Brothers South of the Mason Dixon, Page 2Abbi Glines
“I know where she is,” Dallas blurted out as I was walking back to the house. I almost paused. Almost looked back at him and questioned him, but I didn’t. She’d made her choice. When the time had come to fight, she’d left me here. I had been fucking broken, lost, and unsure. My chest had felt crushed. That shit was over.
It had taken time, but I was back to living. She was gone. She hadn’t contacted me once. But apparently, she’d been in touch with Dallas. That was another twist of the sword she’d jabbed in my heart. Didn’t matter. This week I had other things to focus on. Like helping Asher move out and into the apartment in town he and Dixie were renting. The wedding was soon, so I’d have bridesmaids to distract me. Scarlet’s absence would soon be forgotten as I found the easiest kind of relationship. The kind that ended with a slap on some female’s naked ass before I told her thanks and sent her on home.
“I invited her!” Dallas called out again.
I let the kitchen door slam on his words and went straight to the coffee pot.
“Slam my door again and you’ll be building and hanging me a new one,” Momma barked from her spot at the stove.
“Sorry,” I muttered.
“Get it together, boy. We got stuff needs doing and a wedding to prepare for. Asher needs you this week. You remember that.”
I sipped my black coffee. Anyone else talked to me that way while I was wound tight from Dallas’s information overload, I’d have shut them down quickly with a few words. But there was one person on this earth I would not talk back to. My momma.
“Yes, ma’am.” I looked her way so she could see in my eyes I meant it.
TODAY WAS THE date that had loomed over me like an albatross.
I filled coffee cups, smiled at the customers, and pretended to laugh as the retired men from the Lions Club ate their Saturday morning breakfast and told me jokes when I brought things to their table, all while my head was elsewhere.
For the first time since I left, my thoughts were in Moulton. It was Dixie’s wedding day. Intentionally not going to her wedding made guilt eat at me. She didn’t know how bad it had been to make me not go to her wedding. Or to go back for anything. No one did.
I had filled out the invitation RSVP card last week while eating a piece of apple pie Ethel had sent home with me after work. Writing the number “1” by attending guests had eased some of my guilt. The next morning, I couldn’t mail the card because I knew I couldn’t go. I left it there to remind me why I couldn’t be there.
Dixie’s phone calls still came every week. I continued to ignore them.
The night she got engaged to Asher I’d stopped talking to her. Not because I wasn’t happy for her, but because she was going to be okay. She didn’t need me anymore. She had Asher. I could leave that life behind knowing she was okay and happy. Listening to her beg me to return was too hard. Many times, over the years I came close to telling her. Something small. Not everything, but something that would shed some light for her. Hoping that maybe she could keep me from my horrible thoughts—like how easy closing my eyes and never waking up again would be.
Dixie had never known my dirty world or the things I’d suffered through. Every time I’d tried, I could never tell her. Not even a little. I’d to learned to live with my secrets.
The calls had become painful so I had stopped answering. After a day working until every muscle in my body ached, I couldn’t listen to the begging and reasons I should return. Not having Dixie was just as painful, but I no longer had anything to say when she called. The girl talk we once shared was gone. What would I to talk to her about? “Mr. Roy wore deodorant today and I didn’t have to smell his body odor when I picked up the orders from the kitchen. And Ethel made a new potato salad recipe she found online that caused a riot by the Lions Club members.” Rolling my eyes at the idea of my life, I filled water cups for the tourists at table five.
The smell of sunblock, sunglasses perched on their head, and beach sundresses gave them away. They were always easy to spot. They tipped a lot better than the Lions Club and the locals. The old men wore me out with requests and thought leaving me two dollar tips was generous. But they were kind. Jolly. And what I thought a grandfather would be like. The normal kind. The kind I never had. The normal I never knew.
