A/N: Didn't I? is a song by Montgomery Gentry and Laura is property of Annewithane. Thanks to her for proofreading and idea bouncing with me!!!!
Well, I'm back in Mississippi. After four long years of college and three more of law school, I'm back.
I gathered my bags and walked to the rent-a-car counter. A woman, about my age with teased and sprayed blonde hair, too much make-up and a too tight sweater smiled at me. "Can I help ya,' Honey?"
Yeah, I'm back. "I need a car. Don't care what make or model, just so long as it will get me to Newton County."
"I'll see what I can do." She typed something into a keyboard, stared at the screen, then said, "We have three. A black Mercury Cougar sedan, a green Ford Escort, and a red Corvette, but it's expensive."
Seven years of pinching and saving has final gotten to me. Even though I know I should be saving my money, I splurged on a first class airplane ticket from Boston, and I am going to splurge on the Corvette. I've always wanted to drive one of those and now I'm going to. "The Corvette."
"Are ya' sho'?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm sho'.., sure." Not back in Mississippi two minutes and I'm already slipping into the southern dialect I've fought for years.
"All right." She took my credit card, ran it, then gave me the keys. "It's right outside. Bright red. Ya' can't miss it."
"Thanks." Like I could miss a Corvette.
I walked outside, found the car, threw my bags in the back-seat, and got in. When I turned the key, it purred to life. I smiled with satisfaction, then took off for Sparta, Mississippi and my big brother's arms.
An hour and a half later, I pulled up in front of the Sparta Police Department. I hope he's on duty today. I'm really not due in until tomorrow, and he was going to meet me at the airport then.
I walked in the building and stopped at the counter. Two men were sitting at desk on the other side.
"Excuse me, can someone help me?"
Both of them shot to their feet and made it to the counter at the same time.
"What can we do for you, ma'am?" The smaller one asked. I know he's Sergeant Jamison. The other is Lieutenant Skinner. My brother has told me so much about everyone here, I feel like I know them all ready.
"Well, you can tell me where I might find Parker Williams," I replied.
Both men looked at each other, with identical expression of wonder on their faces and I know what they are thinking. "SHE'S asking for Parker?" Apparently, my big brother either hasn't told them about me, or he has, and they weren't expecting someone who looks like me.
Just then, he came out of the back hallway with a handful of files. "Bubba, I got them files you were wanting." He laid them on a desk before looking up. Then he smiled at me. "Well, look a-there. Miss Mississippi is paying us a visit ya'll."
"Parker Williams," I replied. "Do not try to flatter me to get on my good side, for I no longer have one."
By now, Sergeant Jamison and Lieutenant Skinner's eyes were nearly bugging out of their heads trying to figure out who I am, but my brother's big mouth was about to tell them.
"Awe, now, what happened to my little baby sister's good side?" he laughed.
"It died. After seven years of studying law with a bunch of pinheaded, chauvinistic, bubble-brained, Yankee pigs at Harvard, it curled up and died, making me the hard-as-nails, ball-busting bitch of an attorney you see before you today." I smiled.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. I could tell I had shocked him, coming home early. "I was going to pick you up tomorrow."
"I know, Beau," my childhood name for him rolled off my tongue. "But, I got sick of Boston and Yankees and snow, so after my graduation, I hopped on a plane headed south and here I am. But, if you'd prefer, I'll go back to Jackson and wait for you." I turned and headed for the door.
"Austin Isabella Williams, stop right there."
Years of having no one but him to depend on command that I do as he said. I stopped and turned around. He was smiling that million dollar smile at me.
"Get over here, you little pip-squeak."
I wasted no time rushing into his arms only pausing to tell him, "I'm not a pip-squeak anymore. I'm all grown up now."
I guess Parker wasn't lying to us when he told us about his sister at Harvard. Well, we knew he had a younger sister who was studying law at Harvard, but we just figured he was exaggerating when he was talking about how pretty she was.
