"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
(NOTE: FF was epic fail when the last chapter posted, so make sure you've read it before you read this one.)
It's the 13th of August.
In one month, I'll be thirty.
In six months, I'll be a mother.
Three months ago, I ran from an abusive man – a man everyone adored, save one.
When I first met James, I was completely besotted by his British accent, good looks, clear, blue eyes, humor, thoughtfulness, and his generosity. He made me feel beautiful and adored.
In the twelve weeks it took for me to fall in and out of love with James, I walked a dreamy path. One that was filled with symphonies, candlelit dinners, concerts, plays, and weekends spent antiquing.
I fell for the façade. I didn't see what lay beneath.
Then, with a posy of wilted violets, and a slap across my face, my dream ended.
Once awake, I began to realize James was not only after my money but was truly dangerous. I'd become a cliché; the young, innocent woman duped by a scheming predator. When he threatened my family, students, friends, and my life, I ran.
All the way to Masenville.
When the truck broke down in rural North Carolina, I couldn't have known that my journey had come to both an end, as well, as a beginning.
I couldn't have known that with one sharp tap on my windshield, my life would be irrevocably changed.
I ran from the man I thought I loved, straight into the arms of the man I grew to love.
I suppose at first blush; our romance sounds like a cheap paperback trope from a different era; desperate heroine flees from a cad, only to find love in the next chapter.
It shouldn't have happened – the college professor and the town mechanic.
But it did.
"Everything's ready, Bella. You look beautiful."
I turn and look at Mary Alice – a woman who offered me so much more than safety and shelter and soon became my best friend.
"Thank you, Ali," I say, tearing up.
"Oh, no, you are NOT ruining my masterpiece, girl," shrieks Rosalie, my other best friend.
I smile thru my tears and allow her a moment to touch up said masterpiece, namely, my face.
"Oh, Bella, you do look lovely," says my mother. Renee has not left my side since I ended up in the hospital two weeks ago. Although it's a long road to forgiveness, I do see a change in her. An only child's near-death will do that to a person, I suppose. As for me, I have always loved my hair-brained and erratic mother, even as I've weathered a storm of disappointments, confusion, and doubts.
'Your mother is your mother, Bella. Accept that she may not be the woman you want her to be, but she is still the woman that made you possible. Sometimes, that has to be enough.'
And from Miss Vick …
'Learn to accept the past, Crow. I know it's hard … believe me … the only thing harder is forgiveness, and I've had to do both in the past two weeks. I realized when I first came home the only way I was going to be able to move forward was to forgive my father. He was a very good man who came from a very bad era. And while it may take the rest of my life to forget all the ills done to my daughter and me, and her poor father, bless his heart, I am going to do just that. Now, buck up, and try to accept that your mama is a twit, and forgive her.'
Aunt Margaret and Ant Vick's words flood my memory, and I swallow back any ill feelings I may still harbor towards Renee Higginbotham.
"Here's your Aunt Margaret's comb, honey."
She hands it to Rosalie, who pins it, along with the veil … a long, gossamer sweep of milky train, in my hair. It perfectly matches my wedding gown – a beautiful creation of silk and lace given to me by Miss Vick.
'This was the fabric my mother bought for my future wedding gown. I never had the opportunity to use it, Crow. You might as well start a new tradition and see if Pauline Pigg can do something with it.'
Pauline had done something with it; it's the most beautiful creation I've ever seen, let alone worn. In keeping with the old-fashioned fabric, she created a design reminiscent of the Edwardian era, without any of the stuffiness.
Boots hasn't seen it yet … but I know he'll love the way it dips low down my back and flows softly around my ankles.
'All I ask is that you wear your hair up, so I can see your beautiful neck.'
My hair is indeed up, although the soft tendrils Rosalie artfully arranged, create a chignon that is both elegant and romantic.
"I wish Charlie could be with you today, Bella. He loved you so."
I think of Charlie Swan … the man I called Daddy and smile. I didn't have him long, but I had him long enough to miss him terribly, especially today.
