Can I Keep Him?

Disclaimer: I don't own any of this.

Jeremy kicked the wheel of his rental car once more. He sighed in frustration after spending twenty minutes in the sweltering heat of Alabama trying to fix whatever had made his car stutter to a stop in the middle of the road. He had managed to move it over to the side but after that the car refused to work.

He pulled his sleek phone out of his jacket pocket and saw that he had few bars. Jeremy was about to kick the car again for good measure, when something caught his eye.

A little while away, down the road and past the green fields, he would swear that he could see buildings. Jeremy squinted and looked again. There was defiantly a town there; and hopefully a tow truck.

He grabbed his briefcase out of the car before setting off down the road. He would make this interview in California if he had to walk all the way there. As he made his way along, his suit jacket had to be removed; it was far too warm. His tie was loosened and the top button of his crisp white shirt was undone. In an ideal world, his three piece suit would get to be cleaned before the interview but he knew he would be lucky just to get there in time. Soon he was passing a cheery sign that declared he was entering a town called Bluebell, but as long as it had a mechanic, he really didn't care.

The sound of a car from behind him caused him to turn around. A red truck was driving into the Bluebell and it slowed down as it reached him. The driver leaned across the seat and called out the open window, "Hey, you alright there?"

Jeremy walked to the car and said, "Yes, my car broke down and I'm looking for a mechanic."

The driver opened the passenger door and said, "Well, I'll drop you off outside his door. No point walking in this heat in a suit like that."

Jeremy thanked him and get in. "I'm George; George Tucker," the driver said and Jeremy introduced himself.

"Are you here to visit someone?" he asked, casting an eye over his suit, already seeming to know the answer. Who would come to Bluebell dressed in a suit like that?

"No, I'm just trying to get to the airport. The car's a rental." Jeremy looked out the front window at the approaching down and added, "Small towns aren't really my thing."

George laughed and replied, "Ya, I'm just here on a flying visit too. I'm just tying up loose ends and heading back to New York."

"New York? That's where I've come from."

"Well, isn't that a coincidence?" George said, "What is it with this town and New Yorkers?"

"What?" Jeremy asked, confused. George just shook his head and said, "Never mind. Here's the mechanic's."

Jeremy hopped out of the truck and said, "Thanks again George." George waved a hand and drove off.

The mechanic's was near the town square that was just the picture perfect example of a small town. The gazebo in the middle was decorated with flags and a banner that said it was time for the Bluebell Annual Barbecue. The grass was well kept and the shop fronts were lovingly looked after.

Jeremy made his way inside the cool interior of the mechanics, the bell ringing as he entered. A few minutes later, he was explaining to the head mechanic why he was sweating, grumpy and generally short tempered. The mechanic simply raised his bushy eyebrows and replied, "Well buddy, my apprentice has to tow truck out on another job right now but we can swing by and pick your car up afterwards."

Jeremy nodded and asked, "That's great. Is there a place nearby where I can get another one?"

The mechanic chuckled and said, "In Bluebell?! I'm afraid not. Honestly though, from what you've told me, the car won't take that long to fix. You might as well wait."

Jeremy wanted to shout at him that he couldn't wait; he had an interview and it would be another month before he could get another one at the same company. But he clenched his jaw, nodded once and walked away.

He barely made it half way down the street before he sat down on a bench, looking sulkily out at the town square. How on earth had he ended up here?!

Jeremy sat in silence for a few minutes, trying to ignore the three old ladies who were glaring at him from across the square. What was there problem?

Suddenly, there was movement from the other side of the bench and when Jeremy looked to his left, there was a little girl sitting there. She had dark blonde hair with a red ribbon in it but huge brown eyes and she was wearing a yellow t-shirt and blue shorts. The girl was barely six years old and was eating away at an ice cream that had obviously just been bought from the shop behind them.

The little girl ceased her eating to stare at him. Jeremy looked away from the girl and looked back out at the square. A few moments past but she was still staring, tilting her head slightly.

Finally Jeremy sighed and turned back to her, asking, "What?"

The girl straightened up and said, "Are you a stranger?"

Jeremy was puzzled at first and then realised that the kid had probably lived her whole life in this town; no one was a stranger. "Yes; yes I am," he replied, "Which means you shouldn't talk to me."

He looked forward again, ready to ignore this kid. Seriously, where was her mother? Probably in the shop behind them, now that he thought of it.

As Jeremy gazed around the square, he suddenly sat up straight.

If he wasn't mistaken, Lavon Hayes had just come out of City Hall.

Lavon Hayes, the man that he and his brothers used to watch and cheer for, was walking through the square with his hands in his pockets. Jeremy had heard rumours that he had retired to a small town but he hadn't believed it.

"Is that Lavon Hayes?!" he asked, turning only to realise that he had asked the little girl with the half eaten ice cream.

She frowned at him and said, "You told me not to talk to you!"

Jeremy opened his mouth to reply but realised she had a point. The little girl looked over at Hayes and called out, "Uncle Lavon!"

