The Fable of Us will forever hold a special place in my heart as one of the most compelling love stories I have ever read. A second chance romance between two people from opposite sides of the tracks, I simply couldn’t get enough of these characters, and I was not beyond begging the author for an epilogue. I needed more of Clara and Boone, I needed a small peek into their future, and that is exactly what Nicole Williams has given us. I am so honoured to be able to share with you a never-seen-before bonus epilogue, written exclusively for Natasha is a Book Junkie and for every single reader who fell in love with this magnificent story as much as I have.
Sometimes love just needs a second chance.
I’d spent a lot of time thinking about that lately. Second chances. How some people don’t believe in them, which seems like a heck of a lot of nonsense since I have yet to meet that perfect human being who’s never made a mistake. How some people use and abuse their second and third and so on chances. How some people use them as a chance to allow someone to hurt them again and fail to see them for what they really are—an opportunity.
An opportunity to get things right. To make things right. To do it right when you did it wrong before.
Second chances. Whether they’re for the weak or strong, I knew one thing—they’re for Boone and me.
We wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity to get us right without believing in second chances. We wouldn’t have stayed together if we didn’t continue to believe in and hand out second chances. They made our world go round.
That’s what I reminded myself of as the Southern summer sun beat down on me like it wouldn’t be content until I’d melted.
“Miss Clara, I thought tomatoes grew on trees.”
I wiped my forehead and grinned at Margaret, who was struggling to lift an overloaded basket of tomatoes.
“Well, now you’re in the know,” I said as I plucked another bulky tomato from the vine.
“They’re so big and heavy though. Apples don’t grow on vines. Neither do oranges . . .” Margaret’s forehead wrinkled like she was concentrating. “Do they?”
The look on her face made me laugh. “You’re right. Apples and oranges do grow on trees.”
“Then why don’t tomatoes?” Margaret lifted a tomato in front of her eyes and turned it around in her hand. It was half the size of an eight-year-old’s face.
“Because the vine’s strong enough to hold it. Because the vine’s a lot stronger than it looks. Because tomatoes belong on vines, not on branches.” I twisted another tomato free from the vine. “Besides, if it falls, it doesn’t have so far to go. It has a better chance of surviving the fall than an orange or apple does.”
When Margaret didn’t respond, I glanced in her direction.
Her mouth was kind of hanging open, and she was staring at me. “You and Mr. Boone sure talk strange sometimes.”
I laughed and wiped my forehead off again. It was blistering hot out—not that it ever wasn’t in August in Charleston. “Yeah, we kind of do, don’t we?”
Margaret tried lifting the brimming basket again and made it a solid inch off the ground before it crashed back into the dirt. “Are we really going to use all of these tomatoes to make sauce?”
I plucked one last tomato from the vine and placed it in my own basket before rising. “We really are. You’re going to stay for dinner, right?”
As I headed for the wheelbarrow to load our baskets into it, I noticed Margaret gnawing at her lip. It was something I’d gotten used to with the kids who came to the kids’ center. Lip biting, twisting around in place, eyes dropping to the floor . . .
“You know what? Why don’t we pack up a few boxes so you can take some dinner home for your mom and brother too? How does that sound?” I rolled the wheelbarrow through the rich soil and stopped beside Margaret’s basket.
She nodded, and every last one of the wild curls on her head bounced. “They really like spaghetti.”
“Then we better send extra.” I winked and grabbed one handle of her basket, waiting for her to grab the other.
When her little fingers curled around the handle, she took a wide stance and her shoulders swallowed her neck when she lifted. Margaret was small by a kindergartener’s standards, but the little girl was tough. When I pulled on my handle, it took me a half second to discover just how heavy the basket was.
“Dang, those vines really must be strong,” I said after we managed to wrestle the basket into the wheelbarrow. One down, one more to go.
“Stronger than they look.” Margaret wiped her hands on her faded jeans as I rolled the wheelbarrow to the other basket.
I smiled at her as we positioned around my basket. “My thought exactly.”
Mine didn’t feel as loaded down as Margaret’s, or maybe I was better prepared for it. From the feel of it, we’d probably picked close to a hundred pounds of tomatoes, but when you fed as many mouths a day as this place did, you went through hundreds of pounds of produce on a regular basis.
