The One That Got Away by evergreenwriter83
Summary:


Almost twenty years have passed since Brian and Jillian have last seen each other. After a chance meeting, will the memories of yesteryear work their magic? Or will they still be each other's one that got away?


Categories: Fanfiction > Backstreet Boys Characters: Brian
Genres: Dramedy, Romance
Warnings: Domestic Violence, Sexual Content
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 30 Completed: Yes Word count: 36166 Read: 47883 Published: 08/17/12 Updated: 10/21/12

1. My Yesterday by evergreenwriter83

2. The New Girl by evergreenwriter83

3. Walking the Plank by evergreenwriter83

4. After All These Years by evergreenwriter83

5. Summer Nights by evergreenwriter83

6. Call Me Maybe by evergreenwriter83

7. Of Wishes and Wine by evergreenwriter83

8. Tell Me That I'm Dreaming by evergreenwriter83

9. Whatever It Is by evergreenwriter83

10. Home Sweet Home by evergreenwriter83

11. Under the Bleachers by evergreenwriter83

12. You Don't Know Your Beautiful by evergreenwriter83

13. Song for the Unloved by evergreenwriter83

14. Unexpected Delivery by evergreenwriter83

15. Ready to Run by evergreenwriter83

16. Among the Clouds by evergreenwriter83

17. Welcome to Roswell by evergreenwriter83

18. Cooking with Mr. Duck by evergreenwriter83

19. Standing Outside the Fire by evergreenwriter83

20. Why the Caged Bird Sings by evergreenwriter83

21. Can't Go Home Again by evergreenwriter83

22. The Honey Hunt by evergreenwriter83

23. Cuts Like a Knife by evergreenwriter83

24. Safest Place to Hide by evergreenwriter83

25. Moving On in Ja-Ja by evergreenwriter83

26. I Need You Tonight by evergreenwriter83

27. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? by evergreenwriter83

28. Flashback to the End by evergreenwriter83

29. I Wanna Make You Feel Wanted by evergreenwriter83

30. Traveling Soldier by evergreenwriter83

My Yesterday by evergreenwriter83
My Yesterday

It was a warm summer Saturday at the end of August, my favorite time of the year, when I saw HIM. My mind almost didn't register his presence admist my feeling of basking in the season. After all, I love the impending feel of Fall in the air, the change from scorching, humid nights to warm, fresh-smelling, open-window, best sleeping evenings. I loved the smell of paper and pencils permeating the stores and the cheery "Back to School" signs and the giant cut-out apples hanging everywhere. The name Brian Littrell and Walmart in the middle of Sandusky, Ohio wasn't a combination that I really thought possible. Yet, there he was hanging around by the $5.00 bin of DVDs, all giant sneakers and slightly-receding-hairline aside, not looking much older than the last time we were face-to-face. Almost twenty years. Twenty! It didn't seem possible. I didn't feel like I was thirty-six, ninety-two days shy of thirty-seven.

I was rooted in place, the knuckles on my fingers wrapped around the bright blue shopping cart practically turning white. My cart was loaded to the brim, with a 30-pound bag of dog food and an econo-size box of tampons (tampons!) holding reign on top of it all. I know I must have looked ridiculous, the whole package, all frizzle-haired, pajama clad, menustrating, open mouthed me.

My armpits began to sweat the second he looked my way. In a split second half of me hoped he would recognize me while the other half prayed he wouldn't, and another half (defying the logic of math, I know), praying that if he did recognize me that one of those 'licious' shows on the Style channel would surround me and make me beautiful before he ran off screaming in fright and asking himself what he ever saw in me.

"Jilly Bean."

The nickname was laced with affection, the kind of affection that makes a woman all dizzy and threatens to make her go into Scarlett O'Hara mode. He strode towards me, all five feet five inches of me frozen in time and place, and I got a good look at him. Little laugh lines danced at the corner of his beautiful blue eyes. His hair was a lighter shade of blonde than I remembered, but that was no doubt attributed to a professional hairstylist. As I had observed before, his hair was thining, but in such a way that he could successfully continue to hide it for at least another five to ten years. His smile was still enough to melt even the Grinch's heart.

"Is that really you?" he asked.

Oh shit. Pajamas. Hair. Possible food stuck in my teeth. My narrowed eyes due to my need, but total reluctance, to get glasses.

"Brian."

My mouth moved and my voice said his name. He was so much more put together than I was, his white t-shirt looking spotless and crisp, his jeans slightly baggy, and those huge sneakers...he looked so much younger than thirty-seven. His sex appeal rating was high on my radar, but--

"Do you live here now?" he asked. "In Sandusky? You look great."

The boy had never been a good liar, but he must have improved his skills over the years because I knew I looked horrendous. Besides the dishelvement, I wasn't sure I was actually blinking.

"I--"

"Those must be the huge-a-mongiest shoes I've ever seen. Coley, look!"

Oh, and the kids. In the span of time since my cart skidded to a stop next to a picture of a giant video game character who was still smiling at me with too-white, too-huge teeth and these giant Domino Droid hands pressed up mime-like as if trying to escape the glass case, I had forgotten I had children. Children that I was meeting up with in the Electronics Department. Minor oversight, right?

A dirt-streaked face peered up at Brian, her green eyes wide and her light brown pigtails totally askew. One strap of her overalls was hanging limp, totally undone, and her Strawberry Shortcake shirt had seen much better days. Her five favorite fingers, those on her right hand that she held up to everyone to proclaim her age, were locked into those of her brother.

"Tibby," Cole scowled.

Colton, my not-so-little boy. Twelve going on thirteen in just a few short weeks scowled, obviously embarassed at his little sister's reaction. His own jeans were slashed in the knee and the WWE t-shirt he wore that was one time as white as Brian's so-clean shirt was practically gray. His shoes, much smaller and untied, had a piece of duct tape on the back. Never had I taken so much stock in my children's attire. Egads. All three of us had much better clothes at home. What the hell was I thinking taking us all out like this?

"Mom, didja get the poop-corn?" Tibby said, her eyes darting to me before returning to the shoes. Struggling against her brothers hand, she squatted down. "They look all glow-y in the dark."

Ah, yes, now I remembered why we were out like this. Once a year ever since Cole was five, I had picked one night before school where I'd let him stay up as late as possible. We'd watch a movie, pop some popcorn, and make stove-smores until we passed out. Tibby was joining the fun for the first time ever and I, scatterbrained mom of the year, had forgotten to buy popcorn.

Thus, a ten p.m. Walmart run in whatever the hell we were wearing.

"These don't glow in the dark, but I have a couple pair that do."

Brian. Shit, he was still there. He hadn't run off. I changed a glance at him under my lashes. As if on cue, he looked at me, a clear sheen of amusement etched on his face.

"She looks so much like you there's no doubt this one's your daughter," he said.

Trying to pull together my manners, I removed my hands from the cart and put a hand on Cole's shoulder, pressing down slightly to try to remove the scowl from his face.

"This is my son Colton. He's twelve---thirteen soon," I added as he swung in his light brown eyes my way. "And you're right. This is Tabitha, my daughter."

"I'm five," she said, using the fingers on her second most favoritest hand to flash up at him. "And I'm Tib- by.

"Tubby Tibby," Cole muttered under his breath.

A brillant red came over my little one's already flushed face. "Moooo---ooooommm!"

"Cole, you know what I said about that," I said, mom instinct flooding through me after my previous Harlequin-moment. "Tibby, it's okay."

She didn't answer, but she did manage to get her hand out of Cole's grasp. She folded her arms and plopped right down on the floor, preceding to poke Brian's shoe. I saw a distinct pinch of the inside of his left cheek.

"Jilly--"

"Dad, come on!"

Sailing at us on those annoying roller-skate shoes, a blonde-mopped boy skidded to a stop beside Brian. He was carrying a fishing pole, the length of it tilted up and over his shoulder.

"Just a second, Bay," Brian said affectionately. He looked at me and did his own version of the shoulder-squeeze on the boy. "This is my son Baylee. He's nine---ten in November."

"He looks just like you," I said softly.

"Why's that girl poking your shoes?"

"Tibby!"

"What?"

"Can we go now?" Baylee and Colton said at the same time. They looked at each other suspiciously.

Brian's eyes met mine. Almost twenty years. Parents. Worlds apart.

"It seems like just yesterday," he said gently.

"I know," I whispered, the impact of it hitting me all at once like a punch to my blindside.

My yesterday was standing right in front of me.

And all the memories came flooding back.
The New Girl by evergreenwriter83
The New Girl

- 1992 -

"Welcome to Tates Creek High School Miss Bridges. Here's your schedule. There's only three weeks of school before summer vacation, but I'm sure you'll make fast friends and jump right in."

The secretary had an horrendous overbite and a giant mole right in the middle of her forehead, making her look slightly like a tricylops. I wasn't sure if tricylops was even a real thing, but at that moment, I knew I was facing one. At my previous high school we were all sure that the principal was boinking the school secretary. Unless this principal was part troll, I knew there wasn't a chance in the world that anything down and dirty was happening behind the scenes.

"Thank you," I said, my parents ingrained manners pushing past the mole-fixation. I took the schedule from her hand and scanned it. I was in all the same classes I had been attending in Michigan.

"Bell's going to ring in a few minutes. Do you need me to walk you to your class?"

The last thing I needed was to walk into a classroom with the tricylops, even as nice as she was being. I smiled and shook my head. "No ma'am, thank you." I hoisted my backpack higher on my shoulder for emphasis and after exhanging a nod (the mole bounced!), I turned and headed back into the hallway. Tates Creek High School was like any other high school in American with only three weeks left of school before summer vacation. People crowded the hallway, their voices loud, half the conversations complaining about impending finals and the other half discussing summer plans. The hallways themselves were dirty, filled with nine months worth of crumpled papers, pencil shavings, sweaty gym socks, shoe tracks and everything else that teens accumulated.

I put on my bravest face as I walked down the hall. The move had been hard on everyone, but especially on me. For my whole life, all sixteen years of it, I had lived in the same small town in Northern Michigan. Dad's announcement of job relocation had come out of the blue. I had cried for days, lamenting on how unfair the entire thing was. My mother was too busy packing to be sympathetic and my brother, a freshman in college, was ambivalent. After all, his life was now in a dorm in Illinois. He had already made the leap. But me? I was, in the words of Tom Petty, Free Falling.

The bell rang just as I yanked open the door to American History. I hovered by the door, my eyes taking in the site of all twenty-two desks occupied by bodies.

"You must be Jillian."

A rather dull-looking man in a brown button-down cardigan stopped writing on the chalkboard and walked towards me. He dusted his hands on his black pants leaving thick white chalk-streaks on the thighs. His eyes were small behind horn- rimmed glasses.

"Yes," I squeaked. Damnit.

"Well let's see..." the teacher trailed off. "I asked the custodian for another desk, but..." he trailed off a second time. "You can use my chair."

I felt everyone's eyes on me even as the teacher yanked his hideous orange swivel chair from his desk. He set it up by the heater at the start of the second row.

"You can use the heater to write on," he said. "I'm Mr. Reinhold."

"Thank you," I said. Holding my history book to my chest. I started to make a quick shuffle to the seat when Mr. Reinhold held up his hands. "Class, this is Jillian Bridges. She just moved here from Missouri."

"Michigan," I corrected.

"Michigan," he repeated. "I'm sure all of you will do your best welcoming her to our great state."

When he didn't say anything else, I finally made my way to the seat. I sat down quickly, prepared to open my book and just hop right in, but the minute my butt hit the seat it made a creaking sound as the old pneumatics settled. A couple girls across the room snickered. A boy in the back made a farting noise in his hand.

"Let's get started," Reinhold said, either ignoring the rudeness or so immune to it he didn't even realize it had happened. "Continuing Civil Rights..."

"Look at his pants when he turns back to the chalkboard."

At first, I didn't realize the voice was talking to me. "Look," the voice repeated.

I watched as Reinhold turned around. The desk blocked him momentarily as he began to scratch out a timeline on the board, but after he took two steps to the right I knew why I was being instructed to look. I clapped a hand to my mouth and turned to the voice."

A pair of bright blue eyes danced in the midst of the cutest face I had ever seen. His dark blonde hair was cut in a style that a lot of the guys were sporting, but on him it looked extremely good. He wore a dark blue Kentucky t-shirt and the pencil he held loosely in his fingers bounced against the desktop.

"Reinhold's the wedgie king. That thing goes so deep it would take excavatars a year to get it out."

The mental image was all I needed. I let out a barking laugh that made me freeze in horror. Mr. Reinhold turned around, chalk dust floating down his arm.

"Something you find enlightening Miss Bridges?"

"N--n-no," I stammered.

His eyes flicked over to the boy beside me. "Mr. Littrell?"

The boy tried but failed to look innocent. He did a head bob that couldn't be deciphered as a yes or a no.

"Please try to control your excitement," Reinhold droned on. "You might want to pay attention as what we discuss today might be on an upcoming, oh what do you call them...FINAL."

"Got it," the boy said. Even his voice was appealing. He wanted only a second after Reinhold turned back to the boy before he leaned back my way.

"I'm Brian," he said.

"Jillian."

He flashed me a grin that suddenly had me loving everything about Kentucky."

"Well Jilly, let me know if you need any help catching up before finals. I happen to be a--"

"Mr. Littrell, I'm not going to ask you again."

Brian dropped his pencil and held up hands in mock surrender. He leaned back in his desk chair and subtly winked my way.

It was then that I knew I was in trouble. Whether it was good trouble or bad trouble I didn't know, but I knew I was willing to find out.
Walking the Plank by evergreenwriter83
Walking the Plank

- 1992 -

"How was your first day at school, honey?"

The new house was still in shambles; brown boxes were open in every room with most of the contents spilling out on to the floor. I tossed my bookbag down on the floor and sank down beside it. I watched mom, perched on a small stepladder, loading rarely used plates onto the upper shelf of one of the new, admittedly pretty, glass cabinets.

"Okay."

"Do you like your teachers?"

"They're okay, I guess."

Mom paused in her straightening and looked my way. "Just okay?"

I shrugged. She turned and sat down on the top step, her long jean-clad legs swinging slightly. "What about the kids?"

Immediately, I conjured up a picture of Brian. The guy had been in almost every single one of my classes, succeeding in making me laugh in all of them, which was no small feat considering he was all the way across the room in English.

"I didn't meet many people," I said, skirting the issue. "I was too busy surviving."

Yes, it was dramatic, but I was sixteen. Everything about my life was dramatic. Mom put on a good sympathetic face. "Honey, I'm so sorry about the timing of all this, but at least you have a couple weeks to get your face out there and then when you start your senior year--"

"I'll still be a strange face, mom," I sighed.

"You've got a beautiful face."

I rolled my eyes. Mom meant well, but I was pretty sure all mom's told their children they were beautiful. Hell, I would bet my lunch money that even the mole secretary's mom had told her she was beautiful.

"How's it going here?" I asked, deciding to just change the subject completely. Mom looked around as if she hadn't really taken it all in.

"It's...a mess," she admitted. She laughed. "We just brought twenty-one years of accumulated stuff across two states to get here and figuring out where to stick it all, jesus, we're going to have to have a yard sale."

"A yard sale," I repeated, a wry smile tweaking my lips. My mother was the world's largest packrat. She was the type of person to take stuff other people were throwing away just because she thought we might be able to use it sometime, somewhere, someplace.

"Yes, a yard sale," she repeated. "I can get rid of stuff y'know."

"Uh-huh," I laughed. "Sure."

"You just watch me," she said stubbornly. "In fact, you can help me. It'll be our summer project."

I blanched. Just what I wanted to do...spend a month over-pricing stuff just so mom and I could haul it back in when she wouldn't part with anything.

"We'll talk about it," she said, reading my face. She hopped off the ladder with ease and headed towards the granite- topped kitchen island. The kitchen was almost twice the size of the one in our old house and yet, the extra space made me feel just that much more like this place could never be home.

"Dad will be home soon and there's no way I can cook with everything like this," she said, blowing a piece of hair out of her face. She wore a bandana to keep back her curly hair, dark curly hair that I had inherited. She slid a small square of paper my way.

"Pick up a family pack," she said, adding a ten and a five on top of the paper. I removed the bills and looked at the coupons.

"Mom, I don't even know where Long John Silvers is. You expect me to drive there? I don't even have a Kentucky license yet."

Mom didn't bat an eye. She produced a phone book and flipped through the beginning pages. She leaned forward, too stubborn to admit her eyes were getting bad, and studied the map in front of her. She began to trace with her finger and I knew it was a lost cause. A minute later, she flipped the book around.

"It's less than ten minutes away, I promise. No highways. Just buckle up, drive a little below the speed limit, and you'll be fine."

"So you're telling me to do something illegal?"

"Jill, you know I would never...well, yes. I think. Is it really illegal?" She waved her hand in front of her face as if brushing the thought away. "Anyhow, just this one time. I mean, look at everything I have to do." She held her arms out and spun in a circle. I sighed.

"Fine," I relented. She shoved the phone book in my hands and walked with me to the heavy oak front door. I was tempted to ask her how I was supposed to drive and refer back to a phone book at the same time, but I thought that it was best not to test out my smart tongue too much in one hour.

"Now, ask for extra tartar sauce. You know your daddy uses about twenty packets. Did you know the very first Long John Silvers opened in Lexington in 1969?"

Mom was a nut for useless trivia, especially what she called landmark and historical trivia. Thus, I hated playing Trivia Pursuit with her. For that matter, she was ruthless when playing any board game.

"Huh, I didn't know that," I said. "If I go to that one, I hope the hushpuppies aren't from 1969." I spotted the car keys recessed in a burner on the stove and scooped them up. Mom swatted me with her dustcloth.

"Be careful," she said.

I gave a mock salute and headed towards the door. A humid breeze smacked into my face the moment I opened the door and I took a second to blink and take in my surroundings. The street where our new home sat wasn't that much different than the street our old house had sat on, except for the fact that everything was bigger in scale. Yards were larger, house were bigger, and more people were out and about. Sensing that my pause would entice a neighor or two to stop and offer a greeting, I hustled to the car. I was just about in when the front door flew back open.

"You forgot the phone book!" mom called. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the pages flap as she waved it in my direction, but I feigned ignorance, cranked the engine, and pulled out of the drive. Aside from my complaining, I knew where the Long John Silvers was already. Eight minutes later, I turned the car into the relatively empty parking lot and stepped out with money and coupon in hand.

The moment I stepped inside the restaurant I was assailed with the smell of fish and frying oil. As bad as the food was, the smell made me hungry. I loved the batter crunchies that the fish always sat on and the coleslaw was creamy and could be duplicated by no one. I walked the narrow wood hall on the left, blocking out part of the restaurant with a 3/4's wall. After a rather large advertisement with a picture of some new dessert, I turned right and came to the main part of the counter. A bored teenage girl wearing the trademark blue LJS shirt was leaning on her elbows against the white speckled top, studying her fingernails. It took her a moment to realize I was standing there.

"Hi, welcome to Long John Silvers, what can I get for you today?" she said in a bored drawl as she stood up. I handed over the coupon.

"Chicken or fish?"

"Fish."

"Sides?"

"Fries and cole--"

From behind the tall stainless steel fryers, a hushpuppy came sailing right at me and smacked into my cheek. Even though it didn't hurt, my hand flew to my face like I had just been pelted with shrapnel. The laugh that followed pulled me out of my stunned state.

"Hey, you're stalking me."

Brian's Peter-Pannish face popped out from behind the friers. The impish smile he wore immediately erased any possible irritation I held regarding the 'puppy pelting.

"You work here?"

The moment the question came out of my mouth, I cringed. I hated stupid questions with obvious answers. Sure enough, Brian jiggled his nametag.

"Nope, they kidnapped me and I'm going to be forced to walk the plank in about ten minutes."

I laughed. "Nice."

He put his hands together as if they had been bound by rope. "Tell mama I love heeeeerrrrrrr!" he yelled, throwing his voice so he sounded like he was falling, he sunk down below the counter.

An old couple dining nearby looked our way. I felt myself blush, but couldn't help the soft snort that escaped from my nostrils. Horrific!

"Littrell, waiting on your part of this to-go order!"

He bounced back up, quickly recovered from his fall, gave me a wink, and dodged back behind the stainless steel. The cashier rolled her eyes. "What were you saying?"

It took me a second, but after remembering what I'd been saying before the interruption, I finished the order, paid, and then stepped to the side to wait on the bags.

Brian didn't pop back out from the back. The cashier removed her gaze from her nails and her reflection in the pop machine long enough to dump copious amounts of tartar sauce in my bag and thank me for coming. I headed past the older couple and a family with three small kids. On my way out, I couldn't resist ringing the "Thank You" sailor's bell.

"ARRRGGGH, THANK YOU!!!!" an unmistakable voice rang out.

I was sure the smile I wore all the way home was ridiculously huge, only to get bigger as mom was opening up all the containers.

"Awww, how cute is this?" she said.

"What?" I asked, my mind still about eight minutes away.

"Someone got creative in the kitchen," she said. I leaned over to see what she was talking about.

And there, spelled out in twelve hushpuppies, was the word "Hi."
After All These Years by evergreenwriter83
After All These Years

"Dad--"

"Just a minute Bay," Brian said patiently.

"Mom--"

"Cole."

"So, I'm here with my family for a couple days to explore Cedar Point," Brian said, his eyes locked on mine. I felt ashamed I couldn't look away. "Can I give you my number? I'd love to catch up after all these years."

Catch up. As if we had only missed a few months out of each other's lives. The large part of me that had been wounded too many times in my life flared its ugly head. I shook my head.

