"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 21"

"I'm not a smart man..."

Those words from "Forrest Gump" echo through the halls of male-dom more often than most men would ever admit. Seldom is this more apparent than right after he has uttered THE question to end all questions. A man is often clueless regarding the power of certain words, especially when they are strung together in a proposal of marriage. Naturally, he is then quite amazed when a firestorm of emotion and energy come back in his direction after he has uttered those four simple words...

"Will you marry me?"

To most males, popping the question is an elementary thing - nothing more than an inquiry involving two people. A process that should evoke one of two potential answers - "yes" or "no." He does not foresee, once the proposal is made and accepted, the endless chain of phone calls that must be made announcing the event. He cannot fathom how and why every living relative on planet earth must be informed within forty-eight hours after the question and answer have been spoken.

The man also has no hint of the formidable stream of plans and decisions that wash over the bride and her gaggle of familial females in the wake of the engagement. Further, he does not stop to think of the enormous amounts of money he is about to cost at least one other man, who is equally as clueless regarding the financial black hole that is gathering in his path. No male is capable of anticipating the parade of shopping malls, bridal stores, trying on, taking back, taking up, and letting out that proposing to a female sets into motion.

If a man did know all of these things in advance, he might very well elect to remain unattached. Or at the very least, he might restrict his proposal to nothing more than a, "whatcha' doing Saturday night, baby?"

Captain Beauregard Jackson, USN, was certainly no exception to any of these truths.

Asking a "normal" woman to meet one at the altar is risky enough. Proposing matrimony to one who is a rich, spoiled, daddy's girl, socialite, is quite another matter. Before Beau could accomplish telling his mother and George Decker about the engagement, Autumn Belle and her family were already well into the early planning stages of this production of a wedding. With all of the activity in the Hamilton home, one would have thought that the sequel to "Gone With The Wind" was being filmed there.

The "Autumn Belle Dictionary of Wedding Etiquette" included the following concerns: the number of folks in the wedding party, the venue, the caterers, the rehearsal, the reception, the food, the music, the cakes, the number of people on the guest list, the colors, the flowers, the candles, the ribbons, the wedding dress, the bride's maid dresses, the color of the groom's tuxedo, the announcements, the invitations, the pictures, the minister, the flower girl and ring bearer, the bridal tea, the gifts for the wedding party, the honeymoon, the wardrobe for the honeymoon, the showers, the thank you notes, and the limousines.

When Beau saw Autumn's list, he was totally overwhelmed. Surprise and disbelief best describe his reaction. "Why would anyone want to go through all of that?," he mused. Autumn replied, "Because, sweetie, this girl only gets married once...And, in Atlanta, a high society wedding like ours just HAS to be one humdinger of a party...I am certain you can appreciate that my family could never show its collective face again if ours was not THE most elegant wedding this old town has ever seen."

Beau did not understand. All he had done was to ask the girl of his dreams to become the love of his life. A simple ten minute ceremony in front of a Justice of the Peace would have been perfectly fine with him. He reminded Autumn of his Navy commitment, and of his mother's failing health. He had no idea when he would be available for a royal occasion like Autumn was planning. He was a little perturbed that she seemed to be thinking more of this is a social event, and less as a sacred time of their becoming husband and wife. More than once, he thought of sitting down with her and attempting to persuade her to run off with him and elope.

But, he loved Autumn. And, he wanted her to be happy. "It's just one day," he told himself, "and it's HER day...I can put up with ANYTHING for one day...In the end, I'll have her, and that is worth anything I have to go through!"

What a guy!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 20"

It was just past 11:30 PM when the Southern Belle pulled quietly back into Pier #2. The tired but happy guests moved slowly down the gangway and into their waiting cars. Autumn and Beau were the last ones off the boat. Jeffrey was waiting with the limo - all cranked and warmed. Autumn brushed by Jeffrey, waving her ring finger in the air like the motion of a butterfly. She murmured under her breath, "Tonight, I don't care if you DID write me a ticket, Buster...You are NOT going to watch us in the rear view mirror all the way home."

As she slid into the back seat, Autumn pushed a button on the control panel and closed the window between the driver and his passengers. Her man was going to be "all hers" on the way back to Alpharetta. Beau and Jeffrey exchanged a handshake and a back slap or two. Beau was grinning from ear to ear as he climbed in and sat down next to Autumn. He popped in, "Bread's Greatest Hit," cassette and lowered the interior lights in the rear of the limo. The mood was set for the ride home.

With barely five words passing between them during the two hour ride, Beau and Autumn spent their time "speaking" to one another in other ways. By the time the limo reached Autumn's house, the physical attraction that had been so strong between them since the first time they met at Autumn's party came to its inevitable fruition. They said a long, passionate goodnight at the door, and Beau and Jeffrey drove away into the night.

Autumn Belle watched the red tail lights of the limousine until they disappeared around the bend of the highway. She then floated up the stairs to her room, humming one of the Bread tunes from the ride home. After a quick shower, and some time spent lying on her bed - gazing at the ring, she fell fast asleep. The ring stayed on her finger, and the smile on her face - long after her pretty eyes had finally closed at around 2:30 AM.

Good night, Missy. Sweet dreams!

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 19"

Autumn kissed Beau, patted his chest, and said, "You stay right here, Mister." She hurried down the stairs, through the main dining area entrance, and into the ladies' room. Leaning on the vanity sink, she stared at herself in the mirror. "I can't BELIEVE he did it!," she said. She looked at the ring, then at herself, then at the ring once again. "What am I gonna' do now?," she asked - shrugging her shoulders as she paced back and forth. "He's up there right now waiting for me to come out of this bathroom," she said. Stopping and looking at her image in the mirror, she lectured herself, "Just an hour ago, you couldn't WAIT for him to ask you - and now that he has, YOU don't know what to say!...Run, Beau, run like the wind," she said, shaking her head and wringing her hands.

It was getting cold on top of the riverboat. The chilly November wind was now blowing stiffly off the Tennessee River. Beau paced back and forth, rubbing his shirt sleeves. "Where IS that girl?, " he mused. After what seemed to be an eternity, Autumn finally returned. She reached up, slid her arms around Beau's neck, and held him close for several minutes. She then asked him to sit down.

As he positioned himself in the chair, Autumn began to pace, and to talk. "I am a piece of work, my dear man...I really AM!...High maintenance all the way...I'm WAY too dramatic...I lose my temper a LOT...My Daddy has spoiled me rotten...I'm impatient, hard to please, and I HATE getting up early...I like getting my way...I'm loud...I like to party, flirt, listen to the Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd - sometimes as loud as the stereo will go," she said. "I like to shop...I get physically sick at the sight of blood...I DON'T clean house, iron, or do anything a good housewife SHOULD do...And, I am an absolute SUCKER for a sappy, romantic movie," she continued.

She stopped for a moment, turned toward Beau, and tried desperately to gauge his reaction to this serial confession. "Are you finished?," he asked. Autumn shoved her hands into the pockets of Beau's coat - that she was still wearing, and declared, "I am JUST getting started!"

"I love to write...I keep a diary...And, I put EVERYTHING that happens to me in it...You're in it," she smiled and said. "I LOVE Christmas and Springtime...They are my favorite two seasons...I can't stand to touch or even get near worms, snakes, snails, or grasshoppers...I HATE mayonnaise...And, I can't remember the last time I went to church," she announced, now waving her arms like she was preaching a sermon.

"I know all this seems like petty stuff, but I wanted you to know all about me," she cautioned.

"And now," she said, looking down at the riverboat deck, "here's some things that might matter to you, a LOT," she offered. "I am NOT a virgin...I wish now that I was...But, I'm not...Please don't misunderstand, I am not a whore or slut or anything like that...I just never thought of THAT in the same way that you have...I hope this is not a problem for you...I also hope that it doesn't change any of the things you said to me...I am grateful to know that you have waited...Again, I wish I had...But now, I cannot undo what's done...I can only tell you that my solemn promise to myself and to whoever I marry is that they will be the NEXT one, AND the LAST one...None of those other guys mean anything to me...None of what happened before had anything to do with you and me, and with the kind of relationship that we have," she said, unable to fight back tears. It was easy to see the regret in Autumn's heart.

Changing gears, Autumn sat down on Beau's lap. She gently laid her head on his chest, and stroked his face with her hand. She took a deep breath and whispered, "I love it when you call me, 'Missy,'...I didn't at first, but now I do...And, I really like it, for some reason, when you don't let me run the show...I love it when you surprise me like you did tonight...You've surprised me a hundred times since we met...And, I really respect what you have done with your life..."

Beau wrapped his arm tightly around her waist. He loved the feel of her body against his, even if she was only sitting across his lap.

"I think you are THE greatest...And, you deserve a woman who is going to stand by you, support you, help you, and make you deliriously happy...She is going to have to be a special woman...One that isn't threatened by your love for your mother...And, one that can deal with you being gone, and can also handle the dangers you face in what you do," she said. "I am sure," she continued, "that your wife will be well taken care of, shown the ultimate love and respect, and will experience THE most mind-blowing, earth-shaking, love-making on the planet." With this, she slid her hand across his chest and along his waist and belt line.

Suddenly, Autumn stood up, threw one leg and then the other on either side of Beau, and sat astride him, facing him in much the same fashion as their first encounter at her debutante ball.

"I guess what I am trying to say...Captain Beauregard Jackson...Is...'Yes!'...My answer is "yes"...I would be proud, honored, and blissfully happy to marry you...I love you more than any person I have ever known...I want to have your babies, as well as to be beside you as we spoil our grandchildren...I want us to grow old together...And, I want the world to know that the great big smile you are gonna wear on your face for the next fifty years comes to you courtesy of Mrs. Autumn Belle Missy Hamilton Jackson!", she concluded.

