"Ya want pie?" my mother-in-law asked as she plunked the pie tin down in the middle of the table. "It's apple with some crumbly things on top. I begged the recipe from the preacher's wife. Now that's a God-fearin Christian woman if'n there ever was one. She be good for ya to look up to, missy. She's a fine Christian woman."
"Hmmm," I hummed and cut a slice of pie, transferring it to my plate. "Shall I cut a slice for you?" I asked politely, even though I knew my mother-in-law liked to serve herself.
"She done birthed five strong boys for the preacher," she told me as if that was wondrous news and something I should strive for. "An her littlest young'n shore is a mite pretty thing. So good of her an the preacher to take that lil girl into their house. Sure as shootin', them two is goin to heaven when the good Lord calls them Home."
I didn't say anything. Speculation had run wild when the preacher's wife had shown up with an infant girl after being away most of the winter. Some folks said she had been visiting her ailing sister in Alabama and when the woman had died in childbirth, she felt an obligation to bring the babe home. Other not-so-nice Southern ladies had remarked that the handsome handyman at the church - a ne're do well if there ever was one - had mysteriously left town not long after the preacher's wife had put on a few pounds and gone a visitin. Barry's mother was inclined to believe the woman was a saint and since I didn't care one way or the other, I let her ramble on.
"Be nice to have a granbaby or two," she remarked. "A boy an a girl would do jus fine. Ya needs to be a'thinkin 'bout that, ya hear?"
"Yes, ma'am," I answered around a mouth full of pie. "You ever make pecan pie?" I asked out of the blue, hearing myself the same time my mother-in-law did.
"Pecan?" she mused. "Could do that right well if'n ya collect the pecans an shell them. Ya willin t' do that, missy?"
"Yes, ma'am," I smiled. "I really like pecan pie."
Barry kept an arm around my shoulder all the way home. I was full of Southern fried chicken and mashed potatoes and the taste of pecan pie still lingered on my tongue. That was the best pecan pie I had ever had and I couldn't help wondering when I could get some more.
"Do they sell pecan pie at the grocers in Mountain View?" I asked.
"You can't afford any," Barry chuckled.
"You think I'm fat?" I said, aghast at the thought. I knew I ate more than usual for supper but I hadn't pigged out.
"You're not fat, Miss Hope," he continued to chuckle. "The pie's way too expensive to buy..." He looked at me for a moment before turning his eyes back to the road. "Even for a Yankee gal," he added enigmatically.
"Can't be *that* expensive," I muttered, hoping against hope I wasn't going to have to learn how to bake in order to have more pie.
"How many kisses you suppose a pie would cost?" he asked with a straight face.
"You are so bad!" I punched his arm and he laughed.
"Gotcha again, little gal. You sure are an easy one to tease, sweet, too," he added flashing his charming smile. "Gonna have a lot of fun with you this summer."
"That's what you think," I mumbled, suddenly feeling put upon and not sure why.
"Not fixin to show me your pouty side, are you?" he asked gently.
I didn't respond and he said nothing further but squeezed my hand again. I was bubbling with indignation and finally told him off.
"I'm not a prize you've won, Mr. Adams," I said with as much dignity as I could muster. "I'm a full-grown woman and like to be treated as such. I'm not one of your simpering Southern dolls that needs a lot of muscle around to make me feel like a woman. And furthermore..."
"Furthermore," he interrupted and pulled the pickup truck to the side of the road and turned the ignition off. "Furthermore, it's Barry, not Mr. Adams. I've already told you that and I think it's high time I collected a few of those kisses you owe me."
Without giving me a chance to protest, he pulled me into his arms and kissed me like the world was about to end. For a few moments, I thought the world *had* ended. His kisses were fire and ice and shooting stars and I couldn't get enough. Oh Lord! The man could kiss! If his kisses were the last thing I'd feel before meeting my Maker... what a way to go!
"You okay?" he smiled at me, gauging my reaction, my face all flushed and my breathing so heavy I was surprised my heart hadn't leaped from my chest.
"You kiss all the girls that way?" I asked, completely out of breath and terribly embarrassed by my reaction.
"Just the pretty Yankee ones," he whispered before kissing me again.
Tucked into his shoulder for the rest of the ride home, I remained silent, contemplating one Mr. Barry Adams and the events of the day. It hadn't been a long trip to northeast Georgia. I had left Gainesville, Florida early that morning, my teaching obligation for a graduate assistantship completed and free to be on my way to a new life. I had wanted a summer off to enjoy a little leisure before starting a career as a commercial artist. Habersham County, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, wasn't that far away but I could lose myself in the lushness of its forested communities. I hadn't planned on losing myself in Barry Adams.
I was tired from the 5-hour drive to northeast Georgia, pleasantly full of a good Southern meal, and truth be told, content in this man's arms. I was sure I'd soon be on my way to Hell in a hand basket but remembered I had promised myself I'd take each summer day and run with it, whatever it brought. Who knew it would bring a tall, muscular Southern man who could kiss me senseless? I had never been kissed senseless before. I don't mind telling you - it's a darn good feeling.