"I don't--"

"Please," he said. He pulled out a Sharpie pen, leaned into my cart (past the tampons), pressed his left hand on the giant dog food bag and wrote a number on it with his right.

He wasn't wearing a ring.

No Jill, my subconscious chastised. Remember? Remember what happened?

"It'd mean a lot," he said softly. "There was a lot left un--"

"Uh-oh," Tibby started working on the one overall strap still attached. "I gotta go!"

It seemed like whenever Tibby was engrossed in something she could go hours without having to use the bathroom, but the moment she got bored, it was all over. Her eyes widened and her pee dance began in earnest. I spotted a bathroom sign behind Brian's shoulder in the Layaway area. I scooped Tibby up over my shoulder.

"It was so good to seeyouagain," I said, my last few words coming out a jumble. "Colestaywiththecart."

My sneakers squeaked on the waxy floor as Tibby and I made a beeline for the restaurant. I kicked the door open with my foot, swung her down, and had her sitting without incident in a matter of thirty seconds. She swung her legs nonchalantly and looked at me.

"This is the bestest night ever!" she declared happily.

My sixteen-year-old self, the one that had spent a lot of time pining away for Brian Littrell over the years whole- heartedly agreed. My current self, the one that had been to hell and back, just sat back and folded her arms in a self- hug.

"I want some big glow-in-the-darky shoes!" Tibby declared as she hopped off the toilet seat. She hitched up her bottom and I grabbed the overall straps.

"When you learn to tie your shoes, we'll talk," I said. Her bottom lip jutted out and her eyes grew large as she contemplated giving up her beloved velcro.

"Poop," she declared.

I followed her out of the stall and pulled out the courtesy stool so that she could climb up and wash her hands. As she made a mess of the soap I studied her adorable reflection in the mirror. My heart welled with love and yet broke at the same time.

Life just wasn't fair sometimes.

"Okay!" she declared as she flung soapy water everywhere, including the mirror. She hopped down and eagerly shoved her hands underneath the automatic air dryer. She swayed back and forth, the sound of the machine making some type of music in her mind. When it turned off she shoved her hands in her pockets.

"Ready?" I asked, wondering if he would still be out there.

"Yup!"

Taking her freshly washed hand, we made our way back to Cole. Brian was gone. Cole looked sour.

"Who was that?" he asked the second he spotted me.

The question was harder to answer than he would ever know. "Just someone I went to high school with a long time ago," I said, trying desperately to keep my voice light.

"I don't like him," Cole scowled.

"I liked him," Tibby declared.

"You only liked his shoes," Cole countered.

"Nu-uh!"

The night was ticking away. I clapped my hands. "If we're going to watch our movie, we better get home."

- - -


Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the driveway. Tibby was fast asleep, slightly snoring as I yanked her out of her booster seat. Cole slid out and grabbed the bag of dog food, struggling under its way, but with a look of determination on his face.

"I'll come back for the rest," I whispered.

"Can we still watch the movie?" he asked.

"Of course," I said with a smile. I knew that my days of him actually wanting to do stuff with me were numbered. Soon it would be completely about friends and, I shudder at the thought, girls.

"Woof. Wooo-ooof."

The moment I unlocked the door, Hoover, our Bull Mastiff/Boxer mix put his giant dark head into my crotch and bemoaned the agony he had just gone through being left home alone. Only the smell of dog food tore him from me. His head flew up to focus on Cole.

"Don't you dare Hoss," I warned. The big dog took a step back, but didn't take his large dopey eyes off of the food. As Cole headed into the kitchen, he padded behind with his large nails clicking on the linoleum. He let out a happy 'Woof' at the bag of food thudded against the floor. The bag of food with Brian's phone number on it.

"Uggggh!" I said quietly. I turned in the opposite direction, following the garish orange hall carpet that I hadn't had time or money to replace and walked into Tibby's room. A large pink rug covered most of the brown shag carpet. A large Smurfs comforter blanketed the bed. A My Little Pony with half its tail gone sprawled across her pillow. I nudged it aside and put my rough-and-tumble princess down. Immediately she did a roll onto her stomach, something she had stubbornly done since she was three months old.

"Love you Tibs," I whispered, leaning back down to press a kiss to the crown of her head.

"Mom, I got the movie in," Cole whispered. He hovered by the door.

"How about I make our stove s'mores first and you microwave the popcorn," I said. He grinned and nodded. With one last look back at my sleeping angel, I followed him back into the kitchen. Hoover's nose was pressed against the red bag of chow.

"You break into that and you'll be sorry," I warned.

"Wo--" he must have understood the look on my face. He sprawled out on the floor by the bag, placing his giant head on his paws. I headed to the stove and lit the burner. My supplies were laid out on the corner, pushed far back so a giant pup wouldn't get to them while we were gone.

"Where did you learn to make s'mores on the stove?" Cole asked as he placed the popcorn into the microwave and pushed the corresponding button. I slowly slid marshmallows onto the large metal cooking fork used to cut the turkey at Thanksgiving. I let out a large exhale, not realizing I had drew in my breath.

"We got creative the first summer your grandma, grandpa, and I lived in Kentucky. There was a burn ban out right from the start of summer..."
Summer Nights by evergreenwriter83
Summer Nights

- 1992 -

"We'll be back by ten...no, eleven. Eleven, right hun?"

Mom looked up at dad. He smiled and glanced down at his watch. "Make it eleven-thirty," he teased. He winked at me, his blue eyes dancing. "I promise I'll bring her home safe Miss Bridges."

I rolled my eyes. "I don't care, you know."

"But--" mom started to argue, but dad put a large hand on her shoulder and gave me a still amused, but more dad-like look.

"If you go for anywhere, write a note and lock-up. Don't be out later than ten. No wild parties," he instructed.

"Dad."

He laughed. "We're going now."

I followed them to the door. Mom looked more like my older sister than my mom, her little black dress flowing flirtaciously around her well-toned legs. Her perfume smelled a lot like roses and the little black sequined clutch she held in her hands sparkled underneath the front hall lights. Dad straightned his tie and guided her out, his hand dropping intimately to the small of her back.

"Have fun," I said, feeling very mature and responsible as I wrapped my hand around the door. Mom looked back at me, her brow furrowed, but dad made her keep walking. "Thanks, baby girl!"

I watched as he opened the car door with a flourish. My mom practically floated inside, smiling up at him adoringly as he closed the door. Their eyes locked through the glass and I felt like I was invading an extremely private moment. I closed the door, flipped the lock, then leaned back against the cool wood.

The house loomed before me like a bright, creaking giant. I glanced down at my lime green nail polish, contrasting crazily with my bright purple flip-flops. I was alone.

In the old house, I would have had my two best friends over and we would have spent the night looking through magazines, gourging ourselves with junk food, and doing all the other frivalous things that girls our age do. My heart ached just thinking about everything I had left behind. Here I was nobody. I had made a few connections during the last three weeks of school but I knew as well as anybody that I was the new girl, someone who had jumped into the fold at the most inconvienent time ever.

I slowly pulled myself away from the door. I padded through the living room, our old couch the only inviting feature of the room. The third stair from the bottom creaked as I made my way upstairs. The second from the top did the same.

My room was littered with clothes. I kicked aside a pile of sweat pants that I hadn't bothered to take down to the wash, and sat down on the floor beside my bed. After looking around foolishly, I reached my hand under the bedskirt and yanked out a small, tattered shoebox. I sat cross-legged on the floor and spread out the contents.

Anyone who saw me probably would have laughed at how secretive I was being over the contents of the box, but to me, the little pictures I laid out so carefully meant the world to me. They had been carefully clipped in those aforementioned magazine sessions with my friends. They were my life goals, the style of wedding dress I wanted when I got married, the floor layout of the first house I had to have after the wedding, and the design of the nursery I wanted to paint when I had my first child. This was my future, wrapped up in a Converse shoebox that I'd had since the seventh grade.

I was studying the floor layout of the house, mentally inventoring all the ways the new house here wasn't anything like what my dream house was, when the noise of a tree branch scrapping against the windowpane caught my attention. I looked up and almost screamed.

There he was, perched in the branches a little like Peter Pan. His green t-shirt looked appropriately summer-grunged and his blue basketball shorts had a million little loose threads. The backwards Kentucky basketball hat and large filthy sneakers completed the ensemble. Realizing he had my attention, he waved foolishly.

"What are you doing here?" I asked a minute later as I yanked open the window.

"I got off work and was going to go play basketball but it looks like it might actually rain so..." he shrugged as if I could fill in the blank.

"So?"

"Well, I remembered where you lived since I dropped you off that one day last week before school was over. I figured I'd--"

"Climb the tree and start peeking into windows?" My voice sounded more accusatory than I had intended. Brian's eyes grew wide, the innocence in them real.

"What? No! I mean, I just wanted to...I guess I should have rang the doorbell instead," he finished lamely.

I immediately felt bad for trying to make him feel like a pervert. I glanced behind me. My stash! "Listen," I said, blushing at the thought of him looking at the pictures and rolling his eyes at my stupidity. "Why don't you go around and I'll let you in the front door?"

"Are you sure?"

"Sure I'm sure," I said, smiling to cover up my squirminess. "My parents aren't home and it'll be nice to have some company. Just be careful."

"Careful?" I gasped as he swung practically monkeylike from the branch to the trunk. "That's my middle name."

Unsure how to answer, I closed the window and watched him shimmy to the ground. I quickly stuffed the pictures and trinkets back into the shoebox and shoved it under the bed. Less than a second later, the doorbell rang. With my flip-flops making the loudest clacking sound ever, I dashed down to let him in.

"Howdy," he said as I flung the door open, out of breath from my sprint.

"Hi," I replied. I stepped back to let him in.

"Nice house," he said.

"I hate it," I said without thinking. He looked surprised.

"Why?"

I didn't answer right away. I looked around slowly. Yes, it was big. Yes, it was spotless. Yes, it smelled like cinnamon apples. But...

"It's just not home," I said, feeling stupid.

He gave me a long look that made me want to start fidgeting. Brian was an endless ball of energy, so when he slowed down, as he had done a couple times during school, and actually looked serious, it did something to me that I couldn't put my finger on.

"If I just moved away from my home," he twanged. "I'd feel the same way."

A ball of butterflies that I didn't even realize were flying through my stomach settled. I smiled. "Exactly."

The funny feeling began to build again. He leaned towards me and my breath caught. Was he...

"S'mores!" he suddenly said, his voice a little too loud for an inside voice. He pulled back and I blinked in confusion.

"S'mores?" I repeated. I looked out the window. It wasn't raining, but I remembered something I had heard earlier that morning. "We're under a fire ban."

He shrugged and grinned. "No problem. Do you have a stove?"

My confusion intensified. "Yes?"

"Haven't you ever made stove s'mores?"

I shook my head. He clapped his hands and then rubbed them together vigorously.

"Well, Jilly Bean," he had never called me that before. It left me feeling...squirmy again. "Let me show you what you've been missing."

We headed into the kitchen. Brian stood for a moment, rocking on the balls of his feet.

"Got marshmallows? Chocolate? Graham crackers?"

It took some hunting around the cupboards, but I unearthed a six month old box of graham crackers, some refrigerator mini Hershey bars, and some large marshmallows that felt a little stiff, but nothing that some heat wouldn't fix. I laid everything out.

"Do you have one of those turkey forks?"

This was more easily found, stuffed into a large cannister of stove utensils. Once again, I handed it to him, feeling a little like a nurse assisting a surgeon.

"No, here," he said. He handed it back to me. Next thing I knew, he was standing behind me, his hands on my elbows. I felt a little dizzy as his hands traveled down to my own. Considering I had left an ex-boyfriend behind in Michigan, I wasn't totally ignorant to all the signals I was absorbing, but all the same...

Did Brian Littrell really come over to hit on me?
Call Me Maybe by evergreenwriter83
Call Me Maybe

I am insane to even be holding the phone let alone looking at the empty dog food bag and tapping in the number written there. My heart is pounding so hard that I'm sure Cole will find me in an hour, dead on the floor with Hoover drooling mournfully onto my forehead.

"Hello?"

Now I know they need to lock me up for good. He was the one to leave, Jill! my subconscious yells angrily. I press my hip into the counter and chew my lip.

"Hello?"

For Christ's sakes, I'm thirty-six years old and acting like an idiot. My lung practically burst, and I fight the urge to cough straight into the mouthpiece.

"Hi, it's Jill. You, um, wrote your number on my dog's food."

It was the strangest sentence I uttered. I stumbled towards the refrigerator, desperate to distract myself during the duration of the conversation. Tibby was still asleep and Cole was passed out in the living room after falling asleep during the credits of last night's movie, his stomach full of stove s'mores and popcorn.

"I wasn't sure you were going to call," Brian's tone changed and I knew the octave that it had gone down to well. Too well. "Thank you."

"Well, I," I spotted a wine cooler. Yes, it was only nine in the morning, but there was no better time than the present. I tucked the cradle into the nook of my shoulder and chin area and opened the metal top with the bottom of my sleep shirt. The first sip of Seagram's Jamaican Me Happy was like liquid gold massaging my throat. "I know you said you wanted to catch up."

"That was a stupid way of putting it, but I figured, in front of the kids..." he trailed off.

"Yeah," I answered, unsure of what to say.

"I'd like a chance to tell you what really went down that day and the days after we broke up. I've never forgotten you Jilly Bean. You were my first love."

The alcohol burned - burned! - my stomach. "You can't go back," I said sourly.

"I know," he assured me. "but I'd like to go forward knowing that I've cleared the air. It won't make me look any less than a jackass, but at least you'll know the whole story."

The whole story. I knew the whole story. I let him get away. Yes, we broke up, but I could have fought harder to keep us together. After all, there was that one time, in between the two blondes that took my place...

"--around noon?"

I had totally tuned him out. "Sorry, what did you say?"

"I asked if you'd be able to come to lunch with me around noon," he said.

Noon. Three hours away. I'd have to line up a sitter, race home, take the kids back to school shopping as promised, and hop in the shower to ensure I'd be ready for work in the morning. My day was hectic enough let alone adding lunch--

"That sounds good," I found myself saying.

"Is Zinc Brasserie okay? My treat."

I almost snorted. I had driven by the place a million times, but I'd never gone in. One look at the prices of their online menu had me shaking my head in disbelief.

"They're closed on Sundays," I said, remembering that little tidbit of trivia somehow.

"The chef's a friend," Brian said vaguely. Of course, he is. "Okay then," I said, trying to decide if I had time to look at the online menu before the kids woke up.

"It's a date," he said and I foolishly teared up. He had said the same thing so many years ago and sent me into a tizzy. Yet hearing it now made me...apprehension.

"Noon," I repeated. "See you then."

I hung up before he could say anything else. I smoothed out the dog food bag again and blinked the tears back. I needed to get moving. I had a lot to do and a short time to get there.

- - -


"Why are you so dressed up?"

Cole sat on the couch, his PS3 controller in his lap. His eyes were narrowed in suspicion.

"I think mommy looks pretty!" Tibby said. She touched the hem of my dress and smiled. I prayed she had fully washed the jelly from her hands.

"I'm just going out to lunch," I said. Cole crossed his arms.

"With him?" he asked coldly.

I opened my mouth to tell him he needed to adjust his attitude, but I thought twice. After all, Tibby was too young to remember, but Cole...Cole had hidden behind the couch that night. He had seen it all. He was distrustful for a purpose. I will never forget his loud sobs as he curled up beside my defeated body, determined not to leave my side and trying so hard to give the 9-1-1 operator the right information.

"It's okay Cole," I said gently. "You don't have to worry. You're the only man in my life."

He cracked a smile and sat up a bit straighter. Tibby began to play with the strap of my sandal.

"You're the most beautifulest mommy in the world," she said. Her large eyes looked up at me and I couldn't help but bend down and scoop her up. Her hands, sticky like I had anticipated, pressed against the back of my neck. Just as I kissed her forehead, the doorbell rang.

"Auntie Bee!" Tibby cried happily.

Sure enough, leaning against the doorway and studying her ridiculously long nails was my best friend Beatrice "Bee" Ellis. She whistled when she saw me.

"Damn girl, you mean business, dont'cha?"

I glanced behind me to see Cole watching me, that same worried expression back on his face. I shook my head.

"Just lunch," I repeated.

"And for dessert?"

I loved Bee dearly, she had been my first friend when I had moved to Sandusky with Tibby and Cole. Tibby had only been about three months old; Cole had been two weeks shy of nine. We clicked right away and she had offered to watch the kids for free while I went on numerous job interviews. She was quirky, kinda flighty, cussed like a sailor, but had a heart of gold that made me overlook all her flaws. Well, almost all of them.

"Really?" I whispered. "In front of the ids-kay."

Bee rolled her eyes but had the decency to look sorry. She took Tibby from me.

"Damn little one, what's mommy been feeding you?"

"S'mores!"

"That explains it," Bee grinned. She nodded towards to door. "Go."

"I appreciate this," I said. She lifted her hand and waved it. "You're doing me a favor. Mikael is driving me nuts chisling ice blocks. It's friggin' summer and he's practicing for winter. Remind me why I married an artist?"

"Artiste," I teased. "And it's because he's a great guy and he worships the ground you walk on."

Bee glowed. "True. Now get outta here. You'll be late."

A look at my watch told me she was right. I swooped in and kissed Tibby and turned to Cole. I hugged him tightly.

"Don't worry, sweetheart," I said. "Just lunch."

"That's all."
Of Wishes and Wine by evergreenwriter83
Of Wishes and Wine

"You look beautiful."

"Thank you."

A tuxedo'd waiter held the door of Zinc Brasserie open to us. Brian was dressed in a white suit that made my mouth dry. His dark shirt and elegantly patterned tie completed an essemble that made him look like a million bucks.

Then I remembered he was actually worth a million bucks. Or more. My nerves started to ache and that annoying armpit sweat began in earnest.

"After you," he said, grinning that boyish grin that made him look sixteen again. His hand just barely brushed the small of my back as I walked past him, causing me to bristle. It had been a long time since I had let a man get that close to me and it set me even more on edge.

"This is lovely," I murmured, trying to dig my thoughts out from their downward spiral. He had wanted to pick me up, but I had insisted on driving my own car. I always needed a quick getaway and I had hoped he understood. He didn't seem to be insulted.

Small, intimate dark wood tables doted the interior of the restaurant. A small, brick fireplace was a lovely focal point of the room, as was a dark wood bar. Brian, ignoring the waiter's look of annoyance, pulled out a chair.

"Ma'lady," he said, giving me a half-bow.

"Thank you," I said, feeling like my vocabulary had been slashed dramatically. I sat down and he pushed me gently in. He took his own seat across from me and let the waiter flourish menus in front of us.

"Wine?" the gentleman asked. He gave Brian a smaller menu, but he didn't even glance at it.

"A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, Robert Mondavi please," he said with the confidence of a well-traveled, seasoned connoisseur.

"As you wish," the waiter said, the smile on his face getting wider. I could only imagine how much a bottle cost that would make someone smile that big. It was probably, sadly, more than my car payment.

"So," Brian said almost breathlessly the moment the waiter stepped away. "I never thought I'd see you again, Jilly Bean."

It was ridiculous. Here we were, sitting in the best restaurant in Sandusky, and I was still being compared to an Easter treat. I glanced down at the table, fighting to refrain tracing the wood grain. Tears prickled my eyes.

"You've been a little busy," I said, forcing my tone into lightness. I chanced a glance at him.

He. Smelled. So. Good.

"You've followed?"

"I've gotten the jist."

He fidgeted slightly and I felt a foolish sense of retribution. It wasn't just his fault, Jill, my subconscious reminded me.

"When did you move to Sandusky?" he asked, trying to find firmer ground.

"About five years ago," I said.

"Do you like it here?"

I cracked a smile. "It's got its perks."

"Are you a stay at home mom?"

I almost snorted. As if. "No, I'm a dentist."

The look of surprise on his face was amusing. "But you wanted to be a veternarian."

"I traded dog breath for human's," I said.

He laughed and it was a sound so foreign, yet so familiar, that I almost let myself relax. Almost.

"Your wine."

Two beautiful goblets were set down before us and an even more enticing stream of red wine filled the glass.

"Thank you," we said simultaneously. We both took a sip and I let the taste invade my mouth. I had never tasted wine so good.

"I can't believe you're a mom to an almost teenager," Brian jumped back in. He glanced at my bare left hand. "His dad--"

"Cole's dad died in Afghanistan when he was four," I said.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Brian murmured. "I hate all the lives that were lost because of 9-11. Nobody wins in war, but especially not the families of those fighting to protect us.'

A wash of sadness blanketed me. I took another sip of wine. "Paul was a good man."

"Where did you meet?" Brian asked quietly.

"College," I said. "He joined the Peace Corps to get money to help with the school loans and then 9-11 hit and..." I trailed off. "He was called away when Coley was two and we only saw him once more before..." I couldn't finish the sentence.

"Jilly, I'm so sorry." Brian's hand snaked across the table, but I busied myself with my napkin.

"Well," Brian smiled, trying to change the direction the conversation had taken. "Your Tibby is so adorable." I suddenly itched to down the entire glass in front of me, anticipating what was coming. "Her daddy must be putty in her hands."

Instead of grabbing for the glass, I held up the menu. "So what's good here?"

He didn't answer right away. I couldn't see his face but I knew I couldn't look him in the eye. I held my breath.

"I thought we'd start with a cheese plate," Brian said softly. Gently. Concerned. "The filet trio is delicious. I keep coming back because of the red wine sauce and the truffle potato puree."

"More red wine?" I mused. "If I wasn't mistaken, I'd think you were planning on taking advantage of me."