Beau jumped up from the chair with Autumn still wrapped around him. He spun around and around, almost to the point of falling down from the dizziness. He shouted to the top of his lungs, "She said Y-E-S!...She said Y-E-S!...I can't believe it!...She said Y-E-S!"

They say, that on a really still night out on the Tennessee River - where it bends around the foot of Lookout Mountain, if the moon is just right in the sky, if two lovers locked in an embrace out on the top of the Southern Belle listen very closely, they can still hear that happy young man's voice echoing across the water.

Love is a very powerful thing! As the Good Book says, "...love never fails." It certainly didn't on this night. Two great young people began a wonderful journey - a lifetime of loving one another.

There is a sweetness in the heart when dreams finally do come true. Neither Beau nor Autumn would forget this magical evening. They each spoke of it often during their many years together.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 18"

"I still remember the first time I saw you," Beau began, "in fact, I will never forget it."

In total harmony with what George Decker had shared with her, Beau recounted for Autumn the night at the Woodward football game. To the last detail, Beau recited what she wore that night, recalling her every move at the game. He then called to mind the events surrounding her debutante ball and their first "meeting." He spoke of that first morning she came to the Silver Skillet, and then everything thereafter. Just as Mr. Decker and Beau's mother had said, this young man had Autumn Belle in his sights long before she had known that he was even alive. Autumn's occasional hissy fits about Beau's being a mad stalker had all been pure foolishness. Listening to him, she could tell he had been in love with her for a very long time. Hearing him talk about all of these things touched her.

Beau took her hand in his, and launched into a long series of declarations. He began with the disclaimer, "I've got some serious things I want to say, so please don't stop me."

"You are a rich girl...Your family has more money than Davy Crockett...But, that really doesn't matter to me...Your parents seem like nice, down to earth people...I really like them...And, they seem to like me...I really enjoyed being at your house the other day," he said.

"Autumn," he continued, "as the song says, my life is not the kind that gives a woman peace of mind, nor does it provide the settled, nine-to-five world that I know can be a really important thing to a female...Too, I may never make a million dollars...And, I don't know that I would ever fit in with high society folks," he said, taking a deep breath. "My life is crazy most of the time, with occasional periods of it being almost nuts...Not many people are cut out for that," he added.

"Too, I have known a lot of women in my time...And I've had lots of 'opportunities'...Some of those women wanted to own me...And, some wanted to change me...That's one of the reasons why I am still single today...I have never found a woman that wanted me for who I really was...Some days I am very tough to deal with...I am a very hard worker...And, I have some screwy quirks that some women have found a little difficult to tolerate...Such as," Beau dropped his head as though he was too embarrassed to continue. Autumn kissed the back of his strong hand and said, "You don't have to say anymore."

"No, that's OK," he said, "I need to get this stuff off my chest." He continued, "I have been raised in a pretty conservative home, Autumn...Both of my parents came from strict moral and religious upbringing...And, that's the kind of environment they maintained in our home while I was growing up...So, as a result...Boy, are you going to think this is really far out there...What I'm trying to say is that I have never been with a woman before...I am a 26 year old virgin, my dear...And, no I am not a funny boy...I have just always been taught to wait on THAT until marriage."

Autumn was blown away.

She was about to say something when he stopped her. "Let me finish, please...Don't get me wrong...I have had more than my share of chances...And, I really DO like girls, a LOT...As a matter of fact, the dress you're wearing tonight makes my decision to be a monk seem all the more ridiculous and stupid...But, whenever I make a promise to myself I usually try my dead level best to keep it...I guess, too, I never really met anybody that I thought I wanted to have that kind of relationship with...Until now," he said, looking up at her and nodding his head as he spoke.

Beau slid out of his chair and down on one knee. He took Autumn's hands in his. He was trembling. "Autumn...What I am trying to say is...I guess I really love you...As corny as it sounds, I love you with all my heart...I have for a very long time...I know we haven't been together all that long...And, I know that there are lots of things we still have to learn about each other...I don't know everything there is to know about how to treat a lady...Sometimes I am very backward about knowing what to say or do," he said, taking a deep breath and reaching for one of the glasses of grape juice. He drained it dry, wiped his mouth, and continued.

"I don't know where the Navy is going to send me when I go back...My goal, up to now, has been to serve my twenty and get out...You know, settle down, get married, open my own restaurant, and have a regular life," he said. "But, until that finally happens, I could be deployed just about anywhere in the world, sometimes for months at a time...I could easily get wounded and spend the rest of my life without an arm or leg, literally...Or, I could be killed," he admitted, pausing for a long moment. Looking down again, he patted Autumn's hands and resumed, "My wife, if I ever have one, might very well have to spend long stretches of time without me...She might even wind up a widow...She will have to be a very understanding and brave woman..Like my mother has always been."

Autumn's eyes filled with tears. She pressed her lips together, forcing a smile, and nodding her head in affirmation. "I understand.," she said.

Beau interrupted her, " I hope you do...I really hope you do...Because...Autumn Belle Hamilton...I guess what I am saying, or asking...Is that I want you to be my wife...Will you wait for me?," Beau paused, swallowing hard, "Autumn, will you marry me?"

As he spoke, Beau reached into his pocket and pulled out a ring box. He opened it, revealing a large, center cut diamond in a shiny yellow gold setting. It sparkled brightly in the Tennessee moonlight. He handed it to Autumn. Now her hands were shaking. Though she had dreamed of this day since she was a little girl, and though she had fully expected Beau to do exactly this, she was now at a total loss for knowing what to say or do. She simply sat there, staring at the ring, then at Beau, then back at the ring. Tears were running down her cheeks. She took the ring out of the box. Beau slid it on her finger and kissed her.

Autumn Belle extended her arm out straight, tilting her hand back and forth as she admired the ring. It looked marvelous on her hand. And, it felt perfect on her finger - like it had always been there.

She got up from the chair and wrapped her arms around Beau. They began to sway back and forth - as though they were dancing. After several minutes, she gently pushed away from him and said, "I also have a lot to say too, but before I do, I have GOT to go to the bathroom again...Can you give me a few minutes?...I'll meet you right back here...Promise!"

Beau nodded in agreement, and assured her that he was not going anywhere.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 17"

As the limousine slowly pulled in at Pier #2 on Riverfront Parkway in Chattanooga, in a childlike manner Autumn pressed her entire face against the car window glass. "What's this place, Mister?," she asked Beau. He replied, "Well, Miss Hamilton, we are going on a dinner cruise tonight on the famous 'Southern Belle' - the granddaddy of all Tennessee riverboats." Autumn shrieked with excitement. She had heard about these cruises. Loving the water as she did, this seemed like the perfect surprise - and a very romantic setting for Beau's inevitable popping of the question. "He's gonna' DO it," she whispered. "He's gonna do what?," Beau asked, as he climbed out of the limousine and reached for her hand. "Just you never mind," she playfully mocked - using his same words from earlier.

As Jeffrey conferred with Beau about the ETA for his return with the limousine, Autumn suddenly remembered from where she knew him. This "Jeffrey" was none other than THE State Trooper who had stopped her on the interstate and ticketed her on that first morning visit to the Silver Skillet. "So THAT'S who drove us up here," she murmured sarcastically, "must be moonlighting as a limo driver." She was in no mood to be "Miss Nice Girl" to this hateful specimen of a lawman.

She did not like it one bit that he and Beau were friends. In lieu of having "Jeffrey" return for them in the limo, Autumn came very close to suggesting that they walk all the way back from Chattanooga, or maybe take a cab. "Hang on, girl," she told herself, "no sense in ruining tonight over this." Once she had that engagement ring on her finger, Satan himself could be driving her home and it wouldn't matter.

The "Southern Belle" was wonderful. Beau had reserved a corner table toward the stern of the riverboat. The well-appointed interior featured chandeliers, romantic, candle-lit tables, linen tablecloths, and paintings by well-known, regional artists. Walking aboard the "Southern Belle" was like stepping back in time. Autumn Belle loved it! As the head waiter escorted them to their table, she clutched Beau's coat sleeve - smiling, looking around at the interior of the boat in wide-eyed wonder, and beaming like a little girl in a toy store.

In making the reservations, Beau had taken the liberty of choosing their menu for the evening. After an appetizer course of Mozarella Sticks and fresh, hot, melt-in-your-mouth Yeast Rolls, the main course consisted of Lemon Rosemary Roasted Rock Cornish Game Hen With Applewood Smoked Bacon Lardons, Caramelized Apples, Roasted Vegetable Cous Cous, Marinated Roasted Squash, Mushrooms, Artichokes and Sweet Peppers in a Moroccan Grain Pilaf. The food was hot, well-served, and very elegant. Autumn commented several times that she never would have believed that such fine dining could be found on a riverboat. "How did you know about this?," she asked Beau. He grinned and replied, "I am sailor, remember?"

For dessert they feasted on gigantic slices of
White Chocolate Carrot Layer Cake, along with THE best Colombian coffee that Autumn had ever tasted. As they were enjoying the coffee, Autumn sank back in her chair, patted her overly full tummy, and said, "I feel just like Emily Pig...If I keep hanging out with you, Sailor, I just might have to change my wardrobe to all fat-girl sizes." Beau shook his head and said, "Not a chance, Sis,...As a matter of fact, next week we start P.T. every day after work...Three miles a day, plus stretches and free weights." Autumn groaned and said, "It's gonna take me until next week to digest all the food we just ate."

