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Posted on Wed Jan 22nd, 2014 @ 8:15pm by Unawakened Jana Rotherbridge
Edited on Thu Jan 23rd, 2014 @ 12:38am

Date: March 6th, 2010
Time: 10:00 am
Location: Freedom Dawn Ranch, six hours outside Dallas, Texas

It was another Saturday morning at the ranch. Time the Darlings spent with the Shooters to get to know each other before Clarice Darling married Benjamin Shooter IV. It was a lovely idea, and one couldn’t fault Mariah Darling for coming up with it.

It was her idea to pull along her new charges for the ride that needed revising.

Of course, she wasn’t the only one to have an idea like that.

“I’m going to town! Anyone want to come?” asked Clarice, her dark hair in a sleek updo. She was in a thermal jacket (for temperatures that didn’t go below 50 degrees), skinny jeans and decorative cowboy boots she only wore to *leave* the ranch. To her (limited) credit, she actually had a pair she wore to ride that weren’t *quite* so nice.

“You should take Jana.” Ironically, it was Gabe who had the idea that needed revising.

Jana looked at Gabe, vaguely annoyed. “What?”

Gabe held up a finger to forestall their cousin, pulled Jana aside, then lowered his voice. “You need time away. Cole’s off with Ben, going native. I’m probably going to be needed in the kitchen finding the last jar of peaches against the wall where no one can reach, and you’ll be going stir crazy because you don’t do either of those things.”

Jana frowned at him. “We’ll kill each other.”

Gabe shrugged. “The wedding’s getting expensive.” She shoved his shoulder. “Just go. After the movie thing last week, we all need a break.”

Jana sighed. She hated to admit it, but he was right. Cole had been excited to go riding today. Being on a horse didn’t trigger his PTSD, and the therapist said horses were good for recovery. He’d been happier than she’d seen him in a while, and she wasn’t about to keep him from something that was so good for him.

Grudgingly, she admitted being stuck in the car with Clarice ranked below an unhappy Cole.

“Fine,” she said, dressed in a green turtleneck and a pair of jeans. While Gabe was dressed similarly, neither of the older Rotherbridge siblings liked to ride. City kids through and through. She put on her boots again. “I’ll go.”

Clarice didn’t look enthusiastic, either, but good breeding (and Aunt Mariah) dictated that she didn’t show it. Too much. “Let’s go,” she sighed as Jana got her coat on. Jana nodded, following her cousin out.

There was a bit of ice outside, and while Jana slipped, Clarice did not. She scowled at her cousin’s back. It was just as well that she was the one marrying dear Benny. Jana hated the ranch with a passion. Maybe not the passion of a thousand suns, but a passion nonetheless.

Clarice beeped open the car, and Jana hesitated before opening her side. She always hated getting in the passenger side. Her mother had died in the passenger seat. But she steeled herself and got in, ignoring her discomfort. It wasn’t the death seat. It wasn’t.

Jana saw her cousin glance at her out of the corner of her eye, but Jana kept her eyes forward. And breathed. A moment later, Clarice put the key into the ignition and started the Chevy pickup, a four-by-four with an extended cab that was white. A bit better than a four-door sedan. At least this far up off the ground, she would see what was coming at her.

The ride into town was quiet. After the first five minutes, Clarice reached out and turned on the radio. It was country, which Jana abhorred, but Clarice wasn’t home often enough to know that. So saying something probably wasn’t going to help. At least, what she would have said to get her to change the station wouldn’t have helped anything.

At least it wasn’t Taylor Swift.

“It’s been too long since somebody whispered, ‘Shut up and kiss me...’”

It sounded like something Simon might say. Remembering the guy who, on and off, occupied her thoughts, ever since he made his ‘proposal’, indecent though it was, made Jana blush, and she unzipped her coat, trying to get rid of the excess heat.

Clarice looked at her strangely. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing! Nothing! Watch the road! Watch the road!” Jana gasped, gripping the dashboard tightly. Of all the times to have an attack of the blushes, it was in the car with her prim and proper cousin. She was definitely not telling her what had prompted the blush.

Clarice faced the road, even though they were on an empty road and would be for about 40 more minutes. Jana hated when the driver talked to passengers in the car, and that was precisely why she preferred the limos to normal street cars. Limo drivers almost never turned around to talk to passengers. It was far more comfortable for her to know that there was that much being done to care for her safety.

Now that she thought about it, Simon was a proper Englishman. He would never say the words, “Shut up.”

“Darling, you talk too much. Allow me to kiss you.” Now, that he would say.

Jana pulled at the neck of her sweater, ignoring the blessedly brief glances her cousin sent her way.


It was awkward as they came into town, as awkward as it had been at the start. Dutifully, Jana followed Clarice on her errands, taking her up on an offer of a drink. All in all, Gabe was right. She didn’t have to think or even act for herself right now. She could just go where her cousin led, and she knew that, even if the places she was going weren’t the most exciting, they were at least safe. Safety was good.

By the time they were done, Jana was feeling tired. At least, she acted tired for her cousin’s benefit. They climbed back into the truck (or Clarice climbed more than Jana just jumped; the upside of being so tall), and Jana leaned back, closing her eyes. She wouldn’t sleep; she never slept in vehicles now, not even horse-drawn buggies. She pushed that unpleasant thought away quickly. If she closed her eyes, then there would be no reason for her cousin to talk. She could just drive and listen to her hick music to her heart’s content. After she finished texting whoever it was going to. The tapping of keys gave her away.

Only… they weren’t done. Jana peeked from under her lashes intermittently as they went to another part of town, instead of back on the main road, with signs indicating it was a Goodwill outlet, with a sign over the door. Clarice maneuvered the car around to the back where a pleasant-looking woman came out. Her cousin reached under the seat and pulled out a grocery bag that looked like it was filled with clothes.

Clarice rolled down the window and handed the bag out to the woman in a sweater and jeans. “Here you go. Thank you for being here, Margo. “

“No trouble, darlin’. Is that everything?”

“For now. I might start doing bigger donations after the wedding.”

“Oh, that would be lovely. You all have a good day, now,”

“You, too, Margo. Thanks again.”

They’d been quiet, but it wasn’t so Jana wouldn’t hear. They just thought she was asleep. Clarice rolled up the window.

Jana waited until they were on the main road back to the ranch before she spoke. “That was just clothes in the bag, right?”

Clarice shot her a look, then turned back to the road. “Yes. Why?”

Jana shrugged. “You acted like it was crystal meth.”

Clarice sighed. “You know how Mother gets.”

Jana chuckled. “I think you’d feel better if it was meth.” That got a snort of laughter, which surprised, but delighted Jana. “Mariah Darling’s little girl donates to Goodwill. The horror.” She opened her eyes fully and looked at Clarice.

The other girl smirked, which made Jana laugh. “Shut up.”

“Bite me,” she replied. And they both laughed.

As their eyes met over the center console, for the first time, she saw a kindred spirit. Another refuge from the Mariah Darling Manners Boot Camp.

Jana faced forward. “Watch the road.”

Clarice had the perfect response, as always. “Bite me.”


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