"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.

Monday, November 01, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 23"

It was 3:00 AM when the phone rang at the Hamilton home. "Wrong number," Autumn thought, as she turned over in bed. The phone went silent after about the third ring. One of her parents must have answered it.

In a few moments, Rhett Hamilton opened the door and slipped quietly into Autumn's room. He turned on the small lamp on the table in her sitting area. She felt her father's hand as he patted her on the back. "Sweetie, wake up," he softly whispered. She turned over and wiped her eyes and sat up in bed. Rhett Hamilton's expression was one of concern. He hugged Autumn and softly said, "That was Beau on the phone." Autumn flinched and pulled away from her father's embrace. "What?," she demanded. "It's his mother, baby, I'm afraid she's gone," he said, lowering his eyes in sadness. "Beau is at the hospital...He said not to wake you up...He just asked me to tell you whenever you woke up..."

Autumn jumped out of bed, threw on her housecoat, and ran to the bathroom. "What hospital, Daddy, where is he?," she asked as she hurriedly washed her face and applied some makeup. "He's at Crawford Long, baby," her father replied, "I don't know how long he will be there...There's no sense in you going down there tonight, Autumn, he may not even be there by the time you make the drive..." Rhett Hamilton could tell he was talking to a wall. Autumn threw on some jeans and a sweater, grabbed her keys and purse, and flew out of her room and down the stairs.

Tears ran down her face as she started the car and flew out of the driveway. A lifetime of thoughts raced through her mind as she drove. She thought about the sweet expression on Rose Jackson's face as they broke the news to her about the engagement. She cried even more as she thought about Beau, sitting at the hospital all alone. "He has nobody now but me," she whispered to herself. She thought about the wedding. Who would sit on Beau's side of the church now? Who would be, "his family?" Autumn looked at the shiny diamond on her left hand as she clutched the steering wheel. "I hope he still wants to marry me now that this has happened," she thought.

The trip to downtown was over in a flash. Autumn hoped that the valet parking normally available at Crawford Long was a twenty-four hour service. It wasn't. She had to park across the street in the near vacant visitor lot. She ran across the street without paying attention to the late night traffic, and was almost hit by an Atlanta police car. Out of breath from running, she could barely speak when she finally got to the emergency room desk. "The family of Rose Jackson," she huffed. The attendant looked over the roster of patients admitted that night, and hesitated. "Just a minute," she said, as she dialed an extension from the phone on the information desk. Autumn heard her ask if the family of Rose Jackson was still in the hospital. She hung up the phone and turned to Autumn, "I'm sorry Miss, but the family has already gone."

"I AM family," Autumn blurted, in almost a shouting tone. She burst into tears. "I've got to find her son, Beau," she said, "he is my fiance'," wiggling her ring finger in front of the attendant. "Just one moment," said the attendant, as she rose from the desk and disappeared through the large double doors leading into the emergency treatment area. In a few moments, she came back. Her countenance was not good. "Miss," she began, "Mrs. Jackson is deceased, and there is no one here...They said that her son left here about fifteen minutes ago...He probably went home."

Autumn turned and bolted out the door, running back to the Jaguar and screeching its tires as she left the parking lot. It took only about then minutes for her to reach the Jackson home. As she pulled in the driveway, the headlights of her car found him. Beau's motorcycle was parked in the small front yard, and there he was - sitting on the front steps of the house. Still in his leather jacket and jeans, he was leaned back against one of the modest columns of the front porch - looking up into the sky and cradling the motorcycle helmet in his arms. He looked like a lost little boy whose best friend had just deserted him.

Autumn ran to his side, slinging her keys on the lowest concrete step, and throwing her arms around his neck. "I am SO sorry, honey," she said, bursting into tears. Beau laid the helmet aside, and took her in his strong arms. He began to cry as well. "She really loved you," he said. "She was so happy for us," he continued, with a hollow emptiness in his voice, "she'll get to watch our wedding with Daddy now...Maybe that's how it should have been anyway."

Autumn couldn't think of anything else to say. She just knew that she loved this man with all her heart, and right now her heart was breaking for him.