Beau called the head waiter over and whispered something in his ear. Autumn sat up in her chair. "What?," she asked, "what, what WHAT?" As the waiter walked away Beau patted her hand, "Nothing, babe, I just asked him to bring us a bottle of that sparkling, non-alcoholic grape juice...It's good, you'll really like it." Beau reasoned that they had already had enough champagne. He was not a drinker at all. Throughout his young life, and especially during his time in the Navy, he had witnessed the harm that alcohol can do. He vowed never to allow it to get the best of him. "Best way to never become an alcoholic is to never take that first drink," he reasoned. Autumn had never tried the grape juice before. But, on this incredible night, she was ready to sample just about anything her Beau suggested.

When the grape juice came, and Beau had poured them both a glass, he proposed yet another toast. "To the prettiest girl in all the world...To this scrumptious meal...To this grand old riverboat...And, to many more nights like this in the future," Beau said. Autumn nodded in agreement and said, "Hear, hear." They took the first sip of grape juice. Then, it was Autumn's turn. She wanted to make a toast. As she raised her glass, Beau slid his chair closer to the table, and leaned in her direction. "To the man I thought I'd never find...To these gloriously happy days we have spent together...To this incredible night...And, to a hot little princess in a blue dinner dress that is gonna' bust if she doesn't hurry up and go to the bathroom!" They both laughed, clicked their glasses in agreement, and took another sip of the juice.

Autumn got up and went to the bathroom. Her mind was racing. "I wonder if he'll do it when I get back to the table?," she thought. When she did return, Beau was nowhere to be found. As she looked around for him, the head waiter approached and said, "Please follow me, Miss." Autumn reached for her glass of grape juice, but it was gone, along with Beau's and the ice bucket with the bottle in it. The waiter led her along the inner starboard wall of the riverboat, and up a long flight of stairs. Opening the door, they walked out onto the upper deck of the riverboat. The moon was bright over the Tennessee River that night. She could see Beau standing by one of two lounge chairs toward the bow of the boat. There was a small table between the two chairs, upon which the grape juice and glasses had been placed.

The November night air was much cooler than Autumn had expected, so Beau quickly offered her his jacket. They sat down together and took another few sips of the juice. The moonlight on the river was beautiful. The sound of the water splashing over the paddle wheels was very relaxing. "What a beautiful evening," Autumn said, as she reached across the table and gently kissed Beau. "Thank you for thinking of this," she said, squeezing his hand, "I love it."

They were all alone, and the time was finally right.

Beau leaned toward her and said, "There is something I have wanted to say to you for a long time now, Autumn...There will probably never be a better chance for me to say it than tonight ... Truthfully, this moment, up here on top of this old riverboat, is one of the very reasons why I brought you here tonight." Clearing his throat and tugging at his collar, Autumn could sense almost a boyish nervousness in him. "I've never done this before," he said, "so you're gonna' have to bear with me."

Autumn smiled, winked, and said, "Take your time, Mister."

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 16"

It was just after 12:45 PM when Beau dropped Autumn off at home. As they said goodbye, he asked her to be ready at 6:00 PM. "Ready for what?," she asked. "Just you never mind," he said, "I have a surprise for you...But, I need you to be dressed for dinner when I pick you up...6:00 PM sharp." Autumn replied, "Why don't I pick you up?...A dinner outfit is not exactly the kind of thing to wear on the back of a motorcycle." As he buckled the chin strap on the helmet, Beau grinned and said, "Who said I was coming to get you on a motorcycle, Missy?"

He winked, put on his sunglasses, and turned the big bike down the long driveway. Swinging out onto the highway, he gunned the Harley's big engine. It sounded like a jet plane taking off. Autumn, watching him disappear down the road, wondered what he had in store for her. "I bet he's going to ask me tonight..." she whispered, throwing her head back, laughing to herself, and swinging around and around on the large white columns of the house.

Autumn spent the afternoon doing her fingernails and toenails, taking a long, hot shower, rolling and styling her hair, and choosing just the right outfit. As she stood in front of the mirror a final time, her mother came into the room. "Wow!", she said, "you are certainly dressed to the nines!" Autumn had chosen a light blue dinner dress that sported an extremely revealing neck line. Though she accented it with a gold necklace, the dress still showed far more cleavage than she or her mother were accustomed to. Her tanned skin was extremely striking, especially in contrast to a head so full of thick, beautifully golden hair.

"Where are you two going?, " Bea Hamilton asked, trying not to gawk at her daughter's abundant cleavage. "I don't really know...The only thing he would tell me was to wear a dinner dress," Autumn replied. Turning to leave the room, her mother murmured, "The only dinner he'll be hungry for tonight won't be on a plate!"

It was 5:45 PM when Autumn strolled out onto the front porch where her daddy was sitting. He was rocking in one of the big white rocking chairs, and reading a folded newspaper of some sort. When Autumn walked out the front door, he gave a long, admiring whistle. "My, my, daughter of mine...Where in the world are you off to?," he asked, rising from the chair. "Beau is coming, Daddy," she replied, "he told me to be ready to go to dinner." Her father looked her up and down, cocked his head toward the dress and remarked, "I am glad he' s a Navy SEAL...Looks like to me he is going to have to fight off half the young men of Atlanta tonight." "Oh Daddy!," she giggled, patting him on he chest.

They sat down in the rocking chairs and were talking when suddenly a car pulled into the driveway.

Neither of them could make out what kind of car it was at first. The network of magnolia limbs that lined the driveway were a source of camouflague for any automobile entering the Hamilton property. The closer, however, it inched toward the house the more obvious its shape became. Whoever this was, they were riding in one of the longest black limousines Autumn or her father had ever seen. "Would you look at that!," Rhett Hamilton exclaimed. The limousine pulled up into the circular part of the driveway in front of the house and stopped. The driver got out and walked to the rear limousine door. He opened the door and Beau got out - dressed in a black suit, a starched white shirt, and navy blue tie. At first, Autumn thought he was dressed in a tuxedo. He looked really sharp!

As she walked down the front steps with her father, Beau and the driver both bowed, almost on cue, and Beau said mockingly, "Your car, madame." He was grinning from ear to ear. "Please allow me to introduce you to our driver for the evening," he said, gesturing toward the chauffeur. "Autumn, meet my dear friend, Jeffrey," he said. When Autumn shook Jeffrey's hand, a strange feeling came over her. This guy looked VERY familiar. She couldn't exactly place him, but she KNEW she had seen that face before. Her curiosity began to mount.

Her father shook hands with Beau and Jeffrey and kissed Autumn's cheek, "Have a good time now, and you kids be careful," he said. She and Beau climbed in the back of limo, and Jeffrey proceeded to the front door. As they drove out of the driveway, Autumn's questions began. They came as rapid fire as the rounds from any machine gun that Beau had ever operated.

"WHERE did you get this limousine?...Where ARE you taking me?...Who IS this Jeffrey guy?...Where did you get THAT suit?...Is your mother OK?...How can you AFFORD this?...Come on, mister, OUT with it!," she chattered. Beau just laughed and said, "Missy, just sit back, have some champagne, and enjoy the ride." He poured them both a glass of champagne and toasted their evening, "To us, and to this evening, and to all things good in this world," Beau said.

As they sipped the campagne, Autumn continued to look around the inside of the limo, playing with the phone, the small refrigerator, and the power windows. She didn't even notice where they were going. She hadn't ridden in a limousine since she was a little girl. Her bubbly excitement and rabid curiousity were in a heated competition with each other. She could not sit still, and she could not stop talking. It was all so amusing to Beau.

When Autumn finally did settle down, she looked out the limousine window. "Where ARE we going, Beau?," she asked. It seemed to her that this chauffeur guy, Jeffrey, whom she still hadn't placed in her mind, sure was taking a long time in getting them to the restaurant. "Does this friend of yours know where he's going?," she blurted.

The champagne was starting to generate a slight buzz in Autumn's head. She seemed just a little too happy and a little too loud. Beau decided that they had better put the champagne away. He wanted his beautiful companion to be on her best behavior, and in the very best possible frame of mind, on this special night.

Sliding his powerful arm around her shoulder and pulling her close, Beau reassured Autumn, "Jeffrey knows exactly where he is going." He suggested that she put her head on his shoulder, close her eyes, and enjoy the ride. Beau put a cassette of the Eagles album, "Hotel California," in the limo's sound system player. It was his favorite, and Autumn's too. They sang along to, "New Kid In Town," "Life In The Fast Lane," and the other familiar cuts from that phenomenal album as the limo rolled along up I-75 toward the Tennessee line.

Beau kissed Autumn, held her tightly, and looked out the window - feeling so good about the surprise he had planned for the two of them once they finally got to Chattanooga.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 15"

The weeks that followed the afternoon with Beau went by like a whirlwind for Autumn Belle.

She finished the feature on George Decker and met Mrs. Sibley's deadline. Like any rookie journalist, she did not consider all the aspects of how the article would be received by her audience, nor how it would affect those mentioned in it. In the first draft, she had included Beau - highlighting his military service. Mrs. Sibley called her in and rebuked her for it. Her argument was two-fold.

First, this was a story about George Decker - not Autumn Belle's handsome new boyfriend. Second, publishing facts regarding the service record and M.O.S. (Military Occupational Specialty) of active duty personnel was strictly forbidden by the Atlanta newspapers, not to mention the Department of Defense. Mrs. Sibley explained the possibility of foreign agents being in America - and how they would delight in finding a Navy SEAL in their midst. Beau could easily be targeted by such people for covert acts of revenge or sabotage against the military. Autumn was quite shaken from hearing this. She had no idea how dangerous a military person's life could be, even when they were not on the battlefield.

Autumn and Beau spent almost every weekend together during that Fall. They did many different things which would later become cherished memories. There were motorcyle rides through the north Georgia mountains, Saturday afternoons at Stone Mountain, Friday nights riding the Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Over Georgia, high school football games, a hot fudge sundae at the Miss Georgia Ice Cream store in West End, and Sunday afternoon picnics at Piedmont Park.

