Boston to Birmingham Ch. 06byqhml1©
This is the last installment. Thanks for reading, and especially for the comments, as always.
Hardy woke with a start, trying to understand why he felt so happy. Then Gwen stirred and snaked a hand over his chest, hugging him lightly.
"Good morning, my love. Did you sleep as well as I did? I have to tell you, it's the best nights' sleep I've had in over three years."
He caressed her hair lightly.
"Like a rock, you wore me out. In my defense, I'm still not quite up to my old self."
She moved languidly over his body, rubbing every inch of skin she could into to him.
"Don't worry. I've got a new kind of physical therapy in mind for you, one designed to improve you endurance and flexibility. It'll have to be at night mostly. Scheduling and all that."
"He had moved a hand down, capturing her breast and rolling the nipple.
"I don't know, I've always enjoyed early morning workouts."
He was reaching farther down when the door banged open and Melissa flew into the room, jumping into the middle of the bed. Gwen shrieked and covered her chest. Melissa rolled her eyes.
"Good morning, parental units! Mrs. Hendricks said to tell you breakfast is getting cold, and that she has errands to run, so one of you has to take me to school. And mom, if you were so interested in modesty, you should have shut the door last night, or at least covered yourself. What a sight for a shy young, impressionable girl!
I'll probably be scarred for life."
It was all she could do to hold her laughter in as both of them glowed red.
"So, chop chop. Get your showers, and I don't mean together. I'd hate to explain I was late for school because I couldn't get my parents out of the bathroom."
She was up and bounded out before Gwen could even fuss at her. Hardy broke down, and soon she joined him.
She got a serious look in her eyes.
"Better get used to this."
"Our children barging in on us at inopportune times."
"How many children are we talking about here?"
"Well, this house has five bedrooms, and you know how I hate to waste space."
"Four? How long will that take, we're getting kind of old you know."
She punched him in the arm.
"Speak for yourself. But I agree, we should start soon. I don't want you changing diapers in your fifties."
The looks they exchanged seemed almost magical. They reached for each other when Melissa barged back in.
"Gee, am I gonna have to hose you guys down? Mom, just give me your keys, I'll see you this afternoon."
"Young lady, you are not driving my Rover! I'll take you, and on the way we're going to have a LONG talk about respect for your elders and recognizing the need for privacy."
"I guess this is a bad time to tell you I called Aunt Daisy and told them you were back together. She wants you over at her house, soon as possible."
Something in Gwens' eyes warned her she had finally stepped over the line, and she fled the room.
"MELISSA SUE WILKES, GET YOUR BUTT BACK HERE RIGHT THIS SECOND!"
They heard the front door slam, and her yelling something about waiting in the car.
Hardy held her grinning.
"Don't worry, she's just happy. You know this Facebook generation, it hits their mind and the whole world knows about it."
"Facebook, oh shit. You know how many family members she has as friends? All of them. The old ones that don't have computers will be getting calls, if they haven't already."
She noticed the change in his eyes.
"Having regrets all ready?"
"No, baby, no. I just wanted a little more time for us to get to know each other again. I know we think we already do, but three years is a long time. We have to get used to each other, we're both different now. I just wanted a little quiet time, that's all."
"Don't worry, I'll just tell everyone you tied me down and raped me into submission. That'll shut them up."
Gwen almost fainted.
"Please don't tell anyone about last night. I'm kind of ashamed, but I was desperate. But, it got you back to me, so I don't regret it a bit."
"Don't worry, Gwen. I'll never tell, think of the damage it would do my reputation."
"I have to tell you, honey, that I now know that reputation is mostly smoke and mirrors. You're a very decent man disguised as a rogue. Besides, being the woman of the most dangerous man in town is kind of good for my image. Now, I've got to get going, or Melissa will be late."
She dashed out while Hardy ate a large breakfast. Mrs. Hendricks was pleased her efforts were appreciated. Greg came in and got a cup of coffee, sitting across from Hardy, grinning.
"Say what, Hardy?"
"That I told you so. That you were right."
"I don't have to, you just did. Welcome back to the family."
"Welcome back to the family. It was close there for a little, but they liked Gwen a whole lot more than they did you, so push come to shove, if you hadn't straightened up you were out. They almost had a pool going to see how long you could last. I'm glad we didn't, I would have lost. I thought you were a lot more stubborn."
