FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Rose awakened from her comfortable sleep and smiled to open her eyes staring into the sky. "Hi, Jack." She smiled.
"Morning, Rosebud." He grinned.
"How long have you been awake?"
"Long enough. I just couldn’t tear myself away from your beautiful face. You look like an angel when you’re asleep." Jack sighed lightly, touching the side of her face. "My angel."
"No, Jack. You’re the angel. My guardian angel. You’ve saved me, in every way a person can be saved. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay you for all you’ve done for me."
Jack smiled and was about to reply when there was a light knock on the door.
"Jack! Are you two up? The missus has breakfast on the table and is chomping at the bit to see you." Kyle’s voice floated through the door.
"We’ll be right there!" Jack got up. "We’d better get dressed." He smiled at his wife. "It would be rude to go to breakfast with no clothes on."
Rose laughed. "You’re horrible."
Five minutes later, the young newlyweds emerged, the glow of love clearly on their faces. Kyle had to smile. It had been a long time since he had seen a couple so much in love.
"Come along. The missus and Angela are looking forward to seeing ya. You do remember Angela, don’t ya, Jack?" Kyle asked, leading them out of the store.
"She’s still in town?" Jack was surprised. He had thought his childhood best friend would have headed out for the horizon a long time ago.
"Just visiting. She lives in Eau Claire with her husband and their twins, just a year old. She’s here visiting while her husband’s away on a business trip," Kyle explained.
"Wow. She’s married now, with children. I never thought I’d see the day." Jack’s voice was full of wonder.
"She’ll say the same when she meets your pretty wife here." Kyle laughed, walking up the steps to a quaint cottage. "Come on in, you two. They’re waiting."
The interior of the cottage was warm and cozy, the scent of bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes drifting into the living room.
"It’s about time you got back!" A middle-aged woman with graying brown hair came bustling into the room, wiping her hands on her apron. The woman stopped in her tracks, her eyes widening in surprise when she saw Jack and Rose. "My goodness! Jackie! How you’ve grown since I saw you last!" The woman quickly walked over and pulled Jack into a bear hug. "And handsome, too. Look just like your ma, with a bit of your pa. They both would be so proud if they were alive today."
"I’d like to think so." Jack smiled as the woman released him.
"And this must be your wife Kyle was telling us about. Why, she is a pretty one." The woman looked Rose up and down. "You’ve done well for yourself, Jack."
"Mom, what’s all the commotion about…Jackie?" A woman Jack’s age emerged from the kitchen. Her brown eyes were warm and her brown hair was pulled into a bun.
"That’s my name." Jack smiled at his old friend. She looked almost the same as the last time he had seen her, except now she really did look like a woman and wasn’t as muddy. "Don’t wear it out."
"Smarty-pants, come over here and give me a hug." The girl laughed, hugging her friend tightly. "Wow. You’ve changed so much, and Daddy says you’re married!"
"Yes. Rose, this Angela Lavery. We were best friends when I left. Angela, this is the love of my life, Rose Dawson." Jack took Rose’s hand and pulled her to his side.
"It’s a pleasure." Rose smiled, shaking Angela’s hand.
"Same here. I hope this rascal hasn’t caused you too much trouble. He was always getting me in trouble when we were kids." Angela laughed.
"Excuse me, but I think it was you who was getting yourself in trouble. I was just your willing scapegoat." Jack smiled. "So, you’re married yourself, with children, huh?"
"Yes. You’ll have to meet Jason, but you can meet the twins now. Mother, go get the children!" Angela turned to her mother, who disappeared up the stairs. Ten minutes later, she came down with a baby in each arm.
"They’re beautiful." Rose gasped as one baby was handed to her and one to Jack.
"Thank you. The one you’re holding’s name is Ruth. And the other one is Hannah." Angela smiled.
"You’ve really outdone yourself, Angela." Jack smiled at the baby in his arms, wondering when he and Rose would become parents. Just by looking at Rose, he could tell that she wanted children.
"I’d better take them back up. Mother had to wake them up to bring them down. If they don’t finish their naps, they’ll get cranky." Angela took the twins and headed upstairs.
