Once upon a time, I was working on this story set in the South, and I got really into studying accents and slang–including watching Youtube videos of people with accents, and I ran across this phrase a few times–including in a video–“sweet Pete!” and it just struck me as awesomely colloquial and something a guy could pull off with enough charm.
For Sweet Pete’s Sake
The call from his brothers had him in such a rush to get home he didn’t even bother changing out of his coveralls. He was rubbing grease from his hands onto them as he slammed into the house. “Brock! Aiden!” Judd shouted. If this was a joke, they’d get the first whippings of their lives. If it wasn’t, he’d kill them.
The two met him at the door with matching mulish expressions. Behind them, their best friend, Morgan, was standing, looking terrified.
“Morgan, go home,” he said, pointing at the door. Their twelve year old friend bolted so fast you’d have thought he’d set fire to the place.
Judd winced when he heard thumping in the back room. Sweet Pete, this was bad. This was really, really bad. Depending on who they’d kidnapped, it could very well mean he’d lose custody of them.
“Boys, please tell me this is a joke.” He walked toward the back room of the small house he’d inherited after his parents had died two years ago in a car crash. His brothers had come with the house. Some days, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Today, he was sort of wishing they were puppies or even cats—even though he hated cats. Brock and Aiden were trailing along beside him, dragging their feet.
“You said…,” Brock started.
“Brock Gregory Ford,” he said. Hell, he was turning into their father—using their full names. “I told you to do your chores.”
“Unless….,” Aiden broke in.
“The rest was a joke, you morons,” he said. “If whoever you kidnapped, and that’s what we call this, presses charges, you know the state won’t let me keep you two.” That shut them up.
Judd turned the corner into his small room. There, on his plaid quilt, was Jess Silvers, tied up. Sweet Pete, it was worse than he thought. He knelt beside her wriggling, blind-folded, and gagged figure. “Jess, give me a second to untie you.” Of all the girls in the whole wide world, why did they have to kidnap Jess?
“Maybe you shouldn’t pull off the blindfold then,” Aiden recommended.
Jess kicked some more. She was an angry little thing when you got her riled and kidnapping probably’d do that.
“I’m not leaving her blindfolded,” he growled.
She stopped kicking.
“Besides, she probably recognizes my voice.” He narrowly avoided her feet hitting his groin as she kicked at that. “Geez, Jess, it was a joke.” Sorta.
He pulled the blindfold off to face her stormy blue eyes, narrowed on him. The blindfold tugged on her hair, and he winced.
“Sorry,” he said, trying to yank her curly, brown hair out of the knot without yanking it from her head. He finally got that free, and his fingers went to the gag.
“I’d do that last,” Brock said. “She really is loud. I don’t know what you saw in her.”
Wincing again, he pasted on a cheerful look as he said, “Now, Jess, I’m taking this off, and I’ll get you untied as fast as I can. Just don’t holler.”
Jess was staring over his shoulder at Brock, though. Good. She was distracted. Maybe he’d figure a way to keep her distracted enough that she’d not press charges or mention this. What were the odds on that? Their history didn’t seem to speak to her being forgiving. He still didn’t know what he’d done wrong back then.
“What are you doing here?” he asked Jess as he pulled the gag off.
Big mistake. Her angry eyes were back to glaring at him. “I was only here for one day, Judd. One day! I should have known their green eyes looked familiar.”
“See! She was only here for one day! That’s what Morgan’s mom said—she’s her realtor. One day!” Brock repeated. “If we hadn’t kidnapped her then she would have been gone—maybe before you even got off work.”
“You had your brothers kidnap me?” she asked.
“No, of course not,” he muttered, working on untying her ankles.
“Well, what else were we supposed to do?” Aiden said. “You said if we found you a wife, you’d let us get out of doing chores.”
Hell, if there was a patron saint for boys who heard everything the way they wanted to hear it, they’d better start praying to that saint. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before reopening them. They’d managed to stun Jess into silence, though he could feel her eyes on his head as he tugged at the knot. Who’d taught them to tie knots? A prison guard? He hadn’t taught them to tie knots like this. There was no way he’d get this undone.
“I might need to use my knife on this,” he said to Jess, finally meeting her eyes.
“You said you’d never gotten over her. She was in town, so it made sense,” Brock said.
He bit down on his lower lip. Great. Just great. He looked back down at the knot rather than see what she made of his brothers spilling their guts…well, spilling his guts on his behalf.
