Jack Fawkes sighed as he pulled into Maggie’s driveway with a Christmas wreath on the front seat next to him. He looked down at it as if the dead, festive tree-branch was mocking him. The truth was that he just didn’t feel very Christmasy.
Not that he didn’t respect the holiday’s importance, and for the sake of the townsfolk he even found himself pretending to be into the holiday spirit… But the unfortunate fact was that he was lonely, he was in his thirties, and he was going to get snubbed by Joanna Menard when he walked into the house—he just knew it. With any other girl, some snobbery wouldn’t move him at all. He was the town sheriff and was used to being known as the ‘bad guy’, but Joanna had a way about her that made him feel two feet tall… which he was sure was her intent. She never missed an opportunity to treat him like a possum that had gotten into the basement.
“Time to get this over with,” he said, grabbing the wreath as he left his car.
Her aunt liked him at least. In fact, Aunt Maggie had been a surrogate mother to him while he was in his teens. When his mother was fighting cancer, and eventually died from it, Maggie Menard was always there to make sure his father, his brother, and Jack didn’t die of starvation. She would also snoop enough to make sure he and his brother didn’t get into any amount of regrettable trouble, which he appreciated even today. Hence the wreath, and its painful delivery.
He knocked and put on a grin in preparation for the door being answered. He could hear the sound of someone coming near. Then he heard a muffled voice groan, “Oh, Lord… it’s him.”
“Who?” came a much more distant, nearly inaudible answer.
“Well, answer it and lead him back here. I’m elbow deep in cookie dough!”
The lock clicked and the door opened wide, revealing Jo, who was even more gorgeous than he remembered with her glassy emerald eyes and her long, dark brown hair draped over both shoulders. She wasn’t dressed to impress; despite it being mid-morning, she was still in a long black t-shirt, flannel pajama bottoms, and huge slippers that resembled milk cows. Her expression was even less welcoming than her outfit; she seemed to groan through her eyes.
“Hi,” she said wearily.
“Hey Jo,” he replied with a friendly grin. “Nice slippers,” he teased lightly, looking for some sort of conversation that might make her smile.
“Nice hat,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She didn’t even have to gesture to the fluffy lumberjack flap-hat he was wearing. She stepped aside to let him inside the house, closing the door behind him.
“It is nice,” he assured, trying to take anything she told him with a light attitude. “It’s warm. It’s perfect. Don’t know what I’d do without it.”
“I’m sure your life feels very complete,” she droned, rolling her eyes as she turned away from him and began to walk towards the kitchen. “She’s this way,” she informed over her shoulder. “Take off your shoes.”
He inwardly grumbled, then proceeded to remove his boots just as ungracefully as he feared he would while desperately attempting to make any sort of conversation with Jo that he could. “So, you done with college?” he asked, hopping on one foot while trying to tug off his other boot.
She was obviously not interested, but she slowly turned around and leaned against the door frame. “Yeah,” she answered in a drawl, picking some lint off her sleeve. “Art degree managed.”
“Four-point-oh!” her aunt called from the kitchen proudly.
“Wow,” he said, genuinely impressed. “Great job,” he encouraged with a grin.
Jo met his gaze just briefly, then blushed and looked away from him again. “It’s just an art degree.” She shrugged. “And it took me four and a half years to get it,” she added as if it lessened the achievement. “It’s no big deal.”
“Do you know what you want to do now?”
Jo’s eyes rolled up, her blush gone, and she gave him a robotic stare. He immediately felt unsettled, like he had asked the wrong question, said the wrong thing. It was as if every time he tried to elevate the conversation out of chit-chat, he would get chided for it.
She had long discarded all of their past friendly relationship, but at one point they had been very close. When she was in high school, he had viewed her like an adorable little sister. And then she came home from college on her first break and she had magically transformed into a sex-kitten. Every curve seemed perfect, the way she held herself seemed graceful and mature, and her voice, which was normally giggly, had become very low and measured. She had officially blossomed.
Too bad he had fucked that up a year before her great metamorphosis.
He was about to let his memory turn back to the exact moment when their relationship changed, but he was distracted when she finally answered.
“No.” She didn’t elaborate on that, not taking the bait into more conversation, and instead just led him into the kitchen. She opened her arms and presented him like she was selling a new appliance to her old aunt, who was balling up cookie dough into balls. “There he is! Now, I’m off to the shower. If I don’t come back in an hour, send a search party.”
Crestfallen inwardly, Jack simply watched as Jo shuffled silently out of the room without so much as a ‘goodbye’.
“Merry Christmas, Jack,” Maggie said, her wrinkled face smiling brightly as she walked over with her arms outstretched to hug him even though he was easily a foot taller than her. Her hugs were delightfully warm. They were almost worth having an awkward run-in with her niece.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, picking up the wreath and waving it. “Or Merry Christmas in three days, I should say.” He winked at her playfully.
She clapped her hands together excitedly as she eyed the wreath. “Excellent! Thanks so much! Put it on the table. I’d take it, but I’m sticky with cookie dough.”
“Well, thanks for hugging me then,” he teased.
She waved at him dismissively. “I didn’t get you,” she assured with a smirk. “How are you these days? You haven’t visited in two weeks now! I wondered if you forgot all about me,” she added with a motherly chide.