Autumn found almost any excuse to go for breakfast or lunch at the Silver Skillet. Beau frequently sent out her order with a flower on the tray. In turn, he found perfumed notes and trinkets in his motorcycle helmet at the end of a day's work. It was during these special days that Autumn Belle Hamilton and Beau Jackson fell deeply in love with each other.

On Halloween, Beau and Autumn attended a costume party at her uncle's stately home in Social Circle. They went dressed as a married couple. Wearing oversized formal attire, Beau stuffed four pillows into the seat of his pants. Autumn wore an old fashioned dress with a bussell - complete with two large sofa pillows strapped to her derrier. They each wore a sign around their neck announcing themselves as, "The Butt-ners." The outfits won them first prize for Most-Original-Couple-Costume at the party. They were showered with laughs from their fellow party-goers.

By early November, the time came for the formal introductions to family.

The Hamilton's went first.

They hosted a Saturday afternoon barbecue, complete with a jazz ensemble and a big screen television. The TV was set up on the veranda and tuned to the annual Georgia-Florida football game. Between touchdowns, Beau charmed Autumn's parents - answering their many questions about his family and his Naval service. By day's end, Bea and Rhett Hamilton were greatly impressed with Beau, and he with them. They had money, true enough. But, the Hamilton's seemed very down to earth and easy to talk to. Beau felt very comfortable with them. They invited him to come back and visit their home any time.

Following dinner, he and Autumn spent the last few hours of daylight strolling through the sixty-plus acres of rolling pasture on the estate. Beau remarked to Autumn, as he looked around at the beauty she had grown up in, that one of his dreams was to own a place like this one day. She stopped short of suggesting that if they ever got married, a home and a farm like her family's was not totally out of the question. Autumn knew that one of her future wedding gifts would be a considerable trust fund established for her during infancy by her grandfather.

The very thought of "hearing" herself imagine such a thing caused Autumn to take yet another long look at her relationship with Beau. Was she ready for marriage? Only a few short weeks before, the answer to such a question would have been a resounding "no." She had previously been the epitome of a free-spirit, good-time, party girl. It was not at all like the Autumn Belle Hamilton of old to be thinking in terms of marriage.

However, that is exactly how she felt about this special man. And, the more she thought about it, the less it scared her.

On the following Saturday morning, Autumn climbed on the back of Beau's Harley and rode into downtown Atlanta with him. It was time to meet Beau's mother. His parents, James and Rosemary Jackson, met in elementary school. As childhood sweethearts, neither of them ever dated, or even kissed, another person. They married right out of high school, and spent most of the rest of their forty-five years of marriage traveling the world. As a Rear-Admiral's wife, Rose Jackson lived in many places. Her house was filled with pictures reflecting the years of her husband's distinguished Naval career. They had moved back to Atlanta when James retired. She was now bed-ridden in the same house where Beau's father had died just a few years before.

When Autumn shook Rose Jackson's hand for the first time, it felt so small and frail. She had just eaten breakfast. Beau sat on one side of the bed and Autumn on the other. Beau's mother was filled with questions about Autumn and her family. She seemed delighted to hear the details of Autumn's exciting life. Her eyes sparkeled with excitement as she listened.

When Autumn finished, Rose Jackson, pointing at the pictures surrounding them in the room, told Autumn the story of her own life. She humbly shared the names of the many foreign ports and Naval bases where she had lived. She told of all the foreign dignitaries she had met, and of all the women in other cultures she had known. With great sadness in her voice, she told of her elder son, Ron, and his death in a Vietnam ambush. She squeezed Autumn's hand tightly as she wiped the tears. The more Rose Jackson talked, the more Autumn came to realize what a great woman this was.

She had been a dedicated servant of her country and her family.

Autumn loved her almost immediately.

Toward the end of their visit, Beau walked out in the back yard to pick up some large limbs that had fallen off a pecan tree that towered over the back patio of his mother's home. When the back door closed and she was sure that Beau was beyond hearing distance, Mrs. Jackson pulled Autumn close and began to speak in a slow, hushed tone. "Please don't think I am trying to pry, or nose my way into your business...I always made it a rule not to interfere in my boy's lives unless they invited me to...I don't know how you feel about Beau...But, I can tell you that he has never talked to me about another girl the way he talks about you," she whispered.

"From the day he first saw you, I have heard about little else," Mrs. Jackson said, smiling at Autumn. "I don't know how you feel about my son...But, I need to tell you...He is a really good boy...He always has been...He is the strong, silent type in some ways, but very mischevious in others...He has been raised to tell the truth, to work hard, and to do right by everybody," she declared.

"It is going to be really hard on him when my time comes...He will be lost, at least at first...He has family, but only cousins, and they are not close at all...I know he will want to follow in his father's footsteps and make a career in the Navy...He will make a good husband...And, a great father...", she said, her voice trailing off.

It was obvious that she was running out of steam, and needed to rest. Autumn was about to release her hand and move to a nearby chair when Mrs. Jackson pulled her close a final time and said, "Be good to him...Stand by him and help him when I am gone, please..."

With tears in her own eyes, Autumn promised that she would honor Mrs. Jackson's request. Beau suddenly came back in the door and saw Autumn's tears. He went over to his mother's bedside and kissed her on the cheek. "Mama," he said, "I will be back in a little while...I am going to take Autumn home."

When Autumn reached to shake her hand and say good-bye, Mrs. Jackson winked at her, kissed her on the hand, and told her to come back and see her anytime - with or without a Navy SEAL as her escort. Autumn smiled and nodded, wiped away another tear, and walked out of the house in front of Beau.

"Your mother is one great lady," she said, squeezing Beau's hand. She glanced at him in time to see him wiping tears from his own eyes. "She's a peach," he said, trying to disguise his own sadness.

Beau's heart for his mother was so obvious. Beau was everything his mother had said he was, and much more.

Autumn loved him more than ever.

And, she knew, perhaps for the first time, that if Captain Beauregard Jackson did ever ask her to marry him, there was only one answer she would be able to give.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 14"

Autumn Belle had kept a diary since the third grade. An entire section of her closet was stacked to the ceiling with the books from each year. Her love for writing compelled her to make an entry at the end of each and every day. No matter the length of the entry, the lateness of the hour, or even how tired she might have been, Autumn wrote something in her diary before pillowing her head every single night.

As a holiday ritual, she would spend the days around Christmas reading her entries for the year. It was great fun to go back and re-live the previous months, and years, of her life. She secretly hoped that one day her writings, and her life, would become the subject of a novel or movie.

When she got home from the ride with Beau, Autumn sat with her family for a while in the living room. They watched a few minutes of television together, exchanging stories about the day's activities and small talk during the commercials. Afterward, she got up and walked into the kitchen, opened a small stack of mail and then headed upstairs. She showered, washed and dried her hair, and collapsed on the bed. As she lay there thinking about the day and her new "relationship" with Beau, she marveled at how everything had seemingly gone so fast between them.

Autumn wondered about their future together.

How long would his leave from the Navy last? How bad was his mother's cancer? When he finally went back to active duty, how long would he be gone, and where would the Navy send him?

Autumn had never cared this deeply for any guy. It was pretty scary. They were from such different backgrounds. The only "seals" she had ever known were housed at the Atlanta zoo. She had never personally known anyone serving in the military. Though she had learned a lot about Beau from her talk with George Decker, and from their one, brief, afternoon together, there was still a truckload of things about him that she didn't know.

"Whoa, girl," she thought, "this is not like you at all...No one is going to rush you into anything...Take your time...Find out everything you can before you give your heart to this guy...You've got plenty of time."

Nodding self-approval to such level-headedness, Autumn reached for her diary. She was SO tired, but also determined to write something about this important day.

She began the entry with the date and normal greeting, but the rest of the words did not come so easily. She lay there staring at the ceiling, trying to decide how to best express all that was in her head and heart. She thought of the flowers, the Silver Skillet, the things Mr. Decker told her, the night at her party when they first met, spilling the drink in his face, the motorcycle ride, the first kiss, and then the second kiss.

She thought about how good he looked in just a t-shirt and jeans. She thought about how good he felt next to her, and about what their first intimate encounter would be like.

There are some nights when sleep comes suddenly. It is easy to be oblivious to the moment when the body and mind succumb. Such was the case with Autumn on this unforgettable night.

When Rhett Hamilton walked by his daughter's room on his way to bed it was a few minutes past 1:00 AM. He saw Autumn's light still on through the partially opened door. He called to her but there was no answer. He went to check on her, and found Autumn still in her housecoat, lying on top of the covers. Her diary and pen still cradled in her hands.

He tip-toed over to the bed, just as he had done many times when she was a little girl, and covered Autumn's feet and legs with a blanket. He gently slipped the diary and pen from her hands. As he was closing it, he tried to resist the temptation to peek at what she had written. As he was about to place the diary on the desk beside her bed, Mr. Hamilton could not help but notice the entry...

"Wednesday, September 14th, 1977: Dear Diary...I think I am in love."

Though her entry surprised him, he managed to muffle an amused chuckle. He shook his head, smiled, closed the diary and quietly placed it on the desk. Rhett Hamilton took a long look at his beautiful, grown-up daughter. He was thankful that she was still living in their home. But, he sensed that her time there was quickly coming to an end. She was a woman now. Life had a lot in store for her.

In many ways, Autumn Belle would always be his little girl. She always had been. As he stood there by her bed, Rhett Hamilton's mind drifted back across the years. Father-Daughter picnics and dates, watching her cheer at high school football games, and just lying on the floor with her when she was three or four years old, on lazy Sunday afternoons - playing dolls and putting puzzles together.

Where had all the years gone?

All fathers face this moment in time. Life erases the sweet, precious days of childhood, and replaces them with other days. Days when a younger man appears on the doorstep - asking for a beloved daughter's life and heart. Fathers must adjust and get accustomed to this reality. No one ever asks if a father likes it, or if they are ever ready for it.

