Zoe had not seen Wade yet. She had only gotten in a couple of hours ago, and as jetlagged as she was, she had really missed him, which is why after showering and freshening herself up a little so she didn't smell like airplane, she headed straight for The Rammer Jammer. He was certain to be her, and hopefully as anxious to see her as she was to see him. After Christmas, they had spent a couple days together. They had barely left the Gatehouse, making up for their time apart. Unfortunately, it could not last forever. Zoe had promised her mom she would fly back for New Years. It was her first New Years with Wade as her boyfriend, but her mom did not see that as a reason to break her promise, especially after the stunts she had pulled to avoid her mom during the Christmas visit. She had said Zoe could invite Wade if she wanted, but New Years was a big drinking holiday, and Wade couldn't get out of work.
Zoe stepped into the bar and saw Wade in his usual spot talking to some of the locals. She could not help but smile. They were a couple now, a real, honest to goodness couple. Nobody knew yet, but they could know. Her and Wade and made it official, and it was not a secret because it was real. They had been too busy being caught up in each other those first few days to tell anybody, and Wade had said he wanted to wait for her to get back before saying anything. "I'm not bravin' the wolves myself. Wade, one-night-stand Kinsella, and Zoe cold-as-ice Hart are a couple; you think people won't be badgerin' and gossipin' everywhere we turn? I mean, I don't mind, but I'm certainly not lettin' you hide out in New York until it all dies down while I deal with the rumor mill. We're in this together doc." Zoe smiled, remembering what he had said, and how so very Wade the sentiment had been. Still, she got what he meant. Living in Bluebell meant that your business was everybody's, and she was not going to leave Wade to deal with the gossip all by himself.
"Jenny Stiles?" she heard Tom Long ask as she approached the bar.
"Nope." Wade responded. He was wiping down a glass, his classic amused smirk on his face. God, she had missed that smirk.
"Casey Reynolds?" asked a man who Zoe didn't recognize. He must have been a local who she still had not met.
"She works at a bar in Daphne."
Wade rolled his eyes, "Well, clearly, that's a no too."
"What's going on?" Zoe asked, as she took her usual seat. She noticed Wade's face light up a little when he saw her, and it filled her with a warm feeling.
"Hey there, doc. Welcome back."
"It's good to be back." She responded, giving him a smile, which he returned. "So what is everybody talking about?"
"We're tryin' to figure out who Wade's new girlfriend is." Tom said.
Zoe's eyes got wide, and she turned her attention to Wade, "No kidding?" she asked, unable to keep the amusement from her voice. His smirk just grew.
"I know, it's crazy. I heard from Wanda, well, hey, Wanda!" Tom called out to his girlfriend.
She headed over, "What?"
"Zoe wants to know what she missed on the Wade's girlfriend front. Tell her what happened, what you told me."
Wanda's eyes got wide with the excitement that a woman only gets if she is gossiping, "Oh, well, it was strange. There's this event comin' up, a dance. Tom already asked me, and in the sweetest way to, he hired this-" Tom cleared his throat, "Oh, right, the story. Sorry. So, anyway, Carrie comes over to ask Wade to go with her, and he tells her he can't. When she asks him why, he says his girlfriend probably wouldn't like it. Now, at first, I thought he was just tryin' to get rid of her, but then the same thing happened with two other girls. Finally, I went and asked him, and well, he said he was with someone, but when I asked him who, he just said I'd figure it out eventually."
"Why does a couple need to make some big announcement?" Wade said from behind a counter, "This town watches everybody like a hawk. Shouldn't take 'em long to figure out who it is."
"Almost sounds like you're ashamed of her." Zoe said teasingly.
"Hm." Wade said, pretending to think about it, "Well, you know, maybe I am. She's kind of insane."
"She would have to be to go out with you." Zoe responded. It was not mean, just playful, humorous. Zoe didn't know if everybody at the bar knew she was joking around, but Wade did, and that was what mattered. He met her eyes and they exchanged a look. She could tell that he had found this little mystery entertaining, and in spite of his mock protesting, she got the feeling he liked the attention. Wade was very dramatic; he got that from his father. She had thought after everything that had happened with them, Wade would be dying to tell the world once they became official, but he seemed satisfied just knowing that they were. He didn't need people to know, he just needed her to be okay with people knowing. He didn't care if they found out, but he didn't feel the need to shout it from the top of Nate's Hardware store. Zoe thought it was nice. It was never about bragging rights or anything like that, he just wanted them to be real, and for her to not be ashamed of him. He wanted to be able to go out and stay in, not just the latter. Of course, he loved the latter. And so did she. But they were more than that now.
She turned back to the crowd of speculators, curious how crazy this whole thing had gotten, and just how far it could go.
"You had any luck it your attempts to solve the mystery?" Zoe asked as seriously as she could.
"Well, nobody's seen him around town with anybody, so we figure she must be from somewhere nearby, like Mobile, or Daphne." Tom confided.
