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When the Elephants Arrive

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“So, there's just one part of this plan of yours that I don't understand.” Wade sat up straighter in the bed, but Zoe knew he wouldn't be making any move to leave the rumpled sheets until the promise of coffee was more concrete than just her having turned on the pot.

“How I thought of something so totally foolproof?” Zoe leaned against the counter and shook her hair back, feeling it resettle around her face in the frizz and uneven waves the pillow had created. Small price for such an A++ night, she knew, even if she didn't always remember that the first time she met a mirror in the morning.

“No, the part I don't get is All Of It.” He definitely said it in all capitals. It was cute, coming out all sleepy Alabama and playful-annoyed. “You know I will take you to the airport. Far as I can tell, you want me to take you. Why are you gonna spend the morning asking people you know will have to say “no” first?”

“Because,” she said, standing on her tiptoes to retrieve two coffee mugs from the cabinet over his sink, hung, as always, too high for a normal person to reach anything inside, “if you just volunteer to drive me allllll the way to Mobile with out any build-up - ” she paused and turned, waggling the mugs in a brief victory dance. It felt pretty good to make him go from studying her bare legs to laughing at her in the space of a couple of heartbeats. “ - then people will start to think something is going on between us.”

“I hate to break it to you, Doc, but that's my shirt you're wearing.”

“Is it?!” She set the mugs down and made a show of smoothing the thin cotton over her body.

His mouth curved into the smile she liked best. “Yup. And, much as I like it, that little pile of lace over there is not my underwear. I really think there might be something going on here.”

“Yes, but once the whole town knows, there's no more point in sneaking around.” Coffee could wait, she decided, and cleared the space between standing in the kitchenette and kneeling on the bed with a few deliberate steps. “Don't you want to keep getting under the covers like an undercover agent, Mr. Bond?”

 

 

“Gosh, Dr. Hart, I would if I could, but I promised Tom Long's momma that I would help her and Tom's grandma – his daddy's momma – make their Planksgiving desserts.” Wanda lowered her voice to a discreet whisper that attracted more attention in the mostly-empty post-breakfast Rammer Jammer than her ordinary speaking voice would have, “I don't think they like each other very much, but I'm hoping that if I can run good enough interference between them, Tom's whole family will like me more.”

“Well, they've Long-since gone crazy if they don't love you already. Don't you worry about me! I will just hitch a ride with someone else!” Zoe picked up her BBQ Chicken Onion Ring Heaven sandwich and dug in.

This morning, she'd asked Brick and Dash and Shelley Ng and Delma Warner, and now Wanda, in a totally convincing - but not too persuasive - way. Five down, and she figured she'd both established enough cover for Wade to offer his services while maintaining plausible deniability, and earned herself an early lunch.

Wanda stayed put instead of flitting off to the kitchen or her one occupied table. Zoe swallowed her first bite uneasily.

“Something I can help you with, Wanda?”

“No. No! I just thought you might need someone to talk to. Did you and Wade have a fight? Does he not want to spend Planksgiving apart? Is that why he's not taking you to the airport to fly back East?”

Zoe covered her splutter – totally gracefully she thought – with a gulp of soda. “What? No! I haven't even asked Wade yet. Why would he care if I went home for Thanksgiving? That's crazy talk, right there!”

Wanda's eyes got even wider than usual. “Oh, my gosh! This is so awkward. I mean, he's all the time headed over to your office – and I work here, too. Our insurance is just not that good. - so I just assumed...”

“Wade and me? Oh, Wanda! If you swear never, ever to repeat it to him, I'd tell you I'm flattered, but no. No way! Do you think he'd do a girl a favor, though?”

Wanda assured her that Wade would help anybody in the world out of a jam if they'd just ask and then found something that really required her full attention in the kitchen. Zoe thought she was clear to get barbecue sauce on her face in peace, and then Lemon Breeland and her sweet tea slid into the space next to her at the bar.

“Can I offer you a piece of advice?” She asked, in that deceptively sugary tone she used in most of their conversations.

“Can I stop you?”

“I know we are not girlfriends, but you have given me advice that wasn't completely terrible."

"Stop it! You'll make me blush."

Lemon took a sip of tea and looked at her placidly, a silent and demure are you quite finished now, sweetheart?, before continuing as though Zoe had never spoken.

"And I think you've done the same for Daddy. So, you've earned the courtesy of having the favor returned. I wanted to tell you this: be careful with Wade. He's not as tough as he lets on.”

“Where is everyone getting this idea about Wade and me? Is there moonshine on the secret menu here?”

“Zoe Hart, I will thank you not to mistake discretion for dull-wittedness.” All the sweetness in her voice was gone. “Since I am no longer engaged to anyone involved, your affairs are your own. But I see you trying to make a home in Bluebell, and you need to know that this town has a long memory for who is careless with other people's hearts.”

