ACITD

Chapter Thirteen:

Transformations

Thank you to Sunflowerfran for the quick beta!

Disclaimer: I still don't own it, but I do own a faded Boston Red Sox cap. Or a hundred.

***ACITD***

"What's your favorite color?" She asks, running her foot over my calf.

I smirk at her question, which has to be at least number fifty-seven; she's been asking them all morning. But I don't mind, because I know it's her way of trying to get to know me, really know me. No one has ever wanted to know all of me like that before.

Besides, I get to ask her questions in return.

So far, I know that her favorite flower is the violet for looks, and the lilac for scent.

That her favorite song is Sweet Child of Mine. Her mother loved that song, and sang it to her when she was tucking her in to bed every night.

That she calls her father Charlie behind his back, but Dad to his face.

That her favorite food is lasagna, 'But only when it's made with real ricotta and never with cottage cheese. Yuck.'

That she loves beer, but only if it's in a bottle or glass. She hates canned beer with a passion. We have that in common.

That she loves dancing to Katy Perry, but she would never admit it to anyone.

That she read Harry Potter and cried when Cedric Diggory died because she was in love with him and actually tore those pages out of her book and replaced them with her own version in which he lives and marries her.

That she began sculpting when she was seven years old from the earth that she dug up from her own backyard. She made her father an ashtray, and he still has it even though he quit smoking years ago.

That she misses her mother. And even though losing all of her friends was the hardest thing that ever happened to her in her adult life, it still wasn't as bad as seeing her father cry when the police came and told him his wife was gone.

That she'd only been to New England once before when she went to Newport, RI the summer after her mother died. Charlie thought it would do them both good to get away; apparently, he had spent some time in the area when he was stationed in the Navy.

That she found out about my vacant apartment from an ad in a travel guide when she was spending the night in Boston trying to plan her next move.

That she knew she was going to fall in love with me the moment our pinkies held when we were petting Jenks.

That until last night she never made love to anyone before and that it didn't hurt, it felt wonderful, and she couldn't wait to do it again.

I sit up, and try to smooth the rumpled sheets that we're tangled in. We're lying in the middle of my bed, in the middle of the morning. I'm so glad that I made the decision last week to close the bar the day after the Fourth.

The sun peaks in through the blinds of my open window, and a cool breeze stirs the curtains that my mother hung in this room over thirty years ago. I've never replaced them because they were, after all, hung by her hands. The material is billowing and white as it flutters on either side of the window. I slink back down and press myself into her side, feeling happy and content for the first time, well, ever.

Her lips press a kiss on the top of my head, and she nudges me a little with her chin.

I lift my head to see the question in her eyes. This morning I notice that they have an orangey rim around the iris.

"Brown," I tell her. My favorite color is brown."

"Your favorite color is brown," she states, disbelieving.

"Yeah, brown. With a little orange circle just to keep it from being boring," I tease, tickling her side.

She rolls her eyes realizing my preference then laughs and pushes my hands away.

"Nobody picks brown as their favorite color, Teddy. Brown is so …"

"Beautiful," I say. "Earthy. Like you." I lift her hair from her neck and begin to kiss it softly. She moans when I reach her ear and breathe that I love her. I don't give a shit what anyone says; telling someone they love them is the best feeling in the world.

Her fingers wind their way into my hair, and she tugs me down for a kiss that starts out soft, and then deepens, leaving us both panting and wanting.

"I love you too."

I take it back; nothing is better than having the woman you love tells you that she loves you in return.

"Edward?" She asks, stroking her hands firmly down my back and resting them on my hips. I feel my balls thrum pleasantly as she squeezes and strokes my ass and thighs.

"Yeah?" I squeak when her hand snakes around my front, grasping my arousal, which is so hard at this point that I'm afraid I'm going to poke a hole right through the mattress pad.

"I want you."

Okay, telling me that she loves me is still number one, but hearing her moan that she wants me comes pretty damn close.

I kiss my way down her freshly showered body and groan; she smells so good.

My mind flashes back to scenes from last night.

The conversations we had in between kisses and moans. The practical mixed with the romantic; it was just so easy to be that way with her, even for our first time.

Her quiet assurance that she wanted me, and that she's been taking a shot ever since her accident because her cycle was out of whack.