"Interesting logic." Zoe said, and then she turned back to Wade. "You know, nobody has offered to take my order."
Wade's eyes got a little wide for a second, the way they did when he realized he had been caught doing something wrong, but then they fell in line again, as he covered in classic Kinsella style, "Well, I figured after goin' home, you'd want to get yourself used to southern tastes all over again. Didn't want to overwhelm your palate."
Zoe snorted, "Yeah right. You just forgot." She didn't blame him. With all this going on, it was probably rather difficult to stay focused. Besides, she hadn't come here for wine; she had come here for Wade. "Probably too busy thinking about that little chippie of yours."
"Well, aren't you the polite little customer?" Wade said, heading closer to her, "What can I get you?"
"You mean you aren't going to defend her?" Zoe said in mock-horror.
Wade chuckled, "I'm pretty sure she can defend herself. In fact, if I started to treat her like some damsel in distress, I might need defendin' from her."
Zoe laughed, "I concur."
"So, what'll it be, doc?"
"Red wine." He started to pour it for her, "Actually, can I also get a bottle to go. I wanted to celebrate my homecoming tonight."
"Am I invited?" Wade asked. His eyes not leaving hers as he poured her drink. He was a talented, and more importantly, experienced bartender, which was a good thing, because otherwise, her glass might have overflowed.
"If you like." She said casually. Then her eyes widened a little, and in her best I-just-got-an-idea voice, she said, "Hey, you can bring your mystery girlfriend."
Wade laughed, "I'll be sure to do that." he said as he went around back to get an unopened bottle.
"Will you give us a hint?" Tom asked desperately.
"Why is everybody so interested in my love-life?" Wade called from the back room.
"Because, you're Wade Kinsella. If there's a girl out there who can get you to settle down, well, that's somebody we gotta meet."
"Yeah, you ain't the only one." Wade said chuckling, "People have been comin' in and out for days tryin' to get me to crack."
"Why haven't you?" Zoe asked, slightly curious. She had her guesses, but she wanted to hear it from him.
"I considered it, but this is just too much fun." He came back out and put her wine bottle down behind the counter, "Besides," he said, exchanging a smile with Zoe, "it should be obvious soon enough, once they see how I am around her."
"And how's that?" Zoe asked mischievously. She leaned forward on the counter a little.
Wade thought for a second, "Completely enamored. Plus all over her. I would need to have at least the counter between us to keep me from jumpin' her the second she walks in."
Zoe smiled, and then leaned back, "Well, she must be quite a girl."
"That's what Brick Breeland said too."
"What?" Okay, that was out of nowhere. What did Brick have to do with anything?
"Yeah. He came in here, and when he heard that I was seein' somebody seriously, he started sayin' how special she must be, how impressive if she can get me to settle down, admitted that whoever she was he would have a huge respect for her. Course you don't have to take my word on it." Wade took out his cell-phone, and pressed play on a voicemail he'd sent to himself earlier. Everybody leaned in to listen.
"- pressive. Why are you takin' your phone out?"
"Oh, no reason, just uh, keep goin'. What were you sayin' again?"
"Just that any girl who could get you to commit must be quite a girl."
"Yeah, she's certainly one of a kind. And actually, I was the one who wanted to get serious first."
"Amazin'. How'd she cast such a spell on you?"
"Just by bein' herself."
"Well she must be some girl. I've known you for a long time, and I've never known you to want a relationship. This girl must be amazin', like some sort of goddess."
"So, what you're sayin' is, you think my girlfriend is amazin'?"
"She must be."
"But is that what you think? Like, would you tell her that if you met her?"
"I'd certainly tip my hat to her, tell her I was mighty impressed. She's achieved somethin' many have tried and failed at. I didn't think it was possible. Seems to me this girl should win a medal or somethin' to differentiate herself from us mere mortals."
The sound of Wade's laughter rang through the recordin', "Thank you Dr. Breeland. Really."
"What for, son?"
"Oh, you just insured that I got a present to give her she will never give away of forget."
The recording ended, and Zoe looked up at Wade, wide-eyed.
Wade was grinning proudly, "So, he's now on record sayin' that my girlfriend is impressive, amazin' like a goddess, and worthy of a medal. Quite a rave really."
Zoe burst out laughing.
"I don't get it." Tom said.
Zoe picked up Wade's phone, flipping it over and examining it like it was The Holy Grail, "I cannot believe you got him to say that. And then RECORDED IT!"
"Well, once he started, I saw an opportunity, and I took it. Figure it'll score me big points?"
"You have no idea." Zoe said through giggles. She still couldn't believe Wade had gotten Brick to say all that stuff about her on a recording. She could not wait until he found out he said all those things about her; it would be priceless.
She took a sip of her wine to calm down.
"Careful there doc, if you choke, I'm liable."
