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Bourbon and Boys Give Me the Blues

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Lemon was five years old and her mommy had told her to play quietly in the sandbox like a good little girl and she was a good little girl so she did what she was told, but playing quietly was boring. She threw down her pink plastic shovel that her daddy had given her for her birthday and scowled.

"Whatcha doing?"

"I'm gardening," Lemon said. "Obviously."

The little blond boy took a step into the sandbox. "Ain't no flowers," he said. "Ain't a garden if there ain't no flowers."

"They're 'maginary flowers," Lemon said. "It is too a garden. I'm planting it."

"Flowers don't grow in sand," the boy said scornfully. "You gotta plant them in the dirt, dummy."

"You're the dummy," Lemon snapped. "How do you know?"

"My momma has a garden," the boy said. He crossed his arms over his chest. Lemon's mommy would never have let her wear anything as dirty as his shirt. One time she'd splashed her sock with mud by accident playing out in the back yard and her mommy had dragged her back into the house and dumped her in the bathtub even thought she wasn't done being a fairy princess at all.

"Well, my mommy has a garden, too!"

"Yeah? Does she plant flowers in the sand?"

Lemon hesitated, thinking, and then glared. "Well, gardening is a stupid game anyway, and I don't want to play anymore." The boy started to turn away, and Lemon stamped her foot. "Where are you going? You have to play house with me!"

"Oh." The boy frowned. "I don't know how."

"It's easy, I'll show you!" Lemon hurried over to grab his arm before he could change his mind. You couldn't play house with only one person. "See, you'll be the daddy, and I'll be the mommy, and you have to come home from work--no, stupid, you have to be outside before you can come in," she added, pushing him out of the sandbox. "And I'm inside vacuuming, see? Now you come in the door."

He stepped over the edge of the sandbox and just stood there like a lump. "Okay, now what?"

"Don't you know anything?" Lemon demanded. "You say, 'honey, I'm home,' and then you sit down on the couch, and then you ask me to make you a drink!"

"Honey, I'm home," he said obediently, and sat down Indian-style on the sand. "Can I have a drink?"

"Of course!" Lemon said. She pretended to pour a glass of the brown juice that daddy always drank and tried to hand it to the boy.

"That's not a real drink," he argued.

"It's a pretend drink, dummy."

"But I'm real thirsty, not pretend thirsty."

"Fine," Lemon said. She stomped over to the corner where she'd left her half-finished juicebox and gave it to the boy. "Here you go, darling. How was work?"

"My god damn asshole of a boss fired me for no god damn reason," the boy said promptly.

Lemon gasped. "You said a bad word," she hissed.

"But that's what dads say when you ask how was work," he protested.

"You're going to get your mouth washed out with soap," Lemon predicted smugly. "Because children aren't s'posed to say bad words."

The boy looked thoughtful. "I reckon you're wrong," he said. "I say 'em all the time, and nobody cares. And anyway, I ain't a kid right now, am I? You said I was the daddy."

"Well... okay," Lemon said. "I guess."

He nodded to himself and took a sip from the juicebox. "Thanks for the drink," he said, and added, "honey," when Lemon glared.

"No trouble at all, darling!" she trilled, and then, feeling very adult, she bent over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Lemon Breeland!"

Lemon looked up and saw her mommy standing at the edge of the sandbox, arms crossed over her chest. "Are we going home now, mommy?"

"Yes, so get your things." As soon as Lemon had picked up her pail and shovel her mommy grabbed her arm and started pulling her away. Lemon couldn't even wave goodbye to the boy, who was still sitting in the sandbox watching them walk away.

"Ow, mommy, you're holding too tight," Lemon complained.

"I'm sorry, Lemon honey," her mommy apologized. She loosened her grip on Lemon's arm but didn't let go. "I don't want you playing with that Kinsella boy, okay, baby?"

"Okay," Lemon said, because she was a good little girl who did what her mommy told her, and they went home to wait until daddy came back from work.

*

Lemon was seventeen years old, and she was surrounded by idiots. "In precisely what alternate universe did this seem like a good idea?" she hissed at Wade. George was already passed out on the floor. When she shifted his head onto her lap, he started drooling on her new skirt.

"It's graduation, Lemon," Wade said. "Live a little, would you?"

"I live plenty," she snapped. "I'd like it if George lived to actually receive a diploma."