Admitting to her that I hadn't been with a woman in years, that yes, I've been tested, that I'm clean.

Her answering kiss when I asked her if she still wanted me, even though I didn't have a condom.

My groans when I entered her fully for the first time, knowing I wasn't going to last long enough to make it good for her, and my happy surprise when I did.

The feeling of her warm and wet, coating me, as I fought to find a rhythm and my delighted shock when she started whispering dirty words in my ears when I managed to get it just right.

'Oh God, yes … just like that. Deeper. Oh Edward, Edward … you feel so … God … I'm coming …. coming, coming.'

Yeah … she's an announcer. I grin now against her nipple.

"What are you smiling about?" She asks, huskily.

"Nothing. Everything. Your beautiful breasts," I mutter into her soft, white mounds.

Her answering laughter fills me with such fucking joy that I can barely conceal my happiness as I position her leg over my hip and prepare myself to enter her.

She must see the look in my face because she grabs it and kisses me hard telling me how good I feel and how much she loves my perfect mouth, my soft hair, and my manly jaw. I shake my head a little laughing at her description of my jaw; I mean, it's just a jaw, right? And judging from the pink marks on her neck, it's one that needs to be shaved badly. I soothe her burns with tiny kisses and small licks of my tongue. I notice when I do that, her breath quickens and her husky moans spurs me on.

I've had sex before, and even though Bella was technically a virgin until last night, she had some experience with intimacy. But as I seek and find my way inside her, it occurs to me that I've never experienced anything like this.

It's not just going bare, although I have to admit that feels fucking fantastic, and last night was a first for me. No, it's more than that. As I press my body to her, and run my hand under her bottom, I realize that this is so much more.

Look, I'm not stupid; I know what's going on here. We're making love. I guess I just never actually knew what that was until now.

What I've discovered is that no amount of reading about it in books or watching it happen in a movie, prepared me for what it actually means; the sharing of our bodies and our souls. And yeah, I realize how fucking corny this sounds, but that's okay; I made my peace with that, the second my eyes locked upon Bella's a few days ago.

Look, I'm a guy. I have a dick, and I know what it's for. I used it a lot in my late teens and on the random occasion when it presented itself in my early twenties. I've watched a lot of porn, and I've enjoyed the pleasure from my own hand. But none of that is what happened last night, and it's not what's happening now.

I could go on and on about the way her tight pussy feels so hot and wet as it clenches around my cock. But even though it does, (and it feels amazing) these words sound coarse and almost vulgar to describe what's happening between us in this moment. And they certainly don't capture what is going through my mind or my body as I press her into the mattress and sink into her.

I grasp her leg and place it over my hip, angling myself in such a way that she gasps out, "Ooh!" I ask her quietly if it's a "so good ooh, or "a get off, you're killing me, ooh?"

She chokes out, "Good," and follows it with, "Sooo good, so good, so good."

And it is good. In fact, it's so good that I feel my balls tighten in response to the current that begins in my thighs, spreads to my ass, and threatens to ignite my orgasm.

I need to slow down, but even as this thought runs through my mind I feel my pace quicken, and my thrusts become deeper. Shit, I'm going to come, I'm falling, falling, falling and I want, no I need, her to fall with me.

I force myself to still my movements. I bury my face in her neck, and she mewls in protest, moving her hips frantically, trying to get me going.

It works. My hips rear back and pound into her a few times before my damn stupid head has time to remind my dick that this is only her second time, and I need to be gentle with her.

I know in time Bella and I will likely go from worshiping each other's bodies in a spiritual way, to indulging in lustier, more carnal activities, and I am looking forward to experiencing that with her. But that's the thing; it'll never be just fucking; it will always be making love. And even though my body has been through these motions before, my heart has never come even marginally close.

"I love the feel of you … your back …your arms"

Her hands are on me everywhere. They're pulling, tugging, grabbing, stroking, grasping, scratching, squeezing … and every movement, from the light to the strong, reminds me that these are her hands, and they're not just touching me, they're holding me.

I catch her eyes as they open wide and look into mine as she gasps out her release. The intensity of it sends me spiraling into my own.