The flirtacious innuendo just floated out of my mouth. I blushed furiously and slowly chanced a peek at him.

Big mistake. His eyes sparkled.

"I'm a perfect gentlemen."

"A perfect gentlemen? If I remember correctly, you weren't very gentlemanly in your parents' hot tub."

Brian tilted his head back and laugh. "Can you blame a guy for trying?"

"You succeeded."

"Can you blame a guy for succeeding?"

I bit my lip and just shook my head. Life was so much simpler back then. The world seemed to revolve only around the two of us. I ran my fingernail along the rim of the goblet.

"Your son looks just like you," I said, changing the subject once more, but changing it to a safer subject. At least for me. Brian lifted the glass to his lips and took a rather long drink.

"He acts just like me too," he said, smirking. I smiled.

"Lord help us all. He must give his mom a run for his money."

The smirk died. "You could say that."

A fading white band of skin still lingered on his hand. I didn't reply, waiting for him to continue if he wanted.

"We separated in January. Divorce was final about six months ago."

"I'm sorry."

"Me too," he said. Before I realized his intent, he reached over and took my hand.

"I'm sorry I let you get away."
Tell Me That I'm Dreaming by evergreenwriter83
Tell Me That I'm Dreaming

How many years had I gone to sleep dreaming I'd wake up and he'd be there, saying those exact words? How many times did I pass a magazine stand in the early days and think, Maybe he'll remember me someday. How many hours did he consume my thoughts even though he hadn't really been there?

And now, now here he was really saying the words.

"I can't talk about this," I choked. His eyes, those damnable eyes of his, widened.

"Jilly--"

"I'm not a bean. Not now, not ever." My chest was beginning to heave. I had never had a panic attack in my life, but so help me God --

"Hey," he placed his hand on mine and I was so busy thinking about my imminent death that I didn't pull it away. "It's okay. I'm sorry. It's just I thought this might be my only chance to make things right."

Make things right. Could he make things right? Unless he was a time traveler and rewind almost two decades, I wasn't so sure.

"Would you like to order?"

Our waiter must have gone to the same school as those guards that stand outside Buckingham Palace, because he was doing a damn good job of ignoring the heavy cloud of tension that oppressed the air. His gaze was glued to the spare menu he was holding.

"Please stay," Brian whispered. I blinked slowly, my eyelids feeling like they weighed a ton. Had I thought about getting up and leaving? Should I?

"I'll have the filet trio," I croaked.

"Make mine the same," Brian said. He held up his menu. I feebly mimicked his movement.

Silence stretched between us as the waiter headed back to the kitchens. My thighs felt sticky with sweat and I regretted the itchy lace underwear I had picked out rather than my tried-and-true cotton boyshorts.

"Tell me I'm dreaming," I begged. The words bubbled up so suddenly that I didn't have time to process the meaning. Understandably, Brian's face twisted in confusion.

"What do you mean?" he asked slowly.

I stared down at the table. What did I mean? I lifted my shoulders into a pathetic shrug. From beneath my lowered lids, I saw Brian take another sip of wine. His white linen napkin floated to the table.

"Come on," he said. His hand shot into my peripheral.

"Where?" I asked. I lifted my head and watched his hand wave in the direction of mine.

"Just dance with me," he said. "Please," he added.

Dancing. Dancing was less awkward than talking at the moment. It was the lesser of two evils. Slowly, I put my hand in his and stood up.

It was surreal to be dancing in an empty restaurant, a restaurant that had opened only because one of its wealthiest customers had made a request. More surreal still was to be dancing with the boy who had stolen my heart, among other things, so long ago.

The music piped in over the speakers was a lovely orchestral piece. We made our own time to the music, a normal slow sway that didn't require bodies pressed together. Our eyes locked and I was transported. I could practically smell the lingering smoke of the bonfire that had shot clear to the sky the night before Senior Homecoming. The hands that were placed firmly and stationary on my back suddenly became warm, roaming hands, feeling me up underneath the blanket we shared.

"That was a good night," Brian whispered and I jumped.

"How do you know what I was thinking about?" I demanded.

"The look in your eyes," he said with an innocent shrug. He tugged me slightly and suddenly we were dancing much closer. Much more intimately. He let out a soft breath that smelled inticingly of the delicious wine that still tingled my tastebuds. He brushed a curl from my cheek.

"I've always been a sucker for a beautiful brunette," he said. We moved in a graceful circle, for once my two feet not tripping over each other. Even so, I tensed.

"That's why you've spent almost two decades with blondes on your arm?" I asked, my voice stripping back the curtain to the pain. His blue eyes darkened.

"There's more to the story," he said.

But did I want to know? That was the big question. What would it change?

"Management thought I looked best with blondes. They invented the backstory for Sam and I and then when that didn't work, Leighanne showed up..." he trailed off.

"Oh, well now that you've explained it, that makes everything all better," I said, the bitterness evident. I broke our dance hold, turning my body in the direction of the door. He took hold of my elbow, not forcefully, but with need.

"Please Jil-Jill," he stopped himself from adding the 'ly.'

I didn't know what to say. How could he understand? I had given him my heart, body, and soul, only to get trampled on the day his damn cousin called him. That phone call changed everything.

"The Brian I loved had a backbone," I said. "It was nice to see you, but--"

"I know I fucked up." The sound of the curse coming out of his mouth did things to me that I can't even describe. He hit his thigh. "I can't say or do anything to take what I did back," he said. "But then again you didn't seem to care at the time."

"I couldn't make you stay," I whispered.

"You didn't try."

A large tear dripped down my cheek. I had made a promise that no man would ever make me cry again. Not after...

"You meant the world to me," I whispered.

His eyes grew moist. "I came to see you before I married her," he said. I felt myself pale. "I wanted to see you, but your parents said you were away at school and I didn't have enough time," he let go of my elbow and ran his fingers along his stubble. "Jilly, if you had been there, you've got to believe me, I would have--"

"You don't know that," I argued. He took a step forward and took my hands.

"I know I still love you."

I shook my head. "I'm not the same person I was back then. You don't know me. I've...changed."

"Someone hurt you," he said. "besides me, I mean. I see it in your eyes. I hear it in your voice." He pulled me into an embrace that I didn't, couldn't, fight.

"Let me make things right."

I squeezed my eyes shut. This wasn't how I thought lunch was going to go. Things escalated too quickly.

"Tell me I'm dreaming."

His lips pressed into my hair.

"If you are, then I am too," he said.

"So let's not wake up, okay?"
Whatever It Is by evergreenwriter83
Whatever It Is

"I'm still living in Atlanta. I didn't want to be far from Baylee and it's become home over the years. I travel all the time though, so it's probably better to say it's just where I hang my hat."

The filet trio in front of me was gone. The candles were burning down, the wax dripping and drying in intricate waves. My taste buds were tingling and I had to refrain from licking the plate. Only a drop of wine was left in the bottle. My stomach was full and I was feeling warm and relaxed for the first time in ages. I laughed.

"Hats can make you go bald, y'know."

Brian blanched, but quickly turned it into a smile. "I'm doing fine on the route to baldness all by myself, dont'cha think?"

"It's longer than it was in high school."

"It has to be for the comb over."

We both burst into laughter. Brian wadded up his white linen napkin and leaned over the table towards me.

"I want to see you again."

My defenses flared back up. "It's been really nice catching back up, but--"

"Please?"

"That's not going to work this time."

He leaned closer. "Mama always said you kill more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."

My mouth went dry. "It wasn't flies you were killing the last time."

"No, it wasn't."

We stared at each other. His hand snaked over to take mine. The years had been too damn good to him. He was beginning to look a little like Patrick Swayze, my childhood crush. Even today I loved watching Dirty Dancing and Roadhouse to see that man move and smile. Brian cleared his throat and my mind left the watermelon scene between Baby and Johnny that was beginning to play in my mind. "I know they say you can't go back, but I'd like to."

The relaxation was gone. The ball of tension that seemed to hold reign between my shoulders formed again quickly. "I appreciate the sentiment, but...I'm just not a relationship-type girl anymore. My children are my top priority."

His eyes saddened. "Children grow up and make their own lives. We did, didn't we? So where does that leave you when that happens? Adults need adult companionship."

"You should have been on the debate team in high school. If theatre hadn't taken up so much of your time then--"

"Don't change the subject Jilly. You're notorious for doing that. I always had the hardest time knowing exactly how you were feeling."

I pulled my hand back. "That's not true."

"It is."

"Is not."

"Is. You should have ripped my throat out for telling you I couldn't be tied down and focus on my career and then turned around and had Samantha on my arm. Instead you just ignored my phone calls."

Just the name made me want to regurgitate my meal. "Didn't you take the hint? Being ignored should have told you exactly how I was feeling."

"I figured you just didn't care."

"Don't."

He sat back, confused. "Don't what?"

"Just...don't."

"Okay," he said. "We won't go there. Would you like some desert?"

I shook my head. It was almost three. Had lunch really lasted that long? Where had the time gone? "I've got to get home. I have a lot to get the kids and me ready for the week."

We both stood at the same time. Brian stood there looking uncharacteristically awkward.

"Jill, you called me. I'd like to believe that means --"

"I'm sorry," I said. I rooted around and dug out my keys from the bottom of my purse. Why do keys always seem to do that? "I wish you all the b--"

My well wishes were caught off as he wrapped me in my arms and presses his lips to mine. My fingers wrapped around his tie. He cupped my chin and I could feel the desperation and hope that I wouldn't pull away radiating through his fingers. And, just like the night when he had first taught me how to make an inside s'more and marshmallow dripped onto the burners of mom's new stove at the new house, his kiss (this time definitely not as clumsy as the first) made my knees weak. "I want to see you again," he said breathlessly, even before I had a chance to open my eyes. My heart constricted and I wanted to acquiescence, but I had been hurt enough by men, including the one standing in front of me whose lips tasted better than the wine in the bottle. I slowly opened my eyes. His tie was askew and the tail of his shirt had come untucked on his right side. How the hell he could look harmless and trouble all at once, I didn't know.

"I need some time to think," I said, choking on my words. Where was the 'no'?

He nodded and gave me a slow, sweet smile. "You have my number. I'll play by your rules."

"Oh really?" I put my hands on my hips. "Then what the hell was that kiss?"

He stepped back up to me and for a second I thought I was in for a repeat performance. Instead, he leaned over and opened the front door for me.

"That," he said, his hand brushing the small of my back as I turned and stepped out into the sunshine. "was almost twenty years overdue. You gotta admit it, Jilly Bean. You felt it too."

His torso hovered out of the restaurant doorway; his eyes sparkled impishly. I shook my head. "Felt what?"

"We've got it," he stressed. "You know what I mean."

"What is it?" I said, figuring responding to a question with a question was the best course of action. My knee-weakening was getting worse. Brian shrugged.

"You know," he repeated. His finger lifted and he brushed his bottom lip slowly, the lip that had been against mine just a moment ago. "All I'll say," he began to muse. "is that whatever it is," he paused. "blows me away."

Oh. "I have no idea what you mean," I said quickly. "You rock stars smoke too much wacky weed."

Bri's mouth dropped open, but before he could come up with a response, I seized the opportunity. I turned around and headed towards my car, the sun massaging my back. Out of the corner of my eye I could see he was still watching me. I closed the car door and put my keys in the ignition. It was only after I pulled out of the space and pointed the car in the direction of home that I banged the steering wheel and rolled my eyes up to the sky.

Unfortunately, even though I didn't want to...

I knew exactly what he (and the mysterious 'it') meant.
Home Sweet Home by evergreenwriter83
Home Sweet Home

"Okay spill," Bee said the moment I walked through the door. "How was it?"

"Where's the kids?" I asked, looking around. It was too quiet.

"Outside," she replied, waving her hand as if that was the least of her concerns. She plopped down on the couch. "Dish."

"The food was good," I said. I took a step towards the kitchen.

"Oh hell no," she said. "I didn't babysit just to hear about some creme brulee. What happened?"

I felt the rush of blood invade my cheeks. I could still feel the phantom of the kiss on my lips. "We just caught up."

"Uh-huh," Bee said in a way that made me feel as if I was covering up for some X-rated foray.

"We did!" I cried. I sank into the recliner across from her. "We talked about high school and about our families. We danced."

"Danced?" she repeated, leaning forward. "Now that's what I wanted to hear." She sashayed in her seat. "A little bump n' grind?"

I sighed. "It wasn't like that."

Obviously seeing the stress creased in my forehead, she held up her hands. "Okay," she relented. "Then what was it like?"

Those eyes. Those hands that used to be so clumsy and clueless, not so inexperienced now. I sank down low in the chair.

"He kissed me," I muttered.

"Oooooh!" Bee let out a little girlish giggle. I watched her odd-shaped earrings shimmy, smacking her against the face. She leaned towards me, totally absorbed. "How was it?"

"My life isn't like one of your hubby's risque paintings," I scowled. She continued to grin at me. I closed my eyes. "Amazing. I used to think he was the best kisser ever, but he's...improved." I fought my smile and lost. "Damnit, it was good."

I could tell by her body language that she took pride in finally cracking the admission out of me. "So then how come you're back so early?"

My smile dropped. "I---" I stared down at the carpet. Hoover had been drooling again. A large, dark stain stretched out before me. I was going to have to find time to get the carpet cleaner out tonight and listen to a half hour of loud howling while I removed the offending spot. "I got scared," I mumbled.

"Scared of what?" Bee asked dumbfounded.

I pulled my gaze from the stain and stared out the window. "He wants more than I can give him," I said exasperated. I knew she wasn't going to be able to understand.

Sure enough, a quick glance up caught her rolling her eyes at me. "What's to give? The guy's loaded. What he wants," she paused, taking in my outfit. "You've got."

"Wow," I said dryly, full on meeting her eyes. "If that doesn't make me feel like a cheap prostitute, I don't know what does."

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "It's just that I don't know what you think is wrong with you."

I snorted. Where did I begin? "Bee, I've got two kids, a big crazy dog, and enough baggage to last me a lifetime."

"So? Everyone has baggage."

I stood up, effectively beginning to shut the door on the conversation. "You know what kind of baggage I'm talking about."

Her goofy expression disappeared under a cloud of 100% seriousness. "You can't let him ruin your life forever. That's what he'd want. The bastard--"

"I made a promise a long time ago that my kids were my life and that I would NEVER let a man ruin my life again. Brian Littrell broke my heart once. Sure, it wasn't the worst end to a relationship that I've had by far, but I'm not doing anything to complicate Cole and Tibby's lives. Cole's lived through enough of that," I said, interrupting her. I didn't want to think too much about him. Not now. Not ever.

"Kids grow up. You're still young."

"If the kids leave, I guess I'll just take up Bingo," I said stubbornly. "Speaking of kids, when are you finally going to have some so I can start spoiling them as much as you spoil my two?"

Ah-ha! That was the perfect thing to say to turn the tables. Bee's face turned scarlet. She picked at the hem of her brown Bohemian vest.

"March."

"March?! Really?"

My excitement couldn't hide her own. She broke into a full-on grin. "Yeah, the sonofabitch finally knocked me up."

The squeal that I let out impressed even me. I raced at her, practically crushing her shoulders.

"HEY!"

"Collleeee-y, mommy's back and crunchin' Auntie Bee! Come look!"

I took a step back and Bee and I both began to laugh. Tibby put her hands on her hips and gave us her most serious 'adult' look. "You two behave now, okay?"

"Oh, what I have to look forward to," Bee said.

"Did you hear me?" Tibby said. "You two--"

"We're behaving," I said. "Are you?"

"Yup!"

Even at a distance, I could see she was filthy. Her latest hobby was making mudpies. She loved convincing Cole to turn the hose on a small patch of the garden only to sit there and stock up her imaginary bakery with oozing 'chocolate' confections.

"You're dirty."

"Nu-uh."

"Take your clothes off and I'll go start you a bath," I said. I slipped off my heels. Tibby's eyes widened.

"I don't want to run all nudey around the house!" she exclaimed.

"You did when you were smaller," I said, smiling at the memory of my little exhibitionist.

"Well I was stupid then," she argued.

"You're still stupid," Cole said, bursting through the backdoor. He tugged on her ponytail affectionately and then stopped. He appraised me warily.

"Hey buddy," I said. "What were you up to?"

"He's not here is he?" he asked, ignoring my question. He folded his arms and I could tell he was arching in his sneakers to look taller.

"It's just your mom and me hanging out," Bee answered. She held out her hand. "Where's my payment?"

"Payment?" I asked. Tibby giggled as she dropped to the floor. She began to wrestle with her sneaker.

"Auntie Bee and Coley played pooter!" she announced.

"Poker," Cole said, scowling.

"Poker?" I repeated. "Bee--"

"A little gambling never hurt no one," she said.

"Only addicts," I mumbled. She held out her hand. "Pay up, C-man."

Cole turned and headed back outside. A second later, he returned with a birdhouse in his hands. It was the same one that I had spied in Bee's backseat when I had left. Bee clapped her hands.

"Best damn paint job I've ever seen," she declared. Cole grinned.

"What do you think mom?"

My eyes took in the beautiful brilliant blue paint that covered the raw wood.

"Mom?"

"It's great," I said, smiling, but at the same time feeling that weird sensation that only bubbled up whenever I reminisced (which was happening all too often lately). "In fact," I walked over and examined the paint job more closely. "This reminds me of the color of my high school football team's uniforms."

Which also reminded me of my time spent behind the bleachers, but that was part of the story that Bee and the kids were never going to hear.
Under the Bleachers by evergreenwriter83
Under the Bleachers

- 1992 -

"And the home of the...braaaavvvvve..."

I pulled Brian's varsity jacket closer, not because of the cold, but because it smelled like him and clapped like crazy. Even from my viewpoint on the bleachers I could see Brian's ear-to-ear grin. He waved at the crowd and blew a kiss in my direction.

It was the first home game of the season. We were Seniors.

And I was in love.

Most of the kids around me were still strangers, but I didn't care. The Summer had been magical. Since that first kiss in the kitchen when we had made our stove s'mores, Bri and I had been inseparable. My mom liked him. My dad tolerated him. Life couldn't get any better.

"Booga-booga!"

Brian's hand tickled my waist and I shrieked. I had successfully zoned out. The team was already playing on the field and Bri had managed to sneak up behind me. I whirled around and threw my arms around my neck.

"You scared me!" I pouted for a second before breaking into a smile. "You were terrific."

"Scary and terrific," he said, tilting his head back. "I like it."

"I like you," I said softly.

"Just like?" he whined. I blushed. His smile grew wider. "C'mon."

"Where are we going?"

He laughed. "You'll see."

He tugged at my hand and I went with him without a second thought. The smell of popcorn hung heavy in the air. The band members were shifting uncomfortably in their section, dying under the weight of their hats and the metal instruments they held in their hands. A couple girls from my homeroom waved at me and I waved back. Bri yanked me on faster.

"What are you--"

We hit the bottom step of the main section of the bleachers and took the steps back down to the ground. Instead of heading right to the concession stand, he hooked a quick left. Before I could speak again, he brought his finger to his lips. I clamped my own shut.

It was like I had stepped into a spy thriller. Brian surveyed the area intently, his grip tightening on my hand. Finally, he gave an almost imperceptible nod. The next section, he was ducking under the bleachers, bringing me along for the ride.

I had never been under bleachers in my life, but my first thought was that it was dark. Voices were loud all around us, but muted. We stood there for at least a full minute if not longer until finally my eyes began to adjust. The first thing I noticed was a blanket laying on the ground as if it had been waiting for us.

"I think the game might be funner to watch here," Bri said softly. His tone made my stomach flutter.

"Hmm," I said, hoping my voice wouldn't come out a serious of Chipette squeaks. "Difficult view."

"I like the view," he said quickly.

I pulled my hand from his and put my hands on my hips. "Now Brian Littrell," I said, trying to adopt the thicker southern accent that everyone, included him, carried. "What would your mama think?"

"It's not my mama I'm worried about," he said. I could see how shiny with excitement his eyes were. He made the sign of the cross. "I'm gonna haveta go to confession for this."

I frowned. "Wha--"

Before I had a chance to get more details, his arms were around me and we went toppling backwards. The blanket didn't provide the softest of falls, but all was forgiven when he began to kiss me. He pressed his hands, palms down, on either side of my face. I eagerly tipped my head back, loving the way our tongues touched and playfully dueled. His breath always smelled like spearmint mouthwash and Fruit-by-the-foot. The combination was surely make any dentist pull his hair out, but to me it was the best flavor in the world. I reached out and grabbed his tie, my fingers sliding over the smooth silk easily. His lips left mine and trailed down to the sensitive spot directly below my ear.

"You look really good in my jacket," he whispered, the tone of his voice stirring something in me I hadn't felt before. His right hand slid along my arm, to my shoulder, and then down. My breath caught as he palmed my breast through the jacket and my shirt.

"B-Bri," I stuttered.

He ran a line of soft kisses back across my cheeks and back to my lips. My hand left his tie and rested on his upper arm and his kiss slowed. His face hovered over mine. "I love you, Jilly," he said. Even though his face was slightly shadowed, I saw the seriousness there. My heart rate was going insane.

"I love you, too."

His body hovered over mine and his mouth crashed against mine in a way that it never had before. My breasts suddenly felt lonely as his hands left them, only to have the jacket pulled open a second later and those strong, wandering fingers to find their way under my shirt. His fingertips brushed the edge of my underwire bra and I couldn't restrain my body from wiggling.

It was suddenly like I had the angel and devil on my shoulders. The angel was perched on my left, shaking her head, her halo bobbing slightly. She was telling me calmly that if he loved me we should wait. And then there was the devil. The nymph was swinging the varsity jacket over her head clad only in her bra. She was reminding me of all the steamy daydreams I had been losing myself in lately in which I found myself obsessed on what it would be like if we were to go just a little farther. Maybe not the whole way, but...