 

 

“So, I hear you'd be flattered by my attention,” Wade said, grinning crookedly and pushing a fresh glass of red wine across the bar.

“Wanda Lewis,” she grumbled, shaking a fist in mock-irritation. “I have got to find someplace else to eat at least one meal a day.”

“Or learn to cook,” he offered.

Zoe was just forming a suggestion for something Wade could do when someone called her name from across the dinner crowd.

“Dr. Hart! Zoe!” Magnolia wound her way through the tables and came to stand at Zoe's shoulder. “I'm so glad I saw you! Daddy said you were needing a ride to the airport! Here I am! I could use the practice driving on the freeway and in an actual city!”

“Actually, Magnolia, Wade here has just agreed to take me. Thank you, though.”

“That's okay. I guess I'll need another adult in the car after I leave you at the airport anyway. It's like fate! I'll see you all in the morning!” She bustled off before Shelley came to shoo her back into the restaurant portion of the room. Brick gave Zoe a cheerful thumbs-up from the table he shared with his daughters.

“Your master plan is working, Doc,” Wade laughed. “They don't suspect a thing.”

 

 

Zoe reached out and stabbed at the alarm clock until she found the snooze button's sweet spot and it stopped buzzing. It was weird, being woken by the alarm, instead of by Cartoon Network or by Wade's trying-to-be-quiet noises.

Really, the whole night after she'd come back here to sleep had been weird. She'd known, in an intellectual kind of way, that she and Wade had been spending a lot of time together. Still, it had surprised her, how off it felt to give herself a pedicure without running commentary, to not end up sharing a midnight snack even though she swore she wasn't hungry, to find herself clicking the channel over to the late night Kojak repeat all on her own. The last thing she'd wanted was for Brick to bring Magnolia by and find them still twisted up in her sheets, but she wasn't sure what to do with the sudden strangeness of an empty house.

She might have talked to Lavon about it, or tried to, anyway, but in the main house's kitchen she found only a plate of Butter Stick pastries and a note. Mayor Hayes was ass-deep in alligators - "(metaphorical alligators! Not Burt Reynolds!)" he'd been careful to clarify - and official duties, but wished her a safe trip, and said she'd be missed on Planksgiving.

When she returned to the carriage house, Wade was out front, loading her suitcase into the trunk.

“Such a gentleman,” she said, offering him the danish she'd brought from the kitchen.

“Not always. But you know that as well as anybody.”

He was still grinning about as lasciviously as anyone could manage with a mouthful of pastry, when a beat-up pickup truck vroomed up the lane and made a sudden stop in the gravel. George Tucker waved from the passenger side.

Wade cast a wary look between Zoe and the truck, and she hesitantly stepped past him to approach the cab.

“Morning, Zoe, Wade,” George called from his open window. “I hope you don't mind if I commandeer your chauffeur. I could use a lady's eye for some shopping, and I figured once Magnolia's parallel parked this beast a couple of times, anything she takes her driving test in will be a cinch.”

“You're not mad, are you? We can practice some other time, right?” Magnolia piped from behind the wheel.

“We're perfect.” Zoe said, “You guys have fun!”

“You all, too.” George was looking over her shoulder as he spoke, and she felt Wade step up behind her, not touching, but close enough for her to soak up his warmth, to know how good closing the distance would be.

“Thanks, Tucker.”

George nodded, then turned to Magnolia. “You wanna take us out of here with a three-point turn?”

They watched in silence while Magnolia maneuvered the truck until it was pointed back down the lane, and waved as she hit the gas with maybe just a little too much enthusiasm.

“Looks like it's just you and me after all,” Wade said, stepping back toward the car. He opened the back door for her with an almost courtly gesture.

She cocked her head and gave him a one-of-us-is-confused look.

“I figured maybe you were a troubled heiress. I could be the lucky, unsuspecting driver you work out all your daddy issues on.”

She laughed and walked over to meet him. “Unless you're the inexperienced rookie cop...” She leaned against him, and smiled, gratified, when instead of taking her weight, he let her press him up against the car. “Transporting a prisoner who vandalized her last lover's house because he kept failing to satisfy her sexually.”

“Let's go with that one,” he said. “Seems like you've thought about it a lot.”

“Better start putting that mouth to better use, Officer Friendly,” she chided, leaning up to steal a kiss as rough and dirty as she could pretend with her fingers carded into the short, soft hair at the back of his head and the taste of frosting still on his tongue.

After a while, they broke for air, and she wondered if he could feel the way her heart pounded in her chest, her throat, her fingertips. Wondered if his was doing the same thing. His hands bracketed her hips, familiar and firm, holding her tight against him. His chest rose beneath hers in a slow, unsteady breath.

“How long 'til you have to be on that plane?”

She pulled his head down and grazed her mouth over his, murmured, "We have long enough." Even as she said it, she wasn't so sure it was true anymore.