First of all, thank you to everyone who nominated Firefly for Best Historical Drama in the Fandom Choice Awards. Please go vote!
Today is Pearl Harbor Day. I have been sitting on this chapter for some time and when I woke up, it seemed only fitting to put some spit and polish on it so that it could be posted. Huge thanks to Meliz for pinch hitting for me to catch glaring errors in this chapter, and to madmamabear for providing me with such wonderful comments and articles regarding the war from her own mother and personal friend. I can't say how much it means to me that they took the time and interest in this story to provide me with their own experiences.
As always, on this day, I am eternally grateful for all the brave men and women that have given their all in order to protect my freedoms. We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
When Bella and Jacob walked into the familiar village pub their friends were anxiously awaiting their arrival. She was surprised to not just see Paul, Embry and Betty, but their entire flight crew. The couple had no more than gotten through the heavy oak door when a streak of blue and blond hurtled towards Bella, practically knocking her backward into Jacob's chest.
Betty grabbed her hand excitedly, holding her fingers and looking at the new ring. "Bella, I'm so excited for you! Wrapping her small arms around Bella's middle, Betty squeezed her tightly. "I can't believe Jake didn't tell me and Em what he was up to!"
A low tenor voice laughed behind them. "That's because neither of you can keep a secret to save your lives." Paul shook Jacob's hand. "Congrats, brother." Then he scooped Bella up into a sweet embrace. If anyone was genuinely happy for them, it was Paul. The brotherly love he felt in his heart swelled and overflowed with a profound intensity. To him, this small woman of compassion and grace was an angel. The gift of her friendship was something that he had always guarded as though it were a treasured possession.
Eyes twinkling with mirth, Paul smiled down at her, brushing away loose strands of hair from her blushing cheeks. "So, what's all this talk about marrying Jake? I thought you and I were gonna ride off into the sunset doll."
Unable to resist teasing in return, Bella grinned back, regarding him with genuine curiosity. After all, this man whom she had known all her life had been keeping secrets from her. "Well, I thought about it after Jake told me it was you who did that painting. When did you turn into Michelangelo?"
Turning beet red, Paul stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down at the ground. It was a part of himself he had always kept secret until now. Back home, he probably would have been called a sissy if he sat around drawing pictures all day when the guys were off playing baseball. It just wasn't something a boy did. So, he joined the other kids at the swimming hole, helped build treehouses with the fella's and dug up worms for days of fishing; saving the softer side of himself for when he was alone at night, tucked safely under the covers of his bed with a flashlight and a pencil to sketch the lakes and woods on battered scraps of paper.
"Just something I thought I'd try," he replied humbly.
In truth, when Jake made the suggestion for the plan, he'd leapt at the chance, surprising everyone the very next day with a rough sketch. For over a week he'd worked on that painting from sunup until sundown, determined to do the slip of a girl who held all of their hearts justice. Bella wasn't just Jake's girl. She belonged to all of them. Even the men who had never laid eyes on her until three weeks ago were enamored with her innate goodness and easy charm. The day of the crash, she had shown them all the true measure of bravery. For that alone, she deserved a medal of honor. This small homage was the closest they could come to such a thing.
Being Bella, she read the thoughts on Paul's face like a book and hugged him fiercely, full of love and gratefulness for all the boys who figured so largely in her life. "Thank you, Paul," she whispered. Then, as she often did those days, said a silent prayer to the heavens above for his safety through this terrible war. There was so much more to Paul than most would ever know. Bella hoped that one day soon a woman would walk into his life. One who would be able to see the full measure of love and generosity which dwelled within his heart and love him deeply for it
"Come on, move outta the way. Injured man coming through." Pushing his bulky figure past Paul, Embry stood face to face with Jake and Bella. If weren't for the fact that she knew him so well, Bella would have sworn he was actually in a lather. The twinkle in his eye and the little upturned corner of his mouth- which he was trying desperately to control- betrayed him, telling her and everyone else otherwise.
"So, you thought you could just up and propose without telling me? I had to hear it second hand from this goof." Embry stared at Jacob through a mask of furor, jerking a thumb in Paul's direction.
Standing just behind him, Betty could hardly contain her laughter over Embry's foolishness. "Alright, lemme see the handcuff." When Bella dangled her left hand impishly before his eyes, he snatched it, whistling low and long. "Looks like the Real McCoy." Shaking his head in sorrow, he turned his attention back on Jake. "Well, I dunno what to say, except for maybe... I told you so!" With that, he pulled Bella into a tight one armed hug, wincing slightly when her own shoulder jammed into his still injured one.
The next ten minutes were a flurry of good wishes and hearty pats on the back by the enlisted men of the outfit as well as a couple of officers from the base. Most of them apologized profusely, saying they couldn't stay long and really, they knew in their hearts it was a time for old friends to be together. Their presence was not an intrusion, but it simply unimportant in the grand scheme of things. So after a round of drinks, most departed with more hugs and one last toast to the young couple for a happy life.