"Y'all can spend the night if'n you've a mind," the senior Mrs. Adams said, surprising me with her offer. "The spare room's all fresh an such, changed the sheets jus last Saturday. Go take a look, missy. There's a new rag rug on the floor, too. Done finished that thing when my ladies group come a'callin. Now there's a fine group of women, I don't mind tellin ya. We set ourselves down in the big room, have us some sweet cakes an some good old-fashion coffee - ya knows what I mean, doncha?" she winks at me.
I've learned that "old-fashion" means the ladies pour the coffee and then add a little something extra they brought from home. Some carry it in a small thermos, others in a flask and the oldest among them carries their 80 or 100 proof moonshine in a small jar tucked into an apron pocket. The stuff is downright vile but this is Barry's mother - my mother-in-law - I'm not about to make an unpleasant remark.
"Sure as shootin, I thought Emmie Lou was gonna haf to spend the night. That woman can drink down more of her good man's whiskey than anyone I know. Don't know how that fella makes a livin the way Emmie Lou drinks. Course... she's a God-fearin woman an gives hours to the church an such. Guess if'n that's good 'nuff for Jesus, it's good 'nuff for me. Anyways what I be sayin was that we was havin ourselves a good yakkin an the time jus flew by an a'fore I know it, that rag rug got itself all done."
I smiled at her. No one really needs to say much around Barry's mother; she does enough talking for everyone. But I was perplexed as to why she wanted me to spend the night. Barry and I lived about thirty minutes away - I had driven back and forth countless times since we had wed close to four years earlier. She had never invited me to spend the night before, not even when there was heavy snow and ice on the road. I was stunned by her offer.
"Now doncha be lookin at me all funny an such," she began, her hands knotted together, nervous for the first time in front of me. "I jus don't wantcha be driving these hills after a big supper like ya jus et. Big meals can make a body sleepy, can't have ya be shuttin yore eyes behind the wheel now. Y'all spend the night and ya can splurge like a kid with one of them big 'ole lollipop things - ya know the kind? Takes a body most the day to finish one of them off. This-a-way you can have 'nother slice of my pie an we can listen to the radio. That Lawrence Welk fella's on. Nice singin, too. Ya jus know he's a God-fearin' man."
"I 'spect it's close to time ya started callin me Ma," she said. "Ya been hitched long 'nuff now. My boy'd like that I'm sure, an I 'spect I'd kinda like that, too, 'specially how y'all gonna give me a granbaby or two."
"I'll be by in the mornin," Barry told me when we drove up to my cabin. "I'll take you out for pancakes and eggs. You eat eggs, don't you?"
"Wake up, sleepy head," he smiled, turning me in his arms and tilting my chin up so I could look at him. "You need to be awake when I kiss you, Miss Hope."
"I said I want you wide awake when I kiss you. Want you to know how much I enjoy kissing you - want to look at you and see how much you enjoy it, too."
"You're very forward, Mr. Adams," I sniffed and tried to straighten up and retreat from his warm, sweet and very masculine embrace.
"What did I tell you about this Mr. Adams thing? Call me Barry," he demanded. "I want to hear my name coming from your mouth."
"And if I choose to be more formal?" the little devil on my shoulder wanted to know.
"Hard to be formal when you're about to get a comeuppance, Miss Hope," he said in that calm way he had that I would later learn was prelude to a promise of retribution.
In seconds, we were out of the truck, Barry's leg resting on the running board and I was bent over his thigh.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I shouted as my arms shot out in front of me and I tried to gain purchase on the edge of the front seat.
"Told you not to cuss, Miss Hope. Warned you once. I don't give second warnings."
His hand came down with such a heavy smack, I almost flew right back into the front of the pickup truck's cab. "And told you not to call me Mr. Adams, either. My father was Mr. Adams. Folks only call me that when I'm settling a business deal or reading aloud from the Good Book in church. To you, I'm Barry. Let me hear you say my name."
"You insufferable, arrogant..!"
"My name!" he said in a sterner tone, his hard hand bouncing off my backside. "And no more cussing!" he added as the next few spanks seemed extra hard.
"Ouch! Stop it! Damnit! Stop it!"
"Could've sworn Yankee women had more sense. Didn't know it was gonna take a longer lesson to teach you some sweet Southern ladylike ways." He finally stopped spanking and lifted me into his arms. "Good Lord, woman! You're as beautiful as a sweet Georgia peach," he said quietly, one hand rubbing my sore posterior, the other cupping the back of my head. "Let me hear my name."
"Barry..." I managed to say, my eyes spilling over. I swiped at my nose that had started to run, embarrassed and feeling vulnerable and put upon and slightly used.
"I'll do that," he said as he took a handkerchief from his pocket. "You have a pretty nose, Hope. And a beautiful mouth," he whispered as his head bent toward mine and I was lost again in his charm and his arms tight around me and oh Lord... his magic kisses.
When he finally let me up for air, I pulled away from him and remarked that Yankee women don't take kindly to being upended by men they don't know well and that he should never do that again.
"What about when we get to know each other better?" he chuckled.
At the expression on his face, I quickly corrected myself.
"Better," he smiled, pulling me back into his arms. "You're slow but I think there's a chance you'll learn. I have high hopes for you, Hope."
"High hopes for what?"
"For teachin you what you need to know to be my woman."