She was silent for a long time and she could see that he was becoming angrier and angrier. His arms were folded across his chest, leaving her to be the one in charge of holding the ice against her mouth. Telling him the truth was the very least she could do, for the ice was certainly helping to numb the pain.
"Well, are you going to tell me or ain't ya? Damn it Jean Louise, I haven't got all day!"
Slowly she lowered the blue checkered towel filled with ice from her mouth. "Henry if I tell you, you've gotta promise me something."
But as she expected, he shook his head. "No. I ain't promising nothing! Not until you tell me how in the heck this happened."
"But Henry nothin'!" He mocked, making her wince, not from the pain but from the way her words sounded coming from his mouth.
"Henry, stop mocking me, please!" She cried.
"Not until you tell me what the heck happened? For God's sake why are you so afraid to tell me? Hell, we used to tell each other everything, Jean Louise! What's changed?"
"Nothing, Henry. I just-."
She hesitated, almost afraid to look at him. "Henry, please don't make me do this, please!"
"Look, if you don't tell me who done this, I'll-."
She held up her hand, knowing full well what Henry was capable of. "All right, all right! All right! It was…"
"It was...Uncle Jack."
The minute the words were out, she felt a mixture of relief and guilt that was so great, she wanted to sink into the floor. But she wasn't prepared for Henry's reaction.
His eyes widened and he rammed his fist against the wall, wincing in pain at the contact.
"Damn!" He said, shaking his hand. Immediately Jean Louise removed the ice pack from her mouth and moved it toward his hand, but he pulled his arm away. When she looked at his face again, there was an expression of anger there unlike any she'd ever seen.
"What the hell?" He yelled startling her with the outburst.
"Henry, calm down!" She cried. "He didn't-."
"Damn it! I'll kill him with my bare hands!"
She gasped in horror, knowing that he was fully capable of doing it. "Henry, no! You're not going to do anything!"
"What do you expect me to do, Jean Louise? Stand around and let that jackass hurt you?"
"But I deserved it!" She cried.
"No! Nobody hits my girl, you got that? And no woman deserves to be hit! A man should never strike a woman for any reason! Especially not the daughter of his brother!"
She was sobbing into her hands now, as the towel that was filled with ice hit the floor. She could hear the ice sliding everywhere, certain to make a mess, but right now neither of them was thinking about that. It was all but forgotten.
"Don't you get it, Henry? It's my fault! All of it!"
"What in the blazes are you talking about?"
"It's me!" She cried. "I'm the one who was too stupid to see what was right in front of my face! That is until Uncle Jack literally smacked some sense into me! And believe me, I deserved it! I was…. I was horrible to Atticus, Henry! Just horrible! We may not have had the greatest father/daughter relationship, but he didn't deserve the way I treated him, Henry! No one does! I love him, Henry, I-."
The settling of his arms around her was warm and inviting, not to mention completely unexpected. She expected him to hate her, to order her out of his house and out of his life. But he did nothing of the sort. He just stood there and held her. And it was this warm and wonderful feeling that had her sobbing uncontrollably into his strong chest while his hand moved up and down her back, making her heart beat faster.
God how she loved him.
After a long moment she lifted her head.
She loved him. She really and truly loved him.
"Are you all right, Jean Louise?"
Her mouth curved into a smile. And then his mouth curved into a smile as well.
"Jean Louise, what are you up to?"
She laughed. "No good as usual."
"What are you talking about?"
She pulled him toward her, taking his hands in hers. "Marry me, Henry."
His eyes widened in surprise. "A-are you sure?"
"Yes! I want to marry you and live in Maycomb. It's where we belong. It's where we've always belonged. It's where Atticus is. It's home. Please, Henry. I need you."
He brought his lips to hers for the gentlest kiss imaginable. But she forgot all about the pain as she deepened the kiss, making it the most wonderful, sweet and perfect kiss imaginable. And when the kisses ended, they began all over again. They parted, breathless and stared into each other's eyes, both of them smiling.
"So…" she said slowly, climbing off of the chair. "Does this mean that you accepted my proposal?"
Henry laughed out loud and impulsively put his arms around her. He lifted her feet off of the floor and spun her around, making her laugh with delight. And then he gently lowered her feet to the floor, kissing her softly and gently as she smiled and touched her forehead to his.
He kissed her cheek and then her chin and finally her lips before finally answering her question.
"What do you think?"