That was one of the huge benefits of having a garden as large and abundant as this one. Well, the other huge benefit was that I finally had my own garden, because our place back in California had a yard the size of a laundry room. Thankfully, it was a short walk to the beach.
“When are you and Mr. Boone leaving this time?” Margaret dropped her hand onto the lip of the wheelbarrow as I wheeled it out of the garden. It was so heavy and the soil so dense, I felt like I was getting my lower body workout for the rest of my life.
“First thing tomorrow morning.” I grunted as we kept maneuvering toward the gate door.
“So that means you’ll be back in time for my birthday,” she announced, jogging toward the gate.
She had to jump a few times to unhook the latch, but she kept at it until she got it. That was one of the things I admired about the kids at the center—they didn’t give up. Every time I saw one of them just keep at it, refusing to give up, I was reminded of how Boone’s mission—instilling in these kids that they deserved the best life had to offer too—was being realized.
“That means we’ll be back in time.” I paused outside the gate to wait for her, and she closed the gate carefully, almost like she was trying not to wake the sleeping fairies half the kids were convinced live inside the garden.
“Don’t you ever get sick of all that flying back and forth?” Margaret jogged up beside me and rested her hand on the wheelbarrow again.
“All the time.”
“Then why do you keep doing it?”
“Because we’ve got lives we love here and back in California. A little travel time’s a small price to pay for that.”
Margaret waved at a few kids running up the center’s front steps. Word spread quickly when homemade spaghetti was on the menu. “I guess so. But I wish you guys could stay here all the time.”
“Sometimes so do I,” I said, thinking about the long days and headaches that came with an ever-expanding company. Then I thought about the headaches that came with being a twenty-minute drive away from Boone’s and my families. “And sometimes I’m really grateful I get to call two places home.”
“But I thought only one spot could be your home.”
“Home is where your family is. It’s where you make it.” When the wheelbarrow bounced over a mound, a couple of tomatoes bounced out, but Margaret saved them. “It’s not so much a place but a feeling. At least that’s what I think.”
She set the escaped tomatoes carefully back into the baskets. “Yeah, I guess so. As long as I have Mom and Gabe with me, I guess that’s what’s most important.”
When we reached the stairs leading up to the entrance, I set the wheelbarrow down to catch my breath. I could roll it up the access ramp or I could try lugging the baskets inside, but I was done. Besides, since Boone could pick me up and carry me to whichever room, surface, or wall he had in mind, he could wrangle a couple of baskets of tomatoes no problem.
“Ready for some air conditioning?” I asked as we started up the stairs.
She shrugged like the heat wasn’t about to blister the skin on my forearms.
“Ready to watch Mr. Boone’s attempts at cooking pasta then?” I nudged her.
A smile took up half her face. “Last time he cooked dinner, he chopped off the tip of his finger when he was slicing up the lettuce. You remember that?”
I winced at the memory, hoping no one in the kitchen gave him a knife today. Even though he was just showing the kids how to boil pasta, Boone could always find some reason to need a knife. “Yeah. I do remember. Every time I have to look at that Frankenstein finger of his.”
Margaret giggled and tugged the door open for us. “Frankenstein finger. It does kinda look like that.”
When I waved her inside, I noticed how dirty I was. My forearms were streaked in dirt and my hands were pretty much caked in it. Well, I’d wanted a garden . . . and I was getting the whole gardening experience to go with it.
Margaret had already disappeared down the hall into the dining room before the door closed behind me. I sighed when the rush of cool air washed over me. After giving myself a moment to catch my breath, I was about to head into the bathroom to wash my hands, arms, elbows, etc., when I heard Boone’s booming voice echoing into the hall.
It was interrupted by an explosion of laughter. So either he was demonstrating how to have a food fight with cooked pasta or the whole pot had just boiled over. Boone was skilled in a bunch of ways from the bedroom to the garage, but the kitchen . . . it wasn’t exactly his calling. Not that that stopped him from trying.
As I wandered down the hall, the laughter didn’t dull. When I paused just outside the door, I saw why. Of course. What kid wouldn’t laugh when an adult was throwing different kinds of pasta at a wall?
“You see, I was always told that if the pasta sticks to the wall, that’s when it’s done.” Boone pulled a string of fettuccine from one of the colanders in front of him and fired it at the wall like he was pitching a no-hitter for the World Series.
