Brothers South of the Mason DixonAbbi Glines
Brothers South of the Mason Dixon
Published by Abbi Glines
Copyright © 2018 by Abbi Glines
Interior Design & Formatting by:
Christine Borgford, Type A Formatting
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Abbi Glines. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Brothers South of the Mason Dixon
About the Author
Books by Abbi Glines
BLEACH AND FRIED food, that’s what I smelled like. Every night when I walked into the trailer I now called home, I immediately stripped off my clothes and tossed them into the washer. The trailer was small, more like a camper trailer, but the rent was cheap. Maybe tiny was a better description. The aroma from the country diner where I worked permeated my clothing and me, causing the entire place to stink.
It was bad enough the tiny habitat smelled of mildew. I didn’t need to add the stench of my work environment to it. I’d be back to work at six in the morning. I was lucky this town went to bed early. Getting home at ten wasn’t so bad. I had time to shower and get the food smell off me and enjoy the silence of my trailer before going to bed and doing it again the next day.
Seven days a week. Fifteen hours a day. Six to nine, nine-thirty if I had to clean-up after close. The tips weren’t terrible, better than I had expected. I was paying for my rent, utilities, new cell phone, and food. I’d also managed to save enough to start classes in the fall at the junior college in the next town.
My work hours would be cut back if I took classes, but Ethel—my boss, and owner of Bright Eyes Diner—said that the summer crowd was big money. Robertsdale, Alabama wasn’t a big town. It was small and similar to Moulton, where I’d grown up. The highway that ran right through it was the road that led to Alabama’s beaches, providing us with lots of summer traffic.
If I worked the same hours, I would be able to afford both semesters next school term. I needed a degree. I wasn’t going to be able to work in a diner my entire life and didn’t want to be stuck in Robertsdale. I knew I couldn’t go home because living there . . . it wasn’t good for me. Two guys finally caused me to run. My mistake with the Sutton boys wasn’t what my mind was on, but the freedom of getting out of that house. Away from my mother and the darkness that would always be there. Now that I was out of that house, away from that town, I realized my thoughts weren’t so dark. I wanted to find a life for myself and to learn to live happy.
I stopped at the kitchen bar after dropping my clothes in the washing machine. Still naked and needing to get the greasy food smell off my skin, I paused to pick up the white invitation that hadn’t left my thoughts since I received it in the mail last week. I used a post office box for my phone bill and my best friend, Dixie Monroe. I trusted her, but I didn’t trust her not to break down and search for me if she had my real address. Dixie would never understand this trailer and why I wanted this. How living here was so much better than what I’d left behind. Because Dixie never really knew me. No one did.
I looked at the invitation every day. The RSVP card was still there, unreturned. There was a short, handwritten message included from Dixie begging me to come to her wedding.
Going wasn’t an option for me. I should have been the maid of honor. We had planned our weddings since we were thirteen. I would stand by her and she would for me at my wedding. We’d marry brothers and live next door to each other. Our kids would grow up best friends and our holidays would always be shared. I’d have a large Christmas party at my house and they’d all come. When I say all, I mean the Sutton boys, their wives and kids—that was the fantasy. One I went along with. I’d smile when we’d talked about it, knowing that wasn’t in my future. I’d become the queen of pretend long before I’d become friends with Dixie Monroe.
Dixie thought I’d run because of what had happened between Brent, Bray and me.
Loving two Sutton boys instead of one had been a mistake, but it wasn’t why I left. My reasons were darker than that. Dixie thought I should come back home. She had done the same thing, loved two Sutton boys, but she hadn’t screwed it up the way I had. She’d loved two of them at different times and hadn’t hurt them. She hadn’t been with one brother and cheated on him with his twin. No, that mistake was all mine. I hadn’t been alone in my cheating. Bray Sutton had been right there with me. He’d made me love him. I’d gotten so consumed with him, so freaking obsessed with him that I saw nothing else. Not even the damage that I would inevitably cause. Nothing. I only saw Bray.
I’d never been in love with Brent. Only Bray. My heart still squeezed so tightly I lost my breath when I smelled his cologne. Bray made me want something I’d never imagined. I had been ruined, twisted, long before him. I didn’t feel things like other girls. I’d started doing things with boys when I was eleven years old, in an attempt to feel good. I wanted something to take the numbness away.
Bray had made me feel. That had led to me hurting someone innocent—something my mother would have done. I cringed. I didn’t want to be like her. I was away from all that now. Four hours away. Working all day. Living in a sketchy part of town because I needed to save to go to college. I was alone and that gave me relief from the heaviness that was a constant in my chest.
