1. A Twist in the Fairy Tale…
What am I doing here?
Pecola Peters found herself standing in a courtroom before a judge in the middle of nowhere Montana getting married to a burly rancher with kind eyes and thick black hair – because of two ugly women. Hideous would be a correct term for how the two women looked in appearance but not in temperament, yet they had gotten married – to two good men. Good looking men of means. For a decent looking woman like Pecola with a horrible dating history, combined with the recent reality of two men physically running away from her, such an imbalance in the fairy tale is what pushed her to this ending. Today she was getting hitched.
In the middle of nowhere.
To a burly rancher with kind eyes and thick black hair named Billy Joe Johnson.
“Do you, Pecola Peters, take William Joseph Johnson to be your lawfully wedded husband, keep only unto him and forsake all others, as long as you both shall live?” The judge was speaking to her with his thin lips and weathered face. A face so taut it looked as if he’d spent the better part of the night sucking on something tart and unpleasant that snuck up on him in the middle of the morning for a surprise visit.
“I do,” Pecola said with a shaking voice. She looked around the drab little courtroom to ensure no one else had answered for her. The wooden court house benches were as weathered as the audience who came to witness the ceremony. Again she searched the room with its peeling wallpaper and pictures of old white judges who hung on the walls like ghosts of lynchings past as if someone had spoken for her.
Nope. It was me. I am agreeing to this; I am actually marrying this man.
Judge Martin posed the same question to Billy Joe who seemed right sure of himself as well as the current circumstance. Those kind eyes looked at her and softened her up again. “I do,” he said with pride.
Pride is what got me here. Pride and eavesdropping on those two ugly heifers who encouraged me to make a move and find some happiness. You won’t regret it, they’d said. You will find love, they’d said.
Instead she found herself in Montana, in the middle of nowhere, getting married to a man with thick black hair and kind eyes who looked at her like she was a pork chop to a fat lady the day after fasting. He was good looking though and he owned a ranch. He had cattle and a good sized ranch house. More than anything, he wanted to marry her. Billy Joe wasn’t running in the opposite direction from the word commitment, instead, he was hurrying her to the altar.
“You may kiss the bride,” the judge said. Billy Joe took a happy step forward in cowboy boots that had seen better days, a shirt with a hole in it, and fingertips laced with callouses as these same digits grazed her cheeks. The kiss was soft and gentle like with no false promises of what was to come. What kept her rooted to the spot was when he kissed her, he closed his eyes. She knew because hers were wide open.
A thin woman in a threadbare flower dress began to play the Wedding March as Billy Joe placed her right arm into his left one and drug her suitcase behind them out to a pick-up truck with a Rocking J on the door panel. He hefted the suitcase up and over the side of the vehicle into the truck bed landing with a thud. The same thud landed in her chest as he opened the door and all but shoved her inside. Her heart drummed heavily when he looked over at her, with those kind eyes and smiled.
“I ain’t never been with a black girl before,” he told her as he put the truck into drive. He peeled away from the sidewalk, spraying bits of dirt and gravel onto the witnesses who had attended the wedding. One lady looked at her with sympathy as the truck rolled away. Mary Megan, the woman who was both her bridesmaid and maid of honor, waved at her with a tear-soaked hanky.
Three men on the sidewalk who were missing teeth gave a whoop, yelling behind the vehicle, “Don’t wear her out too much Billy Joe, there is a dance on Saturday night! You want her to be able to walk.”
Billy Joe’s cellular rang as he held the steering wheel with one hand while wrangling with his pocket to find the phone. “Yep?” he said into the line.
The vehicle slowed as he came to a four way stop. A frown covered his face as he hit the turn signal, made a right, then another right and one more bringing them back to the courthouse. The same three men were still on the side walk when he pulled back up. Evidently he had forgotten to pay them all for attending the wedding that would haunt her dreams forever.
Each man was given $10 and the judge $25. Mary Megan wanted nothing more than to be invited to dinner once Pecola ‘got all settled in’. The men, on the other hand, were having quite the time making fun of her new husband. Pecola didn’t appreciate their sense of humor.
“He been out yonder so long, I am sure one or two of them sheep probably was looking mighty sexy to him!” the man with the extra-large front tooth chimed in. To Pecola, he reminded her of the cartoon baby with just the one big sweet tooth dangling over his bottom lip. It didn’t aid his standing in her eyes when he slurped up the drool that was dangling from the tooth.
The second man, “Yeah, I am sure he has a name for those two sheep. He probably calls them Friday and Saturday, so he don’t get confused which one he is choosing for the weekend!”