Swallowing, Judd said, “You two have done enough. Go sit on the couch until I’ve had a chance to talk things over with Miss Silvers.” Wait. Was it still Miss or had she married? Well, he’d let her correct him if she had.
They left the room, and he pulled a pocket knife from his dresser.
“Hold still, Jess. My brothers apparently assumed you were like Houdini or something.” He should be smiling and trying to charm her into not pressing charges. He should be downplaying this but, sweet Pete, it was Jess Silvers.
The knife slid between her ankles, and Judd sawed at the rope with it. What was going on here? She’d stepped into the Twilight Zone of her past. Five years hadn’t changed her feelings for Judd one bit. He’d probably forgotten her before she’d even left town back then.
He’d changed. He looked much older. His brown hair had blonde shot through it as if he spent all day outside. Maybe he did because his fingers were tan, especially compared to the white rope. They were filthy too. He must have come directly from work because he was in a pair of coveralls that said “Jack’s Machine Repair.” What had happened to his college plans?
“I didn’t expect you’d still be in town,” she said. As pissed as she was at his brothers, her anger melted away from him almost immediately.
He swallowed, and his tight jaw got even tighter. What had happened to the Judd she’d last seen? Judd used to never be without a smile on his face. “I have custody of my brothers, and, well, I own this place,” he said, throwing a glance up at the roof.
Custody? He kept bringing that up. She glanced around. The last time she’d be in this house, this room had been his parents’. Oh. Something had happened to his parents.
“Besides, college was…expensive,” he said, breaking through the knot. “How about you? I thought you’d gone as far from here as you could.” He took her tied hands and set the knife down to try to work at the knot with his fingers. He was closer now, and her silence made him look up. A soft smile transformed his face. “You look good, Jess. Sweet Pete, you look good.”
That made her grin. Not the compliment—that made her blush. She’d always found his use of the phrase “sweet Pete” to be endearing in a hickish sort of way. His mom had always said it, and he’d picked it up from her. Only Judd could make it charming and not goofy.
“My parents were left some land in Ms. Lorry’s will, and I said I’d take a look at it for them.”
“Land?” he repeated, laughing. He scratched the side of his nose, leaving a streak of black there. “Swampland more like.”
“Yeah. It is that.” Definitely swampland. She smiled back at him.
Seeming embarrassed, he went back to tugging at the knot. The rope was turning gray from his fingers, and she had smudges on her skin. He must have really rushed home. She’d heard the whispered conversation between three boys. Two looked enough like Judd that they must have been his brothers.
“Yeah, I’d just finished looking it over when I discovered someone had let all the air out of one of my tires,” she said.
Judd swore and threw a glare over his shoulder toward the door. “I’m so sorry, Jess. I don’t know what they were thinking.”
She didn’t need to tell him that she’d been bending to look at the tire when she’d been grabbed, hog-tied and gagged, and brought here. He could probably guess that. “What were they talking about earlier?” she asked. At the very least, she deserved an explanation. This Judd was much more approachable than the Judd of five years ago. He seemed to be human whereas, back then, he was always surrounded by people—especially girls—clear until graduation.
“Oh, they didn’t want to do their chores. It’s just the three of us. I told them that unless I brought home a wife from work, it’d continue to be just the three of us, so they’d better just quit their belly-aching and get some work done. They asked if they found me a wife, if I’d let them off doing laundry—they hate laundry.”
“You said yes?” she asked.
He rolled his green eyes—the same green eyes as his brothers—and said, “I thought it was a joke. Sweet Pete, Jess, who expects their brothers to kidnap a girl while they’re at work?”
“Sweet Pete,” she repeated, grinning.
He flushed, but grinned at her. His face had gotten leaner, so his dimples nearly blended into the lines in his cheeks when he smiled, but they were still there. “Are you making fun of the way I tall-k?” He’d drawn out that last word in the locals’ way on purpose. The knots on her wrists finally gave in to his persuasion and loosened.
She moaned in relief and rubbed at her wrists. His brothers had never intended for her to get free—like ever. Standing up, he grabbed her hands and helped her up. When she stood, the circulation in her legs wasn’t quite right, and she stumbled into him.
Judd laughed and caught her, holding her steady.
“What else were they talking about?” she asked, shaking her legs out while she held onto his arms.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, frowning and avoiding her eyes.
No. She’d had her heart broken by him, and he owed her an explanation. Five years had given her a spine. “They said you never got over me, but that was a lie, Judd. Why didn’t you tell them what really happened? You couldn’t wait for me to be gone. I was like this joke to you.”