Now I see we were the ones who were wrong. The young woman hugging Parker could have just as easily have been a beauty queen as the attorney she is. Red wavy hair falling just past her shoulders, bright blue eyes, full red lips...Okay, I'm going to remember that Parker does have a gun and stop right there.
I looked over at my silent friend and could tell he was thinking the same thing, but he must not have cared about Parker's gun.
"Bubba, better close your mouth before you catch a fly," I whispered before going back to my desk. He glared at me, but did close his mouth.
After a minute, Parker turned towards us. "This is my sister, Austin. I told ya'll about her, remember? She was going to Harvard law school, but she just finished, third in her class." He was positively beaming with pride. "Austin, this is Lonnie Jamison."
She held out her hand to me. "It's so nice to meet you."
"You too, ma'am. Parker's told us a lot about you."
"And the fella leaning on the counter there," Parker continued, "is Bubba Skinner."
"I'm pleased to meet you too," she smiled, and held her hand out to him too. He just stared at her. I almost laughed. Imagine Bubba Skinner being dumbstruck by Parker's sister. Parker's red-headed sister, at that. She stood there for a second before pulling her hand back. "Yeah, okay."
"Come on, Austin," Parker pulled her away. "I want you to meet the Chief."
Bubba stood at the counter a moment longer before taking his seat.
"Parker wasn't exaggerating," I said. "She is pretty."
He didn't answer me. I looked back and he was staring at her.
"Bubba?" I repeated.
Still no answer.
This time I said it a little louder, "Bubba!"
He looked at me, almost guiltily, "Huh?"
I couldn't help but laugh this time. "Nevermind. It wasn't that important."
"Awe, hush up, Knothead." He tossed a paperclip at me.
Still laughing, I swatted it away, then got back to work on my paperwork.
I can't believe she's actually here. After seven years of late-night phone calls and near daily letters, my baby sister was finally home. I don't know for how long yet, but I'm not going to worry about that. I'm just going to enjoy having her here for as long as she will stay.
I introduced her to the Chief and Detective Tibbs.
Chief Gillespie looked her over. "Well, Miss Williams, I was told you could turn the head of a toy soldier. I'm glad to see no one was telling me a story."
She smiled. "Thank you, sir."
"How long are you going to be staying in Sparta?" Detective Tibbs asked.
"I'm not sure yet." She looked at me, hopefully. Like I've ever been able to deny those big blue eyes anything they wanted. "A while, I hope. If I can find a job, that is."
"Welcome, then," he smiled. "And I'm sure a Harvard graduate will have no problem getting a job easily. Have you taken the Bar yet?"
She shook her head. "Not yet. I've got three months to get ready for it. I hope I pass. I'd hate to think I spent seven years in Boston, just to become a highly educated law clerk."
"I'm sure you'll do just fine," Chief Gillespie assured her.
"Thanks," She smiled again.
"Parker," he said, suddenly. "Why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off and show this little girl home? I'm certain she's ready to get there."
"Yes, sir." I grinned. "Let's get out of here, Sister, before he changes his mind." We said our good-bye and left.
"Nice car," I said, once we were outside.
"Yeah," she laughed. "I almost wish it was mine. I rented it in Jackson. I'm supposed to leave it at the rental place here. Do you know where that is?"
I nodded. "Just follow me."
Twenty minutes later, she was in my car, headed home. I couldn't quit looking at her. Partly because, it's hard to believe she's really here, and partly because there's something different about her. I can't figure it out. She looks the same as the last time I saw her. Thinner, maybe too thin, but still the same. It's just something about her now I can't put my finger on.
I'm not sure how I should treat her either. I mean, she always been my little sister. My baby, and since Momma was more interested in being Roy's wife, than Austin's mother, it was pretty much left up to me to take care of her, but now she grown. I can't very well tell her to behave herself, or to go change her clothes, as much as I'd like to right now. When did she start wearing short skirts and high heels?