Even though it was a fairly decent night weather-wise, I wasn't prepared for the feel of air on my bared breasts. Brian's groaned sent all my nerve-endings on edge. His mouth went from my lips to my chest in a flash. The foreign feeling was entirely too pleasant.

"Ohh!" I gasped. My hands connected with his hair and my fingers connected with the gel that was keeping everything in place. I sucked in my bottom lip, relishing in the feeling of laying on this blanket with the best guy in the world and having my body caressed like I had never thought possible. It was amazing. It was perfect. It was--

"Hey, you two!"

A flashlight lit up the area like the 4th of July. Brian bore the brunt of our discovery, purposely shielding me.

"You two can't be under here!"

I could tell by the semi-embarrassed voice that it was just one of the dopey volunteers that walked around during games. I prayed it wasn't the creepy janitor who all the girls claimed leered at them as they walked in and out of the second floor bathroom by the science rooms.

"Sorry," Brian said, not sounding very sorry. The light faded, but the damage was done. He sat back and I quickly fixed myself, my skin still alive. I tucked my legs under myself. We sat in silence, our breaths heavy in the night.

"That didn't end the way I planned," he said.

I was just about ready to agree with him when he yanked me up to my feet. He pulled me in towards him and kissed me hard. It was the first time I felt just how much he had been enjoying our tryst. The thought that I had this effect on him made my feminine pride skyrocket.

"How about another try soon?" he asked when we finally broke apart. I knew it had taken him a lot of self restraint.

"Yes," I whispered.

"Yes."
You Don't Know Your Beautiful by evergreenwriter83
You Don't Know Your Beautiful

Baby you light up the world like nobody else
The way you flip your hair gets me overwhelmed


"Tibby, c'mon! I wanna change the channel!"

But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell
You don't know, oh oh! You don't know your beautiful


Tibby was standing in front of the TV, wearing her new school clothes but stubbornly barefoot. She was singing along at the top of her lungs, but stopped suddenly to land a big kiss to the young boy on the screen.

"Gross!" Cole declared.

"Niall's not gross!" Tibby yelled. She practically hugged the TV.

My daughter, the world's biggest One Direction fan.

"Honey, you can do so much better than someone in a boy band," I said. I was exhausted. It was almost time to put the kids to bed and I couldn't wait to fall asleep on the couch with a wine cooler. Tibby turned around, looking crestfallen.

"But why?"

I sighed. "Because guys like that will only break your heart," I said gently. "It's time to get in your jammies." Cole snickered. "Both of you," I added.

"Mom, that's not fair!"

"Life's not fair. The first day of school's tomorrow and I don't need your teachers dealing with you two zombies."

"Bwaaaahhh," Tibby said. She stuck her arms straight out and lumbered toward me. I caught her in my arms as she erupted into a peal of giggles.

"C'mon," I said, scooping her up over my shoulder. I looked at Cole and he reluctantly got up.

"Are you gonna read me another chapter of Prisoner of Azkaban?" he asked. For a brief second I saw the sweet baby face of pure innocence.

"Hmm, where were we?" I said.

"How could you forget? It's the part where Hermione and Harry go after Ron after he was dragged into the Whomping Willow!"

I laughed. "Oh yeah, that's a good part. Tell you what. We'll do two chapters tonight. Sound good?"

Cole grinned. "Sweet."

We split up at the bathroom. He went in to brush his teeth and I carried Tibby into her bedroom. She landed on the bed and gave me a sleepy smile.

"I like my clothes, mommy," she said. Her little fingers ran over her dark blue skirt.

"You're going to love school. You're going to make so many friends and go on field trips and--"

"Will you miss me?"

The look of worry on her face twisted my heart. "Of course, I will!" I assured her. "I always miss you when I'm away from you."

"Did you miss me when you went to lunch today?"

I pulled some pajama bottoms from her dresser. My heart sped up at the mention of the lunch. "Yes, I did."

"Coley said you met with that man from Wal-mart with the cool shoes."

I paused a moment before turning around. I reached for her skirt and swapped out the pretty pleated garment with soft CareBears bottoms that had been extremely well loved. "Yes, I did have lunch with the guy with the cool shoes."

Tibby's eyes were glued to me, but I didn't meet her gaze straight on. She lifted her arms so I could swap out her white blouse with a soft pink t-shirt. "Is he my daddy?" she asked quietly. Hopefully.

"Oh, baby," I sank down on her bed. I stretched out on my back and she turned so she was laying right beside me, her face still tilted so she could look at me. I felt the rush of tears. "No, he's not your daddy."

My little girl's eyes grew sad and portrayed emotions far older than her five years. "Why doesn't my daddy like me?"

She had never spoken the words aloud and I had never wanted to go down the road. It would figure that my first meeting with a man, even a man that was ONLY an old friend, would open the floodgates of questions and fears. I wrapped her in a bear hug, the closest I could come to putting her in a cocoon.

"Your daddy had a sickness in here," I said, tapping my head. "But you have so many people that love you, Tibs."

"But what about the other kids?" Her breath grew warm against my arm.

"At school?" Her little head nodded.

"There's going to be other little boys and girls that have families just like you," I said. "You like your family, don't you?"

She pulled away from me and a tiny little smile formed on her face as if I had just said the silliest thing. "Mommy, I love you and Coley and Auntie Bee and Hoover and Wal-mart. Duh."

I laughed. Some psychologist somewhere would be cringing at the thought of Wal-mart being an extended part of the family. I really did need to find someplace else to shop every now and then. I slid off the bed and held out her covers. Tibby quickly slid under, her smile growing wider as I tucked her in tightly like a mummy. I pressed a kiss to her forehead and she wormed her arm out to loop it around my neck.

"You're the prettiest and bestest mommy ever," she said.

I shook my head. "No, but you're the bestest daughter any mommy could have," I whispered. She tapped her little finger on my nose and yawned.

"Silly mommy..."

"You don't know your beautiful." I laughed. "Silly girl. No more boy bands."

Tibby just smiled. I leaned over and clicked off the light, waiting for just a minute before getting up and stepping into the hall. I left the door open just a crack.

Even though Cole was waiting for me, I didn't head to his room right away. I sank down on the floor. My heart hurt. Not for myself, but for my little girl. I knew that I'd be bombarded with more and more questions the older Tibby got. The problem was, I didn't know how to, or even if I should, tell her the truth. As sad as she was that she had never met her dad, how could I tell her that I hated him more than any other human being in the world?

"Mom?"

I looked up. Cole stood in the doorway, frowning and looking slightly scared. The last time he had seen me crumpled on the floor had been that night.

That horrible, horrible night.
Song for the Unloved by evergreenwriter83
Song for the Unloved

- 2007 -

"Shhh, shhh, it's okay."

Tabitha's tiny little face was dark red. Her mouth was a cavernous black hole except for the pink tongue that was glued to the roof of her mouth as she screamed at the top of her lungs. I had tightly swaddled her but her strength, even at such a young age, was allowing her to break free. A tiny fist shot up into the sky. I held her tighter to my chest, my heart pounding. I knew if she didn't fall asleep soon that it wasn't going to be good.

Not good at all.

Cole was asleep in the next room, not that I knew how he could sleep through this. Of course, I sometimes thought he could sleep through a tornado and wake up oblivious.

"Waaa-aaaahhhhhh!"

The crook of my arm was beginning to sweat profusely, a combination of trying to hold her tight and the blanket rubbing back and forth against the skin. It had been so much different when Cole was born. Paul had been so a huge help, always at my side and offering to take those horrible middle-of-the-night feedings. My mom and his were daily visitors. But this time...this time was hell. I was alone in this. So alone. Except, I wasn't. He was home. The bang of the screen door announced him.

"JILLIAN! SHUT THAT KID UP!"

I rocked Tabitha faster, hoping that the motion might make her dizzy enough to quiet down. It was a horrible plan of action, but I was desperate.

She just screamed louder. His footsteps sounded like lead weights as he came down the hall. Resigned, I put the inconsolable infant in her crib.

"Did you hear me?" he snapped. "I said shut the kid up."

I turned. He stood in the doorway, his shoulders filling the width of the frame. His eyes were red and wild, the blood vessels completely broken. He took a step inside the nursery.

"NO!" I shouted, my maternal instinct at an all time high. I had seen what he had done with her the last time she had screamed. I would never risk her life like that again.

"Oh, we're going to play this game?" he growled. I gasped as he reached out and grabbed the front of my t-shirt, practically lifting me off the ground.

"Please," I begged. "Don't do this."

The begging made him happy. He smiled as he threw my body against the opposite wall. I hit it hard, the wind knocked out of me and fell on my ass, the thin carpeting not doing much to shield the blow.

"I'm getting sick and fucking tired of you and your piss-pants son and this," he thrust his large thumb over his shoulder. "You're the shittiest mother I've ever seen. Goddamnit, why didn't you have an abortion like I said? I'm SO TIRED OF THIS! SHUT UP!!!!!"

He grabbed at his hair and spun around. Tabitha's screams had risen to a level that seemed positively inhuman. I was sure her tiny body was going to crack in two. His upper body lunged down and I knew he was going to hit her. I threw my body across the floor and tackled his knees.

The moment he tumbled backwards, I knew I was dead.

"YOU WHORE!" he screamed. He grabbed a fistful of my hair and pinned me down with his body. His anger was palpable as he shook me roughly for just a few seconds before he slamming my head into the ground. The first blow took the rest of the air from my lungs. The second had me seeing stars. My arms flew in the air helplessly, unable to get a grip on him to even stop.

The third blow felt like my skull had cracked in two. My mouth opened, but I couldn't even hear my own screams.

It was then that I left my body. I was just a spectator in the whole scene. I was screaming, but the rest of me was jelly. As he pulled me by my hair down the hall, my legs only bounced along weakly. Even as he threw open the drawer in the kitchen that held the cutlery, my body wouldn't fight. I had spent my whole pregnancy fighting, predicting the life growing in my belly at all costs, hiding the bruises from the world. I was tired of the fight. I couldn't do it anymore. My eyes were deadened even as the sharp knife caught the kitchen light before he sent it sailing down. My ears began to lose sense of all sounds.

The last thing I thought I heard was a siren. I was cold, so cold. How could it be that I was sweating just minutes ago. Was it just minutes ago?

"It's okay mommy. It's okay mommy. Wake up, please."

Cole! I felt his hand on my cheek. It felt like fire. I was looking down at me, bloodied and shivering. He was curling himself up next to me. Were those his tears that I felt? Was I still feeling?

"Mommy, I love you. I'll hold your hand. Mommy?"

Exhaustion rained down on me. I hadn't slept in days. I just needed to close my eyes. The edges of the room were darkening anyway. Just sleep...

"Help my mommy. Are you going to help her? Gregg hurt her. I hate him. He ran away. Make him stay away, okay?"

"Okay?"

"Okay?



- 2012 -

"No, please, God," I gasped. I was sitting up in bed, surrounded by darkness. My sheets were soaked in sweat. Tears streamed down my cheeks.

It was just a nightmare this time. It had happened years ago. We were safe. Weren't we?

I swung myself out of bed, padding down the hallway quickly. The first thing I did was open Cole's door. He had kicked off the covers. His flashlight was still on, but he was fast asleep. He must have continued reading Prisoner of Azkaban after I had tucked him in. I went in, turned off the light and slowly slid the book from his embrace. I kissed his forehead and took solace in the small smile that fell across his lips.

He was okay. My hero was okay.

Still unable to shake the fear, I headed across the hall. Tibby was sleeping with her upper torso completely off the bed, pointing towards the ground. Her mouth was hanging open; she was snoring quietly. I slowly slid her whole body back on the bed and kissed her cheek. It was only after I watched her breathe that my knees gave out. I sank down beside her bed and clasped my hands together in prayer, thanking God for keeping me on Earth to take care of both of my kids.

I had screwed up love too many times. Cole and Tibby were my life.

Nothing and nobody else was going to be allowed in.
Unexpected Delivery by evergreenwriter83
Unexpected Delivery

"But I don't wanna go."

Tibby clung to my hand and we stood side by side, eyeing the school. This morning was one of firsts. Tibby and I had already dropped Cole off at the junior high. He had finally made the leap. After spending last year as king of the school, he was starting over again at the bottom. Even though I sensed his nervousness, he had spotted some of his friends and scrambled out of the car before Tibby and I could ruin his 'cool' factor. I had driven to the elementary school with tears in my eyes.

Now they were beginning to fall. I was setting a horrible example. What little girl wanted to go to school if even her mom was crying about it?

"Let's go home. I'll try again tomorrow. Promise."

Tibby tugged at my hand, leaning in the direction of the car, but I didn't budge. I squatted down beside her and brushed the moisture from my cheeks.

"Sweetie, you've been waiting all summer for this. School is fun. You're going to make a lot of new friends and learn all kinds of fun things. You told me you really liked the teacher when we went to open house last week. She's going to be sad if you don't show up today."

Tibby wavered. "Miss Middleton will be sad?"

I nodded. Tibby glanced back at the building. Her Kindergarten class was lining up against the brick wall. The girls looked so sweet in their navy pleated skirts, white blouses, and shiny bookbags. The boys looked like caged monkeys. Several shirts were already untucked. Tibby sighed and turned back to me.

"But you're sad," she said. She hugged me tight around my neck. I closed my eyes and sighed.

"Sweetie, I'm just sad you're growing up so fast," I said.

"Then I won't grow up," Tibby said stubbornly. I laughed.

"Honey, everyone grows up." I pulled away and took her hand. "I'll walk you up to the line."

Miss Middleton, Tibby's teacher, smiled as we drew near. She was a pretty young girl in her early twenties. I knew this was the first class she'd ever had and her enthusiasm was oozing from her pores. She immediately greeted Tibby by name. The moment crayons were mentioned, Tibby let go of my hand and got into line. I stepped back, my heart secretly breaking. She had already forgotten me.

"Mommy!"

They were walking in and suddenly Tibby's fear returned. She turned to face me and I saw the panic on her face. Against the grain, I forced a smile on my face and gave her a thumbs up. She slowly returned it...

And then she was gone.

- - -


"Mr. Jenkins is already waiting in the chair. That bad huh?"

Leslie, our clerical assistant, gave me a look of pity. I grabbed a Kleenex from the desk and dabbed my eyes.

"She didn't want to go. I didn't want her to go."

"But she went?"

"I faked enthusiasm."

Leslie smiled. "Good mama."

I walked around the counter, stored my purse and was just about ready to shrug into my white coat when the door to the office opened.

"Delivery for Jillian Henley-Bridges?"

A delivery boy was hidden somewhere behind the giant bouquet of red roses he was holding. I was immediately suspicious. I never hyphenated my name.

"I'll be Jillian Henley-Bridges," Leslie said breathlessly. I rolled my eyes. "That's me."

The boy set down the flowers and smiled. I'm sure if he had a hat he probably would have tipped it. "Have a nice day, ma'am."

There was nothing like a good 'ma'am' that made me feel a thousand years old. Leslie was all over the bouquet the minute the guy walked out. "Who they from?"

I knew the answer before I even opened the card, but I made a fine show of opening the ivory envelope.

They told me I could do anything if I put my mind into it. Yet no matter how hard I try in all that I do, I just can't take my mind off you. Please say you'll see me again. - B

I closed my eyes and sighed. Leslie must have leaned over to read because I heard another sigh from her, this one dreamy.

"Who's 'B'?"

I opened my eyes and slid the card back in the envelope. "Just an old friend."

She smiled. "An old friend, huh? Sounds like more."

"Did you say Mr. Jenkins is waiting?"

Her smile grew wider. "I want details."

I turned around. "Nothing to tell!" I called behind my shoulder.

- - -


The morning was absolutely jammed packed with patients. After four cleanings and two fillings, I finally stopped for a late two o'clock lunch. My thoughts had been sporadic all day between thinking about how Tibby and Cole were doing at school and those red roses. I put my tools in to the disinfecting wash and headed back out to reception, hoping to talk Leslie into going to the deli around the street and getting me a chicken salad sandwich, but the minute I saw the room, thoughts of food disappeared.

It was like I had stepped into a florist. The first bouquet of roses were eclipsed by dozens of other vases of flowers. Lilies. Daisies. Mums. Red. Yellow. Pink. The scent was intoxicating. Leslie was sitting behind an amazing array of exotic flowers in bright colors looking dazed and awed.

"I'm dying here. I've been accepting deliveries all morning. Who is this Prince Charming and when do I get to meet him?"

"You don't," I said, plucking the nearest card out of a vase. "I told him I didn't want to see him again."

"I think he's trying to convince you otherwise," Leslie said. "It's working, too. At least for me. I think I'm in love."

The card in my hand had a simple doodle, a horrible rendition of our Tates Creek Mascot.

When I think about you, I think about 17, I think about my old jeep. I think about the stars in the sky.

They were lyrics to a song, but they fit to a T. We had lost our virginity to each other just weeks after the bleacher incident in his old jeep. I ran a hand through my hair and put the card back in the envelope.

"Is he ugly? Does he have a wart in the center of his forehead? What's not to like?"

"We were high school sweethearts and he broke my heart," I said.

"Well, people change," Leslie said with a shrug. Her eyes drifted around the room. "He's obviously sorry."

I spotted several more notes in vases. I headed over to the one nearest to the door. The vase was filled with black roses and the note was enclosed in a black and silver envelope. I opened it, wondering what other heart-melting note Bri had left.

The moment I saw the handwriting, so different from Brian's, my blood ran cold. I stayed conscious just long enough to read what was written.

What's three foot five and wearing a blue skirt? I'll give you a hint...

It's our daughter.

SURPRISE. Daddy's HOME. - G


-----------------------------------

Author's Note: Drop me a line and let me know what you think of the story so far. :)
Ready to Run by evergreenwriter83
Ready to Run

"Hello?"

"Bee, where's Tibby?"

"I just picked her up and we're on our way to get Cole. Why?"

The room was still spinning. The smell of flowers was making my already twisted stomach nauseous. The phone grew slick in my sweat-soaked palm.

"Do not take them home,"

"What? Why?"

"JUST DON'T TAKE THEM HOME!" I screamed.

"Jill--"

"Take them home with you. I'll be there as soon as possible. Don't answer the door for anyone. I'll call you when I'm standing right outside."

"You're scaring me. What's--"

I hung up before she finished. Leslie was staring at me, wide-eyed.

"Cancel the rest of the patients for today and then lock up and go home."

"But--"

"Dennis and Michael won't be coming in at all today. They don't have any patients lined up. Just do it."

"But--"

I tugged off my coat and threw it on the hook. It had been a long time since I had been in a situation where the blood literally pounded in my ears, but I had never forgotten what it felt like. I grabbed my purse, trying desperately to ward off the breakdown.

"Jill, what--"

BANG. I was out the door before she could finish; however, before I could take a step, hands came at me. I went into immediate defensive mode. Using my purse, I began to bat and scream like a madwoman, hoping someone on the street would come to my rescue.

"OW! Stop! I get it! You didn't like the flowers!"

Brian held his hands up like a shield, twisting his body to protect vulnerable areas. I stopped, my purse falling limply in defeat and gasped for breath. When he realized I had stopped beating him, he let his hands drop. Concern spread across his face.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't have time," I said quickly, already beginning to move towards my car.

"Jill, please. I don't want to leave things like--"

"I can't talk!"

My fingers felt like swollen sausages as I rooted around for my keys. As always the damn things had fallen to the bottom of my purse. Brian was right on my heels.

"I just wanted to let you know I have to leave a day early so we've got a flight back home tonight. But, I'd like to see you again. I could come back here or maybe if you want a vacation--"

I found the keys and pressed Unlock. I paused with my hand on the door handle. "Vacation? Where?"

"G-Georgia. I live there. I think I told y--"

My mind raced. "When?"

"Well, whenever you want."

"You're leaving today?"

The look of concern was long gone. He was now staring at me as if I had flew completely over the cuckoo's nest with no sign of ever returning. "Yeee-ees," he said slowly. Finally, he gave a little crooked smile. "You and the kiddos wanna go with?"

"Absolutely. When does the flight leave?"

His mouth dropped open. "You're ser--"

"Listen, I can't talk about this right now, but I'm serious. From a pocket of my purse I yanked out a little floss encased in a small square paper wrapper and a pen. I dashed off my cell and practically threw it at him.

"But--"

I didn't give him a chance to finish. I jumped in the car and a second later, I was heading out of the lot on two wheels as I jumped a curb.

---


"Jill, what's going on?"

"I need Mikael to go get Hoover, but you need to tell him to be super careful. Can you watch him for a few days?"

"Not until you tell me what's going on."

"All Mik needs to get him out of the backyard using a treat and come right back. Tell him not to go in the house. He shouldn't come straight home either. Tell him to zig-zag back."

"You're scaring me. What's this about? Do we need to call the po--"

"Mommy!"

Tibby squeezed by Bee and hurled herself at me. I scooped her up and squeezed her so hard that I was sure I would break her ribs. The tears that I had been holding in broke free.

"I had fun at school!" Tibby said. "I painted, and I counted, and--"

My cellphone began to ring. The number looked familiar. The last time I had seen it the thing had been written on Hoover's dog food.

"Hello?"

"Are you really serious about coming to Georgia?"

"Yes."

"We're leaving for the airport in about two hours. I called and there's still seats left on the flight, but--"

"Book them. I'll pay you back."

"Can you tell me what's going on?"

"Nothing," I said, unconvincingly. "I'll meet you at the airport."

Before he could say anything else, I hung up. Jill's eyes had grown even wider.