I shudder and quake in her arms, feeling utterly exposed. Afterwards, when I run my hand roughly over my cheeks, they feel slightly damp. I think I'm smart enough to know that this wetness isn't just sweat, they're tears. And I'm man enough to admit that they didn't come from her eyes alone.

Although I know I should feel a little vulnerable and thoroughly exposed from my newly surfaced emotions, I'm not. Instead, I feel wonderfully free and, well, alive.

I feel alive.

I know now what that guy meant when he looked at me a few weeks ago with that pitiful expression and told me he knew exactly what he was getting himself into, 'Dude.'

I'm twenty-nine years old, and I finally get it.

I'm not alone anymore.

I look down at our hands, still clasped tightly from out lovemaking, and sigh. I can remember the night I glanced down at them and saw how big and empty they looked. My fingers squeeze hers gently, and she brings our hands to her mouth and kisses my knuckles one by one.

The loneliness I felt the first night I heard her crying on the balcony is gone and has been replaced by something else entirely; the sense of belonging to someone other than myself.

I remember a long time ago, when I was in high school, and Mr. Berty asked us to make our own thesaurus. Everybody bitched about it because we had like a hundred of them on the book shelf in the back of his room. But Berty was a stubborn, fussy, old English teacher who believed in doing things the old fashioned way. He insisted we would remember our words and their meanings if we had to take the time and compile them ourselves. One of my words was loneliness. And guess what? There really isn't a word to describe the opposite of it, but the synonym that comes closest is companion.

Bella is my companion. It's not a romantic word, but it's the only one Webster ever came up with to describe the opposite of loneliness. I mull it over a few times in my head and decide it's a good word, but it doesn't even scratch the surface of what we are to each other.

In the midst of my minds ramblings, my stomach lets out a very loud rumble. And just to show how companionable we are, Bella's stomach answers it back.

"Hungry?" I ask, smoothing her hair off her face. I kiss her forehead, and she lets out a small, contented sigh.

"Starving is more like it. I swear my stomach is eating itself right now and is heading for my spleen."

"When's the last time you ate something?" I ask, concerned. I realize that I didn't eat much of anything myself yesterday, except a small piece of Maggie's homemade sausage and peppers that I snitched off the bar yesterday afternoon while we were setting up.

"I had a slice of pizza when I walked to town yesterday. But nothing since then," she admits.

"Do you want to see if I've got something up here, maybe eggs? I can make us an omelet if you like. Or, we could go downstairs and check out the new kitchen; I'll bet it's full of stuff leftover from the cook-out last night."

Her stomach answers for her, loudly, and we both laughed.

"I'll take that as a yes, then?"

She laughs, slipping out of my bed to throw on a pair of shorts and one of my old tee shirts. on. I looked over at her legs as she adjusted the zipper of her shorts and frowned, they're pale, and one leg is a little thinner than the other, with a long, dark scar just above her knee. She catches my expression and her facial expression falls.

"I know they're not pretty," she says, her chin dimpling just little. But she composes herself quickly and straightens her shoulders, then shrugs.

"The doctor says the scar will fade in time. But it'll always be there."

I walk over to her, and scoop her up into my arms.

"I don't mind the scar," Bella. "You're beautiful, perfect, even. It's just that I despise what happened to you. I hate the thought of you, hurt in the woods, all by yourself. It devastates me to think what might have happened; that it could have been you who died. I know I didn't know you then, but all I keep thinking about is that if it had been you; if you had been killed too; my life would have ended that day too, and I never even would have known it."

"Edward," she sighs, running her hand through my hair.

"Maybe …" she hesitates. "Maybe that's why I'm still here."

I look at her curiously for a second trying to understand her meaning.

"When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me that there was somebody for everybody. But she also told me that sometimes things happen to people and that your soul mate might be taken before you get the chance to meet. She said some people never seem happy. They've either settled for someone they're not meant to be with, or, they have to be in the world alone. She believed strongly in destiny, I guess. Maybe, if my nana was right, God saved me, just for you. Is that stupid?" She asks, looking up at me uncertainly.

I shake my head and hold her to me for a long time just breathing her in. I'm not a religious person by any means. I sort of gave up on God a long time ago after Pop died, and if a tiny shred of my faith remained it was obliterated when I lost Tyler last summer. But listening to her thoughts makes me wonder if maybe there is a hint of truth in what she says. My heart sort of swells a little at the idea, but instead of engaging her further in this conversation I suggest to her that we go downstairs and see if we can rummage something together for brunch. She gives me a considering look, one that tells me we aren't through with this conversation by a long shot, but that she's willing to table it for now.

