FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Chapter Two

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 couldnít tear myself away from your beautiful face. You look like an angel when youíre asleep." Jack sighed lightly, touching the side of her face. "My angel."

"No, Jack. Youíre the angel. My guardian angel. Youíve saved me, in every way a person can be saved. I donít know how Iíll ever be able to repay you for all youíve 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." Kyleís voice floated through the door.

"Weíll be right there!" Jack got up. "Weíd better get dressed." He smiled at his wife. "It would be rude to go to breakfast with no clothes on."

Rose laughed. "Youíre 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, donít ya, Jack?" Kyle asked, leading them out of the store.

"Sheís 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. Sheís here visiting while her husbandís away on a business trip," Kyle explained.

"Wow. Sheís married now, with children. I never thought Iíd see the day." Jackís voice was full of wonder.

"Sheíll 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. Theyíre waiting."

The interior of the cottage was warm and cozy, the scent of bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes drifting into the living room.

"Itís 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 youíve 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."

"Iíd 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. "Youíve done well for yourself, Jack."

"Mom, whatís all the commotion aboutÖJackie?" A woman Jackís age emerged from the kitchen. Her brown eyes were warm and her brown hair was pulled into a bun.

"Thatís 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 wasnít as muddy. "Donít wear it out."

"Smarty-pants, come over here and give me a hug." The girl laughed, hugging her friend tightly. "Wow. Youíve changed so much, and Daddy says youíre 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 Roseís hand and pulled her to his side.

"Itís a pleasure." Rose smiled, shaking Angelaís hand.

"Same here. I hope this rascal hasnít 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, youíre married yourself, with children, huh?"

"Yes. Youíll 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.

"Theyíre beautiful." Rose gasped as one baby was handed to her and one to Jack.

"Thank you. The one youíre holdingís name is Ruth. And the other one is Hannah." Angela smiled.

"Youíve 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.

"Iíd better take them back up. Mother had to wake them up to bring them down. If they donít finish their naps, theyíll 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.

"Iím afraid so. Itís getting late, and we have yet to go to the old house. Weíll drop by later." Jack smiled, wrapping an arm around Roseís waist.

"You two are always welcome to that back room if you should change your mind about staying there, Jack," Kyle offered. "Itíll remain available for you two."

"Thank you, Kyle." Jack nodded. "Angie, if I donít see you before you head back to Eau Claire, weíll drop by sometime."

"Sure thing, Jack. Iíll 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 Iíll straighten him out."

"Iíll 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 couldnít keep your hands off each other."

"Weíll 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.

"Donít worry, you two. I have a feeling that Jack and Rose can hold their own." Angela crossed her arms. "If Jack feels like itís an unsuitable place for Rose, heíll bring her back here. Heís very protective of her, it looks like."

Kyle just nodded and prayed to God that those two would remain safe. He didnít trust Butch and Vic Dawson any farther than he could throw them, and Lisa DawsonÖshe was nothing but a bad influence.

*****

The Dawson house seemed deserted when Jack and Rose stepped up onto the porch. But both knew this wasnít the case. Kyle Lavery had said that Jackís uncles and cousin were staying there. They must have been out. To Jackís surprise, the door came open when he turned the knob.

"Should we go in?" Rose asked, nervously clinging to Jackís hand, not knowing what to expect.

"I guess we should." Jack shrugged. "Itís starting to get cold out here, and I donít 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 someoneís had a party," Jack mumbled. Both jumped at the creak above them.

"Whatís that?" Rose gasped.

"I donít know, but letís 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.

"UhÖJackÖmaybe 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 Butchís daughter. "Why, Lisa, donít 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. "Youíve changed."

"Of course. Itís been five years." Jack nervously laughed, remembering the sounds that he had heard coming from her room. "Weíre not interrupting anything, are we?"

Lisa just shook her head before hugging her cousin. "Itís good to have you back, Jackie. Iíve missed you."

"Same here, Lisa." Jack smiled, hugging his cousin back. "Iíd like you to meet someone." Jack grabbed Roseís 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. Canít 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! Whereís lunch? It better be ready!" a gruff voice called up.

"Daddy and Uncle Vic are home. Why donít you two come down? Theyíll be surprised to see you back." Lisa quickly grabbed Jackís 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, youíd better not have another man up there, or Iíll skin him."

Lisa rolled her eyes. "Daddy, you remember Jackie, donít 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, itís me. Iíve returned." Jack forced a smile. It was clear to Rose that he didnít 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.

"Itís 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, havenít ya? Who would have thought? Lisa! Whereís lunch? We have company!"

"Iíll 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.

"Iíve 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 youíve been?"

Jack looked at Rose, remembering his portfolio that had gone down with the Titanic. "UhÖI didÖbut theyíre gone now." Jack sighed, remembering the portrait of Rose. That was one he had wanted to keep.

"Thatís too bad." Both men shrugged.

Vic cleared his throat. "Well, now that youíre 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 couldnít even boil water. But she guessed sheíd 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. Itís the same as it was when you left." Vic nodded.

"Great. Weíll go get settled in now." Jack smiled, pulling Rose to her feet. "Weíll see you when we come back down in a bit."

The two men just waved as Jack led Rose up the stairs.

"Theyíre interesting," Rose commented as Jack led her to his old room.

"I canít believe theyíre still here." Jack shook his head. "Now I see why Dad avoided them like the plague."

"Oh, Jack, youíre exaggerating. Theyíre rough around the edges, but other than that, theyíre all right. But then again, Iíve 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 canít 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, itís 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 didnít stop. Soon enough, they were up in the stars again, everything else forgotten.

Chapter Three
Stories