"Well, I'm glad to have provided so much entertainment to you all."
"Oh, don't get huffy, one of your cousins is bound to screw up, and we'll have something else to talk about."
"In fact, I have a feeling I know what it's gonna be, and no, I'm not telling you, you'll see soon enough."
Gwen felt like she was going to an execution. Marcus opened the door, and folded her into a big hug and a kiss on her cheek.
She rolled her eyes.
"God, does everybody know?"
Aunt Daisy had come up behind them, and as usual rapped her cane on the floor when she wanted attention.
"Marcus, if you're done mauling your cousin, would you please shut the door. My goodness, no manners at all. Come on girl, we have things to discuss."
They went into the parlor, a room so formal it was rarely used. Oh, man, this must be serious.
She sat at a small table covered with books.
"Come on girl, we haven't got all day."
She surprised her by not mentioning Hardy at all. In fact she didn't say anything at all about him for the next ninety minutes.
"Gwen Marie, this is our year to host the Commemorative Cotillion. I can't believe it's been ten years already. You are official hostess, so you've got a lot of things to get done in the next few months."
"What communication skills! Are you sure you're a lawyer? The Commemorative Cotillion of the Daughters of the Confederacy, girl, the biggest social event in Birmingham, at least to the older members of the social elite. Invitation only, full costumes. If the man has been in the military, he has to wear a uniform, preferably one matching the rank of an ancestor, the higher the better."
"We only have it every two years, and combine it with the coming out of our female children sixteen and older. Melissa Sue will of course represent us. Any questions?"
"A lot. I thought you brought me here to talk about Hardy and me. And I'm not even a member of the Daughters, am I?"
"Why would I want to talk about you and Hardy when there is so much other important stuff going on? You got him back. Hurrah for you. I always knew you would."
"Not could we focus here, and yes, you're a member, have been since last year. You're welcome."
For the next hour she overloaded Gwen with details. What was expected as hostess. What was required attire. As hostess, she was expected to foot most of the bill, there were many members who had no wealth left, only a proud heritage.
She was expected to make discrete inquiries, and fund the attendance of as many as possible. Not to worry, she would have help. Daisy, Hildy, and two women she didn't even know would take care of that part.
She would also have a decorating, catering, and entertainment committees. There was to be a historical consultant [who turned out to be Marcus] on the proper dress. Basically all she had to do was referee arguments and write checks.
"Think you can handle it, girl?"
She smiled wryly.
"Do I have a choice?"
"Well, all right then, when do we start, and what's the time frame?"
"Five months. No time to waste. Lots to do you know."
Aunt Daisy was really excited, far more passionate than she had ever seen.
"Look here, girl. This is what you're supposed to look like."
The woman was absolutely beautiful. She had a parasol, a shawl around her bare shoulders, and a dress that was magnificent, resplendent with petticoats and a hoop. There was another woman, much younger, just as attractive, standing beside her.
"They're so beautiful. Why do they look familiar?"
Aunt Daisy laughed.
"Because the older one is your grandmother, and the younger one is me. I told you, except for the hair color, you look just like her. I'm sure you'll top us both. Hardy will be so proud."
"That was us, I won't tell you the year. Look at this."
There had been a painting on the wall that had been draped ever since Gwen had been coming ti her house. Aunt Daisy removed the cover.
It was a portrait, made from the photograph. The women seemed to glow. Daisy sighed.
"This was my favorite of all the family portraits. I draped it the day Ginny died. I'm commissioning one of you and Melissa to hang beside it. When I pass, you get them all. You're rich, so Marcus and a few deserving individuals in the family will get my money, but you will inherit this, the family home and all its' contents. Marcus knows and approves. Even if you never live here, keep it in the family. Nine generations of our family have lived here. I won't rest if it passes into the hands of strangers. Promise me, Gwen, please."
Gwen took her hands.
"I swear to you, my beloved Aunt Daisy, that as long as I live it will remain in the family, if nothing else, as a loving tribute to a woman who has become to mean so much to me."
For the very first time in all the time she had known her, Aunt Daisy cried. It seemed to embarrass her. Gwen hugged her until it passed. Finally, she shoved her away.