She excuses me for a minute to clean up, and I throw a pair of cargo shorts on and grab a gray tee shirt from my drawer. She comes back into the room and we walk out together, hand in hand.

When we walk past our door, which is still leaning against the banister in the hall, she stops abruptly and turns to me.

"Teddy, please don't let Paul throw our door out, or put it anywhere else. I'd like to save it, if you don't mind."

"What do you want to do with it?" I ask, puzzled. "Make a cocktail table out of it?"

She chuckles, shaking her head. "Not a cocktail table, but something special. I dunno yet. But remember I'm an artist; I'll come up with something. Just … save it. Okay?"

"Sentimental?" I ask, teasing her. But I know how she feels; I've grown rather attached to that flimsy old door myself. I promise her that I'll store it in the garage, in the back of the bar,as soon as we finish eating.

We walk past the bar and I grab a couple of flutes from the bar, a bottle of champagne from the fridge because I've got a sudden hankering to make her something special that I think she'll enjoy.

"What's that for?" she asks. 'Are we celebrating?'

"Yep."

"What?"

"Us," I say simply. "We're celebrating us.

She laughs a little at my comment, and rolls her eyes, but her expression softens as soon as she sees I am being sincere.

"Sorry, I don't mean to laugh; it's just that you seem so different from the guy I met through the door," she says contritely. I laugh and kiss her temple to let her know that I'm not mad; far from it.

"I am different," I say, lightly. "I just spent the morning with the girl who told me that she loves me and I happen to love her too. Now come on, I've got some peach ambrosia mixture in the kitchen. Have you ever had a peach Bellini before? They were one of Tyler's specialties. I think you'll like them."

"I've never had one, but I've had a Mimosa. Are they anything like that?"

I tell her that she'll just have to wait and try it for herself, and we go inside the kitchen. She oohs and ahhh's over the spotless, stainless steel appliances and runs her hand over the new counters admiringly. I have her perch on a stool while I rummage through the vast, subzero refrigerators. As predicted, Angela and her crew have stored all the leftovers from last night in neat containers.

I empty everything onto the countertop, and we explore the contents together, occasionally sampling a tidbit as we contemplate what to heat up.

I lift the lid off a large kettle and groan appreciatively. It's Maggie's famous seafood chowder. Bella peaks inside it and looks at me.

"Oh, that looks yummy. What is it?"

"Seafood chowder. It's Emmett's mother's specialty. It's got clams, crab and lobster meat in it. It's very filling because she makes it with heavy cream and a little sherry. I have no idea what else she puts in it though, because she keeps it her top-secret. But it's fantastic; she's won the chowder cook-off in Hyannis the past four years in a row. Want some?"

"Say that word again?

"What, chowder?"

She giggles at me. "Chowda. Your accent cracks me up!"

I love that she's teasing me.

"Eh, Bella, I think you've got that wrong. You're the one with the accent, not me. You're on my territory, woman, not the other way around."

"Say something else. Say lobster."

"Lobstah."

"Say Boston.'

"Bahsten"

Her peals of laughter make me grin, but I quickly disguise it and pretend to be insulted.

"Whatever," I mumble, rolling my eyes at her. I ladle the soup into a smaller pan and heat it up on the stove.

Whatevaaah," she laughs, imitating me. I give her a fake glare. She rushes over to me and wraps her arms around my waist as I stir.

"Aww, I'm just teasing. I love the way you talk. No R's. You sound like a Kennedy. My own Teddy Kennedy," she purrs into my neck.

Teddy Kennedy. I hope this isn't going to become my pet name. Jesus.

I snort at her remark but turn around and give her a wink and a quick kiss to show her I know she's playing with me. The truth is we might love each other, but we still don't know each other all that well yet. I don't know how hard I can push her buttons or how hard she can push mine before we push too hard, or worse, push the wrong one. But I also know that will come in time.

She takes over the stirring while I warm up a loaf of bread and get the mix out to make the cocktails. I pour a small amount of the ambrosia into the flutes and pop the cork of champagne.