The third man didn’t get to say anything because Pecola reached down, took off her shoe and threw it with all her might out of the window, busting him in the mouth with it as the truck rolled by again.
Billy Joe looked at her again with those same kind eyes and smiled extra big. “Just don’t get mad when I don’t go back and get your shoe,” he told her.
Her eyes went to the side mirror as the third man was using her shoe in a most unnatural manner. She mumbled as she stared into her lap, “I don’t want it….ever…don’t bother…he can keep it!”
The truck, which was probably older than she was, rolled along the roadway with smooth precision as her new husband glanced over at her. He seemed to be having a great deal of trouble keeping his eyes on the road and off her boobs. A question was forming behind those kind eyes which came out all wrong from his sext lips.
“You ain’t a virgin are you?” he asked her.
Pecola choked on her own spit. “What? I…what kind of question is that?”
“A good one. I want to know if you ain’t been with a man…because I ain’t never been with one of those either,” he said with a grin.
She could not help scowling as she responded tartly, “With a man or a virgin?”
“You are funny. A virgin,” he said. He thought about it for a minute. “I ain’t ever been with no man either. And don’t plan to,” he said with an extra nod of his head. He acted as if the nod was a punctuation mark of the sentence.
Suddenly the stupid white dress she was wearing became too tight, her breathing became shallow and she woke up on a couch in what appeared to be a farmhouse with no air conditioning. The kind eyes were watching her as he pressed a cool cloth to her forehead. Pecola struggled to sit up as she took a mental inventory to make sure her panties were still on and her dress wasn’t up over her belly. Billy Joe lent her a hand. In his other hand, he held a cold glass of lemonade that he put to her lips.
“Drink, the cool and sugar will help balance you out. You ain’t ate nothing all day have you?” he asked.
She shook her head no.
“Mary Megan and the gals from the ladies auxiliary fixed us up some food. By the looks of it, we have enough to last us all week. I guess them hearing that you were from New York and all, they were figuring you couldn’t cook,” he told her.
“What did they make?” she asked, her stomach rumbling loudly.
“Fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried potatoes, some baked squash casserole and biscuits so light and fluffy you would swear they were made by an angel,” he told her.
Deep fried anything wasn’t her cup of tea, but she was hungry enough to eat a bear. “I could eat something,” she told him.
Gently, he pulled her up by the hand and into the kitchen. My kitchen. A bright bold kitchen with yellow walls, ridiculously white appliances, a farmhouse sink, and lots of bins filled with root veggies. There was something welcoming and special about the kitchen which called to her. For the first time on that Tuesday morning, she smiled.
Billy Joe was enjoying seeing her lips in a position other than a frown or a scowl as he handed her a small saucer, a chicken drumstick and a biscuit.
“Is this all I get?”
“For right now. I mean, I don’t want you to eat too much and then I jostle you all up and you get sick on me,” he said matter of factly.
The chicken came to a stop in midair. “What do you mean jostle me up?”
“Our wedding nuptials! I want to get to that part right away.” Again, he did the head nod for punctuation.
She started to look around the room. Nope. No one was here to rescue me. And there was that look on his face once more. The uncanny hopes of the fat lady meeting her long lost pork chop lover look.
“Don’t I get some sort of romance before you jostle me up, Billy?” she said with some attitude in her voice.
“Whaddaya need with romance, we are married?”
She was feeling more like herself with each passing moment. “Not for long if you keep it going at this rate.”
He held up his hands in surrender. “I think we have some wine around here somewhere,” he told her. What he had was a bottle of Beaujolais that had more dust on it than some of the senators in congress. When he opened it up, Pecola could smell the vinegar from across the room. She stood there watching him as she gnawed on the chicken leg. It was some of the best-fried chicken she had ever eaten. At this point, she was feeling like the fat lady and reached over to grab one of the pork chops. Her husband was not done yet, the man was truly going to try his best to make his new bride comfortable. He found a bottle of what looked like corn liquor that he held up as if he had uncovered the mother lode. Disappointment reigned on his face as she shook her head no. Pecola wanted to, at least, be awake when the jostling began. The search for a romantic enhancer continued as he found a record which too was covered in a layer of dust. His hands held the round disk as he leaned forward to blow off a layer or three of the dusty film before putting it on the record player. It was only a matter of seconds before Patsy Cline came through the speaker.
“Aww hell no. You are trying to seduce me and make me feel comfortable with our upcoming jostling with a bottle of fermented vinegar and Patsy Cline?” Pecola began to look for her purse. One shoe on and a white dress, she would get out that front door and start walking.
“Pecola whaddaya want me to do? I want to make love to you, it’s our wedding loving time! I am at a loss here,” he said sadly.
