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Green Beans and Puppy Love

Chapter 1
Jeremy Moore snapped a green bean and popped half of it in his mouth.
He glanced over in time to see Katy Walker cringe. He popped another in his mouth, exaggerating his enjoyment of it, never taking his eyes off her.
“Jeremy! That’s disgusting! How can you eat a raw green bean?”
“What? You’ve never tried one?”
“Eeww, no!”
“Don’t you know raw green beans have more vitamins? You kill most of the living cells when you cook them.” The corners of his lips twitched, but he held them in check. Why did he find such enjoyment in making her squirm?
“Well… yeah, but… they’re hard and green and… just nasty!”
He shrugged and popped another in his mouth.
“And besides, they’ve not been washed. Gross!”
“Aaah, come on, Katy-matey… the dirt just adds to my daily allowance of minerals.”
She shivered but clamped her mouth shut. With furrowed brows and pink creeping into her cheeks, she was so cute. She always blushed when he used his special nick-name for her. She pushed her petite glasses back in place on her pert little nose. Does she know how cute she is? Probably not.
She wasn’t like the girls he usually hung out with, but his mother was her mother’s best friend. And since Jeremy and his parents moved back to their hometown last summer, there had been a lot of hang time with Katy by default. Their mothers just had to do everything together and dragged them along in the process.
Katy glanced up and caught him studying her. “What?” The pink in her cheeks deepened.
He smiled and winked. “Nothing. Just checking out that new hair-do of yours. Something’s different but I haven’t figured out what yet.”
Her eyes bounced away. She shrugged and went back to snapping green beans.
“Wait! No pony-tail today, right? You know? I don’t think I’ve ever seen your hair down.” Her dark auburn hair draped nearly to her elbows in big loopy curls. He bit back the desire to reach out and touch it… see if it was as silky as it looked.
She glanced up and wiggled her splinted pinky finger at him. “Kind of hard to put this mass of hair up with a fractured finger.”
Mass of hair? His eyes flitted over her mane again. Wow! How did she manage to put all that on top of her head everyday? She started squirming under his scrutiny so he went back to snapping beans. He popped another in his mouth and heard her giggle.
He glanced up just in time to see her pop one in her mouth. His eyes went wide and she laughed again. She really had no idea how cute she was and that endeared her to him all the more. His smile grew and he popped another in his mouth.
She shrugged. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?” An impish grin lit her face and his heart lurched.
“Right.” Now it was his turn to try on a red hue.
He snapped his last green bean and moved his chair beside hers to help finish her last batch. A shy smile flitted across her face so fast he wondered if it was his hyper-imagination.
“All done.” He carried the buckets over to her mom’s summer kitchen. “Here you go, ladies. We’re finished.”
“Thanks, Jeremy!” His mom flashed him a smile.
“Why don’t you and Katy go sit and have some lemonade?” Her mom glanced up from the tub of jars she was preparing. “Or better yet… she probably won’t say anything to you, but she has some puppies in the barn she’s pretty proud of. I’m sure she’d love to show them to you if you ask.”
“Yes ma’am.” He backed out of the summer kitchen, crossed the yard, and stepped up onto the back screened porch. Katy had a glass of sweet tea poured for him. He smiled to think she knew he preferred it over lemon-aide. “Thanks, Kate.”
He took a long swig to wash down the all the very green beans he’d eaten. “I hear you have some new puppies.”
Her gaze swung to his, lit with excitement. His heart rammed his ribcage.
“I do! Would you like to see them?” The lilt in her voice tugged on his heartstrings and every coherent thought flew out of his head. He’d never asked her out… why? At the moment not a single reason came to mind.
“Sure.” He slugged done the remainder of his tea and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.
Katy shook her head, a secretive smile tugging at her lips.
“Nothing. Come on. They’re out in the barn.”
He stopped beside her, hands in his pockets, and took in the sight of the brown lab with her huddle of brown, blonde, and black pups. “Aren’t they sweet?”
He glanced to find awe stamped on her face. Not as sweet as you.
He cleared his throat. “Um… yeah.”
She knelt to scoop one into her hands and plant it in his arms. He fumbled at first, unsure of how to hold such a wriggling little thing. This city-bred boy had never held puppies before. It nearly jerked out of his hands, sending his heart into his throat.
“Woe there, little dude!”