“Of course not,” he grunted, trying to sound much more chipper than he felt. “I wanted Jo to have time to get situated before I came up,” he assured, looking over at the kitchen island where a large scattering of several different types of cookies sat.
She watched him scavenge for food for a moment before she said, “You know, Jo’s single and here for a while… Why don’t you try asking her out? Maybe for a cup of coffee or something?”
He chuckled. So, Maggie could tell that he was interested in her niece. He knew he shouldn’t be too surprised. Maggie always seemed able to read someone’s intentions in a matter of seconds. He was never able to lie to her.
“Because she might take a swing at me!” he answered, then stole a cookie and took a big bite. Afterwards, he walked towards the fridge and took out some milk—just like he used to do as a teenager. He’d always eat and run, and although Maggie complained about it, she also seemed to nag at him when he didn’t do it often enough.
“She’s interested,” Maggie enlightened with a quiet voice. “Oh, she’s too stubborn to admit it, but I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”
“Like I’m diseased?” he said with a full mouth, unable to let what Maggie was trying to say penetrate his defenses. There was simply no way Jo was interested in him, as painful as it was to swallow, and all the wishful thinking in the world from her aunt wasn’t going to make a bit of difference. “No, I’m afraid I ruined it.”
“If you’re suggesting that she won’t talk to you because once upon a time you spanked her, you’ve got another think coming,” Maggie assured firmly, trying to accentuate her seriousness by pointing a chunk of cookie dough at him. “You hurt her feelings somehow. She holds onto a grudge, but she never stopped liking you. I think you just have to be a little persistent! Look, you need to come over and woo that girl. Try to crack that hard shell of hers. I’m not telling you that you have to be nice, either. Don’t kiss up, but sincere and honest won’t hurt. She’s smart, but she can be as thick as a brick. As can you.”
Reaching for a second cookie, he said, “I don’t know, Maggie. I think you’re seeing something that just isn’t there. Ow!” He sucked air through his teeth as she snapped him on the back of his hand with a wooden spoon.
“Don’t be a pig,” she said. “I’m sending Jo to deliver cookies today. You’re on the list,” she promised. “Why don’t you come up and have some Christmas dinner with the Ruarks, Jo and me?”
He hummed thoughtfully. “Hm, well… As much as I like your next-door neighbors, Mag, the feeling’s not exactly mutual since last week when I busted little Kevin with a DWI. That would create a little bit of awkwardness, I’d say.”
She rolled her eyes. “You just are no good at politics, Jack,” she said with a grin, shaking her head. “But you’re a good boy.”
“Maggie—I’m thirty-two,” Jack reminded with good humor.
“Oh, God! I feel so old,” Maggie sighed exasperatedly.
“I wouldn’t worry about me being anywhere for Christmas, anyway,” he said pessimistically. “I’m gonna be snowed in. So are you, in fact. You’ll be able to make it to the Ruarks, but not into town, for certain. Like I told you on the phone the other day, we’ve got reports of a huge snowstorm heading our way. We’ll all be buried, so if you need to do something, make sure it’s done before mid-afternoon. That’s when they say it’s gonna hit.”
“You don’t have to work?” she asked, sounding concerned. Like a mother, she worried incessantly about Jack, and she would only worry more if he had to drive in horrible conditions in the middle of nowhere; ambulances were famous for not even making trips up to the mountain during storms. It was as if the town was cut off from the world.
“No. I have the day off,” he said, though he didn’t bother pretending to be particularly excited about it. “My deputy begged to work the whole Christmas weekend when he found out his mother-in-law was visiting. He’d rather be snowed in at the office than with her…”
“Well, maybe some time to yourself is what you need this year, Jack. I think you need to do some soul-searching, honey. I know you’re unhappy.”
He was suddenly getting uncomfortable about how pensive Maggie was getting in her old age. “I’m happy. Perfectly, wonderfully gaga about life,” he exaggerated, wishing with all his might it was true.
She sighed and raised an eyebrow. Finally, she just threw her hands in the air as if she surrendered. “Alright, alright, I’ll keep out of it,” she promised. “It’s your life…”
“That’s right,” he said with a nod. “It’s my life… And my cookie.” He mischievously snatched his hand out and grabbed a cookie before she could react. Then he walked over and kissed her on the cheek before he turned to leave, shoving the cookie in his mouth as he did so. “Merry Christmas if I don’t see you ‘til after. Call me if you have any emergencies,” he offered, but he had a feeling she wouldn’t. Maggie’s house was stable, her pantries were stocked better than most castles, and although she had a bad hip, she had close neighbors and a niece to help her with chores.
He knew she was right, though. He did need to do some soul-searching. His life wasn’t turning out like he had hoped it would. He had become sheriff when he was twenty-eight, but it didn’t seem like he had progressed much after that. He knew he needed a big change; he just didn’t know what that was going to be. Luckily, he had Christmas to sit by himself and figure it out.
Jo stood motionlessly in the shower, deep in thought, just letting the water flow over her.
Whenever she saw Jack, she could barely think of anything else for a long time. She hated how her emotions were so conflicted. On the one hand she didn’t want anything to do with him, but on the other she thought he was the most gorgeous, wonderful man alive.
She figured most of the things that made her nearly swoon when she saw him were only emotional remnants of her past. Growing up, she thought the man walked on water. He was nearly ten years older and he acted like he was twenty years older. When she was still in high school, it already seemed like Jack had his life figured out. He was fresh out of the military after two tours of duty, and it seemed like everything he did, and everything he said, was just perfect.