"So, do I," I whisper.
"The guests have all arrived, Bella. You ready?" Jasper offers me his arm, and I take it gratefully. He looks very dapper in his blue suit; his blue eyes twinkle merrily … they haven't stopped twinkling since the day I asked him if he would escort me down the aisle.
"It'll be my pleasure, Ma'am," he'd said.
He leans over to kiss Ali on her cheek.
"Save a seat for me, darlin, and a dance."
"Is Emmett ready?" he asks.
"Yes, he's ready to begin the processional."
It was a shock to learn that big, beefy, and muscle-bound, Emmett McCarty, was also a talented and beautiful violinist.
"Eh … we all learned to play an instrument, Bella … no big deal. Boots plays the piano, I play the fiddle, Rose plays the flute, and Alice plays the drums. It was part of the curriculum at The Boiling Spring Children's' Home," he said modestly.
Like Boots, his modesty is gravely misplaced; he is fabulous!
The music begins.
Jasper and I walk behind Elizabeth, who is the only attendant we have. She is adorable in her white gown with blue ribbons. A halo of blue and white flowers adorn her long, red curls. In her hands, she has two things; a small basket of flowers and the ring Boots will offer me when we are pronounced man and wife.
Jasper and I take the first steps towards my new life. A life I can't wait to begin.
"Boots. When I met you for the first time, I despised you. You were gruff, arrogant, uncouth, and you spit. You called me a Masshole. There was nothing in your demeanor I found attractive.
He rolls his eyes.
"Okay," I say, nodding my head. "There was an undeniable spark between us – I can't lie about that. But a spark wasn't what ignited my love for you.
It was a little girl, with red hair and freckles who marched down the steps, into your arms, and straight into my heart."
"That's me, right, Mama?"
I look at her sweet face and nod. She beams at me. I love her so much. Her dress is incredibly old – it belonged to Miss Vic as a child. When Bip found it in the trunk, she begged to wear it on this most special of days. It was faded and care-worn, but Pauline Pigg worked her magic and created a 'silk purse, out of a sow's ear.' No pun intended.
"When I saw your face, looking at your daughter, I knew.
That was it.
That's the moment I began to fall in love with you.
But here's the thing, Boots. I didn't just fall in love with you. I fell in love with everyone ... Elizabeth, the girls, your parents, Miss Vick."
I look over to see her fidgeting with the chopsticks in her hair. She gives me an evil smile and a wink. Today she is dressed in a lovely violet gown. My mom, seated to her left, is dressed all in green, but her hair complements Miss Vick's gown perfectly. Later, I'll have to make certain they get pictures of them together.
"Sorry, yes, Aunt Vick.
"And Shelly. And Jake. And Bertie. And Foghorn. And, well, the whole town. All the people and creatures I've grown to know and love. Right here, now, under the weeping cherry and the bleeding heart – I'm marrying you, Boots, but I am pledging myself to you all."
Boots takes my hand in his. I notice his hands are spotless and well-groomed. There's nary a speck of grease to be seen. Today they look long, elegant, and mine. And I can't wait to have them all over my body tonight.
"You're blushing, Yank."
Everyone chuckles. I watch in fascination as his Adam's apple bobs a few times.
He clears his throat. I hope he doesn't…
I see him swallow. He gives me a wink. He knows I'm praying he won't spit. I laugh. He giggles. He's nervous, and I love it.
"Isabella Swan. The day your POS truck broke down –"
"Hey, don't hate on the truck – I already know you love it," I tease.
He shrugs his broad shoulders and flashes Jasper a grin.
"The day your best friend's truck – a truck I'd give my eye-teeth to own – broke down was the best day of my life.
Course, I couldn't let you think that straight off – I didn't want you getting a big head, and that's the truth. Sides, I pretty much swore off women, if you recall."
"Oh, I recall, all right," I laugh, shaking my head.
"Yeah, well … that idea lasted all of ten minutes, I reckon. I mean, once we locked lips at the garage, I knew ole Boots was done for, and that's the truth."