Katy giggled. He glanced up and their eyes collided. For a moment he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t speak. She seemed to be just as mesmerized.
He cleared his throat and his mind. “W-what’s his name?”
Was that disappointment that flitted across her face? The light in her eyes seemed to dim, too. What’d he do wrong?
“We don’t usually name the puppies, but this one is mine. I named him Heath because his brown coat reminds me of the center of a heath bar.”
“Heath.” He looked at the puppy and grinned. “I like that. Hey there, Heath. How are you, buddy?”
Heath stamped paws on his chest and reached to lick his chin. Jeremy chuckled. Katy ran her hand down Heath’s back and murmured nonsensical words of endearment to the pup. She couldn’t get any sweeter than at that moment.
He handed the pup back. She nuzzled Heath and scratched behind his ears before returning him to his mother. When she stood and stepped back, she stumbled on a rake handle and Jeremy reached out to steady her.
She glanced up at him, still startled from the near fall. “Thanks. Tommy’s always leaving that thing lying around. Molly’s particular about her bed and pushes the hay right over it.” She wiggled her pinky at him. “That’s how I ended up with this. Last time I tripped over it, my pinky caught my fall.”
He caught her broken pinky hand in his and held it, careful not to hurt her. “You’d think Tommy would learn to not leave it laying there with you getting hurt.” Maybe he needed to have a word with her little brother.
She gave him a self-conscious shrug and fumbled for words. “It-it’s ok. That’s just Tommy and I know his habits. I need to learn to be more careful and not get distracted when I’m in here.
He smiled. “Distracted? What distracted you?”
She blushed full on and looked away.
He reached up to tip her chin and pinned her with his gaze. “I could go for some Blue Bell ice-cream. How about you? Want to head to The Parlor?”
Her eyes grew wide. “Blue Bell? Right now? Sure. I can eat it anytime. Day or night.”
“So, let’s go.” He took her hand and they stepped out of the barn.
What will the guys think when I walk into The Parlor hand in hand with Ellington High’s little ginger bookworm? He smiled.
“Want to share your little secret?” Wariness and puzzlement made the freckles on her nose dance. He itched to kiss every one of them, but his momma raised him to be a gentleman.
“Just wondering why we haven’t done this before.”
The smile that lit her face took his breath away. Oh yeah! He’d get a little ribbing from the guys, but she was so worth it!
            Katy poked her head in the summer kitchen door. “Mom, Jeremy wants to go get some Blue Bell ice-cream at The Parlor. Is that okay?”
            Her mom gave her a tired smile. “Sure, sweetie. That’s fine. Will you be back in time for dinner?” Her gaze flitted to Jeremy, eyebrows raised in question.
            “Dinner? Yeah, I think so. Need us to pick anything up while we’re in town?”
            The ladies looked at each other for a moment. “I can’t think of anything. Can you,” Jeremy’s mom asked.
            “I do need a few things from the store. Katy can you check the fridge and see how much milk is left. And see how much bread we have, too. I know I need some bacon and eggs. That should be all. Do you mind stopping by the store, Jeremy?”
            “Not at all.”
            “Oh! If you’d like soda with supper, pick up what you want.”
            “Yes ma’am.”
            “Thank you. Supper’s at six.”
            “We’ll be here.” Jeremy ducked out the door.
Shyness enveloped Katy. “Bye.” She glanced at her mom who nodded and winked. Mom understood her trepidation and that gave her courage to move past her shyness and venture out with Jeremy. This time of day, there would be a lot of teens hanging out at The Parlor. What would they think of seeing them together? She hated the thought of being an embarrassment to him.
Well, he’s the one who invited me. If he’s not worried about it why should I? Still. She hoped there wouldn’t be a scene.
A couple miles down the road, he glanced over at her. “You’re awfully quiet.”
She scrunched her brows and looked at him. “I’m always quiet.”
She loved the way he struggled to keep from smiling. He was always secretly laughing at her, but she didn’t mind. Maybe it was the tender light in his eyes that accompanied the laughter.
“Yes, but you’re even quieter than your normal quiet. You’re not embarrassed at the thought of being seen with me, are you?”
Her eyes went wide and her cheeks warmed. “What? Why would I be embarrassed to been seen with you? It’s you who should be embarrassed to be seen with me.”
            “Oooh. So that’s the deal. You’re worried the guys will heckle me.”