She was staring out the window, biting her fingernail. I laughed. Same old Austin. "Still biting your nails, I see."
She looked at me and smiled that smile that makes her whole face light up. "Beau! You remembered!"
"What do you mean 'remembered'? You've been biting them since you could chew."
"I know, but I've decided to stop. It's a horrid habit, and not very professional, either. I mean, couldn't you just see me standing in court, biting my nails? No one would ever hire me again."
Actually, I could. She always bites her nails when she's nervous.
"So, where is your place?" She asked.
"Not much further. Just a few miles up ahead."
She sat back in the seat and closed her eyes. My poor baby was plum worn out.
Chief Gillespie's POV
Well, little Miss Austin Williams finally made good of herself. I always knew she would, what with Parker in her corner, pushing her to do all she could do.
That boy adores that little girl, but then he always has. He was practically busting with pride and joy that she's found her way home again, if she considers Sparta her home. She hasn't lived here since she was a little bitty thing. You see, that little girl cause quite a scandal in this town by just being born.
She's only Parker's half sister. His daddy's mistress, Austin Jackson's child. Of course, Austin wasn't much more than a child herself when she got pregnant. The poor girl died during a premature delivery. Well, everybody in this town knew that her baby belonged to old man Williams. It wasn't like he could escape owning up to the child, so he took that pitiful baby to Mrs. Williams to raise.
Now, she was a good hearted woman and couldn't just turn the child out, so she took the little girl, named her Austin, like her momma, and made sure she was clean, clothed, and fed, but she never gave her love. And Williams, he never loved anybody but himself.
Parker was the only person in that family who ever really cared about that girl. Everyone else just pretty much threw her away. But what love she didn't get from her parents, she got from Parker twofold. I've never seen anyone love a child that wasn't their own as much as he loved her, especially not a high school boy.
Then, their daddy died. For a while there was talk that Mrs. Williams was going to turn Austin over to the state, but she didn't. Personally, I think Parker had something to do with why she didn't. Things were actually looking up for Austin, with Parker taking care of her, but then, like most young men his age, Uncle Sam sent him off to Viet Nam. I remember Austin looked like a little lost puppy after he left. It had to be hard on her, only three years old, too young to understand what war was, but old enough to know that it had taken the only person who loved her away from her.
Not long after that, Mrs. Williams took up with that Roy Ebersol and followed him off to Hattiesburg, dragging Austin with her. I never heard anymore about either one of them again, until Parker came to work here.
It sure is nice to see her all grown up and making a good life for herself, after the rocky start she had in this world. Of course, I'm the only person here who remembers all that. These other boys were just pups themselves when it was happening.
I just hope all those ghost of the past have died, so she can settle down here, for her sake and Parker's. Gossip is a hard thing to live down, especially in a small town like this one. It can hang on for generations, making life miserable for the most innocent people involved.
Beau was right. I was worn out. Worn out physically, mentally, and emotionally. Seven years was really too long to stay away.
I went to bed as soon as we got to his house and slept like I haven't slept in years. There's just something about Beau's place for me. It's safe, secure. I never have to worry about anything. I don't have to be a hard-as- nails, ball-busting bitch just to survive here. I can relax, regroup, and regain my strength to face the next challenge. This is my Tara.
I didn't wake up until early the next morning. I got up, slipped on my robe and set my laptop up. I needed to make a resume and get started on studying for the Bar. But, I couldn't keep my mind on the computer screen.
I kept running the previous day's events through my mind. This house may be my Tara, but this town is no friendlier to me than Atlanta was to Scarlet. I should be glad I didn't get anymore cold disapproval than I did.
Oh, Chief Gillespie and Detective Tibbs were nice, and Sergeant Jamison was polite enough, but Lieutenant Skinner just stared at me. I guess I should have known better than to offer to shake his hand. He's old enough to remember the first redheaded Austin to grace the streets of Sparta.