"I knew ya'll did the nasty back there!"
"Mary Alice, shut the …"
"And we didn't do the nasty," he shouts to the crowd.
Sure, you didn't…
"What's the nasty, Daddy?"
Boots blushes, yes, blushes.
"Uh, I'll tell you in about five years."
Everyone roars with laughter, even Reverend Webber.
"Look Rev; maybe we should hustle thing along; the natives are gett'in restless."
"Lord, Boots … just go on and finish your speech; I know you stayed up till the ass crack of dawn work'in on it, so don't play bashful," calls out Rosalie, with a broad grin.
Boots rolls his eyes. He takes out a piece of plain, yellow paper and begins to read.
" One night, when I was twelve years old, my sisters and I snuck out."
The crowd titters, happily.
"Well, I guess the cat's out of the bag now. Sorry, Mama and Daddy."
That's all right, son – Mary Alice told us all about it the next day."
"Of course, she did. Lord. Can't have no secrets with these girls, and that's a fact."
"Anyhow, as I was saying … we snuck out of the house and headed down to the spring. It was a beautiful night. The mist was rolling off the water, and we were all quiet and still. Mary-Alice was doin' her usual hoo-doo, so we were in this sort of dream-like state.
"I'm sure the hootch you stole from the judge's cabinet helped with the "dream-like state." Hoo-doo my Ant Fanny; that was straight-up, white lightening, compliments of Great Uncle Felix," announces Miss Vick, importantly.
"All right, we were drunker than Cooter Brown; happy now?"
"Just stating the facts, Edward."
He smirks. He's still a little nervous – I can see the paper shaking ever so slightly in his beautiful hands. To his credit, he continues reading.
"Whatever the reason, I had, as Mary Alice would say, a vision.
I saw a couple rising from the mist. The man was holding a dark-haired woman. They were in love – you could feel the love like it was a real thing – tangible, as my soon-to-be-wife would say; she does love some fancy words, and that's a fact. When the mist cleared, I could see their features. The man looked just like me – not as I did then – I was still a boy - but me, as I would come to look; as I do now. The woman, though, her face was buried in his neck, so all I saw at first was long dark hair that flowed down her back. But just as the mist started to return, she turned towards me. I saw her then. I knew she was my future. I just didn't know when. It scared me back then … seeing my grown self-looking back at me. I high tailed it out of there quicker than you could say Jack Rabbit. Lord. I convinced myself they were haints, and I'd be haunted by them for the rest of my life.
I guess I was right. Not the haint part … but the haunting memory that never left me. Not my mind or my soul.
That day, the day I hopped out of the Tow-n-Go and saw your face for the first time, I knew. That woman in the spring … that was you, Isabella Swan. That was you."
My eyes fill with tears.
He folds the paper and puts it back in his pocket.
"That was the day I fell in love with you."
I can't help myself; I wrap my arms around him and hug him tightly. The tears are flowing down my face, ruining Rose, and Ali's cosmetic masterpiece, but I don't care.
Boots pats his coat pocket and plucks out a very delicate handkerchief. It's pure white with lily of the valleys embroidered on it.
"This was my mother's," he says, carefully moping my face.
"You're not going to ruin this moment by blowing your nose in it, are you?" I giggle-snort.
"Naw, this is just for you, Yank." He finishes wiping my eyes and shoves it back into his pocket, with a wink. He places a small kiss on my forehead.
"I 'spect we're ready, Rev."
"You sure? I can wait … ya'll aren't paying me by the hour – we've got all day …" he teases.
"We're ready," I say with a small laugh.
He nods his head and raises his hands to the crowd. They all stand.
I hand my bouquet to Bip.
"Dearly beloved. We are gathered here today to witness the marriage of Isabella and Edward. If there is anyone here who objects, please speak up now or forever hold your peace.
I can't help myself … I look around, half expecting to see the specter of James lurking in the boxwoods.
"He's not here, Yank," Boots whispers.
"I know," I whisper back.
We both smile.