One hour later, after breakfast was eaten, Jack and Rose stood at the door, ready to say good-bye.
"Must you two go now? We have so much to catch up on," Angela whined.
"I’m afraid so. It’s getting late, and we have yet to go to the old house. We’ll drop by later." Jack smiled, wrapping an arm around Rose’s waist.
"You two are always welcome to that back room if you should change your mind about staying there, Jack," Kyle offered. "It’ll remain available for you two."
"Thank you, Kyle." Jack nodded. "Angie, if I don’t see you before you head back to Eau Claire, we’ll drop by sometime."
"Sure thing, Jack. I’ll leave the address and number with Daddy." Angela hugged her friend one last time. "Rose, if he becomes too much trouble, just send him to me and I’ll straighten him out."
"I’ll keep that in mind." Rose laughed, stepping closer to Jack and leaning her head on his shoulder.
Angela rolled her eyes. "Newlyweds. I wonder if Jason and I were like that."
"You were." Kyle laughed. "You two couldn’t keep your hands off each other."
"We’ll see you all again." Jack waved, leading Rose out the door. The Laverys stood on the porch, watching the young couple disappear down the street.
"Kyle, you should have warned Jack about those three staying there. It would be better if they never went near that place," Betsy Lavery scolded her husband.
"Did you hear me offer the room again?" Kyle turned to his wife.
"Not the same thing." Betsy glared at him.
"Don’t worry, you two. I have a feeling that Jack and Rose can hold their own." Angela crossed her arms. "If Jack feels like it’s an unsuitable place for Rose, he’ll bring her back here. He’s very protective of her, it looks like."
Kyle just nodded and prayed to God that those two would remain safe. He didn’t trust Butch and Vic Dawson any farther than he could throw them, and Lisa Dawson…she was nothing but a bad influence.
The Dawson house seemed deserted when Jack and Rose stepped up onto the porch. But both knew this wasn’t the case. Kyle Lavery had said that Jack’s uncles and cousin were staying there. They must have been out. To Jack’s surprise, the door came open when he turned the knob.
"Should we go in?" Rose asked, nervously clinging to Jack’s hand, not knowing what to expect.
"I guess we should." Jack shrugged. "It’s starting to get cold out here, and I don’t want you to get sick or anything." He pulled her into the house.
The house was dimly lit and was cluttered with empty beer bottles. "It looks like someone’s had a party," Jack mumbled. Both jumped at the creak above them.
"What’s that?" Rose gasped.
"I don’t know, but let’s go find out." Jack led his wife up the stairs. When they reached the upstairs, groans and moans were heard from the room on the right.
"Uh…Jack…maybe we should go back downstairs," Rose suggested, stepping closer to Jack.
"That might be a good idea." Jack nodded. He was about to head back down the stairs when the door opened and out stepped a girl with beautiful, long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. She was dressed in a robe and it was obvious that she was naked underneath.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?" the girl demanded.
Jack instantly recognized her as his cousin, Lisa. His Uncle Butch’s daughter. "Why, Lisa, don’t you recognize your own cousin?" Jack stepped out into the lighted hallway, away from the shadows of the stairs. "You left the door open down there."
"Jackie? Is that really you?" She took a closer look at the man standing before her. She could barely recognize the skinny-as-a-rail boy who had once lived there. Jack had sure filled out a lot in the last five years. "You’ve changed."
"Of course. It’s been five years." Jack nervously laughed, remembering the sounds that he had heard coming from her room. "We’re not interrupting anything, are we?"
Lisa just shook her head before hugging her cousin. "It’s good to have you back, Jackie. I’ve missed you."
"Same here, Lisa." Jack smiled, hugging his cousin back. "I’d like you to meet someone." Jack grabbed Rose’s hand and pulled her away from the staircase. "Lisa, meet my wife, Rose. Rose, this is my cousin, Lisa."
Lisa looked the girl up and down. Just a few years younger than Jack, by the look of her. "Hey." She nodded.
"Hello." Rose smiled nervously, stepping closer to Jack.
"So, you got married. Can’t believe it. So, where did you two meet?"
"A ship," Jack said, not wanting to go into detail.