"Airport? Ji--"

"Bee, I'll tell you when I have a chance. Right now I just need to get out of town."

"Where are you going?"

"Silly mommy! We can't go on vacation!" "Mom?"

From behind Bee's shoulder, I saw Cole descend from their loft. It was where Mikael did all of his painting and sculpture work. He took one look at my face and paled.

"He's back," he said. It wasn't a question. "Hey, Auntie Bee, can you make these guys a little snack?" I said. I've got to make a phone call.

Bee glanced between me and Cole. Tibby wiggled out of my arms. "What's going on?" she demanded, stomping her foot, mad that no one was paying attention to her. Bee finally nodded, resigned that I wasn't going to say anymore with the kids around.

"You guys want some peanut butter cookies? C'mon."

"Mom?" Cole repeated. His voice sounded small. He was eight years old again.

"Give me a minute, buddy," I said softly. "I've got to do something really quick."

---


"His name is Gregg Hickman. G-r-e-g-g H-i-c-k-m-a-n. Hickman."

The officer on the other end of the phone typed slowly. "And you said something about a note?"

I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Yes, he insinuated he had tracked down our daughter. He's supposed to be in prison. He's dangerous."

"I see." Again, more typing. How long did it take to type in one fucking name? "Ah, yes. Hickman, Gregg. The database says he was released early for good behavior three weeks ago."

"I was supposed to be notified," I snapped. "Why wasn't I notified?"

"Well, the address we have on file is a Kentucky address."

Shit. "I don't live in Kentucky anymore," I said. "How is it that he found me quicker than you could?"

"I'm very sorry ma'am. If you'd like, I can send an officer to meet you at your office and take the note."

"Are you kidding? I'm not going back there! He might be waiting. Or he might be watching the office from the car. What the hell do you think he'd do to me if he knew I called the police?"

"Ma'am, now please, calm down. I understand that this is upsetting but we could possibly help file a restrain--"

"A restraining order?" I said bitterly. "Yeah, because that worked so well the last time."

"Well, we--"

I couldn't listen to the guy any longer. I hung up and slid down to the ground of Bee's laundry room. The whole room smelled like Tide and Downy. I closed my eyes and tilted my head back against the washer.

He was out. On good behavior. He was supposed to have served eight years. I thought I had at least two years before I needed to worry.

I was wrong.

The time to run started now.
Among the Clouds by evergreenwriter83
Among the Clouds

"But mommy, Miss Middleton said we're going to finger paint tomorrow with the pri-hairy colors. We can't---ooh! a plane!"

"Shut up, Tibby!"

"Coooleee-yy!"

Bee slowed to a stop in front of the airport. She slung her arm across the steering wheel and caught my arm before I could leap out of the car.

"Jill, you can't run," she said, trying to keep her voice as low as possible.

"Yes, I can," I said. "He's too close. I need space to figure things out."

Bee glanced in the rearview mirror. The kids were bickering loudly. "How long?"

"I don't know," I said honestly. "Not long."

She reached out and squeezed my arm. "We'll watch after Hoover," she promised and I felt at least one tiny part of my tension ease.

"Thank you Bee," I said. "I owe you."

"Just be careful," she warned. She swiveled around. "Hey mouthies! This is your stop!"

Cole scowled. Tibby crawled over him, the first out the door. "Are we going on a plane?"

"We sure are," I said. I still wasn't able to meet Cole's gaze. I already knew that he knew and I couldn't let him see me totally vulnerable. Not again. Not after he had seen me almost dead.

"Where are we going?" he asked quietly. "We don't have clothes."

"Don't worry about that," I said, ignoring his first question. I knew the big trouble was going to start momentarily. "We'll pick up a few things when we get there."

We had just traveled over an hour with Bee flying like a bat out of hell to make the flight. The nearest airport to Sandusky was Hopkins International in Cleveland. The airport was relatively quiet, but then again I hadn't been in a lot of airports in my life to be a good judge.

"Coley, lookit! That plane just took off! Woosh!"

I had just neared the board with the list of flights when Brian's voice carried across the terminal.

"Jill!"

He was wearing a green t-shirt, jeans, and yet another gigantic pair of brand new sneakers, this time in green to match his shirt. Tibby broke into a grin, but just as I had expected, Cole's face grew dark.

"What's he doing here?" he said, annoyance evident in his question.

"Brian kindly invited us to visit his hometown," I said.

"Mom!" Cole took a step back. "No way!"

"Cole--"

"What's he doing here?"

A copycat annoyed voice piped up behind Brian. His son, Baylee if I remembered correctly, stepped up beside him.

"Jill? Jillian Bridges?"

Before Brian or I could jump in to head off a feud before it started, a voice from my past distracted me completely. Coming up quickly behind Brian, older, but with a smile still as sweet as I remembered, was Brian's mama, Jackie.

"Mrs. L!" I cried. Before I could contain myself, I ran at her. I took refuse in the warm hug that she gave me.

"Look at how beautiful you are," she said. She stopped embracing me, only to hold me at arm's length. "You still look like the teenager I remember. What's your secret?"

"Good genes, I guess," I said. "It's so good to see you."

Her smile only widened. "Brian said he ran into you." She cast a sidelong look at him, to which he ignored. Instead, he knelt down and whispered something in Baylee's ear that only caused the boy to scowl more. "Are you joining us?"

"Yes," I said. The immediacy of the situation came crashing back down on me. I quickly turned. Cole was clinging to Tibby's hand, but was slowly beginning to lose the battle of keeping her from running to Brian and beginning her shoe pickery again.

"Are these two gorgeous children yours, Jill?" Jackie asked. Over her shoulder, I saw Brian's dad, his brother, and what could only be Harold's children. He hadn't been kidding when he had said it was a family trip.

"What? Oh, yes. Let me introduce you..."

---


"What other kinda cookies do you make? Do you make peanut butter cookies? Do you make oatmeal cookies? Do you make oatmeal raisin peanut butter chocolate chip cinnamon apple M&M cookies?"

"Pokemon's for babies."

"You're only saying that because you don't have a DS."

"When you said you were flying home, I thought you were talking coach," I said.

Brian hadn't stopped staring at me since we took off. He had graciously given me the window seat. I was reclined in a chair that was much larger and more comfortable than even my recliner at home. The flight attendants were literally tripping over themselves to accommodate everyone with anyone they asked for. I had expected maybe a bag of peanuts if I was lucky. I should have known that he would travel in luxury.

"I've found with my family that it's better to separate ourselves out. We tend to be disrupt--"

"Hey, grandpa, play the alphabet with your armpit again!"

"Harold, don't you dare!"

"I wanna hear!"

"So, are you going to tell me what's going on?"

Brian pulled me back to our little section of the plane. Tibby was enamored with Jackie. Cole and Baylee were sitting next to each other, an unfortunate result of every other seat in first class being taken. They hadn't come too close to killing each other. Yet. I was just lucky that Cole had finally followed me on the plane, even if it had been with a lot of cursing that would have gotten him grounded for a month under other circumstances. I sighed and glanced back out the window.

"Nothing's going on."

"Jilly," he lowered his voice to a whisper. "The way you were earlier today at your office...I've never seen you like that. I've never seen anyone like that. You were acting like someone was coming to murder you." Oh, if he only knew! I shook my head.

"It's nothing."

"Listen, I know it's not my charm that got you on this plane. Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad to be sitting next to you right now, but I can see how tense you are." I didn't answer. I studied the fluffy clouds and thought about heaven. Was the visual imagery real? Did angels really spend their days looking down at us from the clouds? I liked to think so. I liked to think that there were layers of clouds too far up for us to go. It seemed like such a peaceful existance to be able to lounge weightlessly, knowing that you were safe from the troubles down there.

"Is it Tibby's dad?"

Brian's hand had slid over and was resting warmly on the hand I had resting on my knee. His fingers felt warm. Strong. Familiar. I didn't answer. I just looked into Brian's concerned blue eyes and that seemed to give him his answer. He leaned closer to me.

"What did he do to you?"
Welcome to Roswell by evergreenwriter83
Welcome to Roswell

Roswell, Georgia, the eighth largest city in Georgia and one of the most affluent subdivisions of Georgia, had a picturesque historical charm that I had never seen before. Brian made the perfect tour guide, pointing out landmarks like the old Roswell Presbyterian Church and Bulloch home, as he drove us towards his home.

"It was nice to see your mom," I said, staring out the window. It was early morning, just after sunrise. Our trip had been extended due to bad weather that happened during our layover in Louisville where we had taken leave of Brian's parents and brother.

"She always did like you," he said, smiling my way. "Jilly, you know you can tell me what's going on."

I had been saved from telling him on the plane by Baylee and Cole's explosive fight. I had been sure we were going to be kicked off the flight, but we were saved the embarrassment due to Brian's smooth talking (and notoriety). Even so, both boys were sporting a nice shiner. After moodily climbing in the SUV, they had each fallen asleep in the back, separated by Tibby. She was holding rein in the center, snoring softly.

"It's nothing," I said quietly.

"You wouldn't hop on a plane and go over 700 miles if it was nothing," Brian replied equally as quiet. "I don't know what happened between Tibby's dad and you--"

"What makes you think it was him?" I said even as my skin crawled.

"Call it intuition or an astute sense of awareness, but you spoke easily about Cole's dad, but the moment I brought up Tibby's dad you clammed up tighter than a...well, clam."

"It sounds silly, but I actually decided to go into dentistry thanks to your mom," I said. I knew it was a pathetic way to change the subject, but I couldn't help it.

"She was so happy when you decided to job shadow her for Senior Career Day," Brian said. He turned onto a quiet street. Of course, at that time in the morning, all the streets were pretty quiet.

"Well, Jilly, welcome home."

"Oh my God."

I was staring at a house that would have easily stored both our parents' houses inside with room to spare. The grounds seemed to stretch out on either side for an eternity. The nearest neighbor looked to be maybe a half mile away.

"It's a fixer upper, but I got a great deal on it."

"A fixer upper?" I repeated. The house looked beautiful from the outside, all red brick and white trim. A three-car garage and a wrap-around drive lined with flowers completed the scene from the front view.

"It was a foreclosure. Leighanne got the mansion, but I wanted something I could make more my own taste."

"This isn't a mansion?"

Brian hopped out. I could see the happy lines that lit up his face the moment he opened my door. "Not by a long shot. Can I carry Tibby in?"

The question caught me off guard. I glanced back into the backseat. She was leaning on Baylee's shoulder, mouth open and I was sure she was probably drooling. The snoring had quieted to a mere snuffle.

"You sure?"

"It would be an honor."

My lips twitched. "Then by all means."

I stepped back, crossing my arms to ward off the early morning chill and watched as Brian opened the back door to the SUV and leaned inside. A second later, he reappeared with Tibby hanging from his shoulder, her hands dangling. She was completely comatose.

"I'll wake the boys," I said, noting how weird it was to say boys as in plural. Bri nodded and I took his place at the SUV.

"Cole. Baylee. We're here. Wake up."

I leaned in and shook each of their shoulders. Cole stirred first, but Baylee wasn't far behind. As soon as they saw each other, their sleepy eyes narrowed.

"Cole, don't even start. We're guests," I said. His mouth twisted, but he turned his face away from the blonde haired mini-Brian and hopped out. Baylee climbed out and quickly caught up with his dad.

"I don't know why you brought us here," Cole hissed as I closed the door to the SUV.

"I think you do," I said. Cole's shoes scuffed on the driveway pavement.

"He's out of jail?"

I had battled with the whole thing the entire plane ride, finally deciding that I wouldn't try to sugarcoat anything. Cole had lived through the entire thing with me. I was sure he had known the second he had seen my face and my wild desperation when I was plotting out our escape. Besides, as much as I tried to deny it, he was almost a teenager.

"Yes."

"But why here?"

"Brian's an old friend, Cole."

"I don't like him. What if he hurts you too?"

Tibby, Brian, and Baylee had already disappeared inside the house. I stopped, turned, and put my hands on his shoulders. It was amazing how until that moment I hadn't realized that he was just a couple inches shorter than me. How had that happened?

"He's an old friend, honey. He was nice enough to let us stay here a couple days until I can get things figured out. That's all. There's nothing more."

Cole's eyes were filled with doubt. "He looks at you like Gregg used to. In the beginning."

Hearing his name come out of Cole's mouth and the pain associated with it brought tears to my eyes. I wrapped Cole up in a hug, kissing the top of his head while I still could.

"You're my #1 man. I don't need anyone else. You've just got to trust that I'm doing the best thing for all of us. We just had to get away. You can help me plot our next move. Okay?"

"Okay," Cole said so quietly that I almost didn't hear him. I pulled away and he took my hand. He scrutinized the house.

"Just a couple days," he repeated.

"I promise," I said.

"Okay," he said, louder this time.

"I guess that's okay."
Cooking with Mr. Duck by evergreenwriter83
Cooking with Mr. Duck

"This place is huge. How many bedrooms are there?"

"There's a large guest bedroom downstairs here and four bedrooms upstairs including the master suite. Down in the basement is another bedroom and I'm renovating a pretty rough piece in the back to be a guest house for my parents or one of the guys if they come into town. Y'know this is the first time I've got the chance to put people in some of these rooms. It's nice to have the house so full."

I ran my hand over a beautiful fireplace in what could only be described as a study. My eyes raked over a large built in library, complete with one of those ladders that would take you up to the shelves nearest the ceiling. Sure, the paint was peeling and there were a few loose bricks around the fireplace, but it had an Old World charm that was captivating. It put my Hoover-slobbered living room back home to shame.

"This place is awesome."

"You know you can stay here as long as you want."

"Just a few days."

"A few days, a month, a year. You're safe here. Even if you won't or can't tell me what's going on, just know that okay?"

The assurance in his voice overwhelmed me. I blinked back the tears. I suddenly felt the exhaustion I was keeping at bay come crashing down.

"Can you show me back to Tibby's room? I think I want to stay with her tonight," I said softly. Brian studied my face for a second, then nodded.

"Course I can. Just right up here."

I followed him up the landing. I stopped for a second, noting the way the second floor looked out over the first in a very loft-like way. He had put Tibby in the second room on the right. I put my hand on the doorknob, suddenly desperate to get near her and fall asleep hearing her snores.

"Jilly Bean."

I paused. Brian's hands were stuffed in his jeans. We stared at each other and he seemed to be making his mind up about something. Finally, he leaned over and planted a kiss on my cheek.

"My bedroom's the last one on the left. Lemme know if you need anything. Anything. Good...morning."

It probably wasn't as odd for him as it was for me to think that I was really going to sleep a morning away. I smiled weakly.

"Thank you, Bri."

"I owe you."

To this, he shook his head.

"No honey, I owe you."

Before I could ask him what he meant, he turned and headed down the hall. I slipped inside the room and crawled in next to Tibby. She curled up to me automatically and I wrapped my arms around her little body, closing my eyes. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep...

Well, maybe for a minute...

---


I woke up to an empty bed. My heart stood still and all I could think was, he got her. I rolled out of bed and yanked open the door.

Then I was lost.

It took me a full minute to catch up on my whereabouts. We were at Brian's house. In Georgia. The one with the billion rooms. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. If I strained my ears just enough I could hear excited chatter.

Tibby's chatter.

"Mommy!" Tibby cried happily a few minutes later when I finally tracked down the kitchen. She was sitting at a giant table that could, if my guess was right, about twenty. She pointed an expensive-looking butter knife over at Brian. "Lookit!"

"I'm impressing her with my fabulous kitchen skills."

I followed the direction of the knife to find Brian standing behind a wrap around kitchen island. Something was sizzling on a stove. He wore a white apron with a big teddy bear holding a Valentine on it. He looked...domestic.

"He's making me a Mickey Mouse burger and he can talk like Donald Duck! He's like Walt Disney World, mommy! A big tenny sneaker wearing Walt Disney World!"

Brian's grin grew ridiculously large. "Didja hear that?" His voice changed into duck-mode without a moment's hesitation. "That's quite a compliment, toots."

Tibby burst into giggles, biting down on the handle of the knife in excitement. Brian scooped some burgers off of a George Foreman. "Sit down, Daisy," he said, nodding at me. I took a seat next to Tibby.

"Where's Cole?" I asked. Tibby took the silver from her mouth and wiped the handle on a linen napkin.

"He's still asleep," she announced. "He's going to be hunnnn-grrry."

"Dinner is served," Brian said, his voice still in high quack mode. He set down plates in front of us, brushing his hand along my shoulder as he straightened up behind me. "I'll go wake the boys," he said, his voice returning to normal.

"Mommy, look!"

Sure enough, our burgers were Mickey Mouse. He had even pressed the sesame seed buns out to the exact shape. Beside the burger was a small medley of steamed vegetables and mac and cheese.

"This looks good!" Tibby said. She grabbed her fork and I watched in amazement as she tackled the vegetables first.

Two minutes later, both boys tromped into the kitchen. They didn't make eye contact with each other. Brian dished out more plates and sat down next to Tibby, Baylee sitting beside him. Cole took the seat next to me.

Silence lasted less than a minute.

"Mr. Duck, this is the bestest meal I've ever had. Ever."

Brian smiled. "Now, that can't be true. Your mommy's a good cook."

Tibby looked at me and then back at Brian. "Yeah, but this is gooder."

"Has your mommy ever made you spaghetti?"

Tibby nodded. "Yup."

"Well, she made it for me a long time ago and that was the bestest meal I've ever had."

I looked at him. I could practically see the whole moment in time replayed in his eyes. I smiled.

"That's the first meal I ever made without help," I said.

"Well, you fooled me. Mom was crushed when I went home and told her it was the best meal I'd ever had. I think I hurt her feelings."

I laughed. "I'm sure. I loved your mom's apple crisp."

"Hey Mr. Duc--"

"Tibby, his name's Brian."

"Mr. Brian," Tibby corrected. I just shook my head. "I started school yesterday. Does this place have a school?"

"We're going back home for school soon, dummy," Cole said.

"Don't call me a dummy Coley!" Tibby shot back. She stuck her tongue out. Cole's tongue was ready to shoot out until he saw the look on my face. Instead, he slouched down. He had massacred his burger. Mickey's ear was hanging sickly from the head. He had used ketchup to draw a long jagged scar across the bun. Even though Baylee was still scowling, I saw him glancing at the artwork with interest.

"Y'know, school starts here next Tuesday, right after Labor Day," Brian said. "If you do decide to stay a little longer, I'm sure we can figure out something. That way you guys won't have missed any school."

"But my teacher's Miss Middleton," Tibby said. "Does she work here too? Cause I don't know how she would because her arms would get tired from all that flying."

Brian laughed loudly, his nose wrinkling in a way I hadn't seen since...well, high school.

"Jilly, you've got a rare one here. She's terrific." He turned towards Tibby. Donald Duck returned.

"Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!"

Tibby burst, a big raucous open mouth laugh that sent a chunk of pickle airborne. It landed with a sick plop on Baylee's plate.

"Ew, gross!"

Cole snickered. "Nice form, Tibs."

I started to say something to Tibby about apologizing for her table manners, but Brian's hand reached over and covered my own.

"Best day ever," he mouthed.

His earnest face made me realize just how truthful he was being. If a pickle flying out of a five year old's mouth amounted to his best day ever, maybe he hadn't been living the life I thought he had. Maybe, even with all the money and fame, he had been missing the enjoyment of the little things in life.

I suddenly felt sad. Not for me, but for him.
Standing Outside the Fire by evergreenwriter83
Standing Outside the Fire

"I'm glad we got these sweatshirts because, oooohh-weeee would I be cold out here!"

"Then scoot closer to the fire, silly girl."

"I'll cook my tootsies!"

"I bet they taste like chicken. C'mere tootsies!"

Brian leapt over Baylee, scooping Tibby up. She squealed, yet at the same time clung to him tightly. "No! No! I'm not chicken!"

With a laugh, he put her down in my lap. Tibby wrapped her arms around my neck but looked up at him, her face flushed but happy.

"It smells good here," she said. "Not like peaches, but like smoke and marshmallows."

"That's cause you ate like five s'mores, shrimp," Baylee said. He leaned forward, spearing yet another marshmallow into the fire.

"Baylee," Brian warned, but Tibby cut him off.

"My name isn't shrimp. It's Tabitha Caroline Bridges and I TAKE CARE of BUSINESS!"

Somehow in obsessing over the baby name books, I had never stopped to consider her initials were TCB. Last year, Mikael had figured it out and ever since then, that had been Tibby's catch phrase. Brian's eyes crinkled in amusement. Baylee looked at Tibby dumbfounded for a second until he too just grinned.

It had been the shortest, yet busiest day ever. After dinner, Brian had offered to take us to get some clothes. After a short argument that ended in me getting my way, we went to Wal-mart where I paid for a few things that would last us a few day. Brian had bought some firewood and s'more fixings. Changing into warmer clothes, he had talked us into going on a short hike that had led us to a perfect area for a bonfire.

Now it was almost eleven. The fire was dying down, the kids were once again looking tired, and I felt guilty for not taking any time to start making a new gameplan.

"Okay, bedtime," Brian declared. He lifted the large bucket of water he had brought with him and doused out the fire. I clicked on a flashlight. The shadows from the trees suddenly made the area look ominous. Tibby lifted her head and squeaked.

"That you, Jill?"

"No, it was Tibby!"

"It's dark!"

"Don't worry, your mama got scared out in the woods once too."

I rolled my eyes. "Because of you!"

"What?"

"You told me there was a bear!"

"There was a bear somewhere in the world at the time. Probably more than one. Otherwise they'd be extinct now."

"You know what I mean," I muttered.

"Oh c'mon, it ended well."