He blinked in confusion and met her gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about Jess. You left this place even before your parents moved. You couldn’t wait to be quit of this place. How would you even know how I felt about it?”
Her mouth dropped open, and she felt the flare of her temper again. He must have recognized the signs because he tipped back and closed the door to his room quickly. “I can’t believe you told your brothers some story. You should be ashamed.”
She jerked out of his arms and sat in a huff on his bed.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Jess. It seems the last time I even thought I knew what you wanted was just before graduation when I asked you out. Hell, all you had to say was that you weren’t interested.”
That just made her more mad. He’d never seen her so angry. Her eyes were even shiny like she was about to cry mad angry tears at him. That would be awful. Hopefully she wouldn’t do that.
“You’re forgetting prom,” she said, dangerously soft.
Prom? He’d asked her to prom. How could he forget prom? She’d been as sweet as syrup and looked like an angel. Half the school fell in love with her that night, and they’d barely even noticed her before. She was always so quiet unless she lost her temper.
“I remember prom,” he said. What else was he supposed to say? There had to be some significance to that night that he wasn’t getting. “You seemed like you enjoyed yourself. I don’t know what happened after that.”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course I did. It was you.”
He leaned against the door and slid his hands into his pockets. Wow. He’d got her wrists really filthy trying to get those ropes off. Why did any of this even matter? He was the town’s grease monkey now, and he had his brothers to support. He didn’t even know what she did, but her clothes didn’t say second-hand store.
“What about me?” he asked, feeling tired of this. His memory lane didn’t make much sense. The last he understood she’d been kissing him as if her heart was on fire—a few days after prom at school. He’d asked her out for that night. Then, she sent her daddy to the door to tell him she never wanted to see him again. It didn’t make sense, so he chose to remember the kissing part and tried to forget the rest.
“You only asked me on a bet,” she said.
His mouth dropped open. “Come again?” he asked, standing up.
“Prom! I heard them talking about it. All your friends. Right after you asked me out on a date again. They said ‘Can’t believe you’re going out with her again because you only took her to prom on account of that bet.’ You probably thought I was gone by then, but I’d stopped to get a drink around the corner. I heard you laugh and say ‘Imagine that. Me and Jess.’ Then you all laughed at me like I was this big, huge joke.”
She tried to storm by him, but he grabbed her by her middle and carried her kicking and shouting back to the bed. “Jess, calm down. I can explain.” Her knee somehow managed to connect with his jaw, and it felt like it rattled some of his teeth loose.
“No… you stupid… lousy….”
Where was that gag when he needed it? He almost wished he’d listened to Brock and at least kept it handy. She went on shouting and kicking at him until he pinned her to the bed and kissed her.
No matter how it looks in movies—kissing an angry Jess didn’t make her settle down—not at all. She bit him—bit his lower lip. He jerked back, putting a hand to his mouth. He might even be bleeding. “Sweet Pete, Jess. You’re worse than a crazed badger.”
She went back to trying to kick him, but he had her pinned.
“I weigh at least a hundred pounds more than you, so you might as well settle down and listen to what I have to say.”
She looked at his window and he saw a few angry tears leak out. He hoped they were angry, actually.
“You weren’t in town long enough to know how it was. Your daddy was only here for those two years. I have this problem… they told me it was a learning disability. It’s math. The numbers mix up in my head. Dyscalculia. Everyone else around here has grown up together, and we take care of each other. They’d helped me scrape my way through all the required math classes, but sometimes we cheated and sometimes the teachers knew it but pretended they didn’t. Then, here you came, senior year, and you were this super genius.”
“Is that why you were laughing at me?” she asked.
He heard the break in her voice this time. Oh hell. He’d been hoping she was angry not hurt.
“We were laughing at me. No one was laughing at you…ever.”
Her blue eyes met his, and she frowned, blinking back tears. “No, I heard you. That bet.”
“Yes, there was a bet,” he acknowledged. He’d forgotten it almost entirely because it wasn’t really a bet even if it sounded like one. “Grant told me I’d never know if you’d go out with me unless I tried. He bet me fifty bucks that I’d chicken out. Only, he was just really trying to get me to do it. I never even collected on the bet—especially after your daddy told me to stay away from you that night.” They made bets like that all the time between them to egg each other on. Hell, they still did. It was always fifty bucks. Half the time it was the same fifty bucks. He had that fifty bucks in a jar in his cupboard right now just waiting for Grant to set foot in church after dating the preacher’s daughter.
Jess’s mouth dropped open.
He grinned. He’d finally got her speechless and figured out what the hell had happened to the girl he was crazy about.