"Boots, please repeat after me:
I, Edward Anthony Masen Cullen, take thee, Isabella Marie Swan, to be my lawfully wedded wife. I promise to love, honor, respect, and cherish you all the days of my life, and here to, I pledge thee my troth.
He repeats the vows, word for word, and places a lovely diamond and sapphire band on my left hand. I'm surprised by the traditional vows at first – we argued a little over the wording; I preferred the old-fashioned, whereas Boots refused to say the word "thee."
'I'll feel like a dumbass saying thee and thou, Bella. Please … Can't we just say we wanna get hitched and be done with it?' I bite back a smile in remembrance.
"Bella, please repeat after me …
"I, Isabella Marie Swan …."
I hold up my hand
"I, Isabella Marie Swan, just wanna get hitched to you, Edward Anthony Masen Cullen."
Boots throws his head back and roars.
"Just when I didn't think I could love you more than I do, you come along and surprise, me Yank. And that's a fact."
I slide the lug-nut-turned-ring on his left-hand finger. The metal looks perfect on his hand, just as I'd known it would.
Reverend Webber grins.
"Well, alrighty. Do you, Isabella, promise to love, respect, and cherish this man for all the rest of your days? Through sickness and health, in good times and bad, through richer and poorer?
And Boots, do you say the same for Bella?"
"Then with the power vested in me by God and the state of North Carolina, I proudly proclaim you to be husband and wife. Let no man or woman put asunder."
"And if they do, just remember I am one heck of a crack-shot," says Ant Vick.
Boots and I beam at her smiling face.
"Boots, you may now kiss your bride."
He lifts the tiny blusher away from my face. I expect him to smirk or maybe make a sarcastic remark, but he does neither. Instead, his eyes are suspiciously shiny and full of warmth. He gently places the sweetest of kisses on my lips.
"I love you, Yank."
Overcome, I pull him closer and press my lips on his. This time, he kisses me a little deeper. I pull him even closer. We continue to kiss and kiss and kiss.
"Lord, if ya'll don't quit, we'll be celebrating your fifth anniversary before we get to the cake cutting," calls out Horace Hogg.
We laugh through the last kiss and then turn to face our friends and family, as they cheer and applaud through Reverend Webbers muffled, "May I present Mr. and Mrs. Cullen."
"It's Doctor Cullen!" shouts Boots.
I laugh, shaking my head. "Only when I'm with my students, Boots. When I'm with you, I'm Bella Cullen."
"You keep that talk up, and we'll be startin' the honeymoon before we have the first toast," he whispers in my ear. I blush and giggle like the silly love-sick fool that I am, and I don't even care.
Emmett strikes up his violin and plays the processional music while Carlisle stands and shouts, Bars open!"
Esme walks over to Elizabeth and takes her hand, telling her what a wonderful job she did, and how pretty she looks, and how proud she and Paw-Paw are of her. Bip gives us both a hug just before Esme leads her to the head table.
Jasper and Ant Vick join us at the makeshift altar to sign the paperwork that declares us legally wed in the state of North Carolina.
"Well, Crow, I suppose you know, there's no turning back now," she says, bending to sign her name in large flowy script.
Victoria Elizabeth Masen
She puts her arms around my waist and hugs me tight. "Best wishes, Isabella, and welcome to the family."
My eyes begin to well. I kiss her soft, feathery cheek and thank her.
Jasper signs and offers us his congratulations and best wishes as he takes Ant Vick by the arm and tells us he'll see us in a moment.
We both sign the register. I look at it and blink at Boots' answer to the question of previous marriages.
"You made a mistake, here, Boots. I'm sorry, Reverend Webber … we'll have to re-do it," I say with a small laugh.
Boots looks at it, puzzled.
"Naw, I didn't make no mistake."
"Yes, you did … see? This is your second marriage," I remind him, gently.
He shakes his head, laughing.
"Girl … you are the one and only wife I've ever had, and that's the truth and a fact."
"But I thought … you and Tanya …"
"Nah … we never got hitched. You're my one and only, now and forever, amen."