I was glad it was dark so that my blush remained hidden. I knew exactly how it had ended.

"How did it end?" Cole asked.

"Let's see," Brian handed Cole a flashlight. "Cole, why don't you and Baylee lead the way? I bet if you guys tried, you'd find you have at least one thing in common."

Grateful that Brian didn't expound on the subject, I watched Cole flip on the flashlight. Baylee lit up his own and they reluctantly took the lead. I didn't hear much chatter coming from them, but then again I knew all boys that age muttered no matter what.

"That was a great night," Brian whispered in my ears. Tibby shifted in my arms and I could tell she was already drifting off. I smiled.

"Yeah, it had a pretty good ending."

"It was the first and last time we spent the whole night together." His breath tickled my ears. "You, me, and one sleeping bag." Goosebumps rose on my arms from a combination of sensation and memory.

"The beginning of the end."

"Jill."

"It's getting cold. Hurry up, slowpoke," I chided. I didn't want to go down that road and besides the temperature was dropping rapidly. Even my teeth were beginning to chatter by the time we made it to the back door. Brian produced the key and we stepped in single file to the warmth of the mudroom.

"James is better than Kobe," Baylee declared.

"Noah's better than all of them put together."

"Bull."

"Good job, nitwit. Noah is a bull."

Baylee practically growled. "That's not what I--"

"Bed."

Baylee stared at Brian angrily. "You know I go back to mom next week."

There was an underlying threat there that I didn't fully understand, but it didn't seem to have the desired effect Baylee had anticipated. Brian pointed in what I thought was the direction of the stairs.br>
"Bed," he repeated.

"Cole, you too," I said, feeling as if I needed to step up. "And remember we're guests here."

"Well, I'm ready to go if you are," he said.

We stared at each other. He quickly backed down. Staring at the ground, he stomped off.

"They should always stay five," Brian muttered. He reached out and touched Tibby's cheek. She turned her head in his direction, but didn't stir.

"Will you come down to the living room after you put her down?" he asked. He looked hopeful.

"Why?"

"I just want to talk. Please," he added.

I wanted to say no, but I couldn't. He was letting us stay at his house. I owed him at least some form of conversation. I nodded, not quite able to articulate a spoken response to the question, but I hesitated as I stepped out of the mudroom.

"Where exactly are the stairs again?"

---


"There were a lot of jealousy issues. She had me on a short leash. It didn't get really bad until last December. We had our second annual cruise and I got a little buzzed and goofy with the fans. It wasn't like I cheated on her, but she flew off the handle and I just realized that I couldn't take another year of it...I couldn't take another month of it. So, I filed for divorce."

"So that's it? You just couldn't take her being jealous?"

Brian sank back into the leather couch. He still smelled of fire, his hair was windswept, and there was evidence of windburn on his face.

"I meant what I said. I've always had you in the back of my mind. You don't forget your first love, Jill."

"Sure you don't forget, but you move on."

"When you're forced to move on, it's different. And," he wiggled his fingers. "before you say anything, I know how weak that sounds. But I was a gullible kid. I had the world laid out at my feet and the only condition was that I did what I was told every step of the way."

"That's a pretty big condition," I said softly.

Brian's eyes closed. I pressed my cheek into the leather. We had only been in the living room for ten minutes and already the conversation was getting deep. I was at least thankful that it wasn't my deep mess that we were mucking through.

"Y'know it's stupid," he paused and opened his eyes. We stared at each other. "Tonight I looked around and I thought that if things had been different it might have been us sharing a fun family night around the fire with our kids. Baylee would have been yours and Cole and Tibby mine and then we would have come in and--"

He trailed off. My heart thudded. I couldn't deny the thought hadn't crossed my mind for a fraction of a second earlier. "And?"

"And then we would have gone to bed and I would never know how lonely a bedroom could be because you would have been there always from the start. I would have held you in my arms and warmed you up the way I really wanted to when I saw you shiver as we stepped inside."

"Bri," I shook my head. "No--"

"Jilly," he cupped my face and as much as I knew I should, I didn't pull back. His thumb ran along my jawline.

"I don't know the real reason you're here, but I don't care right now. And I know that I shouldn't be thinking the way I do or touching your face like this, but I can't help it. Time stood still when I saw you in Wal-mart that night. I wanted to fall down at your feet right then and there."

His eyes were sinking into mine and the sexual need that emanated from him was nothing like it had been when we were kids. It wasn't the hormonal sense of new exploration and experience.

This was raw, open honest need at its most basic.

"I'm not good for anyone anymore," I whispered.

"Jilly, Jilly, Jilly," he shook his head and his lips brushed against mine. "You can't even begin to see what I see in you."

"It's the jet lag," I whispered even as he kissed me. My hands snaked around his neck. "You're delusional."

"Uh-uh," he whispered. We kissed again, this one longer and slower. His lips barely moved from mine even as his hand slid along my side. "I'm--"

"Stop it!"

It was an automatic reflex. I tore away from him like a wild animal. His mouth dropped open in shock.

"What's wrong? What did I do?"

I blinked rapidly. Aside from a doctor, I hadn't had anyone touch me where I had been stabbed. The moment his fingers had even gotten close, the response was automatic.

Protect.

"Don't touch me," I whispered. I felt a ridiculously large tear slip down my face. Brian seemed to struggle to keep his distance, his face filling with empathy.

"It's okay, I won't," he promised. "Jill, you've got to tell me what happened. You've been hurt and I need to know."

I shook my head. I wasn't going to relive it again. I couldn't.

"Shh, alright, not tonight." My tears were coming faster now. Brian held his hands out, but he kept his promise not to touch me. His jaw tensed, but he didn't say what he was thinking.

I just knew whatever it was, it wasn't good.
Why the Caged Bird Sings by evergreenwriter83
Why the Caged Bird Sings

Tibby's wet hands slid across my cheek. She was singing some weird high-pitched Disney-esque song and she smelled like syrup.

"Tweet tweet sang the birdy and ribbit said the frog as they sat on the log in the bog. Chirp little birdy, hoppy little frog..."

"Baby, why are your hands wet?"

Her face pressed close to mine, hers infinitely softer because of the lingering baby fat. "I peed my pants and I washeded them in the sink."

That was all I needed to hear. I was awake. My eyes opened wide. My hand tentatively slid along the bed.

It was soaked.

"Oh Tibs," I groaned. Her eyes widened.

"I'm sorry! I cleaned it! I cleaned good!"

"It's okay," I said noticing that she had changed into my spare t-shirt, the hem of which was practically hanging on the ground. I got out of bed and kissed her head.

"Can you go downstairs and watch TV? Don't touch anything but the remote."

Tibby nodded. "Okay," she said quietly. She turned and promptly turned out of the room, launching right back into song.

I swore she was bipolar sometimes, but only in the best way possible. I glanced back at the bed, the wet spot immediately noticeable and began to strip stuff down. I dreaded seeing the mess she had made in the bathroom across the hall. Images of wall to wall water and a pair of soggy, yellow stained pajamas hanging over the toilet floated through my mind.

"Everything okay?"

Brian leaned against the door frame. His hair was a mess, but more than that, he was clad only in pajama pants that sat low on his hips. It was the first time in a long time I had seen him shirtless. My eyes were not immune to appreciating a good looking man and I drank him in for a second, my heart twisting slightly at the sight of the faded scar on his chest.

"Tibby wet the bed. I'm sorry," I said.

He smiled, looking far from angry. "Don't be sorry. It happens. Here let me help."

"No, it's okay. Her mess is my mess."

"And your mess is my mess."

"It is not."

"Is too."

"Is not."

He walked towards me. "Is too."

"Is--"

He grabbed me before I could get the rest out. His fingers got right under my armpits, tickling me with fervor. A snort escaped my nose as I doubled over, the sheet falling out of my hands.

"No!" I gasped. "Please! No! Stop!"

"You don't mean it!" Brian laughed. I twisted into him, more reflex than anything else. If he didn't stop soon, we were going to have two messes on our hands, but he was relentless.

"STOP!" I squealed.

"LET GO OF MY MOM!"

Brian stopped, his face registering complete shock. I dropped to the floor, my pits still tingling from the tickle assault. I looked over at Cole. His hands were clenched into fists, his eyes brimming with tears.

"Sweetie, it's okay," I said softly. "He wasn't hurting me he was--"

"But," his voice had dropped about five levels in volume. "that's what you said before," he whispered.

"Listen," Brian said, finding his voice. "I'm not going to hurt your momma. And--" he held up a hand, stopping Cole from interrupting. "If the guy who did hurt her comes anywhere near her or you guys, I'm going to kill him."

The words were laced with sheer venom and spoken with such absoluteness that I was sure even Cole could see the sincerity of the threat.

"What's going on?"

Baylee popped up behind Cole. Before the two boys could start bickering, Brian pointed towards the stairs..

"Why don't you guys go downstairs and watch some TV? Once we're done here we're all going to IHOP."

"Sweet," Baylee said. He left, but Cole remained.

"I promise you," Brian said as gently as possible. "I'm not going to hurt her. Or you. Or Tibby. Please believe me, son."

The look in Cole's eyes could have melted plastic. "I'm not your son," he said. "My dad died for our country. He was brave."

And with that, he turned and stomped down the stairs. Silence took over.

"Well," I finally said, my voice wavering. "That went well."

"I want to know the whole story, Jill."

I scrambled back to my feet and picked up the sheet. No sooner had I started to fold it over he grabbed it from me. Gently, he took my shoulders.

"Look at me."

With a heavy sigh, I looked up.

"What happened to you?"

---


"We had only dated about two months when I found out I was pregnant. I didn't realize that he had the temper that he did or that he had spent time in jail for beating his ex-wife. It was the first and only rebound after Paul and I just wasn't thinking. It just felt so good to be wanted and I just screwed up."

As someone who was far from the greatest storyteller, I had managed to tell the story practically backwards from the point where I was laying stabbed and dying, eliminating a few things here and there. My hands ached from all of the wringing that I was putting them through. We were sitting side by side on the stripped down bed.

"So his name's Gregg Hixsenbaugh?"

"Yeah," I nodded, hating the sound of that name. "By the time Tibby was born I had been beat around so much that I knew I wasn't going to give her his last name. He wasn't at the hospital when she was born and I never told him, but I refused to even put his name on the certificate."

"He wasn't at the hospital?" I shook my head. "He got arrested on a marijuana charge that night and was still sitting around waiting to be booked and bonded."

The sadness in Brian's eyes made me feel awash in shame and stupidity even though I knew that wasn't his intent. "Did your parents know?"

"Are you kidding? Of course not. My parents moved after I finished college to be closer to my brother in Chicago. I was still in Michigan and I just couldn't...I just couldn't tell them. I was ashamed. I made up an excuse why Gregg wasn't at the hospital and made up a lie about why it wasn't a good time for my parents to come stay even though Cole was little and all Tibby did was cry." Brian didn't ask anything else. Ever so slowly he reached over and undid my twisted hands, holding them both tightly. His lips pressed against my forehead.

"He won't hurt you again," he whispered. "I meant what I said."

I felt a large tear drip down my cheek. "We can't stay here. I won't ask you to do this."

"You're not asking. I'm tell--"

"Mommy, Aunt Bee's on the phone! Why are you crying?"

Tibby stood there, still in my t-shirt, holding my cellphone. Her eyes widened in concern.

"I just stubbed my toe," I lied. Brian let go of my hands and I quickly wiped my face. "Gimme the phone, babe."

"Here go!" she said, skipping into the room. She handed me the phone and smiled up at Brian. He picked her up and she began to laugh.

"Hello?"

"Jill, it's Bee." Her voice sounded more panicked than I had ever heard in my life. My heart began to pound. Something happened. Something bad.

"What's wrong?" I said.

"It's the house," she said.

"Who's house?"

"Your house. Mikael just got a call."

"It's been burned to the ground."
Can't Go Home Again by evergreenwriter83
Can't Go Home Again

"Mommy, your t-shirt was comfy but I look fab-boo-lush now!"

"Sit down, squirt. You look like a big wad of cotton candy. We didn't need this stuff."

"Coley shush. You know you like your shoes so pssssssh."

+* Tibby's tongue wagged out of her mouth, I yanked her arm and she begrudgingly sat back down in the booth.

"If you get syrup on your sweater you're going to be in big trouble Tibs," I warned.

"Mommy, duhhh. I'm gonna be careful."

Fifteen minutes later, Tibby had covered her entire sweater with napkins, but she was keeping her word. I glanced down at my own dark blue top and then over at the benefactor of the clothes. Brian was watching me closely.

The whole more had been a nightmare. I just kept replaying the words. It's been burned to the ground. Burned. To the Ground. Everything we had was gone. Everything except Hoover.

Thank God I had begged Mikael to go get Hoover.

Brian had practically picked me off the floor with the news. We didn't have a home to go back to. There were no more clothes. No more toys. Furniture? All gone. Charred rubble.

I still hadn't told the kids. Brian had gotten Tibby out of the room the second he saw my face twist from the news. Even now I was still numb.

"Can we go shopping again tomorrow?" Tibby asked Brian. He laughed.

"Whatever you want."

"Whatever I want?" Tibby squealed. "I want a pony!"

"Tibby!"

"You're not getting a pony cause we're going home soon. Right mom?"

"They're not staying much longer, right dad?"

"Like we want to stay around you, mop head!"

"Blow it up your--"

"Baylee!"

"Cole, apologize!"

"Brothers," the waitress laughed. "What can you do?"

"We're NOT brothers," Cole scowled. Baylee folded his arms and slumped down, glaring at the waitress as she revealed everyone's orange juice.

"I'm getting a pony!" Tibby said happily.

My head officially began to pound.

---


"Hi mom."

"Jillian, we've been worried sick! I tried calling the house but there wasn't an answer. Did you get my voicemail?"

"Yeah, I did. Listen, I--"

"Where are you? Are you home?" She sounded panicked and I knew it was the anxiety of not knowing where one of her ducklings had gone.

I glanced out Brian's kitchen window. He was playing basketball with all three kids. Tibby was clinging to his leg, her head tilted back, laughing. Brian's words reverberated in my mind.

You know you can stay here as long as you want.

I'm going to kill him.

"This is going to sound like it's coming out of left field, but I um, I'm staying with Brian."

"Brian?" mom repeated. "Brian who?"

I licked my lips. "Littrell."

"Brian Littrell?"

"Yeah, we bumped into each other a little while ago and --"

"He lives in Sandusky?"

"No, he lives in Roswell. Roswell, Georgia. I thought we could use a little vacation."

"Didn't school start?"

"Well, yeah, but," I twisted the dish towel. "It was the only time that worked."

Mom didn't answer.

"Mom?"

Still nothing.

"Mom?"

The line went dead. I looked down at the phone. Disconnected.

I had escaped that awkward conversation for the moment.

"Jill, you coming out?"

Brian's hair was wet with sweat. He clung to the screen door, swinging just like he did when he was younger. "You okay?"

"I have to tell Cole and Tibby about the house," I said.

"Baylee and I can go shoot some pool downstairs. Give you guys some time."

"Would you?"

"I'd do anything for you," he said. "I have a lot of missed time to make up for after all."

"No--"

"Yeah, I do. We can argue later." He turned around. "Baylee, c'mere a sec!"

I smiled gratefully. "Thank you."

"Anything for you Jilly Bean."

"Anything."

---


"What do you mean the house burned down?"

"Is Mr. Fluffers okay?" Tibby asked, her eyes widening.

"Mr. Fluffers didn't make it, baby," I said. "But we can get you a new Mr. Fluffers."

"But, but, Mr. Fluffers is my baby kitty," she whispered. Tears welled up in her eyes.

"What do you mean the house burned down?" Cole repeated. I wrapped my arms around Tibby and looked at Cole. A silent exchange was all that was needed. He turned his head, trying to mask his anger. Or fear. Or both.

"Bastard," he muttered.

"I want Mr. Fluffers!" Tibby wailed.

"What about Hoover?" Cole asked, his voice tight with emotion.

"Hoover's okay," I said quickly. "Auntie Bee and Uncle Mikael have him."

"Where are we going to live?"

"I want my Smurfy blanket!" Tibby screeched in my ear.

The conversation was going exactly as I feared. For the umpteenth time I cursed being an adult.

"We're staying here for a little while longer," I said. I began to rock Tibs, her hysterical cries causing every nerve ending in my body to stretch to the point of snapping.

"Mom!"

"Flu-ff-ff-ff-ers!"

"It's going to be okay," I said calmly.

"Gregg's crazy, mom. He's not going to stop."

Tibby's cries paused momentarily. "Who's Gregg?"

"Your dad."

All crying was forgotten. "My daddy?" Tibby looked from Cole to me. "Where's my daddy?"

Cole looked like he wanted to slap his hands over his mouth. He glanced at me in desperation.

But I was at a loss for words.

How the hell did I explain to a five-year old that her daddy would like nothing more than to see her mommy dead?
The Honey Hunt by evergreenwriter83
The Honey Hunt

Tibby

"Baylee, hurry up! Your mom's gonna have a cow if I don't get you there on time!"

I was a mouse today. I had found a nice mousey place underneath the big staircase. I made mousey munches on the piece of cheese I had grabbed from the ginormous refrigerator. I twitched my mousey nose.

My new brown pajamas made me feel extra mousey. I clamped my teeth around the cheese and ran my hand over the softness. It was perfect brown mousey fur.

I liked this new house, but I was still having a sad day. Mommy had told me and Coley that our real house had been burned two days ago. Mr. Fluffers was in that house.

Mr. Fluffers wasn't soft anymore. He was crunchy.

But I was a mousey now and mousey's didn't like kitties anyhow, even if Mr. Fluffers wasn't a real cat. I pulled at the slice of cheese and used my sharp mousey teeth to chew.

Cheese was good.

"Baylee!"

Mr. Duck was hurting my ears. But, I really liked Mr. Duck. I wished Mr. Duck was my real daddy. He was nice and he gave big hugs and he had big muscles in his arms to lift me up and swing me around. Bestest of all he wore really big cool shoes. I didn't know if my real daddy had all those things. Mommy and Coley told me my real daddy wasn't a nice guy.

That's why I'm a mousey today. Mousey's aren't nice either sometimes.

"Hey, I'll be back in about an hour and a half. Want me to bring lunch back?"

I peeked out from my mousey hole. Mr. Duck was touching mommy really softly and smiling at her. Mommy's cheeks always turned pink around him.

"If you want."

"Of course I do," his voice got really soft, but luckily mousey's have good hearing. "We need to talk about enrolling the kids in school."

Mommy frowned. "I still don't know if we're staying."

Mr. Duck looked sad. "Jilly..."

"I just don't want to rush anything. Besides, I feel like we're taking advantage."

Mr. Duck laughed, but it was a weird laugh. "You are not. I love having this house so full."

"Well..."

Mr. Duck's hand left mommy's side and touched the side of her face. "Please," he added. He was a polite duck. He was also a leaning duck. My nose wrinkled and I turned away.

He was a kissy duck!

My hidey hole was getting warm. I snuck past Mr. Duck kissing mommy and scurried along the wall. The kitchen made my hands feel all sticky and slappy but it was the fastest way to the back door. Once I got there, I de-moused. It was better to be a bear outside. I bear stomped out the door and closed it behind me.

Mr. Duck's backyard was really big. It was big enough for a pony. I really hoped he did get me a pony. I let my shoes squish in the mud. My white shoes turned brown. I had bear paws!

"Grrrr," I growled. I licked my hand and ran it over my ear. The cheese in my tummy wasn't enough. Now I wanted honey. I had to look for the honey pot.

I pounced around the backyard, but everywhere I looked, I couldn't find honey. I heard car doors open and close and then a real loud noise. I growled and the noise went away. I looked around and stretched. My tummy was starting to growl.

Way across the yard, towards the trees where we had our fire, I saw a big shed. It looked old. It was the perfect place to hide honey! I stretched my claws and walked towards it.

The door was closed and there was a big rusty square that made the door not open even as hard as I jiggled. The grass smelled really good here, all nice and wet. I bet the wormies really liked living in this grass. I held onto the rusty square and leaned back, but my big bear muscles couldn't do it.

"Need some help?"

I looked over at the trees and growled. I held up my bear claws. There was a big guy leaning against the trees. He had long dark hair tied back in a ponytail and his shirt was dirty.

Hey, it's okay. I'm sorry if I scared you."

His voice sounded nice but he scared me so I was still mad. Bears have a very short temper. I kept my claws up.

"Did you want to get in there?"

I glanced back at the shed and bit my lip. Yes, I did! I really did. "There's honey in there," I said shyly.

"Do you like honey?" the guy asked. He took a step toward me. I took a step back, flexing my claws.

"I'm a bear," I said. I growled again.

The guy laughed. "You make a very good bear, Tabitha."

I lowered my claws. "How do you know my name?"

The guy walked closer. I took another step back. He grabbed the rusty square and yanked. It came off easy for him. He threw it on the ground and smiled at me.

"You don't know who I am, do you?"

I shook my head. I forgot my claws. The guy had a big tattoo on his arm. It didn't look like Mr. Duck's. It was a scary skull with a snake coming out of one of the eyeball holes.

"I'm your daddy. I've been waiting a long time to see you again. I got the door open, see? Do you want to check for honey?"

The look in his eyes scared me. They weren't sparkly like Mr. Duck's. I glanced back towards the house.

"I got to go tell my mommy first."

"You don't have to tell her anything."

He growled the words and I started to cry. I turned and began to ran.

"Oh no you don't!"

I squealed, but before I could get real loud he put his hand over my mouth. It tasted salty and dirty and his fingers pushed into my cheek making it hurt. I kicked, but he didn't let me go.