She wasn’t alone in her thinking, either. All the other girls in her school felt the same way about him. It was impossible not to. Jack was tall and had a fine, chiseled body, a hard jaw line, sharp, piercing blue eyes… Everyone thought that he was all that is man.
And, out of all the girls in town, she was the one that got to see the most of him. Because of his connection to her aunt, he lavished attention on her. She figured now that he did that because he was trying to help her get through the shock of her parents’ death—maybe because he had experience when it came to loss. His mother died when he was a teenager as well, and he was no stranger to grieving.
He had spoiled her, which was exactly what she needed at the time. He would bring her thoughtful little gifts, take her out to movies, and drive her to Bend, Oregon to go shopping. He would even pick her up and drop her off at school constantly, making her the envy of every girl she knew. Not to mention, having a handsome guy in his mid-twenties give her so much public attention made her popular in a new school.
She hadn’t been a good student before her parents’ car accident, but Jack had been able to keep her focused enough to get the grades she needed for college. Her world had seemed more and more right every day, even though the high school crowd that existed in the small town was quite a rough, tight-knit bunch, and it was hard to stay out of trouble.
So by the time she was a senior, she was well liked enough to get invited to everything—every party, every camping trip, every concert. Maggie was oblivious, and Jo had begun to keep Jack, who was the town’s sheriff by then, as much at bay as she could. But the more she separated herself from him, the more suspicious he became.
Suspicious or not, and however much he seemed to be on her case, she loved it. And after starting her senior year, she came to realize that she was in love with him. And since she was at that age where everyone seemed to be hooking up in the back of old Chevy trucks, or underneath the football bleachers, she decided that she wanted Jack Fawkes to be her first—who else was more perfect? She wasn’t attracted to anyone else; nobody else held a candle to him. No one held the type of magic she felt Jack was capable of. And since he spent so much time with her, she felt that she wasn’t too off-base in thinking he might reciprocate her feelings.
She moved her hand down her tummy as she let herself think of Jack the way she used to, which was actually quite easy. It felt like it was yesterday. She’d never known how to seduce him back then—not that she did now—but she could remember how badly she’d wanted to be his. To feel his stubble against her cheek, his chest against hers, a kiss so passionate she was sure she’d come all over his cock the moment he threw her on his bed and claimed her with one thrust…
Leaning against the shower wall as if she was pinned to it by the man she needed inside her so desperately—both then and now—she let her mind wander through the long list of shameful things she wanted Jack to do to her, rubbing her clit furiously until she was on the brink of climax.
Then she remembered the moment her hopes were dashed. The day Jack spanked her.
It had been the most devastating yet also the most erotic thing her brain could comprehend.
Maggie had gone to visit a close friend for a week in February of Jo’s senior year, and this had seemed like the perfect time to seduce Jack. She had just turned eighteen, she was alone, she had a whole house to herself, and Jack seemed very determined to do a lot of ‘checking up’ on her.
The only problem was her friends, who were loveable opportunists. When it became known that she wouldn’t be under the watchful eye of her aunt for a whole week, her girlfriends had taken advantage of the situation. That had been fine with Jo; she wanted to kick back and hang out, and she figured Jack couldn’t stop by even half as often as she wished he would. He worked, after all.
Maggie had left Saturday morning, and by that afternoon Jo and her girlfriends were already hanging around the house with a cabinet full of liquor and a Ziploc full of weed, giggling with each other and talking about boys in their class. Talking and giggling grew into action and her friend Jane actually called one of the subjects of their conversation, which in turn got them all invited to go up to the ski slopes with the boys. They were happy to provide the booze, of course, which wasn’t going to be a hardship thanks to Maggie not locking up the liquor cabinet.
But just as they had hauled the cooler into the back of her aunt’s Chevy, the sound of tires at the bottom of the driveway had made them all think incredibly sober thoughts. Jo could still picture Jack as he strolled up the driveway with his hands in his pockets, his expression growing more suspicious—and more dangerously, deliciously stern—with every step.
Remembering the look in his blue eyes, she found her clit with her fingers. His expression could be so intense… It sent butterflies flocking everywhere, but it also made her naughtiest parts come to life. She soon lost control of her arousal, and within moments she was moving her hand lower to slide her index finger deep into her aching pussy. She stifled a moan as she continued replaying her memories of that day like some sort of horribly, shamefully arousing car wreck.
“Hi, Jack!” she welcomed with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. “How ya doin’?” she continued sing-songishly, tilting her head innocently and even batting her long eyelashes.
“Just checking on you,” he answered, looking towards the house and then back at Jo and her friends. “You girls off somewhere?”
She looked over at Jane and Mary, both of whom swooned in silence for a moment before one of them answered shyly, “Yeah… We’re off to meet Russell and Peter at the slopes.”
“Sounds like fun,” he replied off-handedly, his eyes going from girl to girl. “You remembered to turn off the stove and everything, right?” he asked as he started to walk towards the house. “And the heater?”
“I forgot the heater,” Jo answered with a hiccup she tried to pass off as a cough. “Could you turn it off for me, Jack? We’re kinda in a hurry.”