"Your mouth is moving, but all I'm hearing is 'blah blah, I'm boring and I never want anyone to have any fun, blah.'"

"We clearly have very different definitions of 'fun,'" Lemon sniffed.

"Clearly," Wade mimicked mockingly. He leaned back on his elbows and stared directly up at her. "All right, princess, why don't you educate me. What do you think we should be doing for fun?"

"Well," Lemon said. She looked down at George's sweet, familiar face in her lap, completely slack with sleep and so endearing even if he was still drooling. "Well, when we're married, of course George and I will put on the most elegant house parties," she began. "Nothing like this disaster. Everyone who's anyone in all of Bluebell will want an invitation. George will go to work every morning in a handsome suit just like a lawyer should, and I'll make our house the most beautiful home in Alabama, and all the other Belles will be so jealous they could just die. I think that will be the most fun a girl could ever have, don't you?"

"Right," Wade said. He had a very strange look on his face. "Well, don't expect me to come to any of your fancypants dinner parties, is all I'm saying."

"Don't expect to be invited," Lemon said snottily.

"That's a weight off my mind for sure," Wade said, eyes rolling. "Come on, Lemon. You're not serious, are you? Dinner parties and interior decorating?"

"We're not in high school anymore," Lemon said with great dignity. "Some of us plan to grow up."

"We're still in high school till tomorrow, Jesus. I'm real glad George went all-out tonight if that's what he's got to look forward to."

"Wade Kinsella, what are you doing hiding down there in the dark?" One of the girls from their class--Pansy? Rosemary? Parsley? Her name was some kind of plant--had stumbled across the corner where Lemon and Wade had dragged George. "Come dance with me!"

"And that is what I call an invitation to fun," Wade said with a grin as he climbed up onto his knees. "Here, Lemon. You can keep my drink safe for me."

"What do I look like, your servant?" Lemon sniped. She took a defiant gulp from the red plastic cup and almost spat it back out. "What is in this?"

"It's Jungle Juice, princess. Us peons don't worry too much about the exact vintage." The girl who wanted to dance with Wade started shifting impatiently, and he waved her ahead as he got to his feet. "I'll be along in a second, Tansy. Look, Lemon, let me know if you need help getting George home, I'll carry him out to your car."

"I think I can manage."

"Yeah, yeah, of course you can. Your highness." Wade bowed to her extravagantly, almost folding himself in half, and grabbed her hand so he could kiss the back of it before she snatched it away. "Have fun with George!"

Lemon refused to watch him walk out of the room. Instead she turned her attention to straightening George's hair, already plotting how to get him to throw up before he got into her car to drive home. Daddy had just bought it for her as a graduation present, and she had no intention of cleaning vomit off the upholstery. Even if she'd needed help, which she didn't, the last person in the world she'd ask was Wade Kinsella.

*

Lemon was old enough that she no longer cared to announce how old she was, and certainly too old to care about having someone to kiss when the ball dropped on New Year's Eve. She was a grown woman and a professional one, and she had more important things to worry about, such as the smooth functioning of the bar she co-owned on a night when the entire town was turned out to watch the fireworks and share a toast or ten. Between keeping track of the champagne supply and easing belligerent drunks out the door, she barely had the time to be lonely, and before she even knew it it was after two in the morning and the last customer had staggered home.

"Where'd Wanda and the rest go?" Wade asked as he came in the front door, locking it behind him.

"I sent them home. Someone might as well enjoy the New Year around here." She wiped down the bar with a series of quick, irritated swipes. "You get Crazy Earl home all right?"

"Poured him into bed, stuck the keys in the freezer. Don't expect anyone'll hear from him till afternoon, probably."

"That's good, that you got him back safe," Lemon said. There was a whole laundry list of subjects Wade didn't care to discuss, she knew, with Crazy Earl up at the top, but with just the two of them left in the bar she didn't see any point dancing around the topic, and neither did Wade, apparently. It wasn't as though they had any secrets left at this point.

"S'pose so," he said. He threw his jacket on a table and started a circuit of the room, stacking up empties as he went. "You want to head on home? I can take care of the rest."

"I don't have anyone I'm heading on home to," Lemon said, less bitter than she could have been. "Even if I went back to Daddy's, he and Magnolia will be sleeping by now. Might as well stay and help."