Eventually the rest wandered away to other tables, smoking and making small talk with the locals. When it was down to the five of them, Ruby, the woman who ran the place, made her way over to their table to join them, bringing with her an old dusty bottle of wine that bore a faded, peeling French label. "To celebrate your engagement," she explained, surprising even Jacob by bending down to give him a soft kiss on the cheek before pouring each a drink in cloudy, chipped glasses.
After yet another toast to health and happiness, Paul leaned backward in his chair, tipping the legs, lounging like he owned the place. "So, what say Jake? When's the big day? You guys gonna wait until we all get back to Washington to tie the knot?"
Bella smiled at him from over the rim of her glass. "Actually, no. We'd like to get married before I have to leave."
"Who are you going to have do it? The chaplain or one of the officers?" asked Embry.
"I don't know yet," admitted Jacob. Over the past week, the only thing he could think about was popping the question and praying she'd say yes. Details about when, where and how had not even entered his mind. "I'd really like for it to be done by a minister."
Ruby cleared her throat and pointed at an elderly gentleman who sat in one of the corner tables, drinking a whiskey and reading The London Times. "You see that man over there? He's my cousin. Father Patrick's his name. You go talk to him. He'll marry you," she stated, as though if refused, the man would have her to answer to.
"No time like the present." Jacob kissed Bella on the cheek and left the table to discuss their pending nuptials with the doddering gray-haired priest. He was going to marry his best girl and nothing would stop them.
A sudden silence descended over the table. Embry shifted uncomfortably in his seat, fiddling with the sling on his shoulder. "Hey, can we get a couple more beers?" he asked.
Ruby looked around the half empty bar. "You boys go help yourselves," she told them. "I want to talk to Bella," she stated, leaving the latter rather mystified. She didn't know the matronly woman very well, and though Ruby was always kind to her, she was certainly much warmer to Jake when they came to the pub.
When the boys had gone behind the bar to help themselves, Ruby poured the girls some more wine. "I was was married once," she confessed. "Younger than you, even, but I loved him so."
The older woman pulled a heavy old locket out from under the folds of her stained apron. Unclasping the chain, she opened the large burnished oval to reveal a handsome young man with merry eyes and a winsome smile. "This was my David."
Ruby gazed at the picture with tears glistening her eyes. "He died in the first great war. Nineteen-fourteen at Ypres. I remember like it was yesterday. We waited and waited for the news. When the battle started, I knew in my heart something wasn't right. Now, he's buried somewhere beneath Flander's Field."
Bella studied the small picture of the man whose blood had watered the grass and stained the poppies red with violence that year. Like so many others, David was destined to never come home to his sweetheart. Opposite his picture was another of a pretty young girl with flowers pinned between waves of hair and bow shaped lips smiling dreamily at the camera.
"...and the girl? This is you?" asked Betty, trying and failing to conceal her surprise. It was difficult to reconcile the life-worn woman before them with the sweet young girl in the picture. Even more shocking was the resemblance between David and Paul. Betty wondered if Bella had even noticed.
Ruby chuckled throatily. "Don't look so surprised. Even us old ladies had a bit of romance once upon a time. That was taken on our wedding day."
The older woman rose from her chair, her bones protesting for all the world to hear. "Come with me, both of you," she asked. "There's something I'd like to share with you."
From where he was across the room, Jacob's eyes followed them and Ruby did not fail to notice this. She could recall how her own husband used to watch and protect her. Yes, Jacob Black was much like her David was. From the first day he had set foot in her place, she saw in him the same gentleness beneath the soldier's swagger. As they passed, she patted him on the shoulder in understanding. "Don't worry. I just want to show Bella something," she assured him, "I'll bring her back to you." Now, it seemed like fate had brought the young man into her place.
The girls followed her curiously through a narrow doorway on the side of the old oak bar, then up a steep staircase that creaked and groaned under Ruby's weight as she lumbered upward to another doorway, its old wood scarred and illuminated by a single, bare light bulb.
Pulling a heavy key from her apron pocket, Ruby placed it in the old lock. Leaning one hip against the door she gave it a nudge while she jiggled the handle. The rusty hinges protested but gave way to reveal a brightly lit, cheery apartment.
It was as if they stepped into another world. Creamy yellow walls with white trim stood out in sharp contrast to the dark atmosphere of the pub below. Photographs covered every surface. Moments in time caught through the lens of a camera. But, Ruby did not allow them to linger. She led them into a bedroom, where soft pink flowers blooming on delicate green vines covered the walls like a spring garden. Between two tall windows sat a white iron bed adorned with seashells and graceful swirls. At its base rested an old cedar trunk, in which was stored the girlish dreams of yesteryear, a store of hopes tucked away, never to be opened again.
Lifting its lid, Ruby extracted a large white box, then placed it almost reverently atop the bed. Opening the box with work-worn hands, she parted the linen wrappings to reveal an exquisite dress made of white organdy, covered with lace that Bella's fingers itched to touch.
"This was mine," she whispered. "I wore it on the day I married my David."