"Look at me, such a sentimental old fool. You must think I'm losing my reason. I..."
Gwen folded her back into her arms.
"Please hush, Aunt Daisy, and just let me love you for a moment. Please."
Daisy surrendered, it had been years since anyone had held her with this much passion. She finally pushed her away.
"Go on home now, child. You got a good man and a good child waiting for you. You have no idea how lucky you are. We'll talk tomorrow, lots to do you know. Shoo."
Daisy sat and stared at the portrait for a long time after she left, remembering better days.
Gwen came home and hugged Melissa, Hardy, and Greg hard, without a word.
Soon she was immersed in the mechanics of hosting and funding the cotillion. Some of the older members sniffed at the sacrilige of a Yankee being in charge, but when Aunt Daisy trotted out her pedigree like a prized mare, going back nine generations, saying where she was raised didn't matter, the fact that she was where she belonged did, they relented. Especially when they realized if they pissed her off there would be no event.
Hardy and the men expected to be escorts got a big surprise. The dance would be traditional ones from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and they were expect to know and perform them at a reasonable level. Tutors had been arranged, and practices were organized. The Viennese Waltz, the Virginia reel, the Parade, even the Polka were the ones practiced, as they were the most popular dances of the time.
This made it interesting for the younger generation, they had to secure dates early enough to make the practices. This led to a flurry of dates, phone calls, and text messages. Melissa had nineteen invitations.
Gwen talked to her about it, she hadn't accepted any and she wanted to know why.
"Most of these are suckups, they don't want to go with me, they want to go with the rich girl. I know I'm only seventeen, but Pleasant Hill is a hotbed of political movements. Parents are already pushing their children to make life long committments they had nothing to do with love, as long as they 'marry well'."
"Don't you like any of the boys at school?"
"Some. Believe it or not, most are intimidated by who I am. Heir to the Howes and Canadays, with Hardy Wilkes as my father figure, they're scared to death. Some are just shy. I really like one boy, but he doesn't know I exist."
"Honey, as pretty as you are, there isn't a boy in Birmingham who doesn't know you exist. This is your night and your choice, so ask him, don't wait."
"That's not done."
"Maybe it wasn't done in 1850, but this is the New South, women are much more empowered, ask him! All he can say is no. Hardy didn't come after me, I had to practically drag him to the altar."
Speaking of altars, Gwen and Hardy were taking it slow, dating as it were. They often told each other they were loved, but Hardy hadn't brought up marriage, and Gwen was not going to screw things up by pushing him. Still, sometimes.....
Melissa gathered up her courage and approached the boy of her interest.
"Jimmy, I'm having some of the guys over to my house for a pool party Saturday. Would you like to come?"
James Gregory Madsen nearly fainted. Melissa had been the girl of his dreams from her first day at the academy. He watched her blossom from a shy, insecure girl into the confident young woman before him. It rattled him so bad words almost failed him.
"Pool party, this Saturday, my house. Be there at three, all right? My mom and dad like to meet my new friends."
Shit! He had heard enough of the legend of Hardy Wilkes to be intimidated. His dad was a defense lawyer, and he had heard enough stories about what a cast iron bitch Gwen was to consider her equally intimidating.
"Uh, yeah, sure, I guess."
"Great, we're gonna grill out later, have a fire and roast marshmallows. See you."
And then, in a swirl of shimmering hair and understated perfume, she was gone.
His friend stood there with his mouth hanging open.
"Good God Almighty! Melissa Wilkes. I am now a firm believer in miracles."
"I'm not going."
"Are you insane? Blood having trouble getting to your brain? Mine does whenever she's too close.
The Queen of Pleasant Hill invites you to her home, of course you're going. Your dad is gonna shit."
"I'm not in her league."
"Asshole, nobody is in her league! I'd cut off my left nut for an invitation like that. Say you're going or I'll kick your ass."
"Mighty brave words from somebody half my size."
"I mean it, I'll knock you out and dump you on their front lawn if I have to. Go!"
"I'll think about it."
When Jimmy casually mentioned he might be going to a pool party/cookout Saturday, his parents only seemed mildly interested.
"That's nice", his mom said, "do we know the family?"