"Well, 'preciate it," Wade said. A comfortable silence settled over the room as he and Lemon tidied up, broken only when Lemon realized she was humming "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" under her breath. "What's so funny?" Wade asked.

"Oh, just--who'd have thought this is what I'd be doing, three in the morning on New Year's Day? No husband, no prospects, no one to kiss at midnight, cleaning up a bar. If you'd told me when I was younger that I'd end up here, I'd have just died."

Wade put down his dishrag and turned to face her more fully. "I'll give you that much, Breeland," he said at last. "But tell the truth and shame the devil, if you'd ended up where you thought you would when we were kids, you'd be bored near to murdering someone by now and you know it." He cut off Lemon's attempt at a protest with a shake of his head. "No, come on. What were you going to do, marry George Tucker and spend the rest of your life keeping house and waiting for him to come home and ask you to fix him a drink? Throw dinner parties, pick out his ties? You're more than that. Maybe we don't always agree about things, but you're a good business partner. And a good friend."

"Wade Kinsella, have you been drinking?"

If Lemon hadn't already been staring at him, she might have missed the way Wade's face closed off. "Whatever, never mind. You about done over there?"

"No, look, I'm sorry." Lemon bit her lip, but she didn't mind apologizing to Wade nearly as much as to other people. She knew he wouldn't use it against her later. "I shouldn't have said that. You're a good business partner, too. And a good friend."

"Reckon I've got some friends who'd disagree," Wade said lightly.

"Well, who cares about their opinion when you've got mine?" Lemon sniffed. Wade laughed.

"You're a piece of work and no mistake, Lemon Breeland. Get yourself over here."

Lemon fit under his arm easy as anything, and it made her smile when she felt him press a kiss to the top of her head. "I've got half a bottle of champagne left in the refrigerator. Might as well drink it, or it'll go to waste."

"Wouldn't want that," Wade agreed. He let her go in order to start rummaging through the mish-mash of clean glasses behind the bar. "Do we even still have any of those fancy champagne glasses left?"

"Plastic ones," Lemon said. She pulled the half-empty bottle out of the fridge and thumped it down on the bar. "And I'm only drinking out of a plastic cup this once, as an exception, because it is New Year's and no one is around, so don't get any ideas," she added, before Wade could start.

"Wouldn't dream of it, duchess."

The champagne had gone a little flat, but there were still a few lonely bubbles struggling their way up from the bottom of the cheap disposable flute Wade handed to Lemon. "Here's to not needing someone to kiss at midnight on New Year's Eve," she said.

"To our bar," Wade corrected.

Lemon shook her head, smiling, and tapped her glass against Wade's. "To us."

"To us," he echoed. He drained his glass in a single gulp, and Lemon didn't see much point in sipping flat bottom-shelf champagne out of a plastic cup, so she followed suit.

She poured out the last of the champagne--just over half a glass for each of them--and set down the empty bottle with a sigh. "Even if I don't need someone to kiss at midnight," she said wistfully, "do you think it's all right to want one?"

"Still midnight somewhere," Wade said. Lemon looked up at him, and he jerked his shoulder a bit, uncomfortable. "I mean, if you want. I figure I can do my business partner a favor."

"Some favor," Lemon huffed, but then she put down her glass. "You sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. If you're sure, anyway."

Lemon rolled her eyes. "I'm sure that if I waited for you to take the initiative, we'd still be standing here next New Year's Eve. Ten."

"Was that a challenge, Breeland? Because I can show you plenty of initiative. Nine."

"I wouldn't bother trying to compete with someone I know will never come up to my level, Kinsella. Eight."

"If you understood the nature of the game, you'd know that it's not about coming up so much as getting down." Wade smirked. "Seven."

"I'm sorry," Lemon said sweetly, "were we talking about kissing you or a rousing game of limbo? Six."

"Guess we'll see, won't we? Five."

Against her better judgment, Lemon felt her face flushing and her breath coming faster. "I guess we will. Four."

"Three."

"Two."

"One."

There weren't any fireworks going off, not least because it might have still been midnight somewhere but it was half past three in the morning in Bluebell, Alabama, and all the pyrotechnics had been finished hours earlier. It was still a good kiss.

Wade ran a hand over her hair when he pulled back, not quick enough to be rude, not slow enough to be awkward. "Happy New Year, Lemon," he said. When she looked up at him, he was smiling.

She thought that maybe it would be a happy new year, after all.