They stayed out on that front porch, neither of them saying much of anything, and watched the sun finally begin to come up. "You want some coffee," Beau asked, breaking the long silence. "Sure, that sounds great," Autumn replied. They got up, stretched, hugged each other tightly, and went inside.

Rose Jackson had "chosen" her time to die. She held on for her Beau - until she was certain that he would be alright without her. Seeing him so happy with Autumn convinced her that her work was done, and she could finally let go of this world.

God is good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Autumn Belle - Chapter 22"

There are some things in this life that heaven just does not explain to mortals. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes says that in life, "there is a time to be born and a time to die."

The Good Book doesn't say why this is. It just IS.

Beau waited several days before he broke the news to his mother of the engagement. On Thanksgiving morning, Beau and Autumn enjoyed sharing the longstanding family tradition of a holiday breakfast with the Hamiltons. Then, they hurried to Beau's mother's home to prepare a late afternoon Thanksgiving dinner for her. When they walked in the front door, Rose Jackson could tell something was different about her son and Autumn. They seemed much more at ease and comfortable with each other then they had previously. Beau had asked Autumn to take off the engagement ring and keep it hidden until after they had eaten. She gladly complied.

Beau, with Autumn at his side, cooked a full course Thanksgiving meal that day. Turkey, ham, stuffing, dressing, cranberry sauce, peas, yeast rolls, squash casserole, green beans, giblet gravy, and his mother's favorite dessert, pecan pie. Beau's mother forced down a considerable plate full of the delicious food, seeming to enjoy every bite. Autumn and Beau could see her getting progressively weaker, however. The cancer was gaining steam. Beau wondered how much longer it would be.

After the dishes were done, Autumn slid the engagement ring on her finger. Beau kissed her, whispered his appreciation for her help with the meal, told her he loved her very much and led her into the living room. As they sat down next to the hospital bed, Beau took his mother's faintly tembling hand and slowly began his announcement. "Mom," he said, clearing his throat, "we have got something to tell you." He suddenly reached and took hold of Autumn's left hand, placing it in his mother's. "Mom," he continued, "I have some great news for you...You are going to have a daughter."

Rose Jackson's hand suddenly stopped its shaking. With her thumb, she rubbed the stone in the engagement ring. She pulled Autumn Bell close to her, lifting her hand so she could see the ring. Tears began to form in the corners of her eyes. Her lips slowly curved upward into a smile that brightened the entire room. She stared into Autumn's eyes, and then back at Beau. "I don't know what to say," she said, "except that I am so happy for both of you...I just wish your father was here...He would be so proud...We both always wanted a daughter, just to balance out our two knuckleheaded sons." Rose managed a wink as she squeezed Autumn's hand.

Autumn hugged Mrs. Jackson, and promised her that she would try to be a good wife to Beau. Rose nodded in agreement and replied, "I am sure that you will be perfect for him, Autumn...And, I hope he makes you very happy as well...The life of a serviceman can be tough on his family...He will need you to stand by him, especially when he has to go away...Don't worry...He'll always come home to you...And, you'll both fall in love all over again."

Autumn could not hold back her own tears. She hugged Beau's mother again, and told her that she loved her. This was another first in Autumn's life. She had never before told anyone outside of her own family that she loved them. It just seemed like the natural thing to do with Rose Jackson.

Beau drove Autumn back home. They had taken her Jaguar that morning from her parents' house as they made the trip into Atlanta. Beau was very quiet on the ride back. Autumn kept looking at the ring, thinking of Mrs. Jackson, and hoping that she would still be around when their wedding day finally came.

Beau didn't stay long at Autumn's. He was anxious to get back to his mother. They hugged and kissed for a few minutes on the stately front porch. Autumn watched until Beau's motorcycle lights faded in the distance. As she turned to walk in the house, she suddenly felt a warmth in her heart that had never been there before. Her future as a married person was beginning to fit her like a comfortable pair of shoes. She felt whole. She loved Beau. She felt so close to his mother. She thought about how she would respond to her own children one day as they announced their own engagement to her.

On this chilly November night, Autumn Belle Hamilton felt truly thankful. She had a blessed life, wonderful people and family all around her, and now - love. She had found a love more true than any she had ever imagined.

This truly seemed to be, "her time."

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.