"That's no way to say hi to your daddy. Jesus, you're a bitch just like your mother."

Coley had said the 'b' word one time and mommy had washed his mouth out with our dish soap. He coughed up bubbles for three minutes and I thought it had been so funny. But I knew the 'b' word was bad too. I wiggled my head. I decided that being a mousey again could help since mouseys bite small things real good. I grabbed his finger and chomped it.

"FUCK!"

One time not too long ago mommy had told me what to do if a stranger tried to talk to me. Even if this scary guy was my daddy, he was a stranger.

"HELP! STRANGER DANGER! HELP! STRANGER DANGER!"

The back door swung open and I threw out my arms. Mommy came running towards me.

"Mo--"

"I don't think so."

The big guy grabbed me again. His arm wrapped around me so tightly that my stomach hurt really bad! I wanted to throw up my cheese.

"Let her go, Gregg!" mommy screamed.

"Not on your life Jillian!" he screamed back.

"She's mine."
Cuts Like a Knife by evergreenwriter83
Cuts Like a Knife

Jillian

"She's mine."

The words were worse than any physical stabbing. Tibby's eyes were wide and wild. Her sneakers were two filthy blurs as she kicked violently, but to no avail.

"Just let her go," I said, my voice sounding calm even though I did not feel calm. Not in the least.

"I've wasted five years of my life because of you. Five years!" Gregg screamed. He was just as filthy; his hair much longer than I remembered, pulled back in a ponytail. He shook Tibby hard. "STOP MOVING!"

"Don't hurt her. Please!"

"Please?" he sneered. "You think that's really going to work? You ruin my life and you think politeness is the answer? I told you then and I'll tell you know. I'm going to kill you for what you did. But first, I want to see you suffer. I think watching this thing die first might make you suffer. Will it make you suffer, Jillian? Oh, how I love to see your tears."

I was crying uncontrollably, yet I couldn't feel the tears. All of my memories were crashing down upon me. I wanted to curl up and shield my head like I had done so many times before but I fought the reaction. This wasn't about me. This was about Tibby. I had to save her. He could do what he wanted to me, but I just had to get her away from him. I could tell she was crying hard now, but the last shake had stilled her feet. A large wet spot spread down her leg and I knew she had peed her pants. Gregg realized the result of her accident at the same time.

"Stupid. Fucking. Kid. You pissed on me!"

He threw her down on the ground like she was made of rags. I ran toward her, but he immediately grabbed her ponytail and yanked her head back. Tibby began to scream.

"Don't come any closer," Gregg hissed. I let out a moan of anguish as he withdrew the switchblade from his back pocket.

"You didn't do a good job with this one either," he said, sneering at me. "She doesn't know when to shut her yap. Always was crying and screaming, right? Well, I know how to shut her up."

He flipped the switch and the sharp silver blade popped up, the tip a fine, deadly point. I pressed my hands to my chest, not surprised to feel my heart practically beating its way out.

"If you want any chance at a life at all, you won't do this," I blubbered. "You'll go to prison for life. What is this going to accomplish? Why couldn't you have just left us alone?"

"Alone? ALONE?! I'll show you what alone feels like!"

He picked Tibby up by the ponytail. Her arms flew out in my direction.

"MOMMY!" she screamed. "MOOOMMMYY!!"

"Where are you going?" I screeched.

"No use getting blood on this nice grass!" He cackled and began dragging her back towards the trees. With his foot, he kicked the door to the shed open. A cloud of dust rose in his wake. Tibby tried to get a grip on the ground with her feet, but Gregg was much too strong. I watched in mounting horror as he spat on the ground and slapped her across the face, quickly silencing her. I prayed she had only been knocked out by the blow and not worse. He shook her and when she didn't respond, he glared at me, his lips twisting into a Joker-ish smile.

"Care to join us?" he said, his voice unnaturally sweet. "I might not spill so much of her blood if you do."

I couldn't feel my fingers or toes. I wasn't sure if I could move. I forced my head into a nod. His eyes crinkled.

"Good," he sneered. "Ladies first."

I walked towards him slowly, my eyes never leaving Tibby's body. I was a graduate of self-defense classes. I knew what I had to do. I had to keep him talking. I had to keep plotting out possible scenarios and not dwell on the worst.

"Tell me something first," I said, keeping enough space between us that I was still out of reach. "How did you find us so quickly?"

The look of pride he gave made me want to vomit. He was still hanging in the doorway. "It was easy," he said. "Sandusky was no problem. One of my buddies found out where you were even before I got out. This," he looked around quickly. "This was more of a problem, but I have your mom to thank."

I was sure my heart stopped. "My mom? What did you do to my mom?"

"Your mommy and I just had a nice chat. It's amazing what having a gun pointed to your head will do. She was so agreeable to call you and you being the stupid cunt you are just spilled the beans so easily, didn't you?"

I wanted to slap myself. I should have known when the call ended so quickly that something was wrong. I should have been more aware, I should have--

"Mom? MOM?"

Gregg looked behind my shoulder and I couldn't help but turn around even though I already knew what was happening. Cole was headed towards us, practically running. He held the phone in his hands and a look of fury on his face.

"NO!" I shouted, waving him away. "DON'T--"

BANG!

My words were drowned out. The sound of the discharge exploded my eardrums, replacing all sound with ringing. I lost my footing and dropped to my knees.

BANG!
Safest Place to Hide by evergreenwriter83
Safest Place to Hide

"SHIT! OH SHIT!"

The ringing lessened and Brian's voice filled the air. I had survived through my prayers. My eyes flew open and I spun around. Tibby!

There was a lot to take in as the scene unfolded in front of me. I felt Cole's hands on my shoulders before he sank down and hugged me. Gregg was lying still, his mouth open and a trickle of blood oozing out from the corners. His eyes were open, but unseeing. Tibby was lying in a heap nearby. Cole let me go long enough for me to scoop her up. I sobbed, but it was a relieved torrent of tears. She was still breathing.

"Arrrrrr!"

Brian sat inside the shed, his face wracked with pain. His hands were clamped around his foot. It was then that I noticed the blood.

He was hurt.

"You were awesome!" Cole yelled. He got up, ran past Gregg's body, and threw his arms around Brian's neck. Stunned, Brian gave him a tight one-armed hug.

"Back here! Back here!"

Baylee came tearing into the backyard, two cops hot on his heels. Brian tipped his head back, sucking air between his clenched teeth. Cole stepped back, finally realizing there was even more amiss.

"What happened?" I asked dumbly.

"I shot myself in the foot," he groaned.

"Literally."

---


"There's our hero."

Brian was sitting up in the hospital bed, his foot heavily bandaged and propped up on a pillow. He grimaced. "More like Barney Fife."

"Don't say that," I said. I tugged at the string I held. "I brought you a balloon."

I felt ridiculous. Here I was bringing a balloon to thank the man who had killed the guy who had almost killed my family. Yet, Brian broke into a ridiculously big smile.

"I love it."

I tied the large happy face balloon to the end of his bed and sat down in the rather uncomfortable padded chair at his bedside. I stared at my hands, lost for words.

"How's Tibby?"

My lips twitched. "She's telling the nurses all about what happened. Her order of events is a little bit skewed."

"Oh?"

"Something about a giant tennis shoe hitting the big bad guy and sending him back up his beanstalk."

"Quite an imagination. Of course, she should be proud. She thwarted my entire security crew. They weren't trained to follow a little girl pretending to be a bear."

A knot the size of the Grand Canyon welled up in my throat. It pained me to swallow. "I'm so sorry," I whispered.

The bed squeaked. "Sorry about what?"

I looked up. He was staring at me and still smiling. I rationalized that they must have given him some damn good drugs.

"I'm sorry for bringing this mess on you."

"Are you serious? Jilly, I wouldn't have wanted you to turn anywhere else. I wanted to be the one that took that bastard down. Sure, I shot my foot getting the gun out, but it could have been worse."

I shook my head. "I don't understand."

"Well see, I had already pulled back the safety and--"

"Not that," I said. He smiled.

"It's simple," he said. "I love you. I love Tibby. I love Cole. Heck, I think he even likes me a little bit now."

I laughed, a crazy strangled sort of laugh. "He more then likes you."

"Jilly, take pity on me. I'm a reckless, love crazy, irrational shooter. Tell me you love me too. Even a little."

My eyes didn't leave his. I stood up and walked over to the bed. I didn't say anything for the longest time. His blue eyes flickered with sadness.

"Damn you," I whispered. I pressed my hands against his face and leaned over.

Then I kissed him until my lungs felt like they might explode.

---


"Mom!"

Baylee hopped out of the ugly dark blue upholstered chair and ran towards a beautiful, blonde woman. She wore a one-piece jumpsuit, accessorized with a matching scarf draped elegantly around her neck. She opened her arms, bent over, and caught him in a hug.

"You poor thing!" she cried. "I've been worried sick!"

"It was fine, mama. Dad told me to wait for the police and I got to bring them into the backyard. And you know what else? There was a dead guy back there."

Her eyes widened and it was then that she looked past Baylee and honed in on me. She stood up to her full height and marched towards me.

"Are you the one that caused all this?" she said briskly.

Cole glared up at her. Tibby was asleep in a room down the hall; I was just awaiting discharge papers. Bristling at her tone, I stood up and held my head high.

"I'm Jillian. I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances."

She didn't take my hand. "You put my son in danger."

I felt my nostrils flare. "Brian made sure Baylee was safe. My children were the ones in danger. He's a hero."

"He's a fool. He'll be lucky if he doesn't go to jail for this. Baylee come."

Baylee stared at her and for a second he looked conflicted.

"But dad--"

"Baylee, now!"

His shoulders slumped, but he did what he was told. I watched them head down the hall, my anger building.

"What a bitch," Cole muttered coming to stand by me.

The last time he had said the 'b' word, I had washed his mouth out with soap. But this time, I had to agree.

"Hey mom?"

My eyes were still locked on the hallway, now empty. "Yeah?"

"If we're gonna stay down here, we need Hoover."

I looked down in surprise. "You want to stay?"

"Well," he stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I feel safe. Besides..."

"He does wear some pretty cool shoes."
Moving On in Ja-Ja by evergreenwriter83
Moving On in Ja-Ja

"Pull it back slowly keeping your eye right on the center. Make sure you have a nice rolling hold on it with your thumb and pointer finger. Yup, exactly. Now when you think you got a good judge on your trajectory do a quick flip forward...Nice!"

"But I only got a twenty!"

"Do you see my dart? I've got a six. We're playing to three hundred. Who's closer?"

Cole grinned. "Me."

Brian laughed. He placed his hand on the pool table beside him, ignoring the crutch he was supposed to be using to help him balance with the walking cast that was housing his shot foot. "You got it. Now move aside. It's my turn."

Cole hopped up on the pool table. He caught me leaning in the doorway and his smile widened.

"I'm learning how to play darts."

"I see that." I blew him a kiss. "Beat Brian's butt, okay?"

Brian had just let go of the dart. He turned around, his mouth dropping open. "Hey!" Cole laughed. "No problem." He pointed towards the dart stuck in the wall. I grinned.

"Sorry," I said sweetly. Before Brian could respond, I ducked back into the hall.

I found Tibby staring out the back window at the large yard. She clung to my hand as I wrapped my arms around her. I pressed my head gently on top of hers.

"How they doing back there?"

"Good. They gotted the trees almost down and a big machine knocked down the scary place."

We both watched as several guys fed a tree into the wood chipper. The obscene amount of land that had been gained by tearing the trees down seemed to stretch on forever.

"He can't hurt anyone anymore, right mommy?"

"Right."

Tibby wiggled and I lifted my head so she could look at me.

"I don't love my daddy," she said, looking so sad that I wanted to cry. I undid her messy ponytail and started to create a smooth one in its place.

"It's okay," I said gently. I swiftly did her hair and sank down on the ground. She copied me. "Honey, it's complicated but sometimes people can make a baby but they don't make good mommies and daddies. That man helped me make you and I wouldn't trade you for the world, but he just didn't know how to be a good daddy. Does that make sense?"

"Kinda," she said. She picked at her brand new bright pink sneakers complete with neon green laces. "But you're a good mommy," she said. I smiled.

"I couldn't have a better little girl to be a mommy to."

Tibby returned my smile. She yanked the laces and began to attempt the rabbit ear method Brian had begun to teach her. "Mommy?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think someone might want to be my daddy someday?"

She made a sloppy knot, but nevertheless it was a knot. She looked up at me with pride over her accomplishment and hope...hope that I'd answer the question with what she wanted to hear. I couldn't disappoint.

"Yes, baby, I know so."

Before Tibby could ask another question, a question I thought I already knew, the sound of the front doorbell being pressed rang through the house. I scooped Tibby up.

"I've got a surprise for yo-oou!" I sang.

"A surprise?!" she squealed.

"A big surprise," I laughed.

"I want it! I want it! I--"

"Hi ma'am. Where do you want the cage?"

"Just bring it in right here. We'll take him from there."

The delivery guy was dressed all in yellow, making him look kind of like a giant banana. Under different circumstances, I'm sure Tibby would have noticed to, but the sight of Hoover in his giant cage erased all thoughts of the fruit.

"HOOVEY!" Tibby squealed. "HOOVEY'S IN BAMA!"

"Georgia," I corrected.

"HOOVEY'S IN JA-JA!"

The guy about busted his forehead vein dragging in the cage. By the time he got it to the spot I had pointed to, he was dripping sweat. He didn't smile until I slipped him a twenty.

"Have a g'day," he panted. I closed the door behind him and turned around. Tibby was already opening the cage.

"HOO-HAHAHAHA!"

The sedation from the flight had evidently worn completely off. Hoover knocked Tibby on her butt, his large tongue bathing her face in sloppy doggy kisses. She wrapped her arms around his giant neck, her face wrinkling in glee.

"Tib, let's go surprise Cole," I said. I grabbed Hoover by the collar and yanked. His front paws slapped the air, his eyes bugging out.

"Silly, Hoovey," Tibby giggled. She scrambled to her feet. "C'mon!"

In any other house, the commotion in the front would have sent everyone running. But this wasn't like any other house. Tibby ran ahead of me, the layout of the place already mapped out in her little, always learning, always growing mind. She stopped by the door and waved me forward. Brian had turned on an old-fashioned jukebox and the music was blaring as we walked into the, for lack of a better word, playroom.

"Dangit!" Cole yelled over the music. Brian plucked his dart out of the bulls-eye. When he turned and saw me trying to keep Hoover at bay, he grinned. Hoover, in response, barked.

The bark was all that was needed to turn Cole's scowl into a look of pure excitement. He whirled around and his eyes flashed relief and happiness.

"Hoover!"

He had his arms around the dog in a second. Tibby smacked the poor guy in her enthusiasm. Hoover barked again. Brian slowly hobbled over to the jukebox and flipped it off.

"Welcome home, big guy," he said. He looked at me as he said it. I reached down and scratched behind the big guy's ear. It was a big statement for someone who was still reeling from everything. It was a big chance. Then again, so was taking a bullet through your foot while protecting a family that wasn't yours.

"Yeah buddy," I said softly.

"Welcome home."
I Need You Tonight by evergreenwriter83
I Need You Tonight

"We're fine mom. I promise. How's the concussion?"

"It's better, baby. Are you sure you're okay? What about Tibby?"

"She's okay. She wasn't conscious for the worst part of it all, a psychologist talked to her in the hospital, and I've been keeping an open dialogue with her. Are you sure your head's okay, mom?"

"I have a hard head. You know that. Besides, dad's taking great care of me." Mom let out a little sigh and there was a pause that raised my anxiety level to knew heights. "Jill, you should have told me and your dad everything. Whatever made you think you'd have to keep something like domestic abuse from us?"

And there it was. The skeleton in the closet. I knew I wouldn't be able to avoid it. Not after dad came home to find mom on the floor, concussed from the butt of Gregg's gun. The truth had to come out.

"I just wanted to pretend it really didn't happen," I whispered.

"It just breaks my heart," mom whispered and I knew that she was crying. Crying for me.

"You have to believe that I never thought he would--" I choked on the last few words.

"Honey, I know you didn't think he would use me to get at you. I'm just so glad that he can't hurt anyone anymore."

I brushed a tear from my cheek but another slid down in its place. "I know."

"Soooo..." mom's voice changed, an inflection of amusement flooding her voice. "Brian Littrell."

I blushed. "Mom."

"Is he as good looking now as he was in high school?"

I laughed, the tears drying up. "Mom!"

She laughed. "What?"

Suddenly, I felt someone watching me. I turned around on my bed and my eyes widened. It was like he had heard his name. Brian leaned against my doorway, his head tilted back, his hooded eyes on me. Realizing he was caught, he gave me a little finger wave. He was naked from the waist up, his pajama bottoms riding low on his hips.

"I've gotta go mom."

"Is he there?"

"Goodnight, mom."

"I love you, sweetheart."

"Love you, too."

"Oh, and Jill--"

I hung up before she finished. "Hey."

"Hey."

"I love the way Tibby sleeps."

I smiled. "It's different."

He grinned. "I think she's part bat."

I laughed. "Maybe."

"Sorry to interrupt your phone call." He didn't look too sorry. "You're mom doing okay?"

I nodded. "She told me she's fine. She was more worried about me and the kids than her head."

"Does mom not trust me again?"

I smirked. "Maybe."

He rolled his eyes and I spotted the sixteen year old lurking within. "Lame."

"Totally."

"Did you tell her you're staying?"

I pulled my knees to my chest, wrapping my arms around them. "Nope."

He suddenly looked concerned. "You are, right?"

For the first time in forever, I felt...playful. I wiggled my toes. "Maybe."

"Maybe?" He straightened up from his slouched position and walked into the room. The look on his face changed yet again. It was a look I had only seen briefly, the look he had given me in the restaurant before he had kissed me. He got to the bed and sank his hands into the mattress, leaning over.

"Maybe?" he repeated.

My mouth went dry. He was so close. He smelled good, that fresh out of the shower smell of body wash and shampoo. I looked straight up at him.

"Maybe I'll take you up on that offer of seeing what the schools around here have to offer."

He leaned closer. "I like that idea."

"You do, huh?"

"I do. Know what other idea I like?"

I took a deep inhale of him. "What?"

"You," he lifted his right hand and snaked a finger around the opening in my tank top. In a bold move, he pulled it forward and his eyes drifted down. "spending the night in my room."

Reflexively, I began to shake my head no. His finger flicked forward and touched the v between my breasts.

"Let's reason," he said in a voice that was much more mature and much sexier than I remembered his bedroom voice being. My eyes drifted closed. "You know I won't hurt you." His finger flicked forward again. "My intentions are quite the opposite."

I licked my lips. "I know."

"And," his breath warmed my cheek. "I want you. I need you."

I bit my moistened lip. The temptation was so strong. I had been walled up for so long...

"Don't make me," he kissed my cheek once, twice, three times, moving closer and closer to my lips. Ever so softly he kissed me. "use the shot in the foot defense."

I giggled and it felt so good to giggle. So foreign, but so normal with him there like we were two kids beneath the bleachers. So good in fact that I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him hard.

It was this kiss that took us from two old high school lovers to a whole new playing field. A whole new planet in a whole new solar system. The intensity rose immediately. Brian pulled me up with him as he straightened up, his hands taking their time sliding along my breasts before snaking around to my back. He moaned into my mouth and I let myself relax in his arms. We pulled away, my lungs aching for air. I pressed my lips against his bicep, shivering slightly at the thought of what might be. His roaming hands gripped me under my ass and hoisted me up. We ended up nose to nose, lips to lips.

"Well?"

I wanted to say yes so bad. Yet, the protective force that had been on red alert so long wouldn't back down. "Tibby...Cole..." "I'll sneak you back before curfew," Brian whispered teasingly. His hands dug into my ass. "Jilly, please baby."

I stroked the back of his neck. I shimmied down him and felt him there, hard and waiting. "Yes." It was like the flip of a switch. We were out of the room and in the hall. His lips were on mine and we bumped along the walls as he groped towards his room. By the time we hit the sheets, I knew that the sex was going to be much different than it had been before. This man was sweet on the outside and fire on the inside. My first clue was with the skill in which he parted my knees and the voracity of his tongue on the inside of my thigh, boy shorts be damned.

My second clue was the realization that he had been blessed with a last minute late-teen growth spurt.

And my final clue was the way in which he held me afterwards, like he was never going to let me go again.
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? by evergreenwriter83
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

If you've never slept on thousand count Egyptian cotton sheets, you can't imagine waking up feeling like you've slept on a cloud. You can't imagine how the feel of the cool sheet as it slides against your naked skin feels like water cascading from a gorgeous waterfall. Paired with a gorgeous man's arm draped around you and the way his body curves around your own and you have heaven. Absolute heaven.

Except when a five year old is staring at you, her eyes barely able to peer above the insanely thick mattress.

"Hi."

My first instinct was to jump up, but considering I was stark naked under the sheet, I had to fight the urge. Brian's left hand was cradling my breast and his breath was warm on my neck. He had promised me that he wouldn't fall asleep! I was supposed to have gone back to my room. Now it was morning.

And we were caught.

"Hi, baby," I whispered, my voice unable to rise any higher.

"Didja have a bad dream?" she whispered back.

I was so tempted to look down to make sure I was covered, but it was like I was frozen in place. "A bad dream?" I repeated. I tried to put myself in her place, waking up in the morning and not finding her mommy in her room. Finding her mommy in bed with a guy. A guy that had was a hero in her eyes.

A guy that would protect someone from bad dreams. Ah-ha.

"Yeah," I said, clinging to the opening she gave me. "I had a bad dream."