The man turned his head and found the little girl, who was waving like mad, and smiled. He walked over to her and said, "Well, good morning Miss Lily. And how are you today?"

Lily laughed and replied, "You saw me already this morning, Uncle Lavon."

Lavon's hand flew to his forehead and he said, "Well, you are right, I did. I must be getting old."

Lily giggled again and Lavon turned to Jeremy. "And who is your new friend?"

Jeremy was about to responded but Lily beat him to it. "I don't know; he's a stranger and told me I shouldn't talk to him."

Jeremy turned slightly red-if that was possible in this heat- but Lavon just laughed and sat down between him and Lily. "Lavon Hayes," he said, shaking Jeremy's hand, "You must be new around here."

Jeremy nodded and replied, "Jeremy Carter and yes. In fact my car broke down outside town and I'm stuck here until it's fixed."

Lavon raised his eyebrows and replied, "Well, the hotel in town should have a few rooms open in case you have to stay the night."

Jeremy sighed and said, "Well, it doesn't look like I'm going to make the interview now, anyway."

"Can you reschedule?" Lavon asked, as Lily began to eat the cone of her ice cream.

Jeremy shrugged and said, "The interview is for a big company in California. I flew out from New York this morning and with the time difference, would have made the interview this afternoon. But my flight got redirected to the airport here because of engine difficulties and I thought I could just drive to the next airport. Well, that plan clearly didn't work either."

Lavon shrugged and asked, "But can you reschedule?"

Jeremy frowned slightly and answered, "Well, yes, but it'll be another month."

"So? That doesn't seem like such a problem." Jeremy wanted to respond that yes, it was problem. It meant waiting and putting back all his moving plans. But Lavon said it with such a relaxed manner, that even to Jeremy, his own reasons sounded childish.

"What is the interview for anyway?" Lavon asked, leaning back on the bench. "It's for a job with an events company. They organise parties and other big celebrations like that. The job is to organise all those events."

Lavon nodded and replied, "It kind of sounds like Bluebell could do with one of those. We have a bunch of events all year, at least every month and the whole town attends. They take weeks to organise."

Jeremy smiled at him but didn't say anything. He highly doubted that a few small town dances were anything like the job he was trying to get.

Lavon got up with a sigh and looked down at Jeremy with a grin. "You never know; I might just offer you a job if things don't work out in California."

Jeremy grinned back at him and said, "Thank but I doubt if I'll be staying."

Lavon let out a huge laugh before putting his hands back into his pockets. "Oh, kid, you have no idea how many people in this town have said those very words."

"Lavon?!" The three of them looked down the street to see a blonde woman poking her head out the door of a shop. "Lavon, come here and tell me what if these plates go with these glasses for the barbecue!"

"Hi Aunt Lemon!" Lily called to the woman who waved back at her.

"Well, when the wife calls, one must answer immediately," Lavon said. With another grin towards Lily, Lavon walked off down the street.

"OK...?" Jeremy said as he watched him go. There was no way he would stay in this town; who their right mind would?

"My Mommy's from New York." Jeremy looked over at Lily, having nearly forgotten that she was there.

"Oh, really?" Jeremy asked.

Lily had finished her ice cream and had some of it smeared around her mouth. As she nodded her blonde hair bounced around her shoulders and she said, "Yes, she moved her and became the town doctor. Then she met my Daddy and they had me and lived happily ever after."

"Sounds like a real fairytale," Jeremy said, hoping the kid wouldn't pick up the sarcasm in his voice.

"Yes, it is." Jeremy raised his eyes to see a woman standing behind the bench. She was short with brown hair and brown eyes and she was wearing shorts and a loose white blouse with a bag over her shoulder.

"Mommy, are you finished in the store?" Lily asked and her mother nodded at her as she walked around the bench and sat down beside her daughter.

"Yes, I am but who is your new friend?"

Jeremy couldn't have felt more awkward if he tried. The mother had clearly heard his sarcasm and was studying him like he was a frog in science class.

"His name is Jeremy and he's from New York too!"

Lily replied as her mother pulled a tissue out of her bag. She cleaned the ice cream off her daughter before putting the tissue in the bin beside the bench.

Turning back to Jeremy, she held out her hand and said, "I'm Zoe."

Jeremy shook her hand and replied, "Jeremy Carter."

Zoe looked at Lily and said, "Why don't you go check on the flowers you planted in the square? I'm sure Uncle Lavon would want you to make sure they're ok."

Lily nodded and hopped off the bench. She looked left and right before crossing the road and began checking the flowers just across the road in the grass.

Jeremy turned to Zoe and began to say, "Look, I'm sorry-."

Zoe smiled at him and cut him off. "It's alright," she said, "If I met the me who had just arrived in Bluebell eight years ago, I'm sure she would have the same reaction. What brings you here though?"

"My car broke down outside town," he said, "So I'm waiting here until it's fixed."

