Authors: S. E. Kloos
To the many people in the fandom, I start by dedicating this to you. You have all been a very large part of my life for going on 6 years, and every last one of you mean the world to me. We may catch a lot of flak, but we stick together, and that’s pretty fucking amazing.
Kim Ginsberg: Proofreader
Much love to you, My Dear.
Kelly Shive: Editor
You are an invaluable lady, and I love you!
Stepping off the plane, Elizabeth wrapped her arms around herself, more in comfort than anything. She let her eyes roam the crowd, searching for something that wasn’t there, but was unable to stop herself. Despite the warmth in the air, the humidity clamming up her skin, she felt cold, like ice water had replaced her blood. She knew it was irrational to feel such a thing. She just couldn’t help it.
She was a long way from home and knew she could never go back.
A light sigh of regret escaped her lips as her shoulders fell in memory. She had only left the only place she had ever known a few hours ago, but she already missed it. Eyes lifting to the ceiling, she wondered if this was a good idea, if it was the right road to take... if running was the only option she really had. She knew it wasn’t safe to stay, but there were so many things that made her second guess the decision to leave behind everyone and everything she had to start all over.
She was still young. It wasn’t like twenty-three was middle age or anything, but she had a good life, a great job she adored, and friends she had known since diapers she wasn’t sure she could live without -- all over 1500 miles away from where she now stood.
Her eyes closed as they filled with tears. That was something she swore to herself she wouldn’t do, not again. She had cried enough tears over the stupid son of a bitch. She refused to let even a single one more fall. Blinking them back, Elizabeth once again lowered her eyes to the crowd, this time looking for a face that was supposed to be there, that knew she was as well.
A small smile pulled at her lips when she spotted her Uncle Marshal across the room from her, looking like he came right from the fields to the airport. Even from the distance she still was from him, she could see the grass stains on his shirt and the dirt smudges on his forehead from using his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow. Say what you will about ‘backwoods country bumpkins’, they were simple folk with a work ethic and hearts of gold.
Making her way over to him, her carry-on hit the floor when she was swept off her feet into the surprisingly big and strong arms of her uncle. Suppressing the cringe at the feel of his sweat covered skin and the thought of the filth on his clothing transferring to her pristinely clean ones, she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned the hug.
After a minute or so, her uncle set her back on her feet. With his hands on her shoulders, he held her out at arm's length, his blue eyes as vibrant as the sky and a wide, easy and affectionate smile on his face. Giving her a quick once over, Marshal’s smile grew. “You look good, Sug.” His eyes then flattened ever so slightly as he asked his next question, his voice losing just a bit of the gruffness that it always had. “How you doin’, Eribeth?”
Heart giving a flutter at the nickname he had given her when she was nothing but a kid, Elizabeth gave a half-hearted smile and shrug of her shoulder. “Honestly, I have been better, Uncle Marsh.” Sighing again, she blinked a few times to once again battle her tears that brimmed her eyes. “I just… I mean…” Shaking her head in defeat, she didn’t continue the thought, not really having a good enough one to finish with. In truth, she was doing really shitty and wasn’t sure that was going to be up for change anytime soon.
Understanding blossomed behind her uncle’s eyes as he gave her nod of his head. Pulling her back to him, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pressed a light kiss to her forehead. “Well, you ain’t got nothin’ to worry ‘bout now, Youngin.” Pulling back just a tad so he could see her eyes, Marshal smirked. “The only way that boy gonna be gettin’ to you is through me and my huntin’ rifle, ya hear?”
Despite the situation, a giggle climbed free of her throat and bigger of a smile parted her lips, showing the first real smile that she had shown in over a year. “I love you, Uncle Marsh.”
Releasing her and bending to pick up her tote, Marshal winked at his niece. “With all my heart, Eribeth. Com’on, Your Aunt Steffy gonna be sendin’ the dogs on us if we don’t be gettin’ back soon.”
Elizabeth blinked at her uncle a few times, trying to figure out what the hell he just said, when he set his hand on the small of her back and began to pull her through the mass of people. After a stop at baggage claim for her luggage, they headed out to the old truck that she, personally, thought was
past its prime.
She settled herself into the front seat as commanded while her uncle loaded the two suitcases into the bed. Once her uncle was beside her in the cab, she twisted in her seat to look at him. “Don’t you think it might be time for a new truck, Uncle Marsh? I mean, this thing is a pile of rust.” Seeing the look on his face, Elizabeth backtracked a bit. “No offense.”