It just happens.

Rhett Hamilton was curious and anxious to know more about this new love interest of Autumn's.
Who was he? Who were his parents, and what about his upbringing? What were this young man's intentions? How had they met? How long had they known one another?

There would time enough for questions in the morning, he thought.

With that, Rhett Hamilton wiped the tears that had gathered in his eyes, turned off the lamp, and gently kissed Autumn on the forehead.

"Good night, sweetie," he whispered, "Your old daddy loves you."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 13"

The wind had a gentle hint of Fall as it whipped Beau's and Autumn's clothing. The big motorcycle engine felt powerful between their legs. Traffic was picking up in the afternoon rush hour. Autumn did not know where Beau was taking her, but it really didn't matter. Her Jaguar was safely at home in the garage. She had gotten one of her college friends from Agnes Scott to drop her at the Silver Skillet. Mrs. Sibley had been told that she was out pursuing the feature on George Decker. She was pursuing something, alright - and it did, at least, have something to do with Mr. Decker and his restaurant.

Beau got off I-85 near Duluth, and headed west toward Alpharetta on one of the many roads that jutted back and forth among the farms and still-rural areas of Gwinnett County. "I wonder if he knows where I live," Autumn whispered to herself. No matter. It was a beautiful day, and she was having a ball. Several miles off the interstate, Beau guided the motorcycle to a stop in the gravel parking lot of a small barbecue place known as, "The Pig & Jig." As he cut the engine off he turned and said, "I hope you're hungry, and I hope you like barbecue." "Yes to both," Autumn replied, taking off her helmet and straightening her hair. "I guess we have have some talking to do," he said, "this place makes great barbecue...They also have screened in picnic areas...Maybe we can get one of those all to ourselves." She smiled, took off her sunglasses, and replied, "Sounds great to me!"

The food was as good. They sat and ate, and talked, and ate, and talked until the dusk of evening had settled in. She told him about her life as a rich man's daughter. He shared his many experiences as a Navy SEAL. They finally got around to talking about the debutante ball, their initial meeting, and all the things that had transpired since. They each laughed as they shared their respective assumptions about one another.

Neither of them had ever felt this comfortable with a member of the opposite sex.

As the conversation wound down, Beau's countenance took on a seriousness.

"I don't know how much longer my mother has...Maybe weeks, maybe longer...Other than some distant relatives, she is all I have left in this world...I am here, unless something unforeseen comes up, until she...," Beau could not finish the sentence. Autumn could sense the emotion building up inside him. "When I do finally leave, I don't know where they'll send me or when I'll be back...But, until I go...I would really like it if we could see one another...Get to know one another...Have some fun...And see where this goes."

"Where DOES this go?," Autumn gushed, as she wiped her mouth with a paper towel. "Well," he continued, "maybe we'll develop a 'friendship'...I have never had a female friend before...To tell the truth, I have never really even had much of a real, what you would call, 'G-I-R-L-F-R-I-E-N-D,' before...Guess what I'm trying to say is that...I would really kind of like it if maybe you became my girlfriend somewhere down the line."

Autumn blushed. She had never blushed this much before. Through all the guys who had chased her in school, and even in her many romantic encounters in college, she had never allowed a guy to have this kind of effect on her. Beau Jackson seemed to know where all her buttons were - good and bad.

"Well," she said, "let's just concentrate on the, 'getting to know,' part, and the fun part, and the other part will take care of itself - IF this is meant to be." Beau smiled and affirmed, "Deal!" They shook hands. But, instead of ending the handshake, Beau held on, pulling Autumn's hand toward him, and lightly kissed it. Autumn blushed again. She had experienced many different guys, trying to kiss her many different times. One guy had even bitten her on the behind one night as a prank during a fraternity-sorority party. But, no one had ever kissed her so innocently and tenderly before. She could feel her heart pounding.

But, just as surprisingly, Beau did something to break the mood of the moment that she never dreamed he would do. As he released her hand, he playfully threw the remainder of his fountain Coke at her. "THAT'S what you get for spilling your drink in my face, Missy!," he said, jumping up from the table and running away from her - laughing heartily.

Autumn, dripping wet in the face and neck, suddenly flew mad. "Ooooooooh," she yelled. She jumped up from the table and began chasing Beau toward front door of the restaurant. "I am going to GET you for that, Beau Jackson," she screamed. They ran across the parking lot like two kids playing tag. Slipping several times on the loose gravel, Autumn finally gave up trying to catch him. She turned and walked back to the motorcycle, perching sideways on the seat. Beau came back waving a white handerchief. "I come in peace," he mockingly said. Autumn jerked the handerchief out of his hand and wiped the residue of the drink from her face, neck and tank top.

Beau patted her head and apologized for the mean prank. "I'm sorry, Miss Hamilton," he said, in a half-serious tone, "I just couldn't help myself...I've never thrown a drink in a girl's face before...I was OVERCOME with temptation...Can you ever forgive me?"

Autumn tried not to show the grin on her face, as she looked down at her feet. She threw the handkerchief back at Beau, pulled the helmet over her hair, slung her leg over the seat and said, "I'm ready to go home now." Beau, thinking that she was pouting, said nothing. He stuffed the wet handerchief in his jeans pocket, strapped on his helmet, fired up the Harley, and scratched out of the parking lot - slinging gravel everywhere.

They hadn't gone far down the road when Autumn saw an opportunity. Time to exact her revenge! Without warning, she dug her wiry fingernails into Beau's ribs and began tickling him for all she was worth. Beau almost wrecked the motorcycle. He flinched and turned hard to the right, crossing a shallow ditch and ending up in the yard of a farm house. He skillfully laid the Harley down on its side, killing the ignition at the same time. He and Autumn rolled off the big bike and onto the soft grass. Neither was hurt, and neither could suppress their laughter. Beau rolled toward her, took off his helmet, unbuckled hers, and tossed it away. The laughter ceased, their eyes met, and Beau kissed her. He brushed her long blonde hair away from her face and kissed her a second time.

It was THE most erotic moment of her life.

Beau got up and pulled Autumn to her feet. He picked up her helmet. Handing it to her he asked, "Are we even now?" She grabbed his hand, held it for a moment, kissed it and said, "NOW we are."

They both smiled, put on their helmets and got back on the motorcycle. The rest of the ride home was like the finale to a gooey love story. She hugged him tightly, laying her head, helmet and all, against his back. Beau kept the Harley at a very slow pace. Finally, they reached the long magnolia-lined driveway to Autumn's house. He DID know where she lived!

What a day! What a week!

Neither of them wanted it to end.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 12"

It had been a long day.

Beau was dog-tired from a day behind the grill at the Silver Skillet. It was one of those days in the food service industry that makes even those who love it long for a way out. Tons of orders, impossible-to-please patrons, utensils falling on the floor, the crashing sound of plates and dishes breaking, phone ringing off the hook, and everyone behind the counter screaming, rushing around, and in general lunch-rush tizzy.

To top it off, George Decker had been quiet as a church mouse all day, and seemed to be avoiding him. Not a word about the long, closed-door session with Autumn Hamilton the day before. When Beau asked him how it had gone, Mr. Decker just shrugged his shoulders and said, "How well could an afternoon with a reporter go?"

Beau Jackson smelled a rat, and it wasn't on the kitchen floor under his grill.

He had never given a woman flowers before - other than his mother. He had never gone so out-of-his-way to impress a female with his cooking. And, he had never asked of others the concessions and favors he had in trying to meet Autumn the night of her debutante ball. And yet, not a word from her. Then, she shows up at his place of employment twice in one day. The first time she drives off like a wild woman, and the second she bull-headedly resists him when he was just trying to do her a favor so she wouldn't have to stand in the lunch line.

He was tired, hot, aggravated, and talking to himself. "Well, if SHE thinks that I am going to crawl, that snotty little brat has another thing coming, " he murmured. As he cleaned the grill and prepared to leave for the day, he looked up at the large clock on the kitchen wall. It was just after 4:00 PM.

When Beau had finished his last round of cleaning, he strolled by George Decker's office and said that he was going to take a shower before heading out. In the early days of his ownership, Mr. Decker had renovated the Silver Skillet and had included the addition of a small efficiency "apartment" - complete with a full bath and shower. He sometimes spent the night there when the crush of business kept him late or required him to come in at an ungodly early hour. Beau sometimes used the shower before climbing on his Harley for the trip home. It always felt good to be clean and have one's body and clothes free of the smells that cooking over a hot grill all day would bring.

"Sounds like a plan," Mr. Decker replied.

The hot shower felt good to his tired body. He could not wait to get on that motorcycle and feel the breeze blowing hard against him. He slipped on a fresh t-shirt and jeans, tugged at his boots until they slid snugly against his aching feet, and grabbed his backpack and helmet. "See ya' tomorrow, boss," he said as he walked toward the back door of the restaurant. "Take it easy," Mr. Decker said, looking up from his money-counting long enough to wink at Beau, "good job today...See you in the morning." Beau locked the back door of the restaurant behind him, slid on his sunglasses and turned toward his motorcycle.

"Say mister, you know where a girl can bum a motorcycle ride?," a female voice asked. Beau looked up to see Autumn Belle sitting astride his giant Harley-Davidson. She was facing the back wheel of the bike, wearing a dark blue tank top, jeans, boots, and holding a motorcycle helmet in her hands.

Beau stopped dead in his tracks. "What the...?," he said. "Do you mean, sir, what am I doing sitting here on this big old bike, asking you for a ride?," she playfully asked. "Something like that," he replied, unable to hide the monstrous smile on his face. "Yesterday you couldn't stand me...Now, today you are sitting here on my motorcycle wanting to ride with me...I guess I am wondering why...What has changed?" he asked.