I throw my arms around him and hug him tight.
"How did I not know this until now?" I say, getting emotional.
"Well, I guess you assumed, and I never thought to tell you otherwise, I reckon."
"I guess so."
"Well, ya'll have a lifetime to figure each other out. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe there's a sweet tea with my name on it."
"And Jack Daniel's too, I reckon," Boots says with a wink.
The Reverend smiles and winks back. "I won't tell if you won't tell …"
"You ready to go face the crazies, Yank?"
I look at the gaggle of people as they mill around the bar and the table of hors d'oeuvres. The colors and the smiles. The laughter and tears of happiness.
I see Shelly take her mama's arm and lead her to the table where her son, daughter, and husband sit. These are her grandchildren; I think to myself. I had a part in helping them reunite as a family.
I watch as Jake hands Bip the first, of what I know will be far too many, Shirley Temples. He clinks his bourbon with her cherry-filled cup. She giggles happily.
I see my mother and Philippa, hand in hand, chatting happily with Cousin Pete and his wife. Their toddler, Katie, reaches over to touch Renee's bright purple hair. Everyone laughs.
I see Jasper and Ali at the bar as he requests a whiskey for him and a mint julep for her. I have it on good authority that this might be our wedding day, but it'll be their engagement day before the sun has set.
I see Emmett lead Rosalie over to the swing where they sit and snuggle. I suspect Mary Alice and Jasper won't be the only couple getting engaged tonight if the small bulge in Emmet's shirt pocket is any indication of his plans.
I watch the photographer we hired – an old friend of Carlisle's - as he captures all the magical Kodak moments we'll be looking at and remembering when we're old and gray.
I glance up at my husband and grin.
"Forever," I say.
He takes my face in his hands and places a kiss on my forehead.
"Forever, Yank. Forever."
Hand in hand, we step away from the altar and blissfully walk to our crazy but perfect piece of forever.
A/N: I know ya'll would much rather here from Boots than me, but we struck up a deal; I'll say what needs to be said here, and he'll leave his note on the epilogue.
I started writing Burger five years ago, but the story came to me way back in 2006. At the time, my family and I had just moved to NC. One day we went to town and had lunch at this funky and retro drive-in. I ordered a footlong all the way, and a Cherry lemon Sundrop. Between bites of dog and sips of soda, I started thinking ... wow ... this place is iconic. Small town America at it's very finest. I started watching the customers coming in and was charmed by their accents and the fun banter they lobbied back and forth with the staff. The waitresses seemed like characters from a book; they wore these ridiculous kerchiefs pinned on top of their heads, and drawled out the orders to the hapless cook, with toothy grins and plenty of snark. I fell in love with What-A-Burger number 11. I knew then a story was about to be born.
I can't believe we've come to the end of this journey. Since this fic began, I've moved back to Virginia, restored a 150 year old home, lost my mom, taken care of my husband when he had cancer, became a grandmother, helped plan my youngest son's wedding, retired from teaching, worked in a funeral home, quit working altogether, and endured a damn pandemic! Whew ... no wonder I'm tired. Lord.
I want to give special thanks to Frannie, who has beta'd my stories since 2012. I couldn't have done this without you, sis! Fran has also been a huge supporter and a best friend - she never let me go, even as I had to let this story go, from time to time. And for that I will be forever grateful.
And a huge shout-out to my constant readers. I can't believe you've stuck it out this long. I don't know too many who would have gotten past Bella having sex with James (ew) let alone two hiatuses! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Please leave a review so I can know who you are, fabulous readers. I never forget any of you, even though I am epic fail at reviews. I still remember my very first review on my very first fic. dazzleglo never fails to delight. Also, debsmac with her :)
This is the last chapter of Burger; however, the epi is written, beta'd, and will be posted next week.
Finally, someone once told me this story was a southern gothic parody. They were wrong. This story is my valentine to the south. A south that I know and love.
I'm gonna shut up now. I've got to blow my nose. I hope Boots has a clean hanky.