She reached up but she couldn't quite touch my face. "It's okay, mommy," she cooed.

"Mmmmm."

The sound reached all the way to my toes, shot back up to my girlie bits, and then got my heart pounding. The hand on my breast squeezed it gently. The breath on my neck moved to my shoulder. The body against mine became hard and wanting again, shifting slightly, and then--

And then he realized we had a visitor.

"Tibby," Brian said quickly. "G-good morning, peanut."

"Hi," she said, happily oblivious. I was beginning to sweat, afraid to move a muscle lest a sheet would move in a wayward direction and I'd be faced with a talk I so didn't want to have for a very long time. "I'm hungry," she added.

"Hungry," Brian repeated as if it was a foreign word. I ever so slightly nudged his chest.

"Why don't you go downstairs and I'll be right down. We'll make Coco Wheats and you can help me remember the words to the song. Sound good?"

She pulled back and then immediately swung forward. I was sure she was going to crawl up into bed, but she stopped with her leg dangling. "Can we put lotsa sugggggar in it?"

I think I would have promised her the moon if she had asked right then. "Absolutely."

"YAY!!" She dropped back down on the floor and ran to the door. "Coco Wheats, Coco Wheats, the creamy hot cereal with the coco treat!"

The door closed behind her. I pressed my face in the pillow. Brian's hand drifted down to my hip.

"So I take it we don't have time for--"

I flipped around. "Are you kidding me?!"

He sat up and laughed. "Your face is beat red!"

"My five year old just walked in on me--and you---and naked--and--"

He turned, pressing his arm into the mattress on the other side of me. He shut me up with a kiss. By the time he pulled away, I had almost forgotten what I was so upset about.

Almost. I sat up, holding the sheet against me. Brian fell back. "My foot hurts too bad to get up."

"The rise in the sheet says differently," I mumbled. His eyes sparkled.

"I can be quick."

"I thought your foot hurt?"

"Well..."

"I find it impressive," I said, running my hand down the sheet. His mouth opened slightly. "That you were able to carry me into the room without us both falling considering you're confined to that cast."

"Motivation," he said thickly as I stroked him. "Strong motivation."

"Well use that motivation," I leaned over, sucking him through the thousand count Egyptian sheets. "to get up and eat some Coco Wheats." I ran my tongue along the length. He was struggling to get the sheet off him. "We've got a little school issue to take care of."

"School," he repeated. He got the sheet off just as I slipped out of bed the other way, almost stopping in surprise at how sore I felt. Muscles I hadn't used in a very long time protested loudly. Unfortunately, I could have stared at him lying there erect forever, but instead I grabbed my shorts and slid them back on.

"If we're staying, the kids have to go to school," I said.

"Could we talk about this in oh, say, three minutes?" he begged. My tank top was harder to find, but I grabbed it from the corner and threw it on. I locked the door and drifted back over to the bed. Crawling up on the end, I took him back into my mouth.

"Fuck," he growled.

"Make it five."

---


"I like the playground."

"The gym's really big."

"I want a Barbie bookbag!."

"The whole 'no uniforms' thing is awesome."

Brian squeezed my hand as we watched Tibby flip upside down on the monkey bars. She grinned.

"So is that a yes?"

Her two thumbs flipped up. "Yes!"

"Cole?"

He was staring across at the nearby junior high where a group of boys were playing flag football. He turned his attention back to me and nodded.

"Yeah, let's give it a try. Can I get another pair of sneakers?"

"And a pony!" Tibby squealed. She flipped herself back onto the ground.

"Yes to the sneakers," I said. I looked at Tibby. "No to the--"

"I'm working on the pony," Brian said, interrupting me. Tibby's face lit up like a sparkler on the 4th of July.

"You're the best," she gushed. "Isn't he mommy? Isn't he?"

I shook my head, still absorbing the information on the pony update. Yet, at the same time, I could tell he was waiting for my response.

"Yeah Tibs," I said, sure that the love in my voice was evident.

"He is the best." He let go of my hand then, wrapping his arms around me. I started to glance over at the kids, but he stopped me.

"I love you, Jillian Bridges..."

"Yesterday, today, and for a million tomorrows."
Flashback to the End by evergreenwriter83
Flashback to the End

- February 1993 -

"You look so beautiful."

"You clean up pretty well yourself."

"Picture time!"

"Mom!"

"I'm not letting you leave without a picture."

"If it helps, we have to go back to my house for the same thing."

I laughed. Mom directed us to in front of the fireplace where we stood, his arm around my waist and my head on his shoulder. We looked the part of the perfect Valentine's Day couple. My red floor length dress had a modest slit that stopped right at the knee. Brian's black suit was accented with a red tie.

Cupid would have been proud.

"Have her back by elev--" mom turned and my parents seemed to have a silent discussion. "twelve," dad corrected.

"Yes, sir," Brian said, trying to hide his grin.

"One more picture!"

"Mom!"

---


Tell me princess, now when did you last let your heart decide?
I can open your eyes, take you wonder by wonder
Over sideways and under on a magic carpet ride
A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no, or where to go, or say we're only dreaming.


"I love you Jilly Bean."

"I love you, too Bri."

His hands drifted down my back. All around us couples were swaying to the slow song. I felt his lips on my neck and then his warm breath on my ear.

"What do you say we leave a little early?"

It didn't take long to decide. The decorations were high school cheesy, all baby-faced smiling cupids, metallic red hearts, and paper conversation hearts that said things like 'Cool' and 'Wild Thang."

"Y--"

Then How Do You Talk to an Angel began to play. Brian's fingers pressed deeper in my sides.

"After this song," he said. I laughed, but soon closed my eyes and let myself enjoy Brian's voice singing along, a voice that sounded even better than the actual artist.

I hear a voice in my mind
I know her face by heart
Heaven and earth are moving in my soul
I don't know where to start

Tell me, tell me, the words to define
The way I feel about someone so fine
How do you talk to an angel
How do you hold her close to where you are
How do you talk to an angel
It's like trying to catch a falling star

---


"You're lucky your birthday's next week. If mom finds out--"

"I owe you one."

Harold smiled. "It was so much easier when you just needed me to buy baseball cards for you because you couldn't reach the counter."

Brian took the motel key from his brother's hand. "I'll be home around 12:30."

"I'm not responsible if you miss her curfew," Harold laughed. He winked at me and I blushed. He pulled out his car keys and slapped his brother on his back.

"Have fun."

My blush intensified, but the feeling of Brian's hand taking my own distracted me.

"You can say no," he said softly.

I had already said 'yes' twice on the way to the motel. I smiled.

"No to the no."

"Two no's make a yes?"

I laughed. "Yes."

---


- April 20, 1993 -

"I'm just going to go down and see what Kevin's talking about. I'm sure it's not going to be the big break he's hoping for."

"And if it is?"

My stomach was in knots. Everything was happening way too fast. One minute we were in the middle of a history test and the next Brian was racing out because he had an important phone call.

The call was changing our lives and I was nervous.

"If it is then you're going to be moving to Florida," Brian smiled. He cupped my face and gave me a kiss that radiated his excitement. This was an adventure. As much as I wanted to beg him not to go, how could I?

"I just...I just don't want you to forget me," I said, my voice shaking. I was going to cry. I was going to cry!

"His fingers brushed around the perimeter of my face. "How could I ever forget you, Jilly Bean? We've got too many plans. We're going to get great jobs and fix up an old run down house and then have four kids."

I smiled at the dream. "Little Avery Marie."

He held me tighter. "Exactly."

"Except if we have four boys," I teased. He nuzzled my neck.

"Then we'll have to keep trying 'til we get a girl."

My tears started the same time as my laughter. I clung to his shoulders, hating the selfish feeling that was bubbling in my stomach.

"Two months," he promised. "I'll be home if Kevin can't make something happen in two months."

I was a blubbering mess. I had to pull myself together. The shoulder of his t-shirt was getting soaked through my tears. "Okay," I said, my voice sounding ridiculously small. He pulled back and smiled.

"You have nothing to worry about."

---


- Graduation Day -

"I wish you could have been at SeaWorld. It was amazing. All the applause and the people. Jill, this is something big. I think this could be it. The other guys are really good and our vocals really blend."

My hat was annoying me. Even with the bobby pins holding it in place, it kept sliding down over my eyes. I slid it back up. Brian looked so happy. What could I say?

"So you're staying down there?"

"Well, they're talking about taking us over to Europe this summer. Can you believe it? Europe!

It felt like I hadn't seen my boyfriend in forever and now he was talking about putting even more miles between us. And the worst part was he didn't see my pain through his excitement. He gave me a tight hug.

"This is all going to work out great, Jilly. I love you."

I squeezed him tightly, closing my eyes to trap the tears.

"I love you, too."

---


- July 1993 -

"I'm really sorry, Jill. Things are happening so fast and I just don't think it's fair to you."

"This isn't fair to me. You're breaking up with me."

"Jill," even though it sounded like this conversation was ripping his heart out as much as it was mine, I didn't want to hear his hurt. "They said we probably won't even be home for Christmas. I promise this isn't going to be forever. There's just so much more involved in the process than I thought."

I choked on a sob. "Is there someone else?"

Visions of some French topless girl floated in my mind. I hated Europe.

"There's no one else," he said. "I love you Jilly. Always have and always will."

Those words had always meant so much. Now they felt...empty.

"Brian, I--"

There was noise on his end of the line. Muffled voices followed my a sigh. His voice finally flooded the line.

"I've got to go. Jill, I--"

It was the end. I knew the second I hung up the phone that I was going to fall to pieces. I clung to the phone. Don't hang up, don't hang up, don't--

"Bye, Jilly Bean."

The line went dead...

And I began the fall.
I Wanna Make You Feel Wanted by evergreenwriter83
I Wanna Make You Feel Wanted

"Have a good night, Jill."

"Thanks, Pat. See you Monday."

I grabbed my coat, dreading the walk outside. It was December 3 and the temperature was hovering somewhere around -5. The moment I opened the door to the dentistry center, the cold blast hit me full force, almost sending me running back to my office to hide. Instead, I headed out, closing the door behind me and carefully tested my steps to make sure I wasn't treading on black ice. Once I reached the car, I turned it on and immediately switched on the heater. I never was one for following the 'let the car warm up' rule. I dug my cellphone out and punched in my mom's cell.

"Hello?"

"Did you get there safe?"

"We got in about two hours ago. Tibby's in heaven. We just got to FAO Schwarz."

I laughed. It didn't take much of an imagination to conjure up a vision of her reaction to being surrounded by wall-to-wall toys. At the same time, I had a pang of regret.

"I should have gone," I said.

"Honey, it's fine. I'm thrilled that your dad and I get to have time with the kids here. I'm not so excited about the concert, but..."

"Just make sure Tibby doesn't try to get onstage," I warned.

"She couldn't do that," mom said.

"Trust me, she could. She's sneaky."

"She's---Cole, where's Tibby?"

There was a lot of chatter and several heart-stopping moments on my end before mom came back on the line. "She buried herself under a mountain of plush. It's all good."

"See?" I said. "Sneaky!"

"It's under control," mom said. "She'll return to you in one piece, probably holding three new stuffed animals and wearing one of those 3D shirts."

"1D," I said. "One Direction."

"Yeah, that."

I smiled. "Mo--"

"Mommy, this place is amazing!"

Tibby's voice, filled with enthusiasm flooded the line. I immediately relaxed.

"Are you having fun?"

"Well, yeah! Nana and Papa are gonna buy me the whole store!"

"Now Tabitha," I heard my dad say.

"But--!"

"Hi, mom."

"Hey Coley. How was the flight?"

"Good. Grandpa's gonna take me out early to see the Statue of Liberty."

"Take lots of pictures," I said. "And be--"

"Careful," Cole finished. "I know mom."

I could almost see him making that annoyed 'I'm not a baby' face. I suddenly realized, slightly in horror, that I really was turning into my own mother.

After a few more minutes and a dozen more assurances that everything was fine, we hung up. My car was nice and toasty. I backed out of my parking spot and pointed the car towards home.

Home.

It had been a whirlwind four months. So much had happened. Me and the kids were officially Georgians. I had a new job in a large dentistry office. Brian had pulled me into helping him with the house, especially after admitting he needed to spend more time working on vocal problems that he had been denying for the last couple years. With a voice that was probably more perfect than it had ever been before, he had begun to spend more and more time out in L.A. recording the new album with the other guys. It was the time that he was gone that was the hardest.

And tonight, for the first time in forever, I was going home to an empty home. Brian had managed to get Tibby 1D tickets for Christmas and had proceeded to plan a whole trip to New York for her, Cole, and my parents and he was out in L.A. As excited as I had been about the possibilities of me time, I was now feeling extremely apprehensive about the empty hours I had to fill.

The house was dark when I pulled up. All of the trees had been taken down and work had begun on a large pool and a wide expansive of flower gardens. The house was still blocked from view from the road, but instead of being shielded by trees, a large friendly white fence stretched the entire perimeter. The space would be paradise in the summer. But tonight, it just looked barren.

I pulled into the garage, thankful that I wouldn't be subjective to the elements anymore that night. I used my keyless remote to disable the security system and unlocked the door leading into the house.

I knew right away that something was off. Even though the house was dark, there was noise coming from the interior.

My heart leapt into my throat. I grabbed the nearest weapon I could find, Tibby's 'Walk with Me' life-size dolly. I rationalized that I could beat an intruder with the thick plastic legs. I crept along the wall, my ears straining to figure out the garbled noise. As I neared the living room, the words, actually music, became clear.

I hear a voice in my mind
I know her face by heart
Heaven and earth are moving in my soul
I don't know where to start

Tell me, tell me, the words to define
The way I feel about someone so fine
How do you talk to an angel
How do you hold her close to where you are
How do you talk to an angel
It's like trying to catch a falling star


The song brought back a flood of memories, happy, sad, bittersweet...it ran the whole spectrum. I lowered the dolly and peeked around the corner.

"Welcome home, baby."

The room was a flood in candlelight and flowers. The shades were securely drawn, maintaining the empty look of the house from the outside. The furniture was pushed against the wall. Standing there clad only in jeans with his bare feet on the hardwood floor was Brian.

"What are you doing here?" I whispered. I don't know why I felt the need to whisper, except that I was still in shock.

"Do you really think I'd make you spend the night alone?"

"But," my mind was still drawing a blank. "You're in L.A."

He laughed. Even though it was thinning, Brian had been trying to grow his hair. The result was hair that tended to curl along the base of his neck and across his forehead making him look extremely playful and sexy. "I am, am I?"

"I--" The room was so bare. The little tea light candles were throwing me for a loop. He walked towards me, his hand extended. The song, piped in from somewhere, ended. "I wanted to surprise you."

I took his hand, taking a careful step forward. I felt overdressed. Thoughts of fuzzy slippers and frumpy cotton pajamas flew from my mind. This was...romantic. "You did a good job."

"But I'm not done yet. Sit."

"Sit?" I looked at the chairs, all pointing towards the wall. "Where?"

"Right here."

Brian sat down, crossing his legs. I slowly sank down in front of him, copying the motion. He leaned over grabbing his guitar.

"I thought about doing all this while How Do You Talk to an Angel was playing because I've always thought about that song as being ours," he said. "But I know that things that happened after the dance probably left a tarnished memory on it."

I nodded. He had spoken so much better what I had just thought.

"So instead, I have this for you."

His fingers ran over the strings and the most beautiful melody began to form. His eyes closed as they always did when he really sunk down into a song. His voice rang through the empty room in a way that sent shivers through my spine. I knew then that he had purposely rearranged to provide for just the right acoustics.

You know I'd fall apart without you
I don't know how you do what you do
'Cause everything that don't make sense about me
It makes sense when I'm with you
Like everything that's green, girl I need you
But it's more than one and one makes two
So put aside the math and the logic of it
You gotta know you're wanted too

I wanna wrap you up
Wanna kiss your lips
I wanna make you feel wanted
I wanna call you mine
Wanna hold your hand forever
And never let you forget it
Yeah I, wanna make you feel wanted

Anyone can tell you you're pretty
And you get that all the time, I know you do
But your beauty's deeper than the makeup
And I wanna show you what I see tonight


I'd heard the song on the radio a dozen times, but it had never really hit home until that moment. Tears streamed down my face as he finished, his eyes opening and meeting mine. The fiery flames of passion and love that I felt reflected from his own eyes. He slowly removed the guitar strap from around his chest and began to open his arms towards me.

I was in them before they fully opened, my lips crushing his own. It was a moment frozen in time. As we came up for air, he shifted slightly with me in his lap. When his arm came back around, his hand wasn't empty.

I knew what it was before he even opened the box. I had never been the recipient of an engagement ring before. Paul had been too poor and we had been too young and in way too much of a hurry. He had teasingly proposed with a bread twist-tie.

But the ring before me was very real and very fun. There wasn't another word to describe it. Two hearts intricately woven together, the centers a mesmerizing display of in-lay diamonds.

"Jilly, I've gotten your father's permission to do this," his voice shook, sounding so much different than the confident artist a second before. "I'm not going to be stupid enough to let you get away a second time. Will you marry me?"

A normal woman's reaction would be to cry. A romantic setting for a proposal, a dream come true, a beautiful ring. Instead, I began to laugh so hard I snorted. Brian looked shocked.

"Yes!" I gasped for air before erupting into another round of gut-wrenching laughter.

"Yes?" he repeated.

"Yes!"

"Are you serious?"

My eyes were watering from laughing so much. I was sure he was going to change his mind now that he realized I was acting like a raving lunatic. I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes. It was hard to keep a straight face. I really was losing it!

"Yes," I said. He cupped my face and shook my head.

"What am I going to do with you?" he whispered. He kissed me again gently. I hugged him tightly around the neck.

"Do what you just did," I said.

"Just make me feel wanted."
Traveling Soldier by evergreenwriter83
Traveling Soldier

"How's wedding plans coming?"

I was in the middle of performing a root canal on a poor seventy-year old guy that looked like Droopy Dog, but I couldn't help but smile at the thought of the wedding. In three months, I'd be Jillian Littrell. I looked across at Stephanie, my dental assignment. "Besides the ongoing trouble with Cole and his son Baylee, great. We're doing a midnight blue and silver, under the stars, concept."

"Sounds beautiful," she said. "His son still refusing to go to the wedding?"

I nodded. "Yeah, he's determined to make his weekend visits absolute misery. Unfortunately, it's been working. Cole hates his guts. Our only hope is Tibby. No matter what, Tibby being her ridiculous self can usually get him to smile."

She gave me a reassuring look. "Then all hope's not lost. He'll come around."

I didn't answer; we were at the part of the root canal where if I drilled too low it would mean even more hurt than the procedure already produced. I hit my target and Stephanie was ready with the root canal files.

The next hour was spent extracting bacteria filled pulp, dead nerve tissue, and other debris.

I was thankful my husband-to-be had beautiful, healthy teeth. And great lips. And an oh so amazing tongue...

He had the whole package.

---


"You picked some awesome colors for these braces Lori," I said as I worked at threading the lime green wire through each bracket. The 12-year old squirmed uncomfortably, the lip stretcher making her look like a horror movie victim.

"Jillian?"

Stephanie hovered by the door. "Someone's in the lobby to see you."

I smiled. "Tell Brian I'm in the middle of a brace setting."

"It's not Brian. It's a guy. He didn't give me his name, but he said it's urgent."

I stopped and looked up. Stephanie looked flushed. "He's handsome."

I rolled my eyes. "Ask him if his name's Josh. If he says yes, tell him to wait. It's my brother."

"Okay," she said. I turned back to the squirmy pre-teen in my chair and continued the wiring.

Minutes later, Stephanie was back.

"He says he's not Josh, but he won't give me his name. He said if you don't come out he's coming in here."

"Was that a threat?"

Stephanie looked conflicted. "No, he looked...I dunno. Maybe you should just come out. He just seems determined, not mean."

My curiosity was peaked. I patted Lori's shoulder. "Just a second, sweetie."

I headed down the hall to the waiting room. Stephanie was right on my heels.

"Do you want me to stay by the phone just in case--"

"Jillian."

I stopped in my tracks. The guy was tall, his shoulders wide. A smile lit up his face.

"Paul." His name came out a ghost of a whisper. I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. It was truly a visit from the dead, except he looked very much alive. A decade older and very much alive. I grabbed the reception desk; my legs had become jello. "How--"

The look in his eyes that Stephanie couldn't explain flooded his irises in full force. "A special forces unit finally tracked me and three others down two weeks ago. I've spent the last ten years in a P.O.W. camp."

I shook my head. "It can't be. They said you were involved in a roadside bombing. They found your ID. We had--We had a funeral--"

"Without a body," he whispered. He stepped forward and suddenly he was right there in arms length.

"I called my mom and dad first. They told me where Cole was," he took my hand and held it limply at first. He had grown a mustache and there was lingering stubble all along his jawline. His jeans were slightly too big. "Cole told them you were getting remarried," he said. He applied slightly pressure on my hand, finally squeezing it.

"I got here as fast as I could," he continued. "Your traveling soldier's come home."

"Paul," my voice sounded ridiculously high and strangled. "I--"

"You're my wife and I'm not going to let anything steal my chance at having my family with me." His face was resolute.

"Anything."

"Jilly, I brought you lun--"

I glanced over Paul's shoulder. Brian stopped inside the doorway, holding a large brown bag. He eyed Paul, focusing on our hands.

"What the hell's going on?" he asked quietly.

"This is my wife," Paul said. "What's it to you?"

Brian looked at me. I felt like I was in one of those horrible dreams where no matter what I did, I couldn't move.

"I'm her fiancee," Brian said, an angry edge to his voice.

"And I'd suggest you let go of her."

THE END
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