"Well," she continued, "a little bird told me that you were much better at driving a motorcycle than you are behind a grill...As an investigative journalist I just thought it might be good to find out if that little birdie was right." Grinning, she stood up, turned around toward the front of the bike, strapped on her helmet, and said, "Are you coming?"

Beau just shook his head.

He stuck the key in the ignition, put on his helmet, mounted the seat in front of Autumn, and cranked the motorcycle's mighty engine. As he revved it several times and backed out of the parking space, Autumn slid her arms around his rock-hard waist. She scooted up close to him and snuggled in for the ride. Beau deposited the kick-stand, put the bike in gear, and roared past the windows of the Silver Skillet toward the street.

As they waited for an opening in traffic, Autumn happened to glance toward the front door of the restaurant. There stood George Decker, beaming like an expectant father in a delivery room. He gave Autumn the "thumbs-up," which she quickly returned. Just then, above the roar of the engine, Beau loudly declared, "Hang on, Missy!" With that, he turned right on Fourteenth Street, punched the Harley into second gear, and headed toward the I-75/I-85 North on-ramp.

Autumn Bell took a deep breath and held on tight - thinking that she was in the for the ride of her life.

Captain Beauregard Jackson KNEW that he was already in the middle of his.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 11"

George Decker scratched his head and said to Autumn Belle, "Well, I have already told you WAY more about Beau than I have about anybody else who works here...If you want to know anything else about him, maybe you are talking to the wrong man." Autumn protested, "Oh no, Mr. Decker, I don't think he would ever tell me as much about himself as you would." Shaking his head, George replied, "Miss Hamilton, I am beginning to think that I was right about you." Autumn leaned forward and asked, "Exactly what does THAT mean?" "Well," he said, "I thought this interview was about ME...MY life...MY business...MY family...But now, all you seem interested in is Beau...Tell me that I am wrong!"

The jig was up. It was time to come clean. Autumn put her pen and pad down on the table and explained in detail her reasons for wanting to know so much about Mr. Decker's cook. Why was this decorated war hero a cook in a restaurant? Why wasn't he in the Secret Service or something? How does he account for his sudden and uninvited appearance at her debutante party? Why would he send her the bouquet of flowers? How did he know about the traffic ticket she was given by the State Trooper? How could he have so embarrassingly pulled her out of line when she came back to the Silver Skillet for lunch that day? And, where did he get off continuing to refer to her as, "Missy?"

Autumn strongly pleaded her case. She felt deserving of answers and explanations to these questions. This mysterious young man had suddenly marched into her life, made overtures that no stranger should make, and yet seemed to know much more about her than she did about him. Autumn pleaded, "If you were in my shoes, Mr. Decker, or if you were my father, wouldn't you be more than a little curious about all of this?"

George Decker smiled, slid his hands across the table and clasped Autumn's hands in his own. "OK," he said, "I will tell you what I know, but you CANNOT share with him that I told you these things...He is a very private person...I am only doing it because I think that you two kids might just need a little shove in each other's direction...So, here goes."

Mr. Decker explained that Beau worked for him because he loved to cook. He loved it so much, in fact, that owning his own gourmet restaurant at some point in the future was one of his life's dreams. He planned to come home to Atlanta and begin that process just as soon as his Navy days were done. When Beau came home on extended leave to be his Mom's caregiver, she would not allow him to sit every day at the foot of her bed - waiting for her to die. She insisted that he find something else to do during the day. She was being cared for by an in-home nurse, and argued that she did not need Beau in the house all day long.

He then came to Mr. Decker and asked if he could work for him, as an opportunity to gain restaurant experience and sharpen his culinary skills. "That's why he is my cook," affirmed Mr. Decker, "he is outstanding." "Why, he singlehandedly prepared the meal that you just enjoyed...And the dessert too...The rose on the platter was his touch as well" he said.

Autumn was suddenly VERY impressed.

Mr. Decker then revealed that Beau had actually been part of the staff of chefs that prepared the food for Autumn Belle's debutante ball. He had personally been in charge of several items on the menu including dessert. Autumn stopped him abruptly and declared, "But I SAW him as he was leaving the party...He was dressed in a dinner jacket...He wasn't dressed in a chef's outfit...How do you explain that?"

George Decker paused, took a long swallow of coffee, sat his cup down on the table and continued.

Beau had wanted to meet Autumn for a very long time. On one of his early trips home on break from the Naval Academy, he had attended a Woodward Academy football game with a childhood buddy of his. He saw Autumn that night for the first time, and was immediately taken with her. "He told me later that he couldn't take his eyes off of you the whole night," said Mr. Decker. The next day Beau began trying to find out more about her. He never approached Autumn directly, however, because he knew she was much younger than him. He suspected that her parents would not approve.

After graduation, his Naval service took him far away from Atlanta for a long period of time. He never forgot her, though. His leave to come home for his mother's care just happened to coincide with the time of Autumn's debutante ball. One morning at the Silver Skillet he read a short article in the newspaper about Autumn's party. He immediately went to Mr. Decker - asking if he knew Autumn's family.

One thing led to another.

George Decker began his match-making effort by calling Autumn's father and asking if Beau could accompany him as a guest at the ball. When Rhett Hamilton agreed, Beau then asked permission to help do some of the cooking as well. It was arranged that Beau would work with the culinary staff during the early stages of the ball, then shower and change in time to mingle with the guests. His hope was that somehow, someway he could be introduced to Autumn. He was fresh out of the kitchen and the showers, and on his way to find Mr. Decker to try and arrange that introduction, when Autumn accidentally stumbled into him and spilled her drink in his face.

As Mr. Decker was revealing these things, Autumn's mouth flew open wide with amazement. She looked like a young child on Christmas morning. She could not believe that all of this was going on behind the scenes. Beau was no longer offensive to her, but now seemed so very sweet and genuine. She patted her chest and took several deep breaths - trying desperately not to show signs of being totally overcome with shock and surprise.

Mr. Decker, however, was not through.

"When Beau saw you here in the parking lot this morning, he came in the door as excited as I have ever seen a young man in all my days, " Decker said, "and he immediately began preparing you a special breakfast....Then when you left so abruptly, he was heartbroken...He thought that maybe he had been the cause of you leaving...That's why he sent the flowers...That, and a call from one of his best friends who is a State Trooper...The one who stopped you on the interstate this morning...When Beau found out that you had gotten a ticket, he went across the street and ordered you those flowers...He felt SO bad!"

Autumn could not believe what she was hearing. It was almost like a fairy tale.

"Then, when he saw you out there in the lunch line, he couldn't bear to let you get away again...That's why he had me bring you in here...So he could cook lunch for you...Including the lemon icebox pie dessert...Which he found out from someone in your family was your all-time favorite...I'm telling you, Miss Hamilton...This young man has it bad for you...He has for a long time now...Reminds me of me and my Louise when we first met...Beau is an exceptional young fellow...He's going to make a name for himself in this town someday...And he'll make a darn fine husband too...If I were you, Miss Hamilton, I would go home tonight and think seriously about all of this," Mr. Decker concluded.

Autumn Belle could barely muster the words to reply. She thanked George Decker for his time, the interview, and all the revelations about Beau. As he walked her to her car, he repeated something he had said earlier. "Miss Hamilton," he advised, as he opened her car door, "please don't let on to him that I told you all of this...He's like a son to me...But, doggone it, he's just so shy...I knew that he would never tell you all of this himself...I knew I would have to step in and be the one..."

As the Jaguar door closed shut, Autumn cranked the engine and lowered the driver side window. "By the way," he said, "before you go, you need to know one more thing." Mr. Decker squeezed her arm and said, "The reason he calls you, 'Missy'...Well, that was his father's pet name for Beau's mother...Maybe he says that to you because you remind him of her...Or, maybe you remind him of how much his Daddy always loved his Mama...I don't know...Just guessing."

George Decker grinned and advised, "Don't be afraid of him, honey...You could do a lot worse."

With those words, George Decker patted her arm said goodbye. He turned and went back inside the Silver Skillet. Autumn took a handkerchief from her purse and boo-hooed. She had completely misjudged Beau Jackson. She sat with her car running for a long time as she stared teary-eyed into the instrument panel. What was she going to do now? Nothing like this had ever happened to her before. Should she go to Beau and tell him what she knew? Or should she just play it cool and see if he would make the next move?

For the first time in her life, Autumn Belle Hamilton had been utterly swept off her feet. She was totally confused. So consumed was she in her thoughts that the drive back to Alpharetta never even registered in her consciousness. She and the Jaguar were on auto-pilot the entire way. In some ways she was as lost as a little girl in a crowded department store.

The only thing she was sure of was that no one could have EVER made her believe that something like this would happen in her life.

It had truly been a day to remember - one she would tell her grandchildren about in years to come.

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 10"

"Beau Jackson is an outstanding young man!" With these words, George Decker began his description.

As he hung up the phone and sat back down, Mr. Decker slid his coffee cup to the side, folded his hands, and looked Autumn straight in the eye - almost as if he had taken the witness stand in a courtroom. "This is a young man like no other that I have personally known," he said. "He is the kind of young fellow that every father would want his daughter to find." Autumn could not help but smile.

George Decker told of Beau's heritage. His family had deep roots in the Old South, with an ancestral bloodline all the way back to the famous Confederate General, Stonewall Jackson. His father, who had been a classmate of George Decker's at Atlanta's O'Keefe High School, had been a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. Beau, himself, was a graduate of Annapolis, and had served four years active duty in the Navy. "A sailor?," Autumn interrupted, with a condescending tone. "Miss Hamilton, we're talking about someone who has served his country with distinction and bravery...Beauregard Jackson is a decorated Navy SEAL...Look that up in your encyclopedia when you get back to the newspaper and you will see that this young man is FAR more than someone who merely swabbed the deck of a ship," Mr. Decker replied, in a fatherly tone.