Christmas Day, I had eaten leftovers from work and sat at the table in the tiny kitchen I was currently standing in. It was the happiest Christmas I’d ever had. There was no pain or tears. No sadness and fear. I knew my leaving had saved Brent and Bray. It had also saved me.
Brent had forgiven Bray. Dixie had made sure to tell me in her text messages. She said they were both dating again. Brent was happy. He’d moved on. Bray was never happy. It was just his way. The constant cloud over him was one reason I was drawn to him at first. His ability to show the world he was angry. He didn’t want to smile. He was brave enough to not hide his issues. I wanted to be like that.
With the same regret, I felt every time I saw the wedding invitation for Dixie Monroe and Asher Sutton, I’d
set it back down on the empty bar counter. I wanted to see Dixie marry the boy she’d loved since she was a little girl. Like me, she fell for another Sutton boy for a time, but she hadn’t been in love with Steel Sutton. She had always and would always be in love with Asher.
Now, she was getting the man she dreamed of and I was thrilled for her. Although I also felt jealousy and pain. I didn’t have that dream. Hopefully one day I could build a dream, any dream. Something to bring me joy, because all that had felt remotely close to joy was when Bray Sutton touched me. When he held me. Needing Bray to keep me waking up each day and facing my demons was unhealthy, but it was what I had clung to. Until that crumbled too.
“I wish I could come, Dixie,” I whispered to the four walls around me. “But I can’t see him. They don’t need to see me. I can’t need him again.”
The Sutton boys were moving on with their lives and were the way they should be. No one was fighting, no rift between them. My return would cause issues. They didn’t need to see me or remember what had happened.
Leaving the invitation, I went into the bathroom with a simple sink, toilet, and shower big enough for one. My hands could touch all four walls with my elbows pressed against my ribs while I stood in the center of the space and spun around. The water took three minutes to warm up to a tolerable temperature. Although it never reached hot, it did get warm for about five minutes. I had to hurry to wash and rinse my hair and body before it turned cold. First, it was a waiting game for the icy temp to heat. Things like this were new to me, but I embraced them.
My life had appeared privileged to others looking from the outside. I’d let them think that too. Smiling, partying, accepting a sports car from the man I had called father. The day I drove away, my mother had three words for me: “Good riddance, bitch.” That would surprise or hurt most girls, but those words were nothing. She’d already done her damage long ago.
After you grow up living in fear of what might happen next in your house, nothing else compares. That fear prepared me. It’s why I didn’t fall apart when I had to live in my car for three weeks. Also, why I didn’t panic when I went three days without any food. I’d known worse things than starvation or even death. Seven months later, I was living on my own successfully. Every day that passed I felt more secure. The nightmares still came, but I always woke up.
Before the water got warm, my phone rang. I paused and debated either ignoring the phone to take my shower or turning off the water and waiting thirty minutes for the water to warm up and try again.
I was tired. My feet hurt. I needed to wash the stench off my body and whoever was calling could leave a message. No one called much anyway. Sometimes Ethel called about a shift change, but rarely. And that could wait. I needed this warm shower.
The ringing stopped as I stepped into the shower and started again. They were calling back. What in the world? Ethel never did that. My number was known by a limited amount of people. I went through the list of people in my head as I growled in frustration and turned off the water. Jerking the towel off the hook that had probably been rusting since the 1980’s, I wrapped the towel around myself, stepping out of the bathroom to get the phone. Checking the phone screen, hoping nothing was seriously wrong, I sighed and closed my eyes when I saw the number.
I got this call about once every eight weeks or so. The first time I was surprised. I couldn’t figure out how the youngest Sutton brother had my new phone number. I thought maybe there had been an accident and Dixie had given it to him to get in touch with me because she couldn’t. There wasn’t an emergency, he’d simply given me an update on Bray. He didn’t ask me any questions or tell me anything about Brent. He’d only told me how Bray was doing and ended the call. Everything about his phone calls was odd. He never told me how he’d gotten my number. He’d barely let me speak, much less ask him questions. After receiving three of the same calls over the past few months, I knew what to expect.
“Hello.” I prepared myself for whatever he would say.
“It’s time you come home,” Dallas Sutton said simply.
“What?” I asked taken aback by his abrupt change of conversation topic.
“You heard me,” was the only response I got before he hung up.
I held the cell phone in my hand and stared at it for several minutes. Dallas was still in high school. We’d never been close, but he called me to relay these informative messages. This phone call was the most bizarre.
I wouldn’t go back to Moulton. The past, my memories, all dwelled there. Every inch of that town would remind me. Haunt me. Shaking my head, I spoke to the silence around me “No. I can’t go back there.”
