“I’m taking her place. She’s got some fixin’ to do,” Ethel replied.
“Lord help us,” Netty replied and turned away.
I didn’t wait around for my good sense to come back. While I had the nerve to go, I needed to make a move. Heading for my car, I reached inside my pocket and pulled out my phone. Calling my mother wasn’t something I wanted to do, not that she was concerned that I left in the first place. Going to that house was the very last thing I wanted to do. She had called me once to ask if I’d taken a pair of her diamond earrings. She hung up on me when I said no. I had called and left my new number on her voicemail months before she made that call.
The man I called my father also had this number but he never reached out to me. He had never shown concern for my life from the moment I was born. He always traveled. He was a stranger to me. Even when he would return home he was absent to my world. He kept himself locked away in his office. Working. Ignoring life around him. Until the day came that he had to face the truth. Only then did he help me.
“Hello.” My mother sounded like she was still in bed. It was nine. I should have expected this. She normally slept until the afternoon.
“I’ll be there in three hours to get dressed. I need some clothes I left behind.” There was a good chance she’d have a man there. Possibly having sex on my former bed. The things I accepted from her as normal.
I heard her yawn and stretch. “Scarlet?”
“Yes,” I replied annoyed. Who else would it be? Thankfully, I was the only child brought into the world by her.
“What are you doing?” She was confused.
“I told you. I am coming by to get dressed. It’s Dixie’s wedding today.”
She sighed and mumbled something to someone. I waited.
“I think all your shit I didn’t have sent to the dump is boxed up. Stashed in the back storage,” she grumbled.
Responding to this was pointless. I should be thankful all of it hadn’t been trashed. At least I had something in storage. Although there was a possibility it could be moldy or mildewed.
“Locks have been changed to the house,” she continued. “The code is still the same.” Abruptly, the call ended. That was it. Nothing more. No questions or explanations.
I dropped the phone to the passenger seat. There was a numbness that came when dealing with my mother. It was a coping mechanism. I’d read about it.
Determined, I headed north. Back to the world I ran from. The mess I created and left behind. The heaviness that hung over that town making my chest hurt to breathe. Only there, the nightmares came to me while I was awake. I’d been away long enough to pretend less and forget. There was no forgetting once I entered the town limits.
I focused on the reason I was going. I thought about calling Dixie and letting her know I was on my way to prepare her for my sudden appearance. She would worry and I didn’t want to ruin her day. I just wanted to be there. I wasn’t sure if I would hide to secretly watch her before she walked down the aisle, or walk in like everyone else. I had three hours to play the scenarios through in my head. Planning would be what kept me sane and held me together.
If it hadn’t been for the guilt, I’d be working right now. Dealing with old men, burnt tourists, and potato salad. Dallas had to show up and give me the extra push to do the right thing.
Once I passed the Moulton welcome sign I turned left instead of going to that house I had finally escaped. I didn’t need anything from her. If I could go the rest of my life without seeing that house again I’d be fine.
The thrift store inside the Moulton Circle shopping center was open. I had ten dollars to spare. I hoped I could find something that didn’t smell of mothballs or dirty laundry.
EVERY MOTHERFUCKING REDHEAD caused a sharp kick in my gut. My head knew it wasn’t her but dammit if my heart didn’t seem to care. I reacted the same way every time. I couldn’t fuck a redhead anymore. Once. I had tried once. It was a fail. I’d had to walk away before I physically got ill.
All I could see was Scarlet. All I wanted was Scarlet. I was moving on physically just to shut everyone up, but my head wasn’t in it. My heart wasn’t in the equation because that fucking organ didn’t work properly. Scarlet had made me feel something. And that screwed it all up.
Asher was standing at the window in Dixie’s living room looking out at the people filling the chairs outside. I knew almost all the faces. They were this town. I wondered if the streets were empty because everyone had gathered in Dixie’s yard.
“That’s a hellalot of folks out there,” I said as I sat down on the sofa. “Sit down. You’re about to be standing in this uncomfortable bullshit you’ve got us dressed up for far too long.” I added the last bit just to get a rise out of him.
Asher’s head swung in my direction, his face plastered with the scowl I expected. Grinning I propped my right foot up on the coffee table.
“It’s not that bad. Don’t be an asshole.” He sounded disappointed with me.
I shrugged. “You’re just in love and all that sappy shit. This motherfucker sucks ass.”
Asher grunted and turned back to the crowd. “I get afraid”—Asher changed the subject, ignoring me—“that this isn’t real. That I’m going to wake up and still be living the hell I survived without her. Is it allowed to be this damn happy?”
I wasn’t sentimental or emotional. Rolling my eyes was my first response but I refrained. “Are you seriously asking me this?” We both knew I wasn’t the brother to go to for comfort. Brent was better built for this.
He chuckled. “Yeah, I guess I am.” He kept watching out the window though. Not looking my way. “You love her, Bray. You just don’t recognize it because that isn’t an emotion you’re familiar with.”
It was my turn to ignore him. “How long does this thing take? I need a beer.”
Asher sighed. He shifted his gaze to me and said, “You snapped. Lost it. The . . . darkness that you get in your eyes was there. I’ve only seen you reach that level a handful of times. Each time it was because someone you loved was involved. The time Dallas came home from school with a black eye because that senior had beat him up for his smartass mouth. You almost killed that guy.”
I stopped him. I knew the stories. I remembered why I had gone off. “Dallas was twelve. That cocksucker deserved it.”
“I didn’t say he didn’t. What I am saying is you only react that way to protect someone you love.”
I glared at him. “I changed my mind. I want a goddamn whiskey.”
Asher smirked. “One day you’ll have to accept it.” He moved away from the window as the door behind us opened.
“Did y’all invite the whole damn county?” Dallas asked.
“Ten minutes, bro. You ready?” Brent walked up to us, all smiles. Living in his happy world.
Steel was the quiet one, no different today. He had loved Dixie once too. I wondered if he always would. A little. No one talked about that though. It was done. Over. It was the same for them pretending Brent and I hadn’t almost killed each other over Scarlet.
Asher was grinning. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
“Good because her daddy has paid a fortune for this thing. Have you seen the food?” Dallas was excited and amazed. “I’m gonna eat for hours.”