“Scarlet!” Ethel called loudly across the diner. Ethel and her husband Jim owned the place and if she wanted to yell out across the dining room she could. Although her daughter Mae Grace always corrected her mother for doing so when she was here. I didn’t like Mae Grace much. She was uppity and her kids made a mess when they came in. She’d married a banker in town and the way she carried on one would think she’d married Prince Harry.
I turned to Ethel and walked toward her before replying, “Yes, ma’am?”
She held out a spoonful of what looked like potato salad. “Try this one before I send it out to those old codgers. They’ll bitch if it ain’t to their liking.”
I did not want to taste more potato salad. I didn’t like potato salad. “It’s breakfast. They didn’t order potato salad,” I reminded her confused.
“I don’t care! They are gonna like this one.” She had a fierce look on her face.
“Is it the kind you made before? The recipe they want?” I stalled.
She leaned close and whispered. “No but it’s better. We need to upgrade the menu. If I can find a new and improved potato salad, I will have made a step in the direction of getting that done.”
I looked at the spoonful. I already knew by looking at the nasty stuff it wasn’t going to work. There wasn’t enough mayo and I saw no pickle relish. They’d complained about the last one because she had left out bacon and added ranch seasoning.
“Just leave it the hell alone woman! Jesus,” Jim grumbled as he walked by us.
She scowled at him. “Don’t listen to him. He knows nothing about bettering himself. Look at him. Forty years of marriage and he’s not changed a damn thing.” It sounded harsh. To hear them talk one would assume they had a bad marriage. I knew better. I had worked with them long enough to see the smiles they gave each other at the end of the day, I’d seen Jim slap Ethel on the bottom and wink when passing by. They had what most didn’t. They had the normal I craved.
“Taste it,” she urged.
I did. And it was warm. It wasn’t so bad warm. Cold potatoes I was not a fan of but this was decent.
“Well?” she asked.
“They will complain, but I like it.”
She shot a scowl in their direction now. “Bunch of old geezers. I almost married Billy you know. He and I were high school sweethearts. Jim came to town one summer to work on his grandpa’s farm and that was it. One look and I was sunk. Can’t thank my lucky stars enough because look at that grumpy old goat!” she was whispering too loudly. I had also heard this story more than once.
“Go on, feed it to ‘em,” she said with a look of determination. She turned to the kitchen window. “Serve it up, Netty!” she ordered the cook who was also Jim’s younger cousin by a couple years. Mr. Roy would come in at lunch, but Netty normally handled the breakfast crowd.
“Them bastards are gonna pitch a fit,” Netty replied, but did as she was told. I agreed with Netty on this one. Jim would bitch about it the rest of the day. Telling Ethel to leave the menu alone. She’d curse him. They’d yell at each other, and at the end of the day they’d hold hands as they walked back behind the diner to the house they’d lived in for thirty-five years.
I waited while Netty served up the plates and prepared myself for the drama about to unfold. When she brought them to me she whispered, “I got a batch of the other in the fridge. When they bitch just tell ‘em if they stay until lunch I’ll have the other.”
I nodded, relieved, and headed toward their table. However, I only made it three steps when my eyes landed on table three. The eyes staring back at me caused me to pause. A reminder. A piece of that life had invaded my new one. He was a reminder of all I was trying
to forget. He was a reminder of his older brothers, of Moulton, of a town that never accepted me. Dallas Sutton shouldn’t be here. Today he should be at home preparing for a wedding.
He sat alone watching me. He nodded in greeting when our eyes met. I had no response. Seeing him was the last thing I expected. I had potato salad to deal with and had no time for this. I wasn’t coming to the wedding. If that was why he was here, he was wasting his time. And possibly messed with my stability. Emotionally, at least. I’d worked hard to get to a steady place within myself.
“Hurry up girl, you can flirt with the good-looking customer later. Lord knows I would if I was forty years younger.” Ethel nudged me toward the table of men waiting for their food.
I focused on my task and did as I was told.
Not one second later, Billy said, “Good LORD this potato salad is warm! Are you trying to kill us Ethel?” loud enough to carry across the entire building.