The laughter spiked in volume. I checked over my shoulder, listening. It was a miracle someone hadn’t woken up with all of the noise.
The fettuccine noodle splatted against the wall before plopping onto the floor. No wonder the cleaning bills for the center were so high—a giant child was in charge.
“But any Italian will tell you that if your noodle sticks to the wall, you’ve overcooked your pasta. You want it al dente.” Boone circled his hand in the air, grabbing for what looked like a piece of bowtie pasta from another colander.
The kids knew what to do with the circling hand. “Al dente,” they repeated.
“That’s right. Al dente. It means it’s still firm to the bite. Not mush. No mushy noodles please.”
From just outside the door, I watched him talking like he was a first-generation Italian from the amount of pride he obviously took in his noodle cooking. Boone was Scandinavian-German.
The bowtie pasta actually bounced off of the wall when it hit. Boone clapped and threw his hands up like he’d just scored a touchdown. The kids cheered too.
He was just reaching for some other type of noodle when he stopped and glanced at the hall like someone had just called his name. When he saw me there, leaning into the doorway, he smiled.
“I’m going to let Miss Steph take over and let you all try some pasta,” he announced, wiping his hands off with a towel. “We’ll make the sauce and meatballs next. Don’t forget to wash your hands.”
The kids groaned collectively as Boone moved through the dining room toward me. We hadn’t seen each other since this morning thanks to busy schedules and running two businesses, but he was coming toward me like we’d been separated for months instead of hours.
I kind of loved that though—that being separated for half a day was like a practice in torture for him.
“Do I need to wash my hands too?” I lifted my arms as he moved closer.
His head shook, the smile shifting higher on one side. “I like it when you’re all dirty like that.”
I twisted my arms, inspecting them. “This is more along the lines of filthy though.”
His arm looped around my waist as he pulled me down the hall. “Even better.”
I checked over my shoulder to make sure Miss Steph was picking up the pasta demonstration, but I’d barely caught a glimpse of her before Boone pulled me into the office and slammed the door. I heard the lock click closed.
“Boone . . .” I said, but it wasn’t exactly a warning with my hands already skimming up his shirt as he backed me into the door.
“What?” He didn’t stop moving me against the door until his body was hard against mine. “I just want to kiss you.”
“Then why did you throw me into the office and lock the door?”
“Because I want to kiss you in a way that isn’t exactly kid-appropriate.”
“No, what you want to do isn’t kissing.” I tipped my hips against his. It wasn’t just kissing he had in mind.
His eyes darkened when I slid my hips against him again. “It starts out with kissing.”
My tone must have finally gotten through to him because he scrubbed his face with one hand and leaned back. A little. “Fine, I get it. Later.” He leaned back a little more. “I just want to kiss you.”
“You want to kiss me now. We do that, my shorts are going to end up around my ankles and you’re going to have me doing acrobatics against this door.” I lift an eyebrow at him when his gaze drops to my ankles like he’s already picturing it. I snap my fingers in front of him a few times. “I can hear your indecent thoughts, they’re so loud. Keep it down.”
Boone scrubbed his face again. “Easy there, Mrs. Cavanaugh. This is a kids’ center. Let’s keep it PG.”
I bit my lip to keep from smiling. “But I thought your version of PG, Mr. Cavanaugh, was when I gave myself pigtails and put on a plaid skirt.”
This time, my body pressed into his as I lifted my left hand in front of him. It was the same ring he’d bought for me when we were seventeen. He wanted to get me something bigger, something better, but there wasn’t anything better than this one.
“Clara, you’re not making this easy . . .”
“No, I’m not.” I shoved off the door when he started to back up—he’d pulled me in here and started it. I slid one hand around his neck, and the other went in the opposite direction. “I’m making it very . . . very . . . hard.”
When my hand curled around him, his eyes closed like he was in heaven at the same time his jaw clenched like he was in hell.
“Kids’ center,” he repeated to himself like it was a mantra.
I let him repeat it a half dozen times before I released him and backed up. I thought my point had been made.
“Kids’ center,” I said with him the last time as I crossed my arms. “My thoughts exactly.”
Boone knew what I was getting at. He lifted his hands like he was trying to prove his innocence. “Fine. But that was only after-hours when the place was empty.”
I crossed my arms a little tighter and glanced at his desk.
