Authors: Codi Gary
She’d been surprised to say the least when she’d opened up the first letter and seen them addressed to her mother. She had never asked Earl’s age, but he had to be at least five years older than her mother, if not more. Her mother would have been forty eight this year if she had lived.
The stack of letters started when her mother would have been about seventeen.
I had a dream about you last night, smiling at me so sweetly and asking me how much I missed you. The truth is, darling, I miss you more than I can tell you in a few words. You are the one thing from home I miss. Well, and my dogs, but that’s not exactly romantic is it? I will say that those weeks I spent with you keep me sharp and sane, because I’ve got something more than a crumbling old house to get back to. I’ve got a beautiful brown eyed girl with a heart so sweet, I wonder how in the world I got so lucky. What could a no account like me have done to deserve someone so wonderful waiting and worrying about him?
Its lights out now sweetheart, but I promise to write you again soon.
Missing you like crazy,
Rand grabbed the next letter and continued reading, surprised by the romantic sentiments Earl wrote, and it was hard for her to think of the crusty old codger being so eloquent. Earl wrote about the first time meeting her mother, as a freckle faced girl with two braids following him around her daddy’s ranch as he worked. Earl had worked for Granddaddy?
He wrote about seeing her at the Soda Shack while he was visiting on leave when he was twenty seven, how he’d tried not to watch her, until he’d caught her looking at him. So many moments poured out of the one sided conversation. He told her jokes and admitted how scary it was most nights, but her letters got him through it. How he thought about the night she’d snuck over to his house in the pouring rain every time he closed his eyes and told her it had been the best night of his life. Three years’ worth of letters in a shoe box told a story of her mother when she was in love and she was happy, not abused by an awful husband or riddled with cancer. Rand dashed at the tears on her cheeks as she picked up the second to the last letter.
I don’t want you waiting around for me anymore. I’ve got another seven years in and the life of a Marine’s wife is too hard for you. You need to find some nice young man to marry and have a passel of kids. I’ve been selfish, thinking that this would work, but I’ve seen how fast these marriages turn bad, and I couldn’t bear to hurt you. I want you to have a full life, not hopping around the world with me and leaving behind everything you love. I know this will be hard to hear, but you’re young, Caty. You don’t need to spend all your time on military bases by yourself but for a few weeks a year when I’m on leave and raising babies alone. You’ll find someone better than me.
All My best,
She kept wiping at her eyes as she blubbered, “Oh Earl, you are such an idiot.”
It made sense to her now that a man who had scorned everyone else in this town had acquired a soft spot for a little orphan girl. It had been a puzzle to her much of her life, but she’d only brought it up once.
“Why do you let me come over here? Everybody else is afraid of you.” She’d asked Earl when she was ten.
He’d just given her a grunt and said, “Maybe I just have a soft spot for brown haired nosy hellions.”
She laughed aloud through her tears at the memory and changed out of the white wedding gown and back into a pair of comfy jeans
Jake’s bellow from the front door had her hurrying to zip up the dress and get her clothes back on. Gently, she wrapped the letters that were strewn across the bed back up, placing them in the box and putting it back in the hope chest. “I’m coming.”
She came out of the bedroom to find him unpacking a grocery bag of food, while Red was head first in the fridge rummaging. She wanted to run to him, wrap her arms around his waist and tell him how much she missed him.
Jake looked up from his unpacking and said, “So, Red said you kicked his ass today.”
Red pulled his head out of the fridge, three beers in his hand. “She did, man. Jesse and I smelled like we’d spent nine hours in a gym without air conditioning.”
Rand pretended to sniff. “So that’s what that smell was.”
Red shook up the can of beer and slid it to her. “There you go.”
“So what are you making?” Rand asked Jake, glaring at Red.
He held up the box of bake and serve orange chicken and fried rice. “Chinese.”
She put the shaken beer in the fridge and grabbed a new one. “So what’s on the movie menu then?”
Red grinned and reached into the bag. “The Hangover, The Hangover Part two, and Bridesmaids for your enjoyment. Oh, that reminds me, my sisters offered to help you get ready if you want.”
Rand looked towards Jake in alarm and he just laughed. Coughing, she asked Red, “All of them?”
The Calhoun sisters were nice enough girls, but all four of them in one room with her?
Red laughed. “Actually just M.J. and Tabby.”