“Sure,” he replied. “I’ll turn it off, but hold on.” Jack held up a finger to signal her to wait before disappearing into the house.
Mary and Jane looked over at Jo with extremely nervous expressions. “He’s alright,” Jo assured with a relaxed wave of her mitten. “He’s probably just coming back out to tell us to turn on the headlights and to wear our seatbelts.” Jo rolled her eyes, but as she looked towards the house she added with an adoring smile, “He acts like I’m five.”
The girls giggled, clearly starting to feel more at ease as they began climbing into the truck.
Jack seemed to be in the house for quite a few minutes before he came back out just as Jo was checking which of the dozen pockets of her winter coat she might have left the keys in. He walked right up to the driver’s side and opened her door. Then, with no warning whatsoever, he reached across and took off her safety belt before yanking her out of the car by her upper arm.
Jack was so fucking strong. It was easy to forget sometimes how he could pick her up like a ragdoll, as if she weighed nothing at all. Her pussy twitched and her fingers built up speed as she pictured him holding her up against the shower wall and fucking her. Then her mind returned to that day, thoughts of which should have dampened her arousal but didn’t seem to be at the moment.
“Everybody out,” he ordered the other girls, pointing at the far side of the car while he kept his tight grip on Jo’s arm. He wheeled her over to the back of the truck just in time to meet the other girls there, who now had nervous grimaces on their faces.
After releasing Jo’s arm, he opened the back of the Chevy. Reaching into the truck with an angry grunting noise, he grabbed the cooler inside and dragged it toward him before opening it.
Jo hiccupped again, wondering if she had ever been so ashamed. She looked over at Jane and Mary, and though their expressions conveyed anxiety they both also had a look of resolve that seemed to communicate that none of them were allowed to break down and admit to anything. They watched silently as Jack opened the cooler, looked inside, and then closed it again.
He heaved a loud, disappointed-sounding sigh before slowly turning back around and crossing his arms. He looked at them all—but especially Jo—accusingly. “Well, Miss Menard? Do you have any amazingly riveting reason for having Maggie’s entire bar in that cooler?”
Red faced and guilty, Jo realized that she didn’t have the will to look him straight in the face. Her eyes lowered, instead, to the area around his navel.
“I didn’t think so,” he said. “Minor in possession?” He held out his hand. “Give me the keys, Jo. I’m driving your friends home. Playdate over. Wherever you kids were going is not where you need to be.”
With an angry, thwarted huff, and finding no way to defy him, Jo checked her coat pockets again until she finally found the keys in her pants. She walked up to him and put them roughly into his open hand. Then, very suddenly, his facial expression went from disappointed to angry. Quick as a flash, he grabbed her coat and took a couple of hard sniffs of her. She blushed at the audacity, wondering what she had just done that tipped him off to investigate her further.
“Have you already been drinking?” he demanded.
“No,” she lied stoutly, glaring at him.
“Do you want me to get my breathalyzer?” he challenged further.
She had taken a single swig at that point; she was mostly just high. She could have sworn she heard one of the girls gulp, but she wasn’t too alarmed by the threat—she would love him to go search his car for his breathalyzer, if he even had it in there. That would give her time to go behind a bush and use her very impressive gag-reflex to get rid of the evidence, eat some snow, chew a mint, and be back in time to evade his wrath. “Go ahead,” she dared. “We haven’t been doing anything. We weren’t even going to drink it. We were going to watch the boys do it.”
Jo frowned at the memory. Jack could have been cool, here. He could have just kept her from going up the mountain, sent her friends home, and then took her inside to fuck the daylights out of her. That really would have turned their story around, especially because Jo liked to imagine the way he would have fucked her. He had been pretty angry, so the fucking would have been so deliciously rough, especially for her first time. There was no way he didn’t have a beautiful cock; his hands and feet were huge, everything had to match…
Oh God, she still wanted his cock so bad. Bad enough that she was playing with her clit while reliving the most humiliating moment of her life just because he’d been part of that moment.
“Uh huh,” he said disbelievingly, letting go of her jacket and narrowing his eyes as he stared her down. She knew he was upset; there was a vein in his neck she’d never seen before, and she hadn’t seen him lock his jaw like that either. After a long moment he pulled his jacket sleeve over his watch to look at it. “Alright. You’d better make it to ten. Stand on one foot… All of you.”
Jane and Mary definitely gulped this time.
“Ready?” he asked, eyeing them. Jo, unlike the other girls, felt confident. “Go. One—”
She’d never imagined she could actually be drunk or high enough not to be able to stand on one foot for ten seconds, but she couldn’t even balance herself long enough for him to reach two. Whether Jane or Mary could have lasted longer was never discovered, because as soon as Jo failed, Jack grabbed the scruff of her jacket and hauled her back over to the trunk of the Chevy.
Before she even knew what his intentions were, he had quickly and effectively unzipped the front of her pants, moving faster than she would have thought possible. Less than half a second later, her panty-clad bottom was draped over his knee. When she looked for help from her friends with a horror-struck expression on her face, she could tell they weren’t even going to move. They were paralyzed with shock and guilty fascination.
Wordlessly, Jack raised his hand high and brought it down mercilessly upon her barely covered behind. Another stinging swat quickly followed, then a third and a fourth, and she soon lost count as she squeaked and bucked and tried desperately to wiggle off of his lap. He spanked with purpose, as if he had only this one shot to get through to her and he wasn’t going to waste it.