“So, you really did like me?” she whispered.
“Like you? I’d been hot for you since the first day you arrived. The whole school knew it. I figured I was half-way in love with you after prom. Then, you shut me down and just about broke my heart,” he said.
She was still blinking back those tears but some of them slipped out. He wanted to kiss them away but who knew what she was capable of at this point. He was back in unknown territory.
“The school was so mean to me suddenly,” she said.
He winced. He’d tried to prevent that, but…. “I told you that we sorta all grew up together, and I was a sad sack after you dumped me. I told everyone it was none of their business, but telling a bunch of folks from a small town something ain’t none of their business is a waste of breath.” Her body was relaxed beneath his, and he’d said his piece. That was the point of this, right? He should let her go even if she did feel pretty great beneath him on his bed. “I’m going to take a chance and get off you, Jess, but if you kick me again….”
She grabbed his head and yanked his mouth down to hers. This time, he didn’t get bitten. In fact, she seemed extra careful about his mouth and whispered “sorry” under her breath as she kissed his lip better. He was just starting to feel really good about things when she shoved him off her. He backed off, confused, but then she pushed him down on the bed and stretched out overtop him before returning to kissing him. He shoulda guessed she just wanted to be in charge. He smiled against her mouth.
“What?” she asked, pressing hot, sweet kisses on his jaw.
“Nothing,” he said.
She slid her fingers into his hair and pressed her open mouth against his. Their tongues touched in the middle, and they both groaned. Sweet Pete, she still made him need her more than a pumping heart.
Someone was shouting out in the hall and, a moment later, the door flung open. He and Jess turned their heads. Morgan’s daddy, who also happened to be the town sheriff, stood there, gaping at them.
“Uhh,” he said awkwardly, gesturing at them. “Morgan told me some crazy story about someone being kidnapped and tied-up.”
He swallowed. All Jess had to do was say the word, and they’d yank his brothers away so fast. His brothers were peeking around Morgan’s father trying to get a better look. They looked terrified…and curious.
“Sweet Pete,” Jess said, grinning. “That’s crazy tall-k.”
The Sheriff looked baffled but waved, embarrassed, and shut the door with a “Sorry, Judd. Sorry.”
Turning back to each other, their noses bumped together as they lay there eye-to-eye.
“Thank you,” he said, lifting his head to kiss her softly.
Out in the hall, Brock said, “He’d totally been groping her butt. Did you see all those handprints?”
Judd dropped his head back with a sigh. “We can kill them together. We have the rope to tie them up with at the very least,” he said.
Jess giggled and sat back on his hips to look at herself. “I do look a little like a monochromatic finger-painting. Guess I shouldn’t have worn white today?”
He winced. White jeans. White shirt. Yeah, you could see everywhere he’d been. “I’m a mess here. I should wash up.”
She rolled off him, laying back on his bed. “You should totally make them do both our laundry.”
He laughed, sitting up. “How long can you be in town for? I’ll pay to have your tire fixed and a hotel if you need it.”
“That could get expensive. What if I feel like sticking around for a bit? I’ve got that swampland to look over after all.”
He went still. Was she serious? She’d been saying she was just there for the day. Besides, it wasn’t like they were in high school anymore. Sure, they were still hotter than a summer day for each other, but she hadn’t even known everything about him back then. “I’m just a mechanic, Jess, and I’ve got my brothers and….”
“Judd, you were never ‘just’ anything with me,” she said.
Sitting up, she grabbed his jaw in her hands, kissed him quiet, and lay back down. She looked so gorgeous with her hair spread across his bed and that smile on her face. Still, she had no idea what things were like with them. Brock had to do all the bill-paying with how all the numbers wandered around on him. Plus, all the symbols looked alike. She deserved better than a guy who couldn’t even do simple math.
“You can do better than…,” he said.
She put a hand across his mouth.
Okay, but they were adults now, and it wasn’t as simple as it was five years ago.
“Jess,” he mumbled behind her hand.
“Sweet Pete, and they say I won’t shut up,” she said, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him down on top of her. “I work for an online company. I telecommute every day. I don’t have any place to be. I never got over you either. So, I might just stick around and make you fall in love with me all over again.”
He was half-way there already.
“So, stop your grousing and kiss me already before your brothers find a way to ruin things,” she said.
“Sweet Pete, you’re bossy,” he said, but kissed her anyway.
Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Sparrow
If you liked For Sweet Pete’s Sake, you’ll love The Teacher’s Vet and Cursed by Cupid.