He grinned at the spot I was staring at. “Or before-hours when the place was empty yet again.” When he checked his watch, his forehead creased. “So with the center being open until eight tonight, I’ve got five long hours to make it through before . . .”
I cleared my throat. “And hopefully you didn’t forget about the big family dinner we’re expected at tonight. You know, the one with your family, my family, us.” I waved my finger between us.
Boone groaned and backed into the wall behind him. “Fuck me.”
I tried not to smile, but he was kind of cute when he was so desperate to get laid. “Don’t worry. I will. Later. You’ll just have to be patient.”
“I’m not good at patient. I like instant gratification.”
“You waited for me for seven years. I think you’re good at patient.”
“Exactly. I’m burned out on patient. I want you now, here, with that shorts-ankles-acrobatic thing you were talking about.”
With the way he was looking at me, I was the one looking at that door and picturing it.
That was when we were interrupted. Not by someone knocking on the door needing something. Or the phone ringing with someone else needing something. But by a familiar sound that was half cry, half giggle.
Boone slipped the monitor off of his belt and checked the screen, but I was already moving for the little room Boone had added to the office last year when a couple of pink lines had changed our whole world.
“Someone’s awake,” I cooed, grabbing a hand-towel and scrubbing away most of the dirt from my hands and arms.
“Someone knew Daddy was trying to get some of Mommy’s attention.”
“He doesn’t like to share me,” I said as I opened the door and slipped inside.
“He’s his father’s son. Of course he doesn’t.” Boone followed me into the little room. It was only big enough for a crib, a chair, and a changing table, but we could all fit inside at one time, so it was perfect for us.
Now that he’d heard our voices, our son was trying to pull himself up by using the bars of the crib, but his little legs weren’t quite strong enough yet. When he plopped back down, he giggled like it was the best thing ever.
When I reached into the crib for him, he reached for me at the same time. “Did you want to throw wet noodles at walls too?”
He answered by flapping his arms in excitement. He kept doing it even after I picked him up.
“Since my attempts at distraction blew up in my face, I could use my right-hand-man to help me with the noodle throwing.” When Boone moved up beside us, his face got in the way of a little thrusting arm. “And he’s clearly got one heck of an arm already. I’m signing him up for the pros.”
He popped his jaw a couple of times before cupping our son’s little hand and bringing it to his mouth. Boone breathed him in a few times, his eyes closing, then he kissed that little hand before letting it go.
James was almost six months old, but I still hadn’t gotten used to the way Boone was with him. So gentle, so protective . . . he might have been an even better dad than he was a husband. And he was one hell of a husband.
I looked at the ceiling to blink away the tears before they even thought about cropping up, and I bounced James as he continued to flap his arms around like he was trying to teach himself to fly. When Boone moved closer and slung an arm behind my shoulder, James turned his flaps onto his dad’s arm.
“James Abbot Cavanaugh, we’ve got to sit down and have a talk about sharing.” Boone crouched so he was looking at his son face to face. The serious expression on their faces had me chewing on my lip to keep from laughing. “Specifically, sharing the woman who’s holding you. I know she’s your mom and everything, but she was mine first.”
James’s response was dropping his head onto my chest and stretching his arms across me.
“Fine,” Boone grumbled with a sigh. “You win.”
I rubbed circles onto James’s back and leaned into Boone. “There’s a reason I made bedtime so early, you know.”
Boone’s arm slid lower, his hand curling around my waist. “Because you realize both of your boys have serious needs?”
I let him tuck me and his son into his arms, and I rested my head against his chest the way James’s was against mine. “And I’m always happy to accommodate them.”
“I am one lucky son of a—”
The clearing of my throat cut him off. Boone’s the best kind of dad . . . but he was still Boone.
“You know what I mean,” he said instead.
I nodded against him. “I know what you mean.”
From the way James’s breathing was evening out, I thought he might be falling asleep again. It was so wonderful and strange how everything I’d always wanted and everything I’d ever want was right there, in that small circle. Boone, James—they were my family. My life. My everything.
My second chance.
“Hey, Boone?” I felt him nod. “Thanks again for agreeing to be my plus one.”
His arms tightened around our son and me. Even when they weren’t around us the way they were then, I could still feel them. Boone was with me everywhere I went. He always had been, and now, I thought as I tucked James a little closer, he always would be.
“Thank you for agreeing to be my wife.”
© 2016 Nicole Williams