Autumn held up a finger. "Just to clarify," she said, "if this guy is such a hot-shot Navy war hero, then what in Pete's name is he doing behind a grill?...I mean, if he was all that great as a Navy man, what IS he doing here?" "Just hang on," George Decker counseled, "I am getting to that."

Mr. Decker explained that Beau was one of two children - both were boys. His older brother, Ron, himself a United States Marine, was killed in action in the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. Beau had wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was twelve years old. After finishing at the very top of his class at the Naval Academy, Beau went directly into SEAL training school, once again finishing as an honor graduate. "Please understand that this is THE most demanding and rigorous training in all of the United States military," Mr. Decker emphasized. Upon completion of SEAL training, Beau had been commissioned as a Captain and assigned to a SEAL detachment. He spent the next three years in highly classified operations off the coast of Southeast Asia and elsewhere. "The war in Vietnam did not end with the last Marine on that helicopter that flew off the top of the U.S. Embassy," Mr. Decker said, taking another sip of coffee.

"I won't bore you with a lot of details," he said, "but you do need to know that this young man was awarded two Navy Crosses for bravery and acts of valor in combat, and for performance of his duties as a Navy SEAL above and beyond the call of duty." Some servicemen, he explained, spend a career in the Navy or Marine Corps without achieving this sort of rcognition. "Beau Jackson is a true hero in every sense of that term," Mr. Decker affirmed.

Autumn had stopped making notes. She was now fully caught up in the story she was hearing. It was almost as if she was in a theater watching a Hollywood premier - hanging on every word and image.

Mr. Decker then shared that Beau's father retired from the Navy while Beau was still deployed overseas, and that he and Beau's mother moved back to the same Atlanta neighborhood where they had grown up. Beau's father became a breakfast regular at The Silver Skillet. Mr. Decker and Admiral Jackson spent many mornings solving the world's problems over coffee. Renewing their old high school friendship, they enjoyed just sitting, talking, and laughing in the back booth of the Silver Skillet.

Until, that is, Admiral Jackson died suddenly of a massive heart attack one cold November morning. Though Beau's mother was financially well off and didn't need to worry about getting a job, she eventually went to work as one of the waitresses at the Silver Skillet. Without a husband or sons at home for her to fuss over anymore, she enjoyed the atmosphere, as well as the interaction with the great patrons of the restaurant. It became her home away from home, and her customers became her extended family. She absolutely lived for coming to work every day. 

"Does she still work for you?," Autumn asked. George Decker dropped his head and was silent for several seconds. "About six months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer," he said, looking up from the table - his hazel eyes glazing over with tears. He continued, "She's been in treatment ever since...But now the cancer has spread...What we all feared and dreaded for her is coming to pass really fast now...Looks like it won't be much longer before she will have to go into hospice." Mr. Decker excused himself and stepped away to the restroom. While he was gone, Autumn sat and stared out the window. It occurred to her for the first time in her life how deeply people's lives touch others, and how powerful real-life stories can be. She could not wait to hear the rest of what Mr. Decker had to say.

He came back to the table much more composed. George shared with Autumn how Beau was able to persuade the Navy to grant him an extended shore leave so he could come home and care for his mother in her last days. Being a Rear Admiral's son, as well as a decorated war veteran, helped him with all the right strings that had to be pulled to get it done. Mr. Decker emphasized, however, "The ONLY reason Beau would ever use his privileged status would be for something monumental like this. He knew that his Mom needed him now - even more than his country."

It was dawning on Autumn that this was a young man supremely devoted to his country and his duty, and that the only thing that meant more to him was his family. "Miss Hamilton," he said, "please realize that Beau Jackson is not driven by his ego, nor is he inclined in any way to believe that he is deserving of any sort of special treatment or favor from anyone - for any reason."

"Wow!," was all that Autumn could say. She had never encountered people like this in her life - people who sacrificed and did things for others - merely for the sake of doing it. It was quite a departure from the self-centered "me" crowd that she had always ran with. But, in a strange sort of way, Beau's sacrificial life seemed greatly attractive and interesting to her.

"Please, tell me more, " she said.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 9"

Autumn's parents had remarked many times that whenever she was about to drop a bomb on someone, there were always warning signs. The sitting up straight, the clearing of the throat, and the coy smile were hints that something jaw-dropping was about to come forth.

Autumn explained to George Decker that her "orders" from Mrs. Sibley regarding this story required her to be as thorough and "investigative" as possible. This subtle aggression was also a sign of Autumn's nature. Whenever she was on the trail of something she wanted, she almost always managed to find a scapegoat. In this case, Mrs. Sibley would do just fine.

Flipping the pages of her notepad as though she was genuinely reviewing their conversation, Autumn said in a much-too-mater-of-fact tone, "Now let's see...Who is missing?...Oh yes, the employee of yours that was escorting me through the back door earlier...I don't think we discussed him yet...Did we?" Mr. Decker took a long, slow sip of his coffee and said, "No, I don't guess we did." With that there was a noticeable silence from his side of the table.

Autumn looked up from her pad, trying not to seem too anxious. "What do you want to know?," he asked. "Oh, the usual...His name...What he does around here...How long he's been with you...That sort of stuff," Autumn said, feigning innocence and readying her pen. Still, there was silence from George Decker. After a long second or two, he took yet another S-L-O-W sip of coffee.

"What IS he waiting on?," Autumn wondered to herself. Could it be THAT bad? Was there more to tell than Mr. Decker could reveal? Why was he hesitating? Maybe this fellow WAS a stalker or ex-convict of some kind. Maybe there was no good way of explaining who this Beau character truly was. Was he embarrassed? "Why doesn't he say SOMETHING?," she thought.

When Autumn looked up again, Mr. Decker had put his coffee cup on the table, and was sitting with his hands folded. He was grinning from ear to ear. "What?," Autumn asked.

"Miss Hamilton," he began, "before I answer, may I please ask YOU a question?" Autumn nodded - trying to hide the expression that she KNEW was on her face - that of a little girl who had just gotten caught stealing from the cookie jar. "Might it just be possible," he said - with a chuckle in his voice, "that HE is the fellow you came here to interview today instead of me?"

Autumn's face flushed. Was she THAT obvious and transparent? "Why, whatever do you mean by that?," she asked - in her best Scarlett O'Hara voice. Mr. Decker laughed heartily and shook his head. "Miss Hamilton," he began again, "if you want to meet my cook, why don't you just say so...I will go out and get him for you?"

Mr. Decker began sliding out of the booth as though he was headed for the kitchen. Autumn grabbed his arm and shook her head in a wildly animated fashion. "No, no, no," she said, "let's not bother him right now...I am sure he is busy cooking or cleaning up or something...I just need to know a couple of things about him anyway!"

George Decker got up and freshened his coffee, offered a refill of sweet tea for Autumn, and then sat back down. After another sip from his cup, Mr. Decker suggested to Autumn that she just sit back and relax. She got the distinct impression that whatever she was about to hear was going to take a while.

Her intuition was spot on.

After another brief period of silence, Mr. Decker said, "Hang on just a second," he said - winking and patting Autumn's hand, "I'll be right back." He got up, went over and opened the door, summoned one of his waitresses and said, "Miss Hamilton and I are going to be a while longer...Please make sure we are not disturbed." The waitress agreed and asked if they needed anything. Mr. Decker glanced toward Autumn. "No sir," she said, "I don't need anything except a quick trip to the ladies room." As she got up and walked through the kitchen toward the restroom, her pulsed quickened. She hoped that she wouldn't run into HIM.

The trip to the restroom was uneventful. Not many patrons were left in the outer dining room, and the workers in the kitchen were busily cleaning up. No sign of Beau Jackson. It was now a few minutes after 2:00 PM. As she came back into the room, Mr. Decker was on the phone. He motioned for Autumn to sit down. "I'll only be a minute," he whispered. She was certain that whatever she was about to hear was going to be significant. She swallowed a mouthful of the crushed ice left in her tea glass and anxiously waited. 

The long-awaited revelation of the mystery that was Mr. Beauregard Jackson was about to unfold. As nervous as she was, the excitement she felt was a lot like one of many movie premieres she had attended during her teen years.

Except for the fact that this was no movie.

Autumn Belle Hamilton's life was about to change - forever. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 8"

As she sipped the tea and savored each butte-filled bite of the croissants, Autumn gazed out the window at an ever-growing Atlanta skyline. She thought of how much the city had changed since she was a little girl. She remembered going to Hurt Park at Five-Points at the age of five and dancing barefoot in the big fountain there. She thought of the day that her parents took her to the Atlanta Zoo for the first time, and of all the Friday night high school football games she used to enjoy so much.

Growing up in Atlanta had been a sweet life for Autumn Belle Hamilton. Now, here she was with a career and a new, exciting life in front of her. She slowly scanned the many pictures of the couples on the dining room wall and thought about the romantic times each must have shared in this quaint little dining area. And, she couldn't help but wonder if SHE would ever find, "Mr. Right." Those few solitary minutes were like the scene from a movie. Autumn's thoughts filled with so many sentimentally charged images. She felt the tears as they began to fill her eyes.

Just then, George Decker came through the door with a stainless steel platter of food. Each dish was covered with a silver domed lid. The napkin folded on the side was linen, and the silverware was obviously a cut above the standard restaurant grade. In the middle of the platter was a single rose, lying on its side. Mr. Decker carefully placed the platter on the table in front of Autumn. "Here we go," he said, "I apologize for this taking so long...I hope you are still hungry after the croissants." Excusing himself as he hurried back to help with the rest of the lunch rush, Mr. Decker said, "Someone will check on you in a few minutes to see if you need more tea...I hope you enjoy the meal...I'll be back in a little while." With that, he disappeared through the door.