LAST NIGHT I should have had a few beers and been done. But no, I had to drink a fifth of whiskey. It was my oldest brother’s bachelor party. He was the one locking it in with a woman, sharing bank accounts, a bedroom, bills, and all that shit. Not me. I should have given him my whiskey. We still had a week before the wedding, but Asher wouldn’t agree to staying up late drinking the night before his wedding. He wanted us all sober. He wouldn’t let Dixie down.
Instead of getting up and drinking coffee, taking a shower, and making myself presentable for work, I was outside behind our barn smoking a cigar. A Churchill reject to be exact. Tasted just as good and it didn’t hurt to pay for it. I’d bought it when Asher and Dixie’s wedding date had been set. Even then I knew I’d need it. Celebrating wasn’t my thing. Sure, I knew my brother was marrying the only woman he’d ever loved. I was happy they had found that fairytale bullshit. What they had was rare, too fucking rare.
Seeing the spot beside Dixie Monroe where her best friend should be would only serve as a reminder to me of what I had wanted. What I’d been so damn obsessed with that I didn’t care who I hurt. My relationship with Brent, my twin, was damaged as a result. We had found a way to move on, forgive, live, but we would never be the same. I knew that.
Taking a pull from the cigar in my hand, I looked out over the land that separated our farm from Dixie’s. I had many memories with Scarlet out there. Secret, hidden moments that I should regret. It was worse than cheating, I was cheating on my brother. I wouldn’t go back and do it differently. Scarlet was gone. Brent was moving on with Sadie something or another. She had pulled up in our drive after getting lost about three months ago. Brent went to her car to see if he could help. They’d talked a bit and when she left, he’d walked back out to the barn grinning with a piece of paper in his hand.
He’d gotten the girl’s number. She was from somewhere up north. Moved down here for work. She was in life insurance. Brent had been in love after two weeks. To say it was hard to stomach would be an understatement. I wasn’t saving myself for Scarlet’s return or some crazy shit, but my heart was unattached. The women I spent time with knew I wasn’t in it for more than a good time. Until Scarlet, that was all I was ever in it for. She’d been different. She’d seen me. She’d looked past the fucked-up stuff others always saw. It wasn’t the bad boy she wanted. She wanted me.
“Asher just arrived with the tuxes. Wants us to try them on. Make sure they fit. No last-minute problems and that shit,” Dallas, my youngest brother said.
I turned around and found him standing a few feet away. He was so much larger now. Bigger than all of us. His arms were crossed over his chest and he was frowning. As if I had done something wrong. It was a motherfucking cigar.
I held it up. “Want some?”
He walked toward me then dropping his arms to his side. When he reached me, he held out his hand. “Sure.”
I didn’t need the whole thing. “Helps cure the hangover,” I told him.
He was too young to drink, but he’d drank with the rest of us last night. Technically, only Asher was legal age. But we’d been drinking since we were fifteen. I had watched Asher cut Dallas off early. We’d lost our dad at a young age. Asher had stepped up as the man of the house and helped Momma. We’d expected that and respected him.
If I had
tried to cut Dallas off he’d have told me to fuck off. But Asher, he would obey. He’d earned respect from all of us. Even Steel. It had helped Steel understand and let go of his dream of a life with Dixie. We had all known since we were kids that Dixie Monroe loved Asher. I never could figure out why Steel would want to be someone’s second choice. Fuck that.
“Scarlet should be there. For Dixie,” Dallas said handing the cigar back to me.
“She left all of us. Can’t say I blame her. But I sure as hell won’t forgive her,” was my response. I’d realized a while back that her reason for leaving was more than running from the mess we had made. She’d left me. I’d thought what we had was unique. Intense. Fucking special. She didn’t bother to fight for us.
“Don’t think she had much choice,” Dallas drawled as if he knew and understood life.
“Ain’t the way I see it,” I said and took another pull from the cigar.
“You think she left you. And you’re stubborn and selfish enough not to forgive her for that.”
Dallas and I hadn’t talked about Scarlet in a couple months. He’d tried this Doctor Phil bullshit with me and I’d shut it down. Or rather Asher had overheard and told him to let it go. Wasn’t his business.
“She left. She made her choice. That’s all,” I would not get mad at my little brother today. My temper was an issue. Always had been, but I would control it. For Asher, I would manage. Dallas’s stupid, immature comments were pushing me though.
“She was scared, I reckon. She’d come between the two Sutton boys that were the closest of us all. I would guess she thought in the end she’d lose you both. She’d be the one blamed.”
Walk away. That’s all I could do here. “You want the rest of this? I’m heading in to get something to eat.”
Dallas took the cigar from me but he still had that concerned crease in his brow. That face reminded me of our father and the few images I still held of him in my memories. The crease was inherited from him. One day I’d tell Dallas that. Not today. I needed to get some of Momma’s breakfast and stop listening to him blab on about Scarlet.