"I love that sound," she says wistfully.

I glance up and smile at her; her face is rosy and bright.

"You do?"

"Yeah, it sounds like happiness and hope," she explains then blushes. "Sorry, I know how cheesy that sounds."

"Yeah, well, we're all about the cheese today. Tomorrow we can go back to being our cynical, jaded selves. Now, hand me those flutes and let's get the party started."

I pour the champagne over the ambrosia, give them a small swirl, and hand her one. I raise my glass to hers, and we clink.

"To us?" she asks with a wink.

"Definitely." I pause considering. "To us and to … life."

"I like that,' she says, shyly. "To life …"

To life. It's a powerful addition to my toast, and one that holds a lot of significance to us. I watch Bella's face carefully to see if it's too much and I'm relieved when I see nothing but happiness cross her face as she holds her glass up towards mine.

We clink and sip. I watch the bubbles form around her mouth, and before she can lick them off I lean over and kiss them away. Hands down, the best Bellini I ever had.

We drink a glass apiece, and she tells me she loves it. I get a couple of soup bowls out of the cupboard and some spoons from the drawer. We ladle our chowder into them and carry them over to the ancient, wooden table that was Mrs. Cope's mothers. Although the kitchen is now modernized and spacious, it still retains the homey feel that Mrs. C insisted upon.

'I just can't cook in one of those industrial looking kitchen's Teddy. It wouldn't feel right making my Nanny's stew inside a room of chrome and steel. And more importantly, I do not want 'a space'; whatever that new-fangled term is. 'A space', what on earth is that supposed to mean? It sounds like science fiction to me; like I'd have to plan and prepare our menu on Jupiter or Mars. No, I need a cozy kitchen; preferably in a sunny yellow. The Cape does get awfully dreary in the dead of winter, lad. If I must have a 'space,' then give me the sun'

We settled on a compromise. She got her wood cabinets and her sunshine covered walls, while I got the 'space' and large appliances. Looking around I know she is going to love it; Paul might be the ass who took down my door without asking, but he did make a great kitchen.

Bella gets the bread out of the oven; it's Portuguese bread, a little sweet and airy, but it goes perfectly with the rich chowder.

We sit in comfortable silence while we eat our meal and sip our champagne. As predicted, everything is delicious.

Jenks comes in and lays between our feet purring appreciatively when we offer him little samples from out chowder.

"Don't give him any of the lobster," I tell her. "He'll come to expect it all the time, and it's too expensive. Give him a clam; they're cheap enough. Besides, we can always dig some up later. Have you ever gone clamming?"

She tells me that she hasn't although clams are plentiful in the Pacific. We decide to go clamming first thing in the morning before the bar opens.

"Another first for me" she jokes, then flushes slightly. I feel my ears grow warm from her words and we both laugh a little, shaking our heads. I look up and ask her quietly if she feels okay and if she's sore. Her cheeks flame at my question, but she chuckles and she tells me she feels wonderful.

We chat about our lives and our interests. Bella tells me that she used to play softball in high school but stopped after she broke her hand. She needed that hand to sculpt she says, so now she is a baseball spectator. Her favorite team used to be the Mariners; however, she tells me she is ready to switch to the Red Sox, providing I give her one of my old caps.

I tell her that I played baseball in high school, too, but it interfered with my studies, so I quit. Besides, I helped Pop out on nights and weekends.

"Tell me about Pop. What was he like?"

I tell her how Pop came to Cape Cod after serving a stint in the Coast Guard. He'd grown up in Boston, the son of a barkeep and barmaid. His father had come from Ireland as a young man, and his dream had always been to own his own establishment one day. He died before I was born, but my granny is still alive. She's ninety-seven now and lives in a nursing home which I help pay for. I don't go see her too often because of my hours, and because every time she sees me, all she does is cry; apparently I'm a dead ringer for my grandfather, Theodore Masen.

She asks me about Emmett and Rose, and I tell her that Paul told me that Rose came back the night before, reconciliation sounds like it's in the works.

We talk about Mrs. Cope and her lover, Harold. She practically swoons when I tell her that it seems likely that Harold is going to have a new title to look forward to as soon as he is sprung from the rehab center.