Before Lisa could ask what ship it was, the door downstairs slammed.
"Lisa! Where’s lunch? It better be ready!" a gruff voice called up.
"Daddy and Uncle Vic are home. Why don’t you two come down? They’ll be surprised to see you back." Lisa quickly grabbed Jack’s hand and led them down the stairs.
In the foyer, they found two heavy-set, unshaven men. Both had dirty blond hair and dull blue eyes. The older one turned his glare on Lisa.
"Girl, you’d better not have another man up there, or I’ll skin him."
Lisa rolled her eyes. "Daddy, you remember Jackie, don’t you? He left five years ago."
Both men's eyes grew as round as saucers. "Jack? Is that really you?" the men asked in unison.
"Yes, Uncle Butch and Uncle Vic, it’s me. I’ve returned." Jack forced a smile. It was clear to Rose that he didn’t care too much for the two men.
"Jackie!" Butch and Vic went to hug their long lost nephew. Neither had expected him to return to Chippewa Falls. Rose frowned when she looked up at the stairs and noticed a barely dressed young man with black hair and brown eyes clutching his shirt in his hand slipping downstairs. She was not surprised to see Lisa help slip him out the door.
"It’s good to see you, Jackie!" Vic exclaimed, pulling away from the hug.
"And look how the kid has grown. Not a rail of a boy no more." Butch laughed. "Actually looks like a man now."
"And may we ask who the pretty lady standing next to ya is?" Vic eyed Rose.
"This is Rose Dawson, my wife." Jack wrapped a secure arm around her waist.
"Wife!" Butch laughed. "Why, you really have grown up, haven’t ya? Who would have thought? Lisa! Where’s lunch? We have company!"
"I’ll put it on now, Daddy." Lisa nodded, disappearing into the kitchen. "So, tell us, Jack. Where have you been all these five years? Still like drawing pictures?" Butch led them into the living room. Jack and Rose took the loveseat.
"I’ve been here and there. California, France, England. Around." Jack shrugged.
Both men laughed. "You sure have! So, have you drawn any pictures of theses places you’ve been?"
Jack looked at Rose, remembering his portfolio that had gone down with the Titanic. "Uh…I did…but they’re gone now." Jack sighed, remembering the portrait of Rose. That was one he had wanted to keep.
"That’s too bad." Both men shrugged.
Vic cleared his throat. "Well, now that you’re home, you can help out around here. We can use an extra hand."
"And Lisa will enjoy the help in the kitchen." Butch looked at Rose, who paled at the sound of housework, something she had never done in her lifetime. She couldn’t even boil water. But she guessed she’d have to learn, since she was married to Jack. No more maids to do her cleaning for her.
"You two can have your old room, Jack. It’s the same as it was when you left." Vic nodded.
"Great. We’ll go get settled in now." Jack smiled, pulling Rose to her feet. "We’ll see you when we come back down in a bit."
The two men just waved as Jack led Rose up the stairs.
"They’re interesting," Rose commented as Jack led her to his old room.
"I can’t believe they’re still here." Jack shook his head. "Now I see why Dad avoided them like the plague."
"Oh, Jack, you’re exaggerating. They’re rough around the edges, but other than that, they’re all right. But then again, I’ve only just met them. But one thing does confuse me. When your uncles were busy hugging you, I saw a man slip downstairs, and Lisa was helping him out the door."
Jack laughed. "I guess we know where all those noises were coming from. Too bad everyone can’t be a expert on dodging authorities like us, huh, Rose?"
Rose giggled and blushed, knowing he was referring to the time they had dodged the stewards in the cargo hold after their liaison in the Renault. "You are terrible."
"But you love me anyway." Jack took her in his arms and began kissing her, backing her up towards the bed.
"Always." Rose moaned with desire as they sank down onto the bed. "Jack, it’s the middle of the day."
"So? Should that make a difference?"
"Your uncles and cousin are downstairs." Rose tried to keep her thinking straight. Every time Jack kissed her like this, her thoughts became a jumble.
"My uncles will be too busy stuffing their faces, and my cousin has room to talk." Jack didn’t stop. Soon enough, they were up in the stars again, everything else forgotten.