Not knowing quite what to say or do, Autumn began lifting the silver lids from the plates. Her expression was a lot like a child's at Christmas. On those plates was a feast of all her favorite foods - fried chicken, mashed potatoes, okra, peas, fresh garden corn, sweet pickles, and a mixture of onion rings and fried green tomatoes. Just like any young lady her age, Autumn had consumed her share of hamburgers, french fries, and other fast food. But, her real love was "down-home" southern cuisine. Her extended family used to kid her about her passion for "soul food," as her college dorm mates often called it. Her uncle John used to say that she was going to come back in her next life as a share-cropper's wife.

Autumn dove into the meal like a death-row inmate's "last supper." Her petite figure hid well the fact that there was a ravenous piglet underneath. In no time she had cleaned her plate - everything except the chicken bones. She was about to pop, and wondering how she was ever going to get her bloated little body out of that booth, when Mr. Decker came back in. He was carrying a dish laden with THE largest piece of homemade lemon icebox pie she had ever seen.

"How did you know about all my favorite dishes?," she asked. "Just lucky, I guess," he replied. "Here's another one of our specialties," he said, as he sat the large dish of pie in front of her. "I couldn't eat another bite," she protested. George Decker shook his head, picked up the fork, and as he placed it in her hand he said, "Now, Miss Hamilton, kings and queens have crossed continents, actors and actresses have delayed their love scenes, and politicians have forfeited elections just to get a piece of George Decker's famous lemon icebox pie...I just happen to know that it's one of your favorites...Take just one or two little bites for old man Decker...Would you please?"

As gorged as she felt, Autumn couldn't turn down such a charming plea. She forced herself to take the first bite. It was by far THE most delicious bite of pie she had ever tasted. She wound up wolfing down the entire piece. With a last gulp of sweet tea, Autumn felt more like a "fattening hog" than a young, twenty-something, hard-body. Though she tried with all her might, her most strenuous effort to suppress a hearty burp was unsuccessful. She barely got her mouth covered in time.

"That-a-girl," Mr. Decker chided, patting her on the shoulder.

Pouring himself a cup of coffee, George Decker slid into the seat opposite Autumn. He offered her a cup. It smelled heavenly. But, coffee was her morning drink, exclusively. Autumn pulled out her notebook, and said, "No sir, I will pass on the coffee, but may I sit here with you and chat a while?" He readily agreed. "Fire away, Miss Atlanta Journal," he said, leaning back in the booth.

For the next hour, George Decker talked about buying the Silver Skillet, and about the twenty plus years he had spent running it. He told stories about the scores of famous people he had hosted for a meal. He reminisced about his kids growing up, and about how they had resisted being made to work in the restaurant. He revealed to Autumn that he had actually been friends with her father for many years, and that they had even partnered on a short-lived business venture during that time.

He complained about the rising costs of doing business in Atlanta, and about how he loathed having Jimmy Carter in the White House. He willingly answered Autumn's questions about his personal and business life, and about his staff at the Silver Skillet. Mr. Decker bragged about two of his waitresses and their long tenure with him at the restaurant. He almost came to tears as he shared some of the highly-personal family struggles of one of his busboys. And, he lovingly recounted stories about some of his former staff members who had either retired or left the Silver Skillet to start their own businesses.

The one person that George Decker didn't seem to want to talk about was his cook. Autumn hinted several times in Beau Jackson's direction. When the interview slowed, she wondered aloud if they were forgetting someone, or some other detail about the Silver Skillet. George Decker shook his head, "No, I think that about covers everything that folks would want to know about this place," as he playfully winked at Autumn and sipped from the thick, white coffee cup.

Autumn Belle's little body was not the only thing being fed during her afternoon with George Decker. His hesitancy to reveal any details about Beau set a flame under Autumn's curiosity. She grew, by the second, more and more determined to find out at least SOMETHING about him. If George Decker thought he was going to get by Autumn Bell Hamilton without giving her the information she craved, he was gravely mistaken.

In a final gesture to get to the bottom of her mystery man, Autumn sat up straight in the booth, dabbed the linen tablecloth to the corners of her mouth, and looked George Decker straight in the eye. "Mr. Decker," she said, "there's just one other thing I'd like to ask you."

The moment of truth had come.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 7"

Autumn had no idea the Silver Skillet did such a great lunch business. When she arrived shortly after noon, every booth was full and there was a line out the door and into the parking lot. Being a young lady of privilege, Autumn Belle Hamilton had never waited in line for anything - ever! She was not about to start now - and especially not to get close to a guy she really didn't even know or like. She kept looking toward the front of the line to see if she could spot anyone she knew. "Maybe I can get up there and get a seat without having to wait," she thought. Her spike heel shoes were absolutely killing her tanned, well-manicured, little feet. She kept swaying back and forth, lifting one foot off the pavement, then another.

After about ten minutes of this, Autumn was more than ready to go back to her car. Suddenly, she heard a shrill, high-pitched whistle coming from the back side of the restaurant. "Pssst...Pssst!" She dared not look. No telling who this was. She did not like male cat-calls. They were trashy gestures designed to get a female's attention . "The nerve!," she thought, as the whistles persisted. Finally, she glanced out of the corner of her eye and saw Beau - standing at the back door of the restaurant. He waved at her to come over. Autumn snapped her head back toward the front of the line. She was not about to respond. Nor was she about to go anywhere near the back door of a tacky, greasy-spoon, restaurant. A whole line full of Atlanta business people was watching. Her social standing would be ruined.

Just then she felt a powerful hand wrap around her tiny arm and pull her out of the line. "Missy, how in this world am I ever gonna' get you past yourself?," Beau asked as he pulled Autumn out of the line and quickly toward the back door of the restaurant. "Just WHAT do you think you're doing?," she demanded. "I am JUST trying to take you inside another way...Unless, of course, you would rather stand out here all day in this line," Beau shot back.

"How did YOU know I was out here?," Autumn asked. "Never mind that," Beau said, "just quit being so stubborn and come with me." With her arm firmly locked in his powerful grasp, she leaned away from him in an exaggerated pose, She felt like a donkey being led into a stall. Coincidentally, the sound of her spike heels on the parking lot pavement resembled the clip-clop of a horse in a surrey harness.

Despite her continued protests, and the stares she was getting from the restaurant patrons, Beau kept pulling her toward the back door. She was just about to club him with her purse when George Decker appeared at the back door. "What are you doing out here?," he asked Beau. "I'm trying to get her to come in this way, " Beau answered. George Decker brushed Beau aside and took Autumn's arm. In a far more gentlemanly fashion, Mr. Decker gently patted Autumn on the forearm. "Come on, Miss Hamilton," he said, "I promise I won't bite."

Beau went back to work behind the grill. Autumn obediently followed Mr. Decker through the back door, and hurriedly through the maze of tables and counters filled with pots, pans, and cooking utensils. She had never seen the galley area of a restaurant before. The look on her face resembled that of a frightened child, almost as if she was being herded into a haunted house for the first time.

As they emerged through the giant double doors that separated the kitchen from the dining area, Autumn was abruptly shoved to the side by a waitress carrying an armful of plates and plastic glasses. "Coming through!," the waitress said. Autumn had never been treated with such utter disregard. "I'm sorry," George Decker said, "it gets a little crazy in here sometimes." Autumn gave the waitress a look that would pierce molten steel. Mr. Decker opened a large door that led away from the main dining room. "Come this way," he said. As the door shut behind them, Autumn was thoroughly surprised by what she saw.

She and Mr. Decker were standing in a small, private dining area. The pastel colored walls and the hospital-clean tiled floor was a stark contrast to the atmosphere of the main Silver Skillet dining room. There was only one booth. It sat next to a large picture window overlooking the rear of the parking lot. "Please, Miss Hamilton, take a seat here and one of our servers will be back in just a minute with something for you to drink...Do you like sweet tea?," Mr. Decker asked. Before she could answer, a waitress came in with a large glass of sweet tea and a plate stacked high with three hot, buttered croissants. They smelled heavenly.

As Autumn sat down, Mr. Decker turned to leave. "I'll be back in a sec," he said, "you just enjoy the tea and croissants and we'll have the rest of your food ready in a jiffy." "But, I haven't even ordered anything yet, "she said. George Decker winked and said, "The folks who are privileged enough to eat back here get the Silver Skillet gourmet dish of the day...I am sure you will like it." Both Mr. Decker and the waitress disappeared through the door.

As her emotions began to calm, Autumn Belle slipped off her heels and took a long, slow sip of the ice-cold tea. She pulled apart one of the steaming croissants and shoved half of it into her mouth. "Mmmmmmm," she purred. She had heard about the Silver Skillet's food. Rumor was that George Decker's little hole-in-the-wall eatery served some of the best food in Atlanta. This would be her chance to see if that reputation was true. She could write about the food, the secret dining room, AND George Decker.

"This might not turn out so bad after all," she whispered to herself.

The croissants were delicious. As she savored each bite, Autumn began to look around the small, hidden enclave. The walls, much like the front of the main dining area, were decorated with celebrity pictures - Roy Roger and Dale Evans, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and John & Jackie Kennedy to name a few. Suddenly it dawned on her what this room was. Autumn Belle was sitting in a private dining area for celebrity couples. This dining room's purpose was to give privacy to celebrities who didn't want to be bothered by autograph-seeking patrons. "Wow!," she said out loud. She had been allowed access to this special place without even asking. But why? She was all alone. She wasn't with a boyfriend or family member. No one knew she was even coming that day. Or, did they?

Autumn's curiosity was working overtime. "Something's up!," she thought, as she looked around the room shaking her head at the pictures, "and I am JUST the one to find out what it is!"