"Tell me about Alice?" she asks. "I know you said she has autism, what's she like? Is she verbal?"

The way she phrases her question reminds me that she has experience with kids who have disabilities. This alone makes my heart warm; I know she'll be good with Alice.

I tell her that Alice is different from any kid I've ever known and how great Carlisle and Esme are with her. I share memories of time spent with them over the years and how Alice doesn't talk much, but when she does it's none stop and sometimes really funny. We chuckle over Alice telling me that I have a big head with green eyes and that I look like the moon. That she sometimes twirls non-stop and grates on Carlisle nerves, but no differently than any other kid would under the circumstances. I tell her that I am the only one who Alice has ever hugged and that it makes Esme cry, not out of jealousy but because she adores seeing us together like that. It makes her happy.

We talk about Tyler and what his friendship meant to me and how much I just fucking miss him every day, and that I still can't believe he's gone. She holds my hand when I describe the days that followed his suicide; how lost and helpless I felt. I tell her that I walked out of the bar one night, and I tried to hoof all the way to Truro to find Laurent and kick his sorry, miserable, fucking ass. That Angela and Pete found me before I made it to Hyannis and convinced me that he was an asshole who didn't deserve to take up any space in my life and that Tyler wouldn't want me to go anywhere near him.

She asks me what happened to the Herreshoff. I swallow and gulp, remembering the police asking me what I wanted to do with it once it was released. I told her that I originally wanted to ask the Coast Guard if they would burn it at sea, but after I had given it more thought, I decided to donate it to The Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, RI. It's a vintage craft, built in 1949, they accepted it gratefully. She asks if I've seen it since it left my possession and I shake my head.

"I don't think I'm ready for that, Bella. But I couldn't bear to destroy it either. I just couldn't do that to something Pop loved."

"Is that why you held on to the bar all these years, too?"

"Yeah, I mean I guess that was part of it. I dunno, I just knew that the bar was something he and his father always dreamed about owning and I couldn't walk away from it at the time."

"Do you …," she hesitates, looking into my eyes.

"What?" I ask, curious.

"Do you hate the bar? Do you want to do something different?"

I think about her question for a minute before I respond.

Do I still hate the bar? I look around the kitchen and through the opening that peers into the bar and realize that I don't; even though it wasn't anything that I wanted to own personally. My eyes flit back to my office located through the side of the kitchen, and I smile. Handling the accounts and dealing with the bills, orders and the daily operations; that is what I enjoy doing.

"I don't hate the bar, Bella. I love it; greedy bitch that she is. But I never wanted to be a barkeep, and I still don't. I used to think I'd want to be a lawyer, but after Tanya had assured me I would make a lousy one I started thinking that she was right. Now, I'm not so sure. I've got a BA in business, and I still love accounting and small business law. Maybe I'll get my masters and pursue that someday, who knows?

"Enough about me; what about you? Do you still want to get your masters in fine art?"

"Yeah, I mean, I think so, I'm not sure." She looks around the kitchen, and her eyes settle on the window overlooking the alley.

"I think … maybe I'd like to go back to school and come back here and open up my own studio."

And my heart swells a little bit more.

Bella sees a future with me.

"Really?" I ask casually. But my voice sounds like a sixteen year old boy whose just been given his first car; excited, hopeful, and a little unsure.

"Yeah, really. But I know that's a long way off, and we need to figure out a lot of things first. Is that … is that something you want?" She asks, anxiously.

"Absolutely," I assure her, reaching out for her hands. "Listen, how about we table the heavy stuff until tomorrow. Let's talk about today, okay? What would you like to do this afternoon? It's nice outside, not too hot. Do you want to go to the beach or maybe for a drive?"

"Do you have a car?"

"I do. It's an old Volvo that I bought off my aunt a few years ago. I don't drive much, to be honest, there's no need. Tyler liked to borrow it from time to time although he mostly continued to drive the Willys."

"What happened to the Willys anyway? Did you give it back to his family?"

"Nah, it's mine."

"I thought you said he stole it from his father?"

"He did. But after he died his mother sent me the title free and clear. I got it registered, but I haven't used it since he died. Do you … would you …"

"I'd love to see it," she blurts. "I love old cars and trucks. My Suburban was a late-model …" she drifts off. A pained expression crosses her face.