I didn’t even cringe. My thoughts were on table five.
“It has over one thousand five stars on Pin-tur-est!” Ethel called out even louder. “Stop being so damn difficult!”
“It’s WARM! When was potato salad ever supposed to be warm! It’s a salad!” Billy replied.
“Fine! I’ll go stick it in the freezer for you!” Ethel said stalking toward us.
I stood there knowing this argument was only a short distraction. Soon, I’d have to face him. I’d have to tell him to leave. But he’d seen me. Seen this. And he could tell them about my job. How I was living. I didn’t want that. I had moved far enough away so this wouldn’t happen, but he had found me. That world was behind a large closed door. One I wanted locked.
“Get the stuff they want from Netty. I’ll deal with Ethel,” Jim said as he walked up to where I stood at the table.
I didn’t look at Dallas while I completed the task, but I felt him there. Reminding me I had to face him and deal with this. The guilt of missing the wedding, the regret I couldn’t be strong enough for Dixie, and the reminder that Bray Sutton was no longer my safe place.
“HAVE YOU SEEN Dallas?” Brent asked me as he walked inside the back door eating an apple.
Momma’s hands stilled for a second. She was fixing my tux jacket, making sure it met her approval. I saw the slight change in her expression. She knew where Dallas was.
“Naw, I ain’t seen him,” I replied still watching our mother as she didn’t reply or look up.
“He didn’t work out this morning and the farm truck is missing. He’s the only one unaccounted for. He came home last night, didn’t he? Last I saw him was at Jack’s.”
I nodded my head. I knew he had come home. I’d driven him home from Jack’s before I left to fuck a new distraction. Momma’s lips were tight as if she was struggling to keep them shut.
“You see him, Momma?” I asked. Because she had.
She glanced up quickly and went right back to straightening my tux that fit just fine. She could move on to the next one of us now. She was fidgeting. Acting as if she was too busy to listen to Brent.
“Sure he’s running errands. Dixie may have him busy. Lots to do today.” Momma patted my arm. “You look like your father in this. Now, go find Asher and wait with him for pictures.”
I studied her a moment. I knew asking her if she was sure she didn’t know where Dallas was would be pointless. The most I’d get out of her was being told to shut up and go.
“All right,” I replied.
“Get your tux on,” Momma told Brent. “And Bray, if you see Steel send him in here. I haven’t checked his tux on him yet. He dressed and left before I got in here.”
She didn’t seem worried that Dallas wasn’t here getting ready. She absolutely knew where he was. Interesting.
“Maybe someone should find our baby brother. There’s his tux. He ain’t dressed yet,” Brent pointed out.
“He’ll get here on time. Now get yours on. I’ll go have a look for him,” Momma said as she left the house and walked toward the large white tent outside that was setup for the reception. People were working everywhere. Flowers, food, and the like moving past and getting arranged. Lots of shit. It had woken me up at five this morning.
“Why ain’t she worried?” Brent asked after she was safely out of hearing.
I shrugged. “‘Cause she’s lying and knows where he is.”
Brent nodded. “I thought so too.”
“He’s fine. Get ready and do what she says. She’s already wound up about it all being perfect for Asher and Dixie. Dallas will show up in a few.”
As the words left my mouth, the farm truck pulled into the drive. Dallas was at the wheel. “And there he is,” I pointed outside the window.
Brent grunted. I knew his mind was working. He wanted to know where Dallas had been and why Momma was bent on keeping it a secret.
“Glad he’s okay,” he finally replied.
“Yeah,” I grunted and headed out the door. Brent was going to grill him. Dallas would get pissy. I wasn’t in the mood to watch.
I went to find Asher. He was waiting to take the photos in front of Dixie’s house where the ceremony would take place. I figured I would drive the truck, making my way toward it now that Dallas was back.
“Where you headed?” he asked as if he had a right to ask me shit when his ass had been gone all fucking day.
“Asher is getting married today. You forget?” The sarcasm in my voice was obvious.