Rand’s sigh of relief was audible and the two men grinned at each other when she said, “Okay, I’d appreciate the help.”
Jake turned on the oven and walked over to her, leaning over to give her a deep searching kiss that had her holding on for dear life. When he pulled back, he was smiling. “I missed you.”
“Alright, if you guys are going to make out all night, I’m going to take my food to go.” Red made a gagging noise and Rand, her insides a pile of mush at Jake’s admission, flipped him the bird.
Jake laughed and pulled back from Rand with a kiss on her forehead. She didn’t know why the loss of his warmth affected her so, but she suddenly wished they were alone.
He couldn’t seem to stop watching her. When Red reached out and pulled her into a bear hug, giving her a smacking kiss on the cheek, his fingers twitched with the urge to pull her away from him. Everything she did was distracting, the way she lifted her arms to rearrange the topknot on her head, her full breasts rising with them. When she bent over to put the DVD into the player and the curve of her bottom rose into the air, his palms started sweating.
When Rand came back to the couch and slid in next to his side, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders naturally.
She turned to lay her head on his chest as the menu came on the screen and after pressing the play button, she snuggled back in, wrapping her arm around his waist.
They had been friends for twenty years, held each other, comforted each other, but this was different. The way they fit, the way she smelled, and even the press on her lips against the side of his neck had him thinking lots of crazy things.
The craziest one being that she felt like coming home. Warmth and comfort and rightness.
He looked over at Red and as if he read his thoughts, he raised his eyebrow and pretended to hang himself.
I’m in trouble. Big trouble.
Their wedding day dawned sunny and cold, which was just fine since the ceremony wasn’t going to start until two that afternoon. Rand had been surprised by the arrival of Red’s two sisters and Jamie at nine.
What in the name of all that was holy did they need to be there five hours before the ceremony?
She was coming up from the barn when she spotted the two red heads and Jamie waiting patiently on her porch. Heading up the steps with a tentative smile, she said, “Hi ya’ll. What’s going on?”
M.J. held up some kind of large suitcase. “Red told us you needed help getting ready.”
Jamie stepped up and slid her arm through Rand’s. “And as Maid of Honor, it is my job to make sure you stay calm and relaxed.”
Rand smiled, unsure how anyone was going to manage that feat.
“Well come on in. Are you hungry?”
Jamie held up a white pastry sack. “I picked up some doughnuts at Nuttier’s.”
Rand’s mouth watered as she looked at the bag and M.J. led the way inside. “Where do you want me to set up?”
“Um, I guess in my bedroom.” She led the trio down the hallway to her room and M.J. started unpacking her giant suitcase.
“Why don’t I make coffee to go with these? Where’s your pot?” Jamie walked out with the white bag without waiting for an answer. “Where the hell do you keep the coffee?”
Rand took the opportunity to run out to help her, terrified of the torture the two sisters’ had in store for her over the next few hours
They were supposed to be at the church at one thirty. What could possibly take so long?
Rand never thought she’d be standing in the middle of the Sunday school room, surrounded by a roomful of women from town and having them fawn over her like she had always belonged. After four hours of preparation and the last forty five minutes of smiling and nodding, she was exhausted. She stood in front of the mirror, staring at herself.
M.J. had styled her hair in a riot of curls falling from a French twist at the back of her head. Bits of white flowers, rhinestone pins, and glitter brightened the brown strands and she was wearing more makeup than a clown. Thankfully she didn’t look like one, but her face felt like someone had put a layer of dirt on it. M.J. had used some kind of mineral based make up on her until her freckles were almost nonexistent and she’d applied three shades of dark shadow to her eyelids to make her eyes “pop”. Rand had to admit it did make her eyes stand out and her lips were glossed with a plumping agent that made them tingle weirdly.
The dress fit perfectly after the few alterations Jake’s mom had made, its scooped neck modest and the skirt ending just above the ground. Rand had bought a pair of white pumps that she had spent all week walking in, afraid of falling on her butt. The heel was only an inch but still, she’d almost twisted an ankle walking to the church doors.
The one thing that was really making her crazy was the lingerie both Calhoun sisters and Jamie had insisted she wear. “Don’t you want your legs to look pretty when Jake pulls the garter off?”
