My summer cabin was one of a dozen nestled into a small clearing surrounded by heavy old growth forest. It was hilly here with clumps of brambles and bushes that had probably never felt the blades of pruning shears. The ground was mostly red clay and occasional gravel and I knew it would be a muddy red river when it rained. The prospect of being stranded here in a downpour didn't frighten me. I loved the rain and knew I could easily concentrate on my work with the hum of water tapping on the roof. And I could read in peace. That thought sustained me and was the major reason I had decided to spend my summer in these hills. I'd paint and read and maybe write a bit in my journal.
I hadn't anticipated meeting Barry Adams.
"Here's a what I think y'all should do," my mother-in-law announced, and absent-mindedly pulled a dishrag out of her apron pocket to wipe up the gravy that had spilled over my plate. "You an Barry git yoreselves right over to the church an ask the preacher Stephens to set aside some time for y'all. Both you an that boy of mine could use a dose of good words from that God-fearin Christian man. And then ya ask him to lead ya in some prayer. It's what good children do if'n they wants to git things right with the Lord. Ya hear me, missy?"
"Yes, ma'am," I dutifully responded and wondered if I dared ask the preacher to come to the hospital to pray for Barry. I knew I would hesitate before doing that; Barry wasn't much for religion, only going to church every now and then to satisfy his mother.
"When ya 'spect you an Barry goin to do that?" she asked, rising from the table. "Ya needs to do it soon, girl. Time's a'slippin by an ya ain't no spring chick. What're ya? Twenty-four?" She clucked her tongue, making fretting sounds and kept on talking, not waiting for me to respond.
"I married Mr. Adams when I was jus past sixteen, had me two babies an a third a'birthin' by the time I was twenty-one. Barry was our last young'n an only boy an what a surprise he was!" Her face suddenly lit with the sweet smile she reserved for her only son and no one else.
"Mr. Adams got hisself ribbed good when that happened. Lord! Was funny times. Here I was, right smack in the middle of Sunday sit-down dinner an thought I'd shamed myself, wettin the floor the way I did. Had no idea I was 'spectin a child that late in life. Thought I'd just got me that woman change thing a mite early an was puttin on some pounds. Jus 'bout had that boy a'fore Mr. Adams could git me up the stairs to the bed."
She clucked her tongue again and I politely smiled at her words despite the fact that I had heard the story of Barry's birth a dozen times over.
"An here I was, near forty years of age!" she exclaimed.
I hid my smile in a forkful of mashed potatoes. Barry had been born on his mother's thirty-second birthday, nowhere near forty. And I wasn't twenty-four; I was twenty-eight and dying a little each day that Barry remained in a coma.
I didn't know where Barry was taking me to dinner and unsure about what to wear but a simple skirt and blouse and flat shoes seemed a safe bet. I had a sweater because I knew the night would get cooler and when Barry showed up at my door, I was gratified to see he had changed his clothes. I thought he had looked hunky when we met - jeans, flannel shirt and scruffy boots, but Oh Lord! The minute I laid eyes on him in dress slacks and a turtleneck sweater... I was ready to give him as many kisses as he wanted.
He must have read my mind because I blushed. His laughter was soft as he took my arm and slowly spun me around.
"You look good enough to eat," he grinned while I continued to embarrass myself with a heated face. "I might have to have some of you before we eat supper. What do you think of that, Miss Hope?"
"I think you're going to lose those kisses I owe you," I said somewhat formally. "I'm a lady and ladies don't kiss on a first date."
"I meant my words to be a compliment," his voice lowered to a whisper, drawing me into the circle of his arms. "And I plan to collect what you owe me, little gal."
"I... You're very forward," I said, mesmerized by the hunger in his eyes and fearful that if he looked close enough, he'd see it matched my own. "I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I'm not easy," I heard myself say as if my face could get any redder... I stepped back from him.
"Hope," he reached for me, drawing me back, one arm around my waist, the other squeezing my hand. "I'm a teasin man. I'm not sorry I teased you, but I don't want you to fear me either. You relax. Nobody's gonna make you do anything you don't want to do. You have my word on that."
I believed him. He seemed to be a Southern gentleman but I was no Southern belle. I'm a Yankee through and through and I was raised to speak my thoughts and act on my desires. Barry Adams might not force me to do anything I didn't want to do, but what was going to stop me from kissing him? Oh boy! I knew it wouldn't take much to find myself way over my head in no time.
We crossed the state line into North Carolina, Barry holding my hand the whole way there. From the moment he lifted me into the passenger side of his pickup truck and got behind the wheel, he hadn't let go. I remember telling him I was capable of getting into a truck by myself but he gave me that cocky grin of his and murmured that he had a burning urge to touch me and lifting me into his truck was one way. I shivered slightly at his words and wondered what other ways he'd think of. I had a pretty good idea what those other ways could be but I didn't volunteer any information.
When I tried to pull my hand away from his, he told me to go right ahead and do that and if I did, he'd expect interest on his debt.
"You'd be up to a dozen kisses, Miss Hope," he said as calmly as anything I'd heard him say. "A dozen kisses that I plan to collect soon's you get that pie you've been hollerin 'bout."
"I haven't been hollering," I muttered, indignant at his words and without thinking, pulled my hand from his.
He chuckled, took my hand in his again and squeezed it.
I don't know what got into me but I blushed like a schoolgirl on her very first date.
The restaurant was an old farmhouse filled with long trestle tables and benches and when we arrived, there was already a crowd sitting down to eat. A few folks called out to Barry and he greeted them with enthusiasm and introduced me as a Yankee gal comin' to summer in Habersham County. He told them to be nice to me because even though I was a Yankee, I was a sweet one and they mostly smiled at his words, their eyes giving me the once over and up and down again. Later, I discovered that I was the only Yankee Barry had ever taken to dinner.
You eat Southern fried chicken with your hands - the smell of it was intoxicating and it was moist and tender and I had a hard time stopping at three pieces. The minute I sat down, someone tied a long bib around my neck and that turned out to be a good thing because in no time, the bib was greasy from my hands. The mashed potatoes were the old-fashioned kind - potatoes boiled in water - and then mashed with so much real butter and cream, it was a caloric high. The buttermilk biscuits were light and fluffy and truth be told, I ate so much I wasn't sure I'd have room for pie.
"Good, huh?" Barry smiled, and while he ate his fill, I knew he had been watching me enjoy this wonderful meal.
"So good you think your tongue's about to slap your brains out," he commented and I laughed.
"Very good." I wiped my mouth and finally pushed my plate away.
"Drink your milk, Hope."
"Don't want any."
"You want pie?"
"You know I do."
"No milk, no pie," he said matter-of-factly and I arched a brow at him.
"You Mr. Adams me one more time," his words close to my ear. "And you skip the milk... well... might not be the smartest thing to do."
"I'd like coffee or ice tea," I announced, a long line of nervous butterflies beginning their takeoffs and landings in my belly.
"Milk, then coffee."
He had a serious look on his face and I can't fathom why that moved me but I drank the milk and when I finished it, he signaled for pie and coffee.
"Happy now?" I asked, trying to keep the sarcasm from seeping through.
"Happy." He wiped my lips with his napkin, his palm lingering on my chin. "And gonna be happier still when I collect those kisses."
"Yankee women aren't pushovers," I said without thinking.
"Southern gentlemen know how to get what they want, Miss Hope, and I want you."