“No,” Dallas shot back. “I had some things to handle. Not that it did any good.” He muttered the last bit. “Is it time to get dressed?”
“Pictures in less than thirty minutes at Dixie’s. I’m headed there now.”
“I’ll be there in a few. Gotta get cleaned up real quick.”
“I reckon Momma will cover for you some more if you’re late. Whatever you’ve been up to she’s behind it.”
I didn’t look at Dallas when I opened the truck door to climb inside.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he called out.
“It means she knows where you went. She covered for you. That’s what it fucking meant. I wasn’t speaking in a damn riddle.”
Dallas looked nervous. What the fuck had he been doing?
“I didn’t tell her,” he said. “She didn’t know.”
I laughed because sometimes that boy was stupid as shit. “You don’t got to tell Momma anything. If she wants to know she finds out.”
Dallas didn’t like that answer. He didn’t want anyone knowing what he had been up to. Damn if I wasn’t getting curious now.
“Get dressed and get your ass to Dixie’s.” I started the truck and pulled out of the driveway.
Dallas was waving his hands. I stopped the truck. “What?” I called out through the window that was only rolled up when it was raining or cold outside.
“How am I gonna get to Dixie’s if you take the truck?”
“Walk,” I replied, smiling as I drove off. Damn kid should have been here sooner.
The decorations, flowers, and activity weren’t as hectic at Dixie’s. They had it all done it seemed. A few people were out doing some last-minute things, but for the most part all I saw was Asher sitting on a white chair leaning forward resting his elbows on his knees as he stared straight ahead. To his far-left Steel stood talking to one of the bridesmaids. The rest of the action was inside with the bride.
I pulled the truck out of sight from the wedding and walked back to sit by Asher. He glanced at me briefly as I took the seat beside him.
“Nervous?” I asked. Because I’d sure as shit be nervous.
“Only that Dix will change her mind and decide against this,” Asher replied.
I laughed at the comment. Damn woman adored him. “That’s not happening. You’ll be hitched up to the ball and chain by the time the sun sets.”
His lips curved a little. “Don’t act like you don’t know how I feel.”
“No. I don’t.”
He turned his hea
d to look at me again. “You saying you don’t love Scarlet? Because it’s obvious you’ve had nothing serious since she left. Brent has. But not you.”
I’d had meaningless. Lots of fucking meaningless. I didn’t say that though.
“She’s gone. I’m over her.”
Asher frowned. Leaning back, he placed a hand on my shoulder. It was his typical older brother move. Anyone else would have been punched. “No, Bray. You’re not.”
I wasn’t going to argue with him on his wedding day.
“We didn’t have what you and Dix do.” That much I was certain of.
He didn’t reply right away. When I thought, he was finished with the conversation he said “Everyone’s story is different. Doesn’t make it any less powerful.”
“IT’S TIME YOU come back.”
“Brent has moved on. He’s happy. But Bray isn’t. He’s lost. Hurting. It’s in his eyes.”
“Dixie needs you there.”
“You know you want to be with her.”
“Just think about it. But not too long. Wedding starts at six.”
I looked out the window and watched as Dallas’s truck pulled out of the parking lot. He was gone but his words lingered. They were playing through my head over and over. His insistence that I should be at the wedding. That Brent was over what had happened. That Bray wasn’t.
My chest tightened. It always did at the thought of Bray. My sick brain had thought Bray was the only thing that could save me. I had clung to him hoping I could find a joy. That had been as screwed up as my head was. My soul so twisted and weak.
Forgiving myself was the hardest part. I hadn’t been able to do that yet. I feared I never would. My selfish desperation for Bray had hurt too many. I’d always hurt people. I needed to be alone. The things that had warped my brain at a young age ruined me for a normal life.
“That was one good lookin’ boy,” Ethel said coming up beside me. “He the reason you’re out here living this life?”
“I find that hard to believe. Seeing him sure did cause a look on your face. Pure heartache.”