After the girls had explained that little custom and she had insisted that no one was lifting her dress up, she’d still lost the battle. From the bustier, to the barely there panties, and the itchy thigh highs clipped to the blue garter belt, she was a walking Victoria Secret advertisement. She walked a lot straighter with the bustier than she usually did, but it was still an item she would never wear again, if she didn’t die from lack of oxygen first.
All of the ladies turned when someone knocked on the door. As Jake’s mom opened it, Earl’s scowling face came around the slab of wood. Rand had never been so happy to see anyone.
“Why don’t you ladies go find your seats? The service is about to start and the last thing that girl needs is a bunch of babblin’ Betties rattlin’ her nerves.” Rand covered her mouth to hide her smile as several ladies glared at Earl and the rest varied between looks of insult and oblivion. Jake’s mother kissed her cheek. “You look lovely, Rand. My son is a lucky man.”
Rand blushed. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Jake’s mom left the room, and M.J. hugged Rand unexpectedly and patted her back. Tabby gave her a wink as she followed her sister out and Jamie, looking very pretty in a lavender tea length dress, waved as she shut the door.
Rand stood facing Earl, at a loss for something to say. He wore his dress blues and the uniform made him seem more imposing than normal. He’d shaved for the occasion and for a minute, she saw the young man in the pictures her mother had loved so much.
He stepped close and held his uniformed arm out to her. “Should we get this thing over with?”
She slipped her newly manicured hand onto his offered arm. “Thank you for doing this, Earl.”
He patted her hand and said, “I’m honored to do it.”
She took a deep breath and leaned up to kiss his cheek. She saw his skin burn with color and he gruffly said, “We better hurry before your young man gets impatient.”
Your young man. In about twenty minutes, Jake was going to be hers by Texas state law. Her heart pounded and her stomach fluttered as Earl led her out the door to where her groom waited to say their vows.
When they reached the end of the aisle and she saw Jake standing under the arch, she felt like her heart was going to burst from her chest like the creature from alien.
“You ready, missy?”
Rand squeezed Earl’s arm without taking her eyes from Jake. “I’m ready, Earl.”
The music started and Earl led her up the aisle.
Jake stood up at the front of the church and stared at his bride to be as she hung on Earl’s arm tightly, never taking her eyes off Jake. His breath caught in his throat and his tongue felt hog tied in his mouth at how lovely she looked; so feminine and graceful.
“Holy shit!” He heard Red rasp behind him and the preacher’s stern admonishment, but he ignored both. Dustin clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You are one lucky son of a bitch, brother.”
He didn’t even respond. All of his attention was focused on the vision in white coming down the aisle towards him.
He took the two steps down and met Earl and Rand at the bottom. Earl leaned over and kissed Rand’s cheek before passing her hand over to Jake’s with a scowl. Jake nodded at the older man and Earl let Rand go to take his seat in the front. Jake couldn’t stop staring at her as he led her up the steps to stand in front of the pastor.
He spent the ceremony in a daze, answering the pastor’s prompts without looking away from Rand’s thick lashed brown eyes. She seemed to be just as entranced as he was; her eyes wide and dreamy.
The rings were exchanged, a simple white gold band to match his grandmothers ring for Rand. When Jake saw the simple ring Rand had bought, he grinned. She knew him so well.
“You can go ahead and kiss your bride now, Jake.” The Pastor said.
He didn’t even hesitate as he brought Rand against him and slipped his hand behind her neck. His other arm wrapped around her waist and he dipped down to taste his wife’s lips. Wife. He was married to Rand, no matter that it was supposed to be a business arrangement, there was nothing professional about the feel of Rand’s hands wrapping around his biceps or the way her mouth opened under his. He continued to kiss her, lost in the sweet taste of her until Red nudged him from behind. “All right, lover boy, save it for the honeymoon. I’m starving.”
The men in the crowd laughed while the ladies tittered. Rand’s face was a bright pink as he pulled back and released her.
“Ladies and Gentleman, I would like to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Jake Hansen.” The pastor announced and loud cheers erupted in the church.
Red slapped Jake’s back and said, “Well lets head on over to the Double C. Heard there’s a pretty good spread being laid out for this shindig.”
Jake looked over at Rand, who was being hugged hard by Jamie. Her beautiful face was flushed, and suddenly, spending hours with half the town of Loco didn’t seem like such a great idea after all.