"Sweetie, you okay?" Wanda asked. People were staring at Zoe as though she was insane, but she didn't care. This was one of the best gifts she had ever gotten.
"Well, I don't get the point of the recording, but does you playin' it mean you're closer to spillin' the beans?" asked another guy Zoe didn't recognize. Bluebell was so small; how were there still people she didn't know?
Wade chuckled, "Like I said, I'm not gonna make some big announcement like we're a couple of celebrities. We're just two normal people who are in a couple, and when you see us bein' in a couple, you'll know."
"I bet it's Jessica Macintyre, from down at the hardware store."
Tom shook his head, "Nah, she's a blonde. The girl we saw Wade with on Christmas was a brunette."
"Well, maybe they were playin' a game, with, ya know, costumes and stuff."
"I still think it's an out-of-towner. Zoe," Tom said turning to her, "You wanna venture a guess?"
Zoe pretended to think about it, "Hm, I don't know. I mean, based on what Wade's said today, it could be anybody. We could all be sitting here a very long time."
"Well, we got some clues, like the brunette thing, and he asked her to become serious accordin' to that recordin'. By the way, what prompted that?" Tom asked, turning towards Wade.
Before Wade could answer, Zoe started, "Oh, she probably did some really stupid things, which would give Wade the clue that she was perfect for him."
"Hey, now, don't go sayin' that. She's not stupid. A little self-centered and oblivious sometimes, sure, but she's not stupid." He looked at her again, making sure she could see the sincerity in his eyes, "In fact, she is the most intelligent woman I have ever known."
She smiled again, touched, "Is that so?"
Wade smiled and then dropped eye contact, "Well, she made the choice to be with me, didn't she?" he said in his usual, cocky tone.
"That does not exactly help your argument."
"Oh, so you're sayin' any girl who'd want to be with me is an idiot?" he said, giving her an accusatory look. He was playing around, she knew, challenging her, sort of like he had Brick, but it was all in fun.
"You said it, not me." she replied with a smile.
"Well, I'm not sayin' it." More like you aren't dumb enough to say it, Zoe thought.
"Neither am I. In fact, I agree with you. If she could convince you of all people to commit, she must be an evil genius."
"Actually, I convinced her." He said, giving her a mischievous smile. She returned with one of her own.
"Really? And how'd you do that?"
"I will answer that question at your celebration tonight." He said with a wink.
Zoe giggled. "I'm looking forward to it." She stood up and took out her purse, but Wade put up his hand, "On the house."
"Such service." She said, smiling, "Well, I have to get going. I want to catch up on some paperwork so that I don't have to worry about it later tonight. When do you get off work?"
"I'll see if they can let me off early. Special occasion and all." He said, motioning to her.
She looked at him, confused, "I just came home."
"And that's a special occasion." He said with a smile. It wasn't one of the humorous ones he had one before. It was a genuine smile, full of affection. Wade wasn't always good at sweet, because he had an aversion to mushy, but when he did sweet, he did it right. As fun as this game was, she needed to kiss him soon or she would explode, and she imagined he felt the same way.
"So, I'm going to need that wine bottle."
"Got it right here."
"Are you going to give it to me?" she said, trying to sound impatient for the benefit of their "audience." She actually was a little impatient, but she a different reason.
"Sure. Come to the gate and get it."
Zoe smirked, then headed to the little door that separated employees from customers. Wade met her and unlatched it. He placed the wine down next to them, "Well Mr. Kinsella, there's no counter between us."
He smirked, a familiar twinkle in his eye, "Right you are."
She didn't have to say anything else. He took a hold of her and pulled her to him, greeting her the way she had wanted him to since she first walked in. God, she had missed this. She had only been gone a few days, but it seemed so much longer. A few days was far too long to go without Wade kissing her. She felt his arms wrap around her and melted into them, drinking in everything that was Wade.
Finally, when they had run out of oxygen, they broke apart. Zoe smiled. She bit the left side of her bottom lip and looked down a little. Then she looked back up at him, and met his eyes. They were so full of happiness, so full of everything she felt, and it felt so good knowing that he felt the same way. He picked the bottle back up and handed it to her, "Here ya go, doc." He said a little breathlessly. She smiled at her nickname and took the bottle, "I'll see you tonight."
"Try to get out early."
He nodded, "Keep it cold for me, I'll be there."
"You better." She knew if she didn't turn away, they would start kissing again, and as appealing as that sounded, he needed to get back to work, and she had stuff to catch up on, as well as a romantic welcome home to prepare for. So, she turned and headed out the door, but not without shooting him a smile before crossing the threshold.
Everybody at the bar's jaws had dropped when Wade had kissed Zoe, and most of them were still dropped. A few of them watched Zoe as she left, but most eyes were focused on Wade. Wade was, of course, focused on Zoe, but once she left, he took in the shocked faces of his customers and laughed, throwing a raga over his shoulder, "Told you it wouldn't take long."