The girls each stood beside her, Betty, for once, rendered completely speechless. Noticing the glimmer of tears in her eyes, she slipped a young arm around the aging woman who seemed lost in thought, her mind lingering on dreams from what seemed like a thousand years ago. "I saved all of my butter and egg money to buy the lace. My mother and I worked for months sewing it." Ruby lifted the wedding gown from its soft wrappings. Beneath it was hidden an exquisite veil, the thin mist of it dotted with tiny silver flowers. "See the embroidery? Mother was good with a needle."
Bella was awed. The dress was possibly one of the prettiest things she had ever seen. Real Brussels lace adorned the wedding gown, falling softly over its delicate organdy folds.
"Do you like it?" Ruby asked, her voice sounding a much like a shy young woman looking for approval.
"It's beautiful," breathed Bella, her fingers skimming over the soft lace with reverence, thinking of the many hours of painstaking work that must have been done to create it. "I can't believe you made this yourself. This has to be the prettiest gown I've ever seen."
Ruby's lips broadened into a wide smile. "You try it on. See if it fits."
Bella's eyes sprang open wide with surprise. This was something that she would have never expected in a million years. "No, I couldn't."
Yet Ruby just smiled and placed the dress in her arms, directing her to the corner of the room where an old Japanese screen divided out a small dressing area. "Just try," she stated, leaving no room for argument.
Behind the screen, Bella shed her practical cotton dress for the lovely gown. When she emerged a few moments later, Ruby smiled wistfully and turned the oval bedroom mirror to face her.
The woman who peered back at her in the mirrors reflection practically radiated happiness. Creamy white skin glowed slightly from spending too much time outdoors, setting off the white of the lace that fell loosely just beneath her bare shoulders. Tiny wide-set sleeves danced gracefully just above the elbows. A short train swept behind her, a waterfall of beautifully stitched flowers over the soft fabric folds. Staring at herself in the mirror, Bella realized how wrong she had been. This gown wasn't beautiful. It was exquisite.
Ruby stood behind her, gazing at her own much older reflection wistfully in the mirror, almost lost in another time. One in which she was young and beautiful again, waiting to marry the soldier she loved. "Would you like to wear it for your wedding?" she asked.
Bella's fingers stopped where they had been skimming the lace and satin trim across the low neckline of the dress. She gasped in surprise at the grandness of the offer and shook her head. "Oh, Ruby, I couldn't. It's too much."
The older woman smiled at her gently, placing the embroidered veil atop her rich curls. "Yes you can. I have no daughters to pass it on to," she explained, her work-worn hands adjusting the filmy mist. Ruby's eyes were bright with unshed tears, each one a wish, a hope or dream that had never come to be. "Maybe one day you will. I want you to have it."
When Bella emerged twenty minutes later with a giant box in her hands smiling like she had just single-handedly won the war, Jacob regarded both her and the box with childish curiosity. He tried to open the lid, but Ruby smacked his hand away. "Don't you dare. It's bad luck."
"Well, what's in there?" he asked, showing off his best puppy dog eyes as if he was a boy begging a treat from his mother. But Ruby wagged her finger at him with a toothy smile. "Never you mind. That's a secret between us girls. You'll find out soon enough."
Jacob looked at Bella a little apprehensively. "I spoke with Father Patrick. He said he'll be glad to marry us. He's uh, available on Thursday." It was all happening so fast. He hoped it wouldn't be too fast for Bella.
To his immense relief, she smiled at him with resolution in her eyes. "I'd like that. What time?" she asked, already calculating how long it would take for Betty do her hair.
Clutching the hand of his girl gratefully, Jacob could feel the cool metal press beneath his fingers. She was really his. He breathed a long sigh of relief. "Noon. I'll see about getting the men the day off so they can all come."
They'd never discussed who they'd like to have witness their marriage, but once again, Jacob had read the wishes of her heart as effortlessly as if it were his own. "Will it be at the church?"
"Actually, if you don't mind, I thought maybe by the fountain in the village square would be nice," he suggested.
Bella nodded in approval, remembering the small children who played by the water the first day he brought her to the village. Perhaps if some of the little girls were there they could toss petals. She made a mental note to ask Ruby about them. Something told her there wasn't much that went on in the village without her knowledge. Her mind continued on a course of plans while Betty prattled away to Jacob about other things that needed to be done.
"...and you'll need to think about what you want to eat after, and oh! Where are you going to stay? You can't be on the base!"
Ruby's voice cut Betty off, shaking Bella from her thoughts. "You all come here after. I'll fix you lunch."
Jacob eyed her warily, not certain if the woman realized what she was volunteering for. "Are you sure? There's going to be around twenty of us by the time I invite the officers and it'll be lunchtime here. I don't wanna impose or put you through extra work."
"No. This is my gift to you she explained." Her eyes glanced over the dwindling patrons of the room, landing on Paul and Embry who were lounging behind the bar, pulling drinks for the few stragglers who had wandered in. Ruby leaned over, whispering conspiratorially in Bella's ear. "Your friend Paul, he looks like my David. Bring him with you more. I'll cook something special for him. Maybe find him a nice girl to settle down with."