She turned to look unseeing out the window and shrugged. He didn’t understand what it was like to always be on the outside looking in. He was the basketball team captain and starting point guard. All the cheerleaders wanted a piece of him as well as every other girl in the school. So, why would he single her out?
“You are, aren’t you?”
“Of course. I mean, come on! It’s like Matthew McConaughey going out with the local librarian.”
He let out a belly laugh and she giggled as he reached over and took her hand. “Well, I’m not McConaughey, but if you’re the local librarian, you’re the cutest and sweetest librarian I’ve ever seen.”
Heat flooded her face all the way to the roots of her hair. He chuckled again. Oh, how she hated being a ginger! He squeezed her hand and she looked back at him.
“I may get some ribbing from the guys, but that’s just what guys do. Don’t take it personally, okay?”
She took a deep breath and blinked back tears that sprung to the corners or her eyes. He pulled her hand to his lips and surprised her with a kiss on the back of it. Her eyes went wide again and she couldn’t take them off his face. With his gaze turned back to the road, she studied his features, memorizing every nuance that made him Jeremy.
He glanced over and caught her staring. “Okay?”
She nodded. “Okay. I’ll try not to.”
He squeezed her hand again and then released it to turn into The Parlor parking lot. He got out and came around to help her out. Such a gentleman!
She smiled at him. “Thank you.” Her voice was soft, meant for his ears only.
He gave her a single nod and an intimate smile. He took her hand and led her inside. It didn’t take long for the clamoring teens to go quiet as everyone turned to look at them. Jeremy smiled and nodded to one friend after another as he led her to the line at the counter. He acted as if walking hand in hand with her was an everyday occurrence.
Her nerves hummed, but she refused to let anybody see how much they intimidated her. She kept a serene smile on her face and clung to Jeremy’s hand. When they reached the counter, he pulled her close and tucked his arm around her waist.
She crossed her arms, hugging herself, and leaned into him. Somehow his hand found hers and their fingers linked at her waist. His thoughtfulness touched her and gave her added strength.
“What would you like?”
Hmm… What did she want? Something liquid she could drink without threat of making a mess or her favorite caramel sundae?
“Anything you want. It’s my treat.”
She looked up into his pale blue eyes. The tenderness pouring from them took her breath away. She stiffened her legs. She refused to let her knees buckle! That would be too humiliating.
“Th-thanks.” Her voice came out just above a whisper. She cleared her throat. “I think I’ll take a caramel sundae with peanuts and whipped cream.”
He grinned and squeezed her hand. “No chocolate malt today, huh?”
She returned his smile and could feel her eyes sparkling. “Not this time.”
            He raised his brows. “Not this time?” He bent toward her ear and whispered. “I like the sound of that.”
            Heat flooded her face and she ducked her head. She hadn’t meant to insinuate there’d be another. He chuckled and hugged her against his side before they stepped up to the counter. By this time the noise level had raised some with fewer eyes burning a path their way. Jeremy gave the order and let go of her to pull money out of his wallet.
Guilt nipped at her. She should pay for her own. She wasn’t used to having a friend pay. She shoved the thoughts away. Jeremy wanted to do this for her. He’d made that clear, so who was she to insist otherwise?
They stepped to the end of the counter to pick up their order and then turned to find a seat. “This way.” He walked right past several more of his buddies, saying ‘hey,’ and throwing comments back and forth when someone finally braved expressing their thoughts.
“So, Moore. Got yourself a hot little date, I see.”
Everyone laughed as though he’d just told the funniest joke of the year.
Jeremy winked and grinned from ear to ear. “You better believe it. And I plan to have her all to myself.” He led her to a table for two in the corner by the window front as cat calls and whistles flooded The Parlor.
Katy kept her head bent enough for her hair to hide her red face as she followed him. At least she hoped no one could see her embarrassment.
Jeremy set their treats on the table and pulled out a chair for her – the one facing away from the crowd. How thoughtful of him! He sat across from her and smiled. She kept waiting for his eyes to rove around the room, but they never left their table. It was as if he enjoyed being with her. A thrill shot through her and she relaxed for the first time since he suggested the outing.
Before long they were finishing their treats and ready to head for the grocery store.
“So. Dragging Miss Goody-goody to town with you, I see. What? Did your mom dump her on you again?” Charity Knight, the head cheerleader, was known to have a crush on Jeremy. She was also known to be anything but charitable.