“You can think you’re put on this world to do whatever you want, Joanna Lynn Menard, but you will not drive drunk in my town. It makes me sick that as soon as your aunt leaves you alone for a second, you throw her trust away and endanger your life and the lives of your friends!”
She hoped the scolding meant he was almost done, but the spanking went on and on and she couldn’t do anything about it. When she tried to shield herself with one of her mitten-covered hands, he just pinned it to her lower back with his free hand and continued blistering her bottom.
Jo stretched with shameful pleasure as she remembered how he’d heated her backside. At the time it had been nothing but a horrible, humiliating punishment, one that had kept her from sitting until the next morning, but now the memory of his firm hand landing over and over on her quivering bottom had her on the brink of climax. What would it have felt like if he’d bared her?
“Please… Please stop! Stop this!” She was tipsy—more than just tipsy, if she was being honest—but she was well aware of how utterly humiliating it was to be chastised this way. Not only like a small child, not only at eighteen years or age, but in front of two of her closest friends.
Those friends, by the way, were completely worthless to her. They obviously weren’t even considering any sort of intervention. They looked like they had been struck by a bolt of lightning and were probably praying that they weren’t next.
Jack’s hand was very large, very strong, and did a very efficient job at setting her bottom ablaze. The sting he was building in her backside was shocking—she couldn’t in a thousand years compare it to any sunburn she had ever had—and in no time at all she was reduced to tears.
Jo apologized. She apologized for everything she had ever done—every lie, every prank, everything. She promised, in fact, never to do anything else wrong for the rest of her life. Halfway through this litany of apologies she was offering as if there were magic words that could make this assault stop, her cries went from sharp screams to breathy sobs, complete with eyefuls of tears.
It didn’t deter Jack. He landed at least fifteen more smacks as she sobbed over his knee before he finally helped her rise from his lap. She turned away from him then to pull her pants up gingerly over her scalded flesh, but she remained unable to stop crying or to take a normal breath.
She dreaded making eye contact with him, and when she finally did, she found absolutely nothing apologetic in his expression. His face was hard as stone with no signs of remorse to be found anywhere about him. “I want you to keep out of trouble, you hear?” was all he said.
Wiping a mitten across her face to clean her tears off, she nodded.
“Alright. Say goodbye to your friends, then get in the house and stay there until I get back. You and I are going to have a long talk about driving safely, little girl,” he informed, then watched as she turned to her friends, who were still stunned beyond words, their faces as white as snow.
“Oh, God…” Jo closed her eyes, remembering exactly how that moment had felt. Her ass had been sore for a while, but it seemed like her pussy was now soaked for life. She pressed herself against the shower wall and let herself buck against her hand, her body pulsing with her orgasm.
Even after her climax subsided and her mind cleared, Jo’s cheeks still blushed at the memory. She had been incredibly lucky that neither Jane nor Mary ever told a soul about what had happened. They blamed not making it up to the slopes on a flat tire, and they had never brought it up with each other since.
Afterwards she had gone inside the house, locked the doors, and cried herself to sleep. Jack had come back, that she knew, because there had been a blanket over her when she woke up. The next day he had stopped by, hoping she would go to church with him, but she refused. She vowed she would never go anywhere with him again. She was deaf to his explanations as to why she deserved the spanking, and even when Maggie—to whom Jack had confessed the whole matter—openly told her that she backed him up, Jo remained far too hurt to ever forgive him.
Despite the fact that it was now something she masturbated to, the spanking had ended Jo’s dreams of a future with Jack Fawkes that day. Not so much because of the embarrassment he’d caused, or even the spanking itself, but because the punishment gave her insight into how he must have seen her. She had been Jack’s project, his charity case. He obviously viewed himself as more of a babysitter than a potential romantic partner or even a friend. How could he love someone he so obviously saw as a child? Certainly not in the way she wanted to be loved by him, she’d decided.
She washed her own slick desire off in the hot water, disgusted at herself.
“What the hell’s wrong with me?” she snapped, banging her head in frustration against the shower wall. How could such a thing have aroused her so much for so long? How could she have Jack in authority over her—which made her feel so safe and loved—but still have him see her as a woman and not some kid he had to look out for?
You can’t, her mind informed her harshly. You can’t have both. And you shouldn’t like a chauvinistic, narcissistic woman-beater like Jack Fawkes anyway. What’s the matter with you?
It was then that Jo realized she had been so in deep thought that she had shampooed twice.
She sighed. This man will be the death of me.
Jo finally made it downstairs, and she was looking and feeling a little bit more like her usual self when she strolled into the kitchen.
“Ready to deliver cookies?” Maggie asked with a grin.
Jo raised an eyebrow and answered carefully, “…No.” She knew this was Maggie’s way of asking for favors—pretending she already asked the favor and that Jo had long-ago agreed to it.
“Too bad,” Maggie said flatly. “Be prepared to go in about an hour. I want you home before the ice storm.”
“Ice storm?” Jo echoed with confused interest. She didn’t know how Maggie could have clued in to such a thing—neither of them watched the news. Maggie didn’t even have cable. With all Jo’s television shows and movies on her computer and Maggie’s fascination with paperback romance novels, the TV just collected dust. If a nuclear war started, she was certain they’d be the last to know about it.