Shooting his niece a grin, Marshal gave the dash a hard pat. “Ol’ girl might not be pretty, but she still got some life in ‘er yet. Ain’t no need to be replacin’ somethin’ that ain’t broke, Sug.” Cranking the engine to life, he caressed the steering wheel with a loving touch before looking back at his niece. “You big city gals got a lot to learn ‘bout us little backtown folk. Just ‘cause somethin’ gets ‘ol don’t mean you replace it.” Then a sly look overtook his features. “If that were true, I wouldn’t still be with your Aunt Steffy.”
Elizabeth snorted hard before she broke out in laughter. If there was one thing that she could always count on, it was her Uncle Marsh making everything that seemed absolutely horrible not quite so bad.
It took over an hour and a half to get from the airport to her uncle’s farm. During the ride, Elizabeth and her uncle talked about all manner of things, from how she had done in her last semester of college to what in the name of fuck there was to do in the area. Though Elizabeth couldn’t say anything that her uncle listed sounded like something she would actually be interested in doing, at least she did find out that there was a bigger city not quite as far away from the farm as the one she was picked up at. To her, it was a saving grace so she wouldn’t completely lose her mind from boredom while she was there.
When they turned off the main road onto a dirt drive, there was what seemed like a pack of wild dogs jumping up the side of the truck, whining and barking for attention. Elizabeth, startled at the actions, let out a squeak and slid away from the open window when she felt the cold, wet nose of one of the bigger dogs.
Head whipping around at the sound of her uncle’s chuckle, she looked at him with wide eyes. “Seriously?”
Still chuckling , Marshal glanced at her a moment before turning back to the drive so he didn’t end up hitting one of the pups, but didn’t say anything to her. He knew that the girl wasn’t the world’s biggest fan on dogs, but he was a hunter, and every one of the pooches were as well. It wasn’t like there were a lot of them; there were only four.
Pulling up to the house, Marshal cut the engine while smirking at his niece. “Awe, com’on now, Eribeth. It ain’t all that bad. You’ll be gettin’ used to ‘em in no time. ‘Member Sug, you were sent here by your Mama for protection till that piece-of-shit ex of yours is caught, and there ain’t no better warnin’ on God’s green Earth than these pups. Ain’t noone gonna git on my land without them lettin’ me know they here.”
Still not liking the fact that there were a bunch of dogs running around, Elizabeth conceded to that before turning to get out of the truck. It was a fight against Kujo it seemed, but she came out the victor when she told the dog to get back. Blinking when it actually listened to her, she slowly opened the door, just in case the huge son of a bitch tried any funny business.
Once she got out of the cab, she followed after her uncle up to the porch, tripping more than once over a dog that got underfoot. Since she had taken to looking down so she didn’t actually end up falling, she didn’t see her aunt come out to greet them. She did hear her, though.
“Mercy me; did you bring home the wrong girl, Marshal? This cannot be my little Eribeth.”
Elizabeth looked up from the ground, smiling wide at the sight her Aunt Steffy. No longer caring about the little four legged pests, she darted through the mass of fur and up the steps, throwing herself into her aunt’s arms, returning her hug without hesitation. “I missed you, Aunt Steffy.”
Bell like laughter sounded in the air as Steff squeezed the life out of her niece. After a long moment, she pulled back to hold Elizabeth at arm’s length giving her a very deliberate once over before shaking her head with a tisk. “My Lord have mercy, don’t you eat, Child? You ain’t nothin’ but skin and bone. Don’t you fret none Eribeth, Auntie Steffy gonna fatten you right up. Com’on now, dinner is on the table gettin’ cold, while we out here yappin’ like fools.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips together, trying to contain her laughter before shaking her head. “I ate on the plane, Aunt Steffy.”
There was a look on Steff’s face that Elizabeth hadn’t seen since she was five, though she didn’t like it now either. “I don’t recall askin’ you if you ate on the plane, Youngin. I said dinner is on the table.”
Elizabeth had to actually put effort into not groaning out loud at that. No, she hadn’t actually eaten on the plane -because let’s face it, that shit will make you sicker than hell- but she really wasn’t hungry. All she wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed. However, she knew that her aunt wasn’t about to let her go to bed without eating at least one plate of food, so she just nodded and followed her aunt inside to the dining room.
Taking a seat at the table, Elizabeth took a look around the room, taking in all the knickknacks, trinkets and pageant trophies that her aunt had won when she was younger. There were lace curtains over the windows; the walls were a soft cream color that matched most of the rest of the house. The table that took up most of the room was oak and had certainly seen better days. She had to admit, the room was homey and inviting, just like her aunt.