"You might. Melissa Sue Wilkes invited me. Dad, I believe you know her mom, Gwen?"
His dad almost choked on his tea, and his mom nearly dropped a dish.
"Gwen Canaday Wilkes? Ex wife of Hardy Wilkes? Isn't she that rich Yankee that moved down here a few years back?"
"That's her, mom. So, mind if I go?"
His mother was almost drooling, thinking of the implications, the possible doorways that might swing open.
His dad laughed.
"Go on, son, have a good time. But if that girl is half as tough as her momma, about all you'll ever get to say is 'yes dear'."
Jimmy was handsome in his own right, but was too shy to realize it. Tall, jet black hair that made his blue eyes stand out. He ran cross country and played basketball, so he was in top physical form.
Many of the girls at school thought he might be gay because he rarely dated. He just didn't know how to act around the female of the species.
At two forty five Saturday afternoon he was ringing the doorbell of the Wilkes household.
Gwen answered the door.
"Uh, hi Mrs Wilkes. I'm Jimmy Madsen..."
He didn't get to say more before Gwen was shaking his hand.
"It's good to meet you Jimmy, Melissa speaks highly of you. I know your father, a fine attorney. Give him my best. Please come in."
She said something over her shoulder and a tall man appeared at her side.
"Jimmy this is my hus...er, Mr. Wilkes."
He held out his hand and got a firm shake.
"Welcome, Jimmy, any friend of our little girl and so on. Melissa is out by the pool, why don't you join her? We'll be out later."
Gwen felt a thrill course through her when Hardy said 'OUR little girl'. Yes, yes, yes!
But she soon had other concerns, thirty teens require a lot of attention.
Most had been there and knew the rules. If it was going to be just a few girls, they could wear what they wanted, and Gwen had seen a few suits that were so tiny it seemed a waste of time to don them.
If boys were to be present, then the suits had to be more modest. Gwen had actually sent a girl or two home to change. She was pleased to see even though they were bikinis, they were modest ones.
Small groups clustered, dispersed, realigned. Melissa had a firm grip on Jimmies hand, leading him around. He was stiff as a board for the first half hour before he started to relax.
There were a few envious stares and a few hostile ones. Five boys there had invited her to the cotillion, and she had turned them all down.
Gwen knew boys, and girls, and teenage hormones, so she kept a close eye on everyone. She knew there would be touches, discreet kisses as the kids paired off, and that was fine. Anything else was not.
She had caught a couple in the pool house, he already had her top off. They were both banned from the house. After that she didn't have any trouble. She wasn't foolish enough not to know that a lot of them were sexual active, and she spent many nights worrying about Melissa.
She had 'the talk' with Melissa just after she moved in. No one had talked to her about sex, and she actually cried at times as Gwen explained it to her. She promised her if she felt urges she would talk to her, and agreed she was too young.
Because of her past, she was emotionally a few years behind her body, and Gwen wanted her to mature a little before she even considered it. She remembered her own past and knew if she really wanted to have sex there was really no way to stop her. So far Gwen thought she was still a virgin, but who knows? It came down to trust, and Melissa never gave her reason not to.
The party was a huge success. The boys got more reserved when Hardy came out and started the grill, but he said little and was pleasant, so they relaxed.
Melissa and Jimmy were now officially an item. One look at Jimmy and you could tell he was smitten, and Melissa glowed. Gwen took Hardy by the hand as they stood watching. She had tears in her eyes.
"She's growing up, honey. Soon she'll be gone, off to college and the rest of her life. I wish I had gotten her earlier, I wish..."
She dropped his hand and fled into the house, leaving him confused for a second. She had been increasingly moody lately. Was she having regrets?
It would kill him if she decided after all this she didn't want him. She was back in a few minutes, dry eyed. She took his hand again.
"Sorry honey. Mommy blues, I guess. Don't they make a cute couple?"
He couldn't help smiling.
"Yes they do. He hasn't got a chance. When a Wilkes woman wants something, the fires of hell couldn't stop her from getting it. I know from experience."
She wanted to throw him down right there beside the pool. Instead she squeezed his hand and gave him a kiss that held a lot of promise.
"Hey, behave there! Is this the example you want us to follow? All right, here."