Mother Williams sure knew what she was doing when she named me Austin. It's a mark, just like a scarlet letter. Everyone will always know just who and what I am. Maybe it was too much to think I could start over in Sparta. After all, I'm just the bastard child of a 'kept' woman.
After I woke Parker up and found out that he didn't have to work, I pestered him into taking me to Milsaps College in Jackson to pick up some books I was going to need to study for the Bar. I know, I could have went yesterday, but I wasn't thinking about it, and I didn't know where the college was.
"Okay, okay," he agreed, finally. "Go get ready. I got to go by the station and pick up my paycheck, then we can go."
"Thank you, Beau!" I hugged him before running off to the room I was using. I changed into jeans, a T-shirt, and my favorite pair of Ropers. Now I looked like I belonged in Sparta whether I felt like it or not.
My hair needed washing, but I really didn't feel like messing with it, so I just pinned it up under a Dallas Cowboys cap and grabbed my watch. I was as ready as I intended to get.
Lonnie and I were just leaving the station as Parker was coming in. We said our hello's, but kept walking in opposite directions. I looked out at the street as we walked down the steps. That's when I saw the willowy young woman leaning against Parker's car. She had on a black leather jacket and a Dallas cap with dark red hair peeking out from underneath it. She was thin, with ivory colored skin and rosy cheeks. Very pretty, but a classic sort of beauty not often seen around Sparta. I wondered who she was. Last I had heard, he wasn't really involved with anyone.
"Who's that?" I asked.
Lonnie followed my gaze. "Oh, that's his sister, Austin. She came home yesterday. Want to meet her?"
"Hey, Austin," he smiled, leading me over to her.
"Hey," she smiled right back. "Sergeant Jamison, right?"
He nodded, but said, "Lonnie."
"Lonnie," she corrected herself.
"Austin, I want you to meet my fiancee Laura Daniels." I blushed at that title. It's still new enough to need some getting used to. Before he could finish, though, Sweet got back out of their patrol car.
"Jamison," he yelled. "Get a move on, already. Bubba's going to be awful sore if we keep him waiting while you make kissie faces at Laura."
I giggled. Everybody knows Lonnie isn't very public about his affections, that's what makes Sweet's remark even funnier. Lonnie shot him a murderous look. "Get back in the car, Sweet." He yelled back, giving in and teasing his friend.
"Yes, sir," Sweet replied, sarcastically. "I live to serve." With a mock salute, he sat back down in the Crown Victoria.
Even Lonnie couldn't stop the smile that was spreading across his handsome features. "That loudmouth over there is Willson Sweet," he told Austin. "Laura this is Parker's sister, Austin Williams."
"Nice to meet you," she said, politely.
"Excuse me, y'all," Lonnie said. "But, I'd better get going before Sweet has a coronary." He squeezed my hand and nodded at Austin before walking off, saying something indistinguishable to Sweet.
"You're a law student, right?" I asked. "At Harvard?" Parker had told me that one night while I was still interning here.
"Graduated," she flashed that smile again. "Just a few days ago."
"Well, congratulations. When do you take the Bar?"
"March. I can hardly wait. Beau's supposed to be taking me to Milsaps to get some books I need, if he'll ever hurry up and come out."
She blushed, "Parker."
"Oh. Are you planning on staying in Sparta?"
She nodded, "If I can find a decent job, and pass the Bar."
"Well, if you need any help with it, I'd be happy to offer my assistance."
She gave me a confused look.
I laughed lightly, realizing that she had no way of knowing I was a lawyer, too. "I'm a prosecutor. I work for the DA's office here. I graduated from Ole Miss last year."
"Oh," this time she was laughing. "Thanks, I appreciate the offer."
I looked down at my watch. "Well, I've got to get back to the office. Will I see you around?"
"I hope so."
"I'm staying with the Tibbses, if you decide you want help," I told her. "Parker knows the number, so just give me a call."
"Good-bye, Laura." She smiled, again.