Her words squeezed Katy’s chest until she could barely breathe.
Jeremy stiffened. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I asked her mom’s permission to take her out.” He looked at Katy and grinned. “Our first date.”
Air whooshed from her lungs and then caught again. Was it really their first date? Her eyes locked with his. Sincerity and admiration emanated from his gaze. She almost forgot Charity was there. Almost.
Charity snorted. “Yeah. Right. Well, whatever. I’ll see you later.” She turned and flounced off, swinging her hips in a way that caught every male eye in the place. Everyone’s except Jeremy’s, that is.
“Ready to head to the store?”
He guided her out of the Parlor with his hand tucked around her waist. She pushed the dainty glasses up on her nose. What on earth did he see in her? She couldn’t imagine.
If Charity were a guy, she would’ve landed on her backside. Now, he just wanted to get Katy out of there. What had he been thinking? He didn’t want her hurt.
“Are you sorry for taking me?” She asked as he pulled into the store parking lot.
His head snapped toward her. “What? No. I’m not sorry for taking you. I’m sorry you were treated so badly.”
Her smile spelled sympathy and he wondered why she would feel it for him. “You probably don’t realize this, but I’m used to that kind of treatment, Jeremy. It’s the norm for me. But it was nice to have you there to stand up for me.”
A light came into her eyes he hadn’t seen before. What did it mean? He wasn’t sure. He just knew he really wanted to kiss her. He trailed his fingertips down her cheek and took a deep breath before he hopped out to open the passenger door for her.
Groceries. That should take his mind of her sweet lips.
It didn’t take long to grab the few items her mom requested and they were on their way home. When they found their mothers busy in the kitchen, they were shooed out the back door as fast as they had come in.
“You’re half an hour early. Go take a walk down to the creek and back. Supper should be ready when you return.”
The moment they stepped out the back door, Jeremy took her hand and led her across the yard. They walked in companionable silence all the way to the creek. When they stopped at the stream, he took her hands and turned her toward him.
She smiled, a blush climbing her cheeks. “Yes?”
“I meant what I said. At The Parlor. I… I did think of it as a date, but after I said it I was afraid you might think otherwise. I hope… I didn’t…”
She stepped closer and gazed up into his face. His breath caught and all he wanted to do was take that beautiful face in his hands and kiss her.
“To be honest, I didn’t realize it was a date until you told Charity so. I was glad to hear it.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why you’d be interested in me. Maybe since we spend so much time together, you’ve just become comfortable with me. I don’t know.”
            “And what’s wrong with comfortable?”
She scrunched her pretty little nose. “Well. Comfortable is good. But shouldn’t there be more to it than that for you to want to date me?”
He couldn’t hide his grin. “But there is more, Katy-matey. There’s the comfortableness of friendship between us, but there’s also… something more.”
The puzzled look on her face tugged at his heart. He slid his hands up her arms and gently squeezed her shoulders.
“And that something is anything but comfortable. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Her face filled with innocent wonder as she searched his eyes. “Oooh…” Her voice was but a whisper. “I thought I was the only one feeling that.”
Shock ricocheted up his spine. “Oh, no. I feel it. Believe me, I feel it.” Before he could stop himself, he lowered his head and touched his lips to hers.
She didn’t move. Regret poured through him and he started to pull away when suddenly she seemed to come alive. It wasn’t a long kiss. It wasn’t a passionate kiss. It was a kiss that held promise. A promise that someday, just maybe she would be his.
When they pulled away, he glimpsed her dreamy eyes before wrapped her in an embrace. “Katy.”
“Will you be my girl?”
She looked up at him and her eyes clouded. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
His heart sank. “You… you don’t want to be my girl?” His arms dropped away and he stepped back. Had he read her wrong? But she just kissed him back. After agreeing there was something special between them.”
“No, Jeremy. It’s not that.” Her eyes glistened as she reached out as if to touch him and then pulled back.
“Then what?”
A tear trickled down her cheek. “It won’t last. I’ll never be accepted by your friends. They’ll resent me and soon you’ll come to resent me, too.”
Stunned, he stared at her, his mouth hanging half open. “So you… you won’t even…” He released a shuddering breath. “So it’s a no, then.”
Katy wrapped her arms around her waist as if to protect herself.
He shook his head and pressed his palm over the sudden pain in his chest. Did she really think he was that shallow?

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