“I gotta tell you, cousin, I am so glad that you got married. The thought of having to deal with this place has made me break out in a cold sweat every night for weeks.”
Rand tried to smile at her cousin, but it was definitely an effort. His wife and he had flown down for her wedding at his insistence since he was the only family she had. Even though she thought he was a bit of a yuppie, she appreciated the gesture. “Yeah, well, now you can rest easy. I’ve got it handled.”
“Of course the money from the sale would have been nice, but the hassle would have done nothing for my nerves.” The girly man actually looked like he was growing faint just thinking about it.
Being around you is doing nothing for my nerves
That would have been Rand’s response any other day this month except for today. Today she was jittery as a June bug and it had everything to do with the gorgeous man surrounded by a flock of fawning women. Jake looked up right then and sent her a look so full of heat she felt like a muffin right out of the oven. It had already been three hours and the party was still going strong, although Earl had cut out after dinner. She couldn’t really blame him, since her first inclination was to send everyone packing so she could get the hell out of this devil contraption of a bustier. She was starving, too afraid to eat in the beautiful white dress and not sure she really could if she tried, the damn bustier was cutting off circulation and oxygen.
She would have changed out of the dress hours ago, but Jake hadn’t changed out of his tux and he looked so handsome she couldn’t bear to change into her normal gear and have people whisper. She watched Jake excuse himself and cross the room, slipping his arm around her waist and giving her a hard kiss. “How’s my beautiful bride?”
“She’s starving and ready to shut the party down,” Rand said honestly.
“I understand exactly what you mean, darlin’. It will be over soon.” Jake looked up and smiled. “Red, did you get enough to eat?”
“I did, but I realized I forgot to do something. I haven’t kissed the bride.”
Before she could protest Red’s mouth swooped over hers and her “oh” of surprise got a quick sweep of his tongue before he was pulled back by a scowling Jake.
“I love you buddy, but if you kiss my wife again, you’re going to be hurtin’ bad in the mornin’.”
Jake almost sounded jealous, really jealous. Serious about hitting his best friend jealous. Her mind tried to wrap it’s way around that while Red slapped Jake’s back. “Ah, Jake, no need. Just wanted to give Rand one last chance to pick the better man.”
The women that had moments before been surrounding Jake were giving their excuses. One of them looked at Rand and said sincerely, “Congratulations, Miranda. You’re a lucky woman.”
Rand looked at Jake, whose scowl had dissolved into a tolerant half smile as Red teased him and she said simply, “Yeah, I guess I am.
Jake couldn’t wait to get the well-meaning folks of Loco out of the house so he could get a little time with Rand alone.
Right now Mrs. Donaldson was schooling him on the proper care of a marriage, and he listened with only half an ear as his eyes devoured Rand laughing with his mother, Red’s sisters, and Jamie across the room.
Her eyes lifted and met his. All the fire and anticipation must have been shooting out of his eyes because she turned away with flaming cheeks.
When Mrs. Donaldson took a breath, Jake patted her shoulders and apologized, “I do beg your pardon for interrupting, Mrs. Donaldson, but I have barely gotten to kiss my bride all night. Would you oblige me?”
Mrs. Donaldson smiled knowingly and said, “You go on darlin’. I remember my own wedding. My Carl couldn’t wait to get me alone.”
As disturbing as the image was, he thanked the old gal anyway and strode across the room to pull Rand against him and whisper next to her ear, “Is it time for everyone to leave yet?”
He felt her warm breath against the skin of his neck as she responded urgently, “God, I hope so. I haven’t been able to breathe or eat with this damn corset on.”
The image of Rand standing in front of him wearing nothing but her skin sent him into a cold sweat and he turned to address the remaining guests. “Alright folks, I hate to kick you out, but my sweetheart has just informed me she can’t wait to rip my clothes off.”
There were plenty of gasps and disapproving looks and a hard sock to his stomach by said eager bride. “Oh alright, so it’s just me. Can ya’ll blame me?”
No one seemed to, especially the men who gave Jake good natured back slaps.
Dustin, carrying a sleeping Luke, leaned over to kiss Rand’s cheek. “Congratulations you two. Let me know if this guy steps out of line.”
Jake hugged his brother, careful of Luke and before he could stop himself, he ran a hand over the boy’s soft hair.
Dustin gave him a look of understanding, but didn’t say anything.