You know the Chief is always asking us what it is people say about the past and he's gotten every answer from Lonnie's "forget about it," to Detective Tibbs saying "it has a way of catching up to you."
Well, I guess Lonnie was wrong and the Detective was right, because as hard as I've tried to forget a certain piece of my past it never really leaves me, and today in landed right in my lap.
It's been two weeks since Austin came home. The first week, I actually got her to relax and take a break, if ya' can call sitting at her computer, studying for the Bar all day relaxing. But this week she has been going all over the place, interviewing at law firms around here. She's had several offers, but they either didn't start until after she passed the Bar, or she didn't like something about the firm. Not that I mind, I like having her home and the sooner she gets a job the sooner she's gonna be gone to whatever town its in.
Laura came by from the courthouse with an armful of subpoenas, affidavits and bench warrants for us to deliver. She took them back to the Chief, then came back out and stopped at my desk. "Hey, Parker. Has Austin found a job yet?" she smiled.
"Not yet, but's got an interview with that big firm over in Decatur, today. That Dempsey and White place."
Her smile grew even bigger. "Great! Tell her to come to the DA's office and talk to Gerard. He's been looking to hire another prosecutor to work in my office, and when I mentioned her, he practically leapt at the chance to talk to an ivy-league educated lawyer, and I'd just loved to have her working with me."
"I'll do that," I promised.
"I've got to get back," she said. "I'll see you later. Don't forget to tell Austin."
"I won't. Bye, Miss Laura."
"Bye." She was gone as fast as she had come in.
The Chief called me back to get the documents and sort them out for Dee and Luke, or Jamison and Sweet to deliver. There was one for Bubba, I figured it was about that kid he busted for DUI who claims he wasn't drunk. I tossed it on his desk.
The last one had my name on it, and it was from the state and not Newman County. I didn't think much about it. Like Bubba's, it was probably just someone wanting to contest a traffic ticket or some civil dispute we were called in on. No big deal, and I was supposed to be taking over for Luke and Dee watching the traffic out on Cripple Creek Road.
By the time I got back to the station and called Austin for Laura, since there was two more messages to do that, my shift was over. I never even thought about that subpoena, and probably wouldn't have again, if Luann hadn't saw it and handed it to me.
I opened it, and for a minute, time stood completely still. I don't even think I was breathing. My mind was racing, though. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I was being summoned to Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, to testify in front of the JAG about my involvement in the death of Captain Alan N. Spirelli, Army Ranger Corp.
Where had this come from? Captain Spirelli died in Viet Nam twenty something years ago. He was the leader of our platoon. Now, he was a moron who didn't know north from south and most of the actually leading was done by me and the other sergeant supposedly under his orders, but why was his death so important? Sixteen other boys died that night too. All because he got us lost and was too proud to admit it. Instead he marched us into an ambush and refused to retreat. But like I said that was over twenty years ago. Why bring it up now? As far as I know, there are only six men left form that platoon and I don't think they'll be able to find more than three of us. I had three days to force myself to remember.
I closed my eye as images and voices danced their way through my memory. I saw the face of a young man crawling up beside me in our world of green. "Parker!" He yelled over the noise.
"You all right? Parker! Parker!" The voice and the person was changing. It was Dee. She didn't belong there. She was too innocent, too sweet to belong there. I opened my eyes to find Dee's big blue eyes staring at me with concern. She had her hand on my arm.
"Parker? Are you all right?"
I nodded. "Y..yeah, I'm f..fine, Dee."
"You looked like you were kind of out of it," she laughed, slightly. "Like you were thousands of miles away."
I was. "Sorry."
"What's that?" She motioned to the subpoena.
"N..nothing." I crumpled it in my hand. "I got to get going. See ya' tomorrow."
She still looked worried, but let go of my arm. "Okay. If you're sure you're okay. But just be careful, okay?"
"I will." I grabbed my coat from the hook and left. I need to get home where I could think about all this. Alone. Where no one thought I was goin' crazy.
Please, God, not this again.