"Hey, it's okay. I understand, it's sort of like me the Herreshoff. But, it is wicked cool, the Willys, I mean. Let's go check it out."

I want to put a smile back on that pretty face of hers, and if she loves old vehicles like she says she does, the Willys is sure to do just that. I pause for a second considering how I feel about seeing it again after all this time and grin; Tyler would be over the moon if I got that heap of his back on the road. It was his baby.

We clear the table and put the dishes in the washer. Bella excuses me for a minute to freshen up, and I grab the keys for the Jeep from the box, and pluck my cell phone from my office desk and look at it absently. I see that I have 10 missed calls.

They're all from Charles Swan.

Fuck!

"What's wrong?" Bella asks from my doorway.

"Bella, I'm so sorry. With everything that happened yesterday, I completely forgot to call your dad like you asked me to."

She looks stricken for a second, and then, surprisingly, shrugs.

"That's okay, Teddy; I'll call him."

I hand her the phone, and she tries the number, but it goes straight to his voice mail.

"Crap, maybe he's home today." She starts to put in the number then bites her lip and stops.

"What's wrong?"

"It's just … I can't call the house. I dunno … I just, I can't."

"Hey, don't worry about it," I say, taking the phone out of her hands. "I'll do it. Just tell me what to say once he answers, alright?"

She nods her head as I put in the numbers she provides. It rings several times then the answering machine picks up. I raise my brow to see if she wants me to leave a message, but she shakes her head no and tells me he's probably just out fishing and that I can try the call later.

"Are you, okay?" I ask. Do you want to go back upstairs and lie down for a while? We can always go look at the Willys another time."

She assures me that she's fine and genuinely wants to see it now, so we head out back to the garage. The door heaves and groans as I struggle to get it open, but it finally gives way and we go inside. I flick the lights on because even though it's early in the afternoon the garage is always dark since it's surrounded by a patch of ancient oak trees. The musty smell of oil and stale air assaults my nose, and I sneeze.

"Bless you. Er, maybe we should open a window. It stinks in here."

I go over to the window and open it up. The tangy air from the canal sails in and blows the stink out almost immediately. I walk over to the Willys and remove the cover.

"Oh my God, are you serious? This is great! I'm not even kidding."

"Wanna see if she starts?" I ask.

She nods her head vigorously, and I hold my breath.

Tyler, if you're up there, please let this hunk of junk crank, I pray.

I put the key in and turn it.

Nothing.

Okay, it's NOT a hunk of junk, I amend. It's a classic. Now please, for the love of all that is holy, help me get this baby started.

I try the key again, and the Willys chokes, sputters, and then miraculously purrs to life.

"Yay!" she shouts.

"Wanna go for a spin?" I ask, hopping out of the jeep to assist her. She doesn't hesitate for even a second and practically throws herself inside the Willys. I go around to the drivers side, and hop in. I reach in my back pocket, pull out my old baseball cap, and put in on her head. Her response is a grin that stretches from ear to ear.

"Wait, are you okay to drive?" She asks, concerned.

I hate that she's concerned.

"Yeah, I'm fine, Bella. I promise. I only had one Bellini, and I'm a big guy. Besides, we ate all that food and now I'm stuffed," I reassure her.

She leans over and gives me a big smooch that makes me laugh.

"Where do you want to go?" I ask.

"Anywhere," she shouts. "Everywhere … let's just go already!"

I look at her pink cheeks all flushed with happiness, and grin as I pop the gear into reverse.

I have no idea where I'm heading, and I don't care.

But as we leisurely drive through town and I see her look longingly at the art gallery, inspiration strikes. I turn east and head in the one direction that I know will make her heart happy, even if it twinges mine a little.

Provincetown.

***ACITD***

Author's Note: Nope, your eyes are NOT deceiving you; this is another new update! Yay, for my muse who decided to stick around a little longer this time!

Thank you all so much for your lovely reviews. I know I am terrible at replying to all of them and for that I apologize. Sometimes real life just gets in the way of my best intentions. Please know that I read them all and appreciate hearing your thoughts, wishes and hopes for this story.

Uh, would you mind leaving another one? They're SO addictive! And they really DO make me write faster; just look what happened here!

Next up: Provincetown!

Thanks again!

Jayne