reason I don't like you…"
And so he did, babbling on and on about her hoity-toity attitude and her complete inadequacy as a mate. Zoe just pulled her knees up onto her barstool, pushed herself up, and kissed him. He caught her face, fingers stretching out over her cheek, and she was quickly realizing this was a nice habit of his.
"What are you doing?" he asked when they broke apart.
"You were freaking out," she said, giving him her own self-satisfied grin. "Figured I'd snap you out of it with my Chardonnay breath."
"Will you just say it now?" she asked.
His face was still close to hers, and his eyes still looked a little panicky in the dim light of the bar. "Okay," he said finally, dragging the pad of his thumb across her lips. "I may like you. A lot, actually."
"I may like you too," she said. "It just took me a while to realize it."
"But you should know," he started, and this time he pulled away from her. "This is as good as I get. I work here, and I take care of Lavon's place, and my daddy gets up on rooftops once a month and I have to sing him down."
She nodded slowly. "Okay. Well, I'm a doctor with no bedside manner, who can't get anybody to come see her, and who will forever be known as the girl who ruined the 2011 Founder's Day parade. This is as good as I get."
A wicked smile started on his lips. "You're also the girl who ran off with the town bachelor."
"And made a scene at the local bar," she added, staring around at all the people sneaking glances at them. When she looked, they all turned away and started talking amongst themselves again—about the new gossip, no doubt.
"Doc, that wasn't a scene," Wade said. He came around the bar and grabbed her arm, pulling her off the chair and into him. His kiss was long and slow, and her knees went weak by the end of it. He wrapped his arms around her and picked her up just slightly off her feet.
Eventually, he set her back down and pulled away enough to say, "Now, that's a scene."
"I like it," Zoe said faintly.
He kissed her again.
A/N: Thanks so much for going along with me! If you could just take a minute to click the button below and leave a review, I would be so grateful. Writers live for feedback, really!