Her aunt came back in the room with plates for her and her uncle. They were nearly overflowing with mashed potatoes and gravy, corn on the cob, and fried chicken. Looking up at her aunt, Elizabeth thanked her before turning back to the food that turned her stomach. It wasn’t that she didn’t want it, because it smelled like a slice of heaven. Her stomach was tied in knots, and she was afraid that she would end up throwing it all back up if she ate.
Once her aunt was sitting with them, she looked at the two hands that were now lying on the table by her, confused as to what the hell they were doing. Looking at her uncle, she just cocked a brow at him, waiting for him to explain.
Marshal smirked at her. “Your Mama might not have made you, but in this house, we say grace before eatin’.”
Swallowing a groan, she set her fork back on the table. She took hands with them, following their lead, closing her eyes and bowing her head as her uncle said grace. Repeating ‘Amen’ once he was done, Elizabeth picked her fork back up and began to poke at her potatoes, but not ever taking a bite.
“You alright, Sugar?”
Head popping up at the question, Elizabeth looked at her Aunt with slightly wide eyes before nodding. “Yeah, I’m fine. This smells wonderful, Aunt Steffy; thank you.”
Her uncle Marsh seemed to beam with pride when he turned to his wife. “You just wait till you taste it, Eribeth; You in for a treat. Your Aunt’s chicken was voted best in three counties.”
Elizabeth looked at her uncle with wide eyes before turning back to her slightly blushing aunt. “Really?”
Steff waved a dismissive hand in the air. “It ain’t nothin’ special.”
Scoffing, Elizabeth looked at her aunt. “Yea, it is. Aunt Steffy, that is amazing.”
Marshal snorted. “That ain’t nothin’. Her pecan pie won this year’s state fair. Her pie beat out over fifty others.”
Giving her aunt a huge smile, Elizabeth gushed. “Congratulations, Aunt Steffy. Good for you.”
Steff waved a hand to fan her burning face. “Land’s sake you two, it’s only food. Now, hush, the both of ya, and eat your damn dinner.”
Things settled into easy conversation after that. Once Elizabeth actually took a bite, she realized just how hungry she really was and ended up asking for seconds. It truly was some good chicken.
Once dinner was done, Marshal showed Elizabeth to her new room while Steff cleaned up the mess, stopping to point out the bathroom and linen closet where she would find towels and washcloths. Once he got to the door of her room, there was a look of trepidation on his face as he rested his hand on the knob while clearing his throat. “When we talked to your mama about you stayin’ here, she wasn’t a real big help in tellin’ us what you liked and didn’t. Since you gonna be here a time, you’re certainly welcome to do what you will with it.”
Nodding to him, Elizabeth glanced in the room when he finally opened the door, her breath catching in her throat a bit at the sight… in a good way. Three walls were a robin’s egg blue, while the remaining wall was a very bold, dark royal blue. A cheery wood framed bed was centered there, a nightstand on either side where her suitcases waited for her. There was a desk under one of the two windows, with a padded bench under the other. In the far corner, there was a rocking chair and a low table topped with a reading lamp.
The bedding was a striking metallic blue with different colored shapes and designs embroidered on it. There was no dresser in the room, but she found out why when she opened the closet door. It was absolutely huge with built in shelving and cupboards. It was perfect.
She turned to see her uncle still leaning on the door jam, watching her as she explored her new dwelling, that same almost scared look in his eyes. He cleared his throat as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I know it ain’t much, but…”
Elizabeth darted across the room and threw her arms around his neck, squeezing the life out of him before pressing a kiss to his cheek. After a moment, she pulled back to give him a radiant smile. “It’s perfect, Uncle Marsh. Thank you so much.”
Finally giving her one of his real smiles, Marshal ruffled her hair a bit before turning from the room. “You go’n and get settled in. I suggest you get some sleep, Punken. We got church in the mornin’.”
This time Elizabeth did groan out loud. “Oh come on, Uncle Marshal. Haven’t you ever heard of jet lag? Besides, Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest.”
Marshal chuckled as he closed her door behind him. “Cock crows early, Sug.”
Elizabeth gagged at the closed door. “Oh, gross. I really didn’t need to know that you bang my aunt early in the morning.” Then she crossed her arms. “Isn’t it a sin to get laid on Sunday?” Giving her head shake, she turned to her suitcase to grab her shower stuff and pajamas, and then headed off to get a shower and get ready for bed.