“Jack’s been saying for a while now that there is an ice storm coming in this evening, and Jack hasn’t been wrong yet,” Maggie informed with certainty.
“Of course not; it’s impossible for Jack to be wrong,” Jo said with a roll of her eyes before pulling herself up on the counter.
Maggie looked at her with a flash of irritation in her eyes. Normally her expressions were always of understanding, so it caught Jo a little off guard. “Why are you so mean to my Jackie?”
“I actually think I treat your Jackie quite civilly,” Jo protested aloofly, looking through a huge platter of cookies next to her for her favorites. “He’s just a know-it-all. He thinks he’s the king of the town.”
“I think you need to be a little nicer to him. He’s the best catch in town, you know,” Maggie reminded, pointing at her chidingly with her oven mitt.
Jo waved a chosen cookie around. “What does it say about our town when the sheriff is the best catch?” Jo retorted. “Where do we live, anyway? Tombstone?”
“Jack is nice, friendly, godly, responsible, and positively gorgeous,” Maggie reminded, staring at Jo reproachfully. “You should really open your eyes.”
Jo snorted and bit into the cookie. “Mags, I love you—but you must be getting blind. Jack doesn’t even see me that way. He can’t acknowledge the fact that I’ve changed since I was fifteen. He still views me as a little kid.”
“I’m certain he’s noticed you’ve changed. You were a late bloomer.” Maggie smiled. “You came here as a skinny kid with big feet. Now look at you! You’ve blossomed.”
“Well, thank you for that compliment, even though you soiled it a bit first… I don’t recall my feet being over-large…” She sighed and rested her elbow on the counter. “How can I help with all the Christmas cookie nonsense?” She wiggled her fingers at the intimidating towers of empty baskets and the counter crowded with cooling cookies.
“Hang that wreath sitting on that table outside, then I want you to get those baskets for the cookies,” she said sternly. Jo could tell that Maggie was getting a little exasperated by her already. She was so overprotective of Jack. “By the way, when you deliver these cookies to Jack this afternoon, be civil. You never know when the love bug will bite! And I’ve always thought Christmas was the most romantic season.”
“Couldn’t we have just made his basket when he was here?” Jo grumped. “Why do I have to see him again?”
“Because Christmas is the most romantic season,” Maggie said slowly, as if Jo had trouble understanding her. But Jo understood perfectly what Maggie wanted and bit her bottom lip, exasperated. Maggie was just going to end up disappointed when Jack finally found another girl and started having a family with her, which was inevitable.
Jo felt that Maggie was like any other mother—only, since she didn’t have children of her own, she looked to Jo for her ‘next step in life,’ which was to be a grandparent. Children were a million miles from Jo’s reckoning, but the pressure Maggie was giving her on the grandbaby issue was already ramping up since she graduated college. Of course, Maggie had no idea how far Jo was away from that sort of thing. At twenty-two—twenty-three in a short month—Jo was the only virgin she knew, and there didn’t seem to be any remedy for that on the horizon.
So, to calm down Maggie, she helped decorate and load the baskets of cookies. She was an artist, anyway, and she knew from experience she could make anything look good. Even cookies.
“Can you get a move on? You should be gone already!” Maggie tsked when she saw that Jo had five more baskets to load with cookies two hours later. “You’re gonna get stuck.”
“I am not going to get stuck in town, Mag,” Jo assured with exasperation. “There’re clear skies right now, for God sakes. Jack was just being paranoid.” She continued confidently, “I was actually thinking about catching a movie—getting out of the house for a couple of hours.”
At this, Maggie looked horrified. “Joanna Lynn,” she warned. “If you end up being so stubborn that you get stuck, I swear I will bring the world down on you. Don’t ruin my Christmas.”
Jo laughed mockingly, “Maggie, don’t be ridiculous. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m just saying that it might take a while to deliver all those baskets. I want you home at a reasonable hour.”
Jo raised an eyebrow and straightened, seeming to say with every fiber of her body language, I’m twenty-two.
“Fine, do what you want,” Maggie grumbled. “Take some extra clothes with you, in case you get humbled today. I guess you can stay at those hooligans’ place downtown if you can’t get back up here right away.”
“They’re not hooligans,” Jo snorted, finishing up packing the last basket. “They’re great. I have some nice friends, Mags. They all have jobs, and really, they’re settling down. Did you know they’re all getting married in June? The Wilson twins are doing a double-wedding thing…”
“Tell me about it later.” Maggie’s tone made it clear that she honestly felt time was a factor, but Jo just shrugged it off and picked up the first basket to load into the back of the Chevy.
When Jo went into the house for the last one, she discovered that Maggie had loaded a bunch of clothes into a small bag, and she slung it over Jo’s shoulder without any ado.
Maggie shrugged, ignoring Jo’s skeptical look. “Just humor me, will you? No matter what I say, I don’t actually want you to be miserable if you’re stuck down there. Just get home as soon as you can.” She kissed Jo on the cheek and patted her back. “Thanks for your help with all that.”
“No problem,” Jo said with a grin. “But trust me, I’ll be fine. I promise. I can drive this mountain blind, ice or no ice. Call if you want me to pick anything up for you while I’m in town.”
Jo knew Maggie wouldn’t need to call. By the look of her pantry, she was stocking up for Armageddon. She wouldn’t have to go shopping until Thanksgiving three years from now.