Zoe nodded and looked him up and down. "How old are you? You seem kind of young."

Jeremy grinned, "I'm 23. Graduated college early and got into the job world as soon as I could."

Zoe smiled, "You wanted to enter the rat race quickly huh?"

Jeremy shrugged. "I've lived in the city all my life; my parents worked all the time and they made money. I guess I wanted to do that same."

Zoe nodded at him and turned back to look at her daughter. There was a smile on her face that made Jeremy think she was laughing slightly at him.

He turned and faced forward again. What was he doing? He had been in this town five minutes and had already talked to two people like they were his old friends.

Zoe glanced back at him and said, "I hope you don't think I'm making fun of you. It's just...I use to be just like you."

Jeremy frowned at her slightly and she continued, "I used to hate small towns and everything that came with them; and all because I had never set foot in one. My first few months here in Bluebell were defiantly a rollercoaster ride but now...I could imagine being anywhere else. Not even New York."

"So what changed?" he asked her, "What could make a New Yorker like you, stay in a place like Bluebell, Alabama?"

"I would have to say, the people. Being part of a community like this can drive you up the wall but it's worth it, it really is."

Jeremy really wanted to believe her. He actually did want to believe that a New Yorker like her could give up the big city for a small town in Alabama. But it just didn't make sense to him.


Both Zoe and Jeremy looked over towards Lily, who had spotted her father walking across the grass. She jumped into his arms and his picked her up.

"Hey there, sweetheart. Are you having a good day with Mommy?" they heard him ask as he walked towards them. Both Zoe and Jeremy stood up to meet them.

Lily nodded and said, "Yes, and look! I met a stranger! Can I keep him?"

Jeremy seemed taken aback but Zoe just laughed. "You can't keep a person like you keep a pet, sweetheart," her father said, "He's not like Burt Reynolds."

"He's as grumpy as Burt Reynolds."

Jeremy gave her a mock frown and asked, "Did you just compare me to your puppy?"

"Nope; my alligator."

Jeremy's eyebrows flew up and Zoe snorted with laughter.

Lily's father grinned and held out a hand. "Hey, nice to meet ya. Wade Kinsella."

Jeremy shook his hand and replied for the third time, "Jeremy Carter."

"Jeremy's car broke down just outside town so he's waiting for it to get fixed," Zoe explained to her husband.

Wade nodded and replied, "Well, I'd take a walk over there in a few minutes; I saw the tow truck go past the bar a few minutes ago with a dark blue car on the back."

"That's my rental," Jeremy said with relief, "Hopefully there isn't too much damage."

Wade smiled at him and said, "It was great to meet you anyway. Who knows, you might stick around for the Barbecue tomorrow?"

Jeremy just smiled at him, not wanting to shot that suggestion down to his face.

Wade looked at Zoe and said, "I'm going to take this one over to the bar for her lunch. See you there?"

Zoe nodded at him and Jeremy looked between them. Ok, so maybe there was one good thing about this town. These two were looking at each other like they were the only ones there. Wade sent his wife a wink and she smiled back before he turned around with Lily in his arms and walked away across the green.

Lily looked over her father's shoulder and waved at Jeremy. He waved back at her and gave her a small smile. She wasn't so bad.

He turned back to Zoe and said, "So...would he be the other reason why you stayed here?"

Zoe grinned happily and replied, "Yes, he was a huge reason. But don't tell him; his ego is big enough already."

Jeremy laughed and Zoe put her bag over her shoulder. "Well it was nice to meet you. I hope you won't speed out of here too soon. The barbecue really is a lot of fun."

Jeremy shrugged and said, "We'll see how the car is. But I highly doubt I'll find someone that would make me want to stay here in a day."

Zoe laughed and started to walk away as she said, "Oh I would be very careful with those words; they sound like a challenge."

Jeremy watched her hurry off to catch up with her husband and daughter, who were waiting outside a bar that had the word Doc's written across the top.

With one last sigh, Jeremy grabbed his suit jacket and walked back towards the mechanic's. He kept his eyes to the ground as he walked, kicking any loose stones that came into his path. He turned into the mechanic's, happy to see the car was in the garage.

But he stopped suddenly when he saw the person standing beside it.

The girl was standing with her blue overalls tied at her waist and a yellow tank top. Her brown hair was loose down her back but she had a hair tie around her wrist. Sunglasses sat on top of her head and her eyes were looking over the car.

Finally, she spotted him standing, like an idiot in the entrance. "Is this car yours?" she asked, walking towards him.

He managed to nod and asked, "Is it bad?"

The girl bit her lip and looked at the car again before turning to him. "It might take a day or two."

Only a day? Maybe he could break something else without her noticing. Jeremy cleared his throat and stepped forward.

A small part of them was screaming at him that he was actually considering staying in Bluebell for more than five minutes but the girl was looking at him with those eyes and suddenly that voice fell away.

"Jeremy," he said, holding out his hand.

The girl smiled and put her hand in his. "Rose."