It was the kind eyes that made her pause. She exhaled lightly and picked up a biscuit, biting into the discus and plopping down in a chair. “This is the best-damned biscuit I have ever eaten,” she told him as she took another bite. She needed to explain herself a bit more to her confused husband. “I am refusing to believe, based on everything you have said to me today that you are the same man I have been writing.”
“I have every letter in the other room,” he said as he stared at her. Waiting for an opportunity to change her mind and get her into that bedroom. There was jostling which needed to commence in the next few minutes or he was going to embarrass himself.
She shook her head no. “You have used the word ‘ain’t’ several times. There is no way you have a master’s degree in comparative literature and are using the word ain’t!”
“I live on a ranch! And by the by, I don’t have any sheep, but you saw the caliber of people I was talking to on that sidewalk. Compound words confuse them,” he told her. He inhaled deeply and carefully phrased his words, “Are we not going to consummate this marriage?”
“Is that all you can think about?” she asked in disbelief.
“Right now, yeah!” he said as he stood up. He ran his fingers through that thick black hair she was really starting to love. “I really don’t want to talk right now. I want to be in our bedroom making you my wife!”
She was shaking her head no. “Those same fancy words you used to seduce me in those letters to get me out here better start rolling off your lips or you ain’t getting nothing from me but some attitude and my other shoe in your face!”
He asked with a straight face, “Is that a New York thing, throwing your shoe at people?”
Billy Joe took a seat in the chair next to her. His eyes were lowered as he thought about what he could say or do. It had not occurred to him that his wife would require being wooed. It also had not occurred to him either that she would see him and not desire to be intimate with him right away. A great number of things never occurred to Billy Joe, but one thing that did occur to him immediately was that he liked her even more in person. The words she had written him dew him into her spirit and loving the woman was going to be easy as he watched her bring his sons and daughters into this world. Moreover, he could see himself enjoying a life with her.
If this is what it she needs or what it takes to keep her, I will do my best.
He took to one knee before her and held her hand. In French, he began to quote his favorite 14th-century poet, Louise Labé, with a piece about him kissing her into submission.
Las, te plains-tu? ça, que ce mal j’apaise, En t’en donnant dix autres doucereux
Ainsi mêlant nos baisers tant heureux
Jouissons-nous l’un de l’autre à notre aise.
Her head cocked to the left as he deftly recited the words. It is working. He spoke French like a native. She watched his eyes when she asked, “You want to sooth my pain with ten kisses which are the sweetest so that we may enjoy each in bliss?”
A cocky grin showed up on his face giving her a glimpse of what had to be the prettiest set of teeth she had ever seen on a man. Then there were those eyes, grey eyes which sparkled when he said, “Loosely translated, that ain’t half bad.”
“How many other languages do you speak?” she asked as he removed the one shoe that was still on her foot.
He stayed in the zone as a professor. “Five if you count country grammar and English. I also speak Italian and Spanish,” he told her as his hand touched her calf.
Her leg warmed under his touch. “Really?”
“I can sing a little as well in a pinch,” he told her as he leaned forward, reaching behind to the back of her dress, tugging at the zipper.
“In a pinch?” She said as she stared into his kind eyes.
He leaned forward as he kissed her softly. He pulled away humming something she didn’t know but figured it was a country song. A soft tenor came from his mouth as he crooned the words to something she had never heard. Those damned eyes of his held her transfixed like a baboon waiting for the banana to drop from the hole in the wall of the research lab.
She scratched at her head. It was the eyes that were getting to her in person. His words were what got her across the country. The singing was going to get her in his bed. Damn he is adorable.
“Honest, Pecola, if I don’t make love to you soon, I think I might just burst wide open right here on this floor,” he told her.
Damn you ugly women! This is what I get for not minding my own business.
He took her by the hand and pulled her up from the couch to lead her down the hall to the master bedroom. The farmhouse bed was waiting for them with the covers turned down.
This was all wrong.
This is not how the story was supposed to go.
And it definitely wasn’t the wedding night she had envisioned in her head. Hell, it wasn’t even night, but the middle of the afternoon. The whole thing happened so fast that she got caught up in the world of living out the stories which made her a New York Times Best Selling author. Under the pen name of Montana Hart, she was famous for writing about mail order brides. Now, all because of two ugly women, she was married to a man who was taking her to his bed to jostle the hell out of her. By the looks of the expression on his face, she was going to be ridden hard and put away wet. The kind eyes which had gotten her down the hall had turned wolfish. Scratch that, I am going to be rode wet and put away hard.
“Jesus build a fence,” she mumbled as the bedroom door closed behind them.
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