After getting into her car and out onto the main road, Jo looked at the list of people she had to deliver cookie baskets to and sighed. Although it had seemed like a lot of baskets when she was setting them up and putting them into the truck, it seemed like even more—twenty in all—that she now had to deliver. She knew exactly how her delivery order would go: with Jack last on this list. If she couldn’t get to him for whatever the reason… well, then that was just too bad.
Yet, probably because it was only three days before Christmas, it actually didn’t take her very long. Mostly because a lot of people weren’t home, and Jo could just leave the basket in front of their doors. She figured many were rushing out to Christmas shop before they were “snowed in” from the supposed “storm” for the next couple of days. And those that were home when she stopped by were normally so busy that they let her go with only regular, basic chit-chat.
That being said, even though she was nervous about delivering Jack’s gift and facing him for the second time that day, there really wasn’t much of a need to be nervous. He wasn’t home, either. Probably out trying to control the chaos. She felt a small pang in her chest when she rang his doorbell, only to get no response. What that… disappointment? She wondered if she was sick for a moment and then finally realized it was true; she was disappointed. Stop it, she told herself. Stop doing this to yourself.
She kicked at the lightly packed snow on the ground and walked to her car. She did need to go to a movie; she needed to get her mind as far away from Jack Fawkes as possible.
Jo was in line to buy a ticket to the newest movie out when she saw none other than the group that Maggie had called “the hooligans” come walking out of the theatre. Russell spotted her immediately. He was always the most observant.
“Joanna-Banana!” he called out, turning the group’s attention towards her.
She walked out of line, shaking her head. “Russ,” she began. “I am not now—nor will I ever be—Joanna Banana,” she said patiently. But she was grinning at them, marveling at how even though the years passed, they never seemed to change one bit.
“We tried to call you, but we couldn’t get through!” Mary chided happily.
Jo groaned. “Shit!” she said. “I totally forgot my cell phone in my room. Damn it! Sorry about that, guys. I’ve been out all afternoon.”
“No problem,” Peter shrugged. “We were all about to hang out. You should come with us!” he invited energetically. He grinned and pointed to a movie poster called ‘The Happy Reindeer’ “Or do you have other plans?” he teased, as if it wasn’t obvious she was going to the very same action movie they’d surely just walked out of.
Her brain rushed through a thousand memories she had while being a part of the group. Memories she had a feeling that would continue since she was moving back into town. There was something she liked about Peter being Jane’s fiancé and Russell being Mary’s… She somehow liked being their ‘fifth wheel’; there was a sort of comfort in it.
“Oh, dear lord,” she groaned dramatically. “What do you guys have planned this time?” She laughed, her mind going right to last winter when they invited her to ‘hang out’: they all got drunk and went skiing. Peter broke his arm, which should have sobered everyone up from any more stupid stunts, but by the summertime they were all back to their wild ways.
“Nothing,” Russell answered, looking bored. He crossed his arms like a frustrated child. “We can’t do a damn thing because of all the snow in the mountains. And tonight—ice? Perfect. We actually do anything, and they close the highways on us? We’d be screwed. So… you know, we actually mean we’re hanging out at Jane and Mary’s.”
Jo grinned brightly. If anything or anyone could take her mind off of the grueling day of delivering Christmas cookies and having Jack Fawkes haunting her brain, it was these guys.
Unfortunately, nothing extremely savory could happen with them, either. After a sampling of pot brownies, the ‘hooligans’ all gorged themselves on potato chips and hot cocoa until the sun had been set for some time… and the frozen rain had long since come in. They, of course, didn’t realize it was frozen rain, and hadn’t even mentioned the weather until they saw blankets of snowflakes begin to fall from the sky outside. But then again, they were well beyond the point of realizing anything at this point.
“What’s with you today, Jo?” Russell finally asked, lightly kicking her knee with his foot as they watched TV in a circle on the floor. “You’re so gloomy.”
She put her hand on the floor and closed her eyes. “Nothing,” she replied.
“Seriously, tell us… You’re normally all smiley and shit.”
She didn’t answer him for a few seconds, letting her brain put a line of thoughts together. Eventually, she looked around and saw everyone staring at her. She cocked her head to the side. “What?”
He was sideways himself, but he could still see how dilated her eyes must be looking. Everyone snickered at her before Russell pressed, “You’re sad. Why?”
“Oh.” She lowered her eyebrows to concentrate. “Well… I don’t know. The holidays are tough, man. You know, my parents died the week before Christmas.” She grimaced when she admitted that because the mood in the room shifted into something heavy and uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” Mary said, frowning.
Jo shrugged. “Yep. So… I had to deliver cookies, too, which sucked. And Maggie’s on my ass about Jack Fawkes. She thinks we’re star-crossed lovers or something.”
“Jack Fawkes,” Mary said with a purr, looking at the ceiling. “What a hunk.”
Russell raised a hurt eyebrow, which she ignored.
“Do people even say ‘hunk’ anymore?” Jo teased. “But seriously, Mar—how can you possibly do the ‘he’s-so-dreamy’ deal with him? You know as well as I do that he’s a dick.”
“Are you kidding? He’s our greatest fantasy. Girls outside of town dream about movie stars, but here, they dream only about Jack Fawkes.” Jane sighed longingly, looking dreamily out the window.
“Jane!” Jo scolded, sounding betrayed.
“Oh… I think she’s just angry because Jackie-wackie gave her a wil’ spankin’ on her wil’ bottom,” Russell teased, turning to Peter, who laughed heartily at the comment.
Everyone laughed when they saw the look of horror that crossed Jo’s face. Her stomach did a flip from embarrassment and her eyes felt like they were going to pop out of her face and go rolling on the floor. She would far rather talk about her parents’ death than speak two more words about that memory. That was a memory for shower-time, not to rehash in a group setting.
She looked at Mary, who was dating Russell, and accused her with a glare. “Alright, that’s my cue to go,” Jo announced, ungracefully pulling herself off the floor. “You, Mar,” she pointed at Mary who looked up at her and blinked innocently. “You broke the sacred bonds of sisterhood.”
“Shame on you,” Jane teased her, her eyes twinkling, but it was very clear to Jo that she had told the story to Peter as well. So now everyone knew; it was out there. It was nearly settled in Jo’s mind: she couldn’t move into town after all. She would have to move far, far away. A place where her dignity and pride could be safe. Australia, perhaps, since it was the furthest place from Oregon that there was.
“Hey,” Mary began, shrugging in defense, “I kept it to myself all through the rest of high school. Had to come out sometime.” She cocked her head and groaned as she watched Jo grab her coat from a peg on the wall. “Awe! You’re not actually going, are you?”
“I must depart,” Jo said dramatically, taking a bow. “I must go into the mountains…” She winked and put her coat on. Being there was officially muddling her high, and she really just wanted to lay down in bed and sleep at this point.
“Careful. Remember the snow,” Peter warned groggily, raising his eyebrows.
“You can sleep here, if you want,” Mary suggested. “We have room on the sofa.”
Jo considered this momentarily, but quickly shook her head in refusal. If the snow was going to continue all through the night, then it was likely that she really would get snowed in.
This couldn’t happen. Maggie would never let her live it down. “No,” she waved dismissively through the air. “I can make it home. I’ve driven on snow before. No problem-o.” She stumbled to the door, feeling that the room’s floor was shifting annoyingly underfoot, then stopped at the doorknob to regain composure. “Merry Christmas, guys,” she said and flipped her hair behind her shoulder as she strolled out of the apartment, looking more confident than she felt.
The cold air outside had a sobering effect, as did slipping and falling hard onto the side of her thigh. “Whoa,” she wheezed aloud, her eyes widened with shock. She’d seen skating rinks with more traction than this parking lot. Everything seemed to be covered with an inch of ice underneath the snow.
She began to crawl over to her car. It was likely, she figured, that despite the road’s poor conditions she would still be able to drive home. The Chevy had very good tires and a lot of weight to hold the car down on ice. She looked down at her watch to see what time it was… It was late, much later than she could have guessed. She felt like she had passed through a time warp.
With keys in hand, she got her footing on the ground enough to unlock her car and get in. She rested for a while in the ice-cold driver’s seat, trying to keep her head from spinning. Finally, with a great exhale from the effort, she put the key in the ignition and turned the car on, as well as the heater, to melt the layer of ice from the Chevy’s windshield. She figured if she went out there to scrape it off manually, she’d probably slip and break her neck. Besides, she figured it would give her time to sober up a little as she waited… or to take a quick nap, which was what actually transpired. The Chevy’s warm interior just made her feel so tired, and her eyes felt so heavy.
When she woke, she had the thought that if she could only make it home, Maggie would never have to worry about her again. She would then understand that Jo had driven in the worst conditions possible and still made it home fine. She straightened her back and stretched. Then, able to see out the window at last, she began her journey.
It was slippery; her car’s wheels spun for a second, but eventually the weight helped the tires grip the ground enough to pull the truck forward. She shook her head hard, trying to wake up a little bit more. If she didn’t, she knew she was doomed to have a very long twenty-minute drive home. These sorts of roads, as empty as they were, required her undivided attention.
She was just beginning to think she was doing as well as she could hope. She was finally out of the downtown area and had only another fifteen minutes on her drive. She was never particularly great at driving while high, however, and she still felt she had to struggle just to keep her eyes focused on the road.
…until she saw the deer in the middle of her lane, which got her eyes focused on the road with sobering speed. Unfortunately, it had taken such a long time for her to realize that there was something in the road in front of her at all that she had to make a fast decision. By the time she swerved she had forgotten about the added difficulty of the ice, and her car slipped sideways off the road until it hit a tree at full speed, crushing the right side of the vehicle.
The tree didn’t make it, and her car emitted a very angry whirring sigh before she was able to shake off her shock enough to turn off the engine. It took a lot of breathing in the driver’s seat before she realized that even though the car was mangled, she was uninjured at least.
With eyes as wide as saucers, she looked around her. Seeing a light in the not-too-far-off distance, she realized that the tree she had crashed into was on someone’s front lawn. The place suddenly seemed all-too-familiar… Looking up at the black night sky, she closed her eyes slowly, then put her head down on the steering wheel. “Come on!” she groaned at fate. “Give me a break!”
She simply couldn’t believe it: after driving for ten minutes, with miles of miles of road in front of her and behind her, she had crashed into the tree in front of Jack Fawkes’ house.
That’s all until next week’s installment! If